These Forgotten Vintage Watch Brands Are Back with New Models
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The influence of “vintage” has all but taken over the modern watch market. Remakes have evolved from upsized modern interpretations to more faithful reproductions, while novel designs often simply look “retro.” The nostalgia associated with classic designs and a historic name seems to resonate with consumers and shows no signs of slowing down.
As this trend matures, however, something interesting is happening: in addition to reissued models, entire watch brands themselves are being “reissued.” That is, brand names that were prominent in decades past but have since faded or disappeared entirely are being resurrected.
Each has a different story and different approach to watchmaking, but many were victims of the quartz crisis. Now, often under new ownership that has purchased the rights to names, designs and even technologies, the business model commonly looks a lot like that of many microbrands, and often includes the use of crowdfunding. What ties them all together is that they’re riding the wave of nostalgia and general enthusiasm for things analog and patinated. Below are some notable revitalized brands worth keeping an eye on.
Ollech & Wajs
Ollech & Wajs is an interesting example because the tool watches produced under this name were relatively obscure to begin with even among vintage collectors. Further, modern O&W has taken an interesting approach by not making exact replicas of its vintage models, but instead making fresh designs that draw on the brand’s back catalog and influences. The P-104, for example, is a charming pilot watch and was among the first models from the brand under its current management.
Notable Model: P-104 S
Yema never stopped producing watches, but its Heritage collection revived interest in the brand with the reintroduction of the Superman model. Now, Yema represents a modest resurgence of French watchmaking. The modern Superman dive watch is almost a one-to-one reproduction of a model from 1963, with a quirky bezel-locking mechanism that makes it stand out from the crowd. Its popularity has given rise to a collection of Superman dive watches, but other Heritage pieces like the Yachtingraf and Speedgraf are worth checking out as well.
Notable Model: Superman Heritage
While Le Jour was originally the name under which Yema watches were distributed in the U.S. market, the brand is independent today, and is perhaps making some of the most modern-looking watches on this list while still incorporating clear nods to its past. Take the new Hammerhead: it’s got clear 70s influence but feels simultaneously modern and sporty, especially considering its 42mm-wide case. With prices and specs like those of a microbrand, Le Jour offers strong value and unique character.
Notable Model: Hammerhead
Nivada is a relatively well known name among vintage watch hunters for its midcentury tool watches and chronographs. And the newly resurrected brand isn’t beating around the bush, with a stated mission of simply bringing back its most popular vintage models. They debuted with the 39mm Chronomaster chronograph, which looks almost like an actual vintage model, but is fully modern in its construction, materials and movement. You just can’t argue with its thoroughly retro feel.
Notable Model: Chronomaster
Le Forban Sécurité Mer
Even vintage watch aficionados may not have heard of this French brand whose watches were “mainly sold in nautical equipment shops” starting in the late 1960s. Its first modern timepiece, however — an interpretation of watches it made for the French navy — is affordable and elegant. The Malouine is powered by an inexpensive Japanese movement and assembled by the brand in Paris.
Notable Model: Malouine
Twelve companies made watches for the British military in 1945 that are variously called W.W.W. (for Wrist Watch Waterproof) or the “Dirty Dozen” by collectors, and are some of the most famous military watches of all time. Among more prominent Dirty Dozen brands like IWC and Omega was a more obscure marque called Timor, and it’s re-entering the horological stage with a recreation of its famous field watch. Produced in Switzerland, the Heritage Field feels like a piece of history but will last longer into the future than an actual vintage example.
Notable Model: Heritage Field
Vertex was another of the Dirty Dozen (see Timor above), and while the brand also has its own field watch reissue, its got other cool military heritage to draw on. The MP45 is based on an “ordnance timing watch” — a monopusher chronograph ordered by the British War Office in 1945 but never actually produced. Military and vintage themes come together well for Vertex in timepieces that have a no-nonsense attitude and even vaguely modern.
Notable Model: MP45
Ikepod was a more recent phenomenon than many brands on this list, co-founded by famed industrial designer Marc Newson in 1994. Only a few years after ceasing operation, the modern Ikepod relaunched, under different ownership with a lower average price point while maintaining the offbeat designs of the originals. Automatic options exist from the brand, but the quartz Duopod is the most familiar design to enthusiasts and also the most affordable.
Notable Model: Duopod
Eza is a relatively obscure name, even to many vintage watch enthusiasts. Resurrected by two Dutch entrepreneurs, the modern Eza‘s strongest model, the 1972, offers a link to its heritage in the form of a very retro diver. It’s well-sized at 39.6mm and well-priced at well under $1k with a Swiss automatic movement inside. Bursting with retro influence that recalls vintage skin divers, the 1972 nevertheless stands out for its unique dial indices.
Notable Model: 1972
A dive watch that featured in the iconic movie Jaws makes for a pretty cool rerelease. Actor Richard Dreyfuss wore the Alsta Nautoscaph in the 1975 film, and the brand returned with the watch’s sequel roughly 50 years later. Originally active in the same era as dive watch brands like Doxa and Aquadive (which are also back making serious divers again), the modern Alsta maintains the look and the specs of a dive watch made to battle a man-eating shark.
Notable Model: Nautoscaph Superautomatic
Tropic isn’t a watchmaker — rather, it was a maker of rubber straps that are associated with iconic dive watches of the 1960s and ’70s. As is the case with many of the watch brands mentioned here, industry vets recognized the market demand based on vintage watch collectors’ enthusiasm and relaunched Tropic’s classic vulcanized rubber strap. The modern version will surely go well with the vintage dive watch reissues above.
Notable Model: Tropic Dive Strap
We examine some of world’s most famous military watches and delve into their origins, from the Fifty Fathoms to the Milsub and more. Read the Story