Midlife crisis at 50? Not for these watch brands, they’re just getting started
Watchmaking milestones remembered half a century later.
In 2015, Time published a study that estimated the lifespan of most modern, publicly traded companies to be about 10 years. The majority of watchmaking companies, on the other hand, have been around for more than a century: Heuer was founded in 1860, Omega in 1848, Seiko in 1881 and Zenith in 1865. They survived world wars, the quartz crisis/revolution, and will probably continue to soldier on well into the future.
In 2019, these firms celebrate a half-century milestone. From unveiling the world’s first quartz movements to landing on the moon in 1969, here’s what these accomplishments look like, 50 years on.
First watch worn on the moon
1969 was the year that humanity raced to put a man on the moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were, of course, the first humans to ever set foot on the lunar surface. For watch enthusiasts, what’s significant is that they had with them the Omega Speedmaster Professional, earning that timepiece the title of ‘first watch worn on the moon’.
It’s been 50 years since Armstrong took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” during the Apollo 11 mission. This year, there are not one but two new limited editions to commemorate this historical event. The first is a solid 18K gold Speedmaster made from Omega’s latest proprietary alloy, Moonshine Gold. This precious metal is said to be slightly paler than yellow gold and keeps its colour and lustre for a much longer period of time.
The second limited edition to commemorate this event is another Speedmaster, this time in stainless steel but with Moonshine Gold elements weaved in throughout its design.
First quartz wristwatch in the world
Although Seiko was a strong contender for the first Automatic Chronograph in 1969 with the Seiko 6139, the bigger story for the Japanese watchmaker was the launch of the very first quartz wristwatch in the world. The Seiko Astron was unveiled in December of that year and heralded a new revolution for Seiko (but was the beginning of the quartz crisis for the Swiss watchmakers). At the time, the Astron’s precision of +5/-5 seconds a month was practically unheard of.
In 50 years, however, the technology for electronic wristwatches have grown by leaps and bounds. Today, the Astron GPS Solar 5X, a series designed to pay homage to the first quartz Astron, offers an accuracy of one second deviation every 100,000 years. It does this by connecting to a GPS network up to twice a day to maintain the correct time. By tapping into this network, the watch is also capable of changing the time as the wearer crosses into different timezones. Best of all, the watch is solar powered, practically eliminating the need for a battery change.
First automatic chronograph wristwatch (tied with Zenith) – the Monaco
This year marks the 50th anniversary since the introduction of TAG Heuer’s now-iconic Monaco watch. Inevitably, the birth of the Monaco also marks the birth of the world’s first automatic chronograph movement. Back in 1969, the race was on to create the very first self-winding chronograph and the Calibre 11 movement, in the first Monaco, was actually born of a collaboration between Heuer, Breitling and Hamilton and the movement maker Dubois Depraz. For the debut of Calibre 11, Heuer designed the world’s first waterproof square case to house it and thus the legend of the Monaco was born.
To celebrate a slice of Heuer history, the brand has announced five different limited edition references of the Monaco to be launched throughout the course of the year. The first debuted at the 2019 Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix and comes with a green dial with brown and yellow touches and a Cotes de Geneve finishing.
Today, it is impossible to think of the Monaco without thinking of it on Steve McQueen’s wrist in the 1971 film Le Mans. And so the second limited edition piece was launched during the Le Mans weekend in France. This piece aimed to capture the speed and style of the watch’s second decade, thus this second 50th Anniversary Monaco comes with a red sunburst dial.
First automatic chronograph wristwatch (tied with Heuer) – the El Primero
1969 was the year that three competing brands raced to be the first to offer an automatic chronograph movement in a wristwatch. The El Primero from Zenith was one of them, and to date, the movement remains one of the most precise series-made chronographs. To earn its legendary title, the El Primero offered a high frequency of 36,000 vph, a column-wheel chronograph mechanism, and an automatic winding system that delivered 50 hours of power reserve. Impressive even by today’s standards, the El Primero was a groundbreaking feat.
To celebrate this momentous anniversary, Zenith has reissued the very watch that the El Primero movement debuted in – the A384. In order to preserve the emotional appeal that comes with a timepiece of this magnitude, The A384 Revival is as close to the original as possible. Each part of the A384 from 1969 was digitised so it could be accurately reproduced. From the 37mm faceted steel case to the lacquered white and black tachymeter dial, aesthetically it is identical to the original. The only updates to the watch come in the form of a sapphire crystal (instead of acrylic); a clear case back; and a new El Primero 400 chronograph movement.