For those that are deep into the watch hobby, a love for vintage watches is nothing new. Once reserved for the most committed of collectors, there once existed a point in time that vintage Rolex watches sold for pennies on the dollar compared to their current values. The general market strayed away from vintage pieces, in favor of more modern and reliable timepieces. With the resurgence of mechanical watches in recent times, vintage came back into vogue. When I first got into watches, I got sucked in as well.
My first vintage watch was a Longines Grand Prize. Long before I knew what I was getting into, I dropped off my first mechanical watch to get serviced, and the store was kind enough to loan me the Longines while I waited for my watch to return. When I graduated from college, my parents brought my first watch back to me, and I took the Longines off so they could return it. They said it was taken care of and congratulations. I wore it for the following festivities and it has been a special watch for me since. After having it for a couple years, it stopped running, and it took me another year to get it taken care of. When I took it into a very reputable store, who is now a dear friend, I have to say I was not happy when I learned what the service cost. It was more than the watch! I paid it though as the sentimental value outweighed the inconvenience, and I have had the watch running great since then, so I have forgotten the actual number, along with making some fun memories with that friend to compensate for the financial loss.
My second vintage watch that I acquired was from my grandfather’s estate. While going through his belongings, he was a bit of a watch accumulator. There were several watches with broken straps, bracelets, damaged crystals, and simply not running. They were most definitely tools for him. They were stuffed into boxes and drawers, and in his sock drawer was this Wittnauer. It didn’t have a strap, but still had spring bars. I took the watch and planned to get it serviced, as I had learned at this point that trying to get a watch that has been sitting this long running is a bad idea without getting it looked at. Well, a few drams provided enough confidence to act otherwise, and one night I decided that I would give it a wind. I figured if it broke something, I needed to have it serviced anyways. To my amazement, the watch ran! Not only did it run, it kept acceptably accurate time! So I went and bought a cheap rubber strap, and wore it often as such. Recently, I bought a vintage style rivet bracelet for it, and I’m in love with it. I have tried on a few vintage Submariners and other vintage Rolex watches, and to me, this gives me all the joy without the extreme cost. While sure, the watch occasionally acts up, I view it like an old car. Ninety-five percent of the time, the watch runs great, but every once in awhile, it acts up and needs a quick shake or a tap. I’m fully aware that is a very telling sign that it needs to be serviced, but I will let it ride for the time being.
These watches are extremely charming, and a joy to wear. The caveat being that they are also super delicate. I never wear either of them if I expect it to rain, and they never get close to a sink with running water. Sure, I could have the Wittnauer refreshed with new gaskets, but I really don’t want to risk ruining the watch. This is what modern watches are for.
The rise of vintage brought on the vintage re-issue category of watches; brand new watches from the manufacturer that are made in the style of old watches. Often, this means that these watches are vintage-esque, drawing on designs from the past, using some tinted lume, but also using modern case dimensions and design. Because of that, I feel that these vintage re-issue watches have beautiful dials and look great online and in display cases, but fall extremely short on the wrist. They often wear like their fully modern counterparts, with thick cases, heavy bracelets, and slightly off proportions compared to their fully vintage source of inspiration. Some people really like them, and if they are for you, by all means, wear the crap out of them. For me though, they often leave me wanting.
With that said, I would like to highlight two watches that fall into the category of vintage re-issue watches. The Longines Legend Diver 36mm, and the Blancpain Bathyscaphe 38mm. Fortunately, before all of the COVID-19 craziness issued, I was able to visit stores that had them in stock.
The Longines Legend Diver 36 (LLD 36 for short) is an awesome little watch. While the original compressor case diver was 42mm (which Longines also makes a re-issue of), other watch manufacturers made similar watches in a 36mm size, so this watch is true to period. While the watch is thoroughly modern, with a brand new ETA movement, sapphire crystal, and 30 bar (300m) of water resistance, it wears like a vintage watch. The case is slim, with some of the thickness coming from the crystal. The lugs are long relative to the case, but slope down so it drapes well over the wrist. The milanese bracelet has reassuring heft, but drapes beautiful and is very comfortable. This is a beautiful watch, and the thing that struck me most, was it still had all of the charm of my vintage watches. It left me wanting for nothing. The watch is modern enough to wear everyday, but charming enough for me to not miss my vintage watches too much.
The Blancpain Bathyscaphe is a watch that I always thought was beautiful, but when they brought the modern version to the market, it was only in 43mm. The watch is not a direct correlation to one particular model, but made more in the style of the Bathyscaphe watches from 60’s. That being said, most of the original models seem to range in size from 37mm to 40mm. When they released the 38mm version a few years back, I was glad to see a much more moderate size, and this recent trip was the first time I was able to see one in person. The watch wears extremely well, and lives up to the finishing standards set by Blancpain, and it has a fantastic grey sunburst dial with applied markers. I was not a fan of the nato strap that it was fitted with, as it made the watch sit a bit taller, but it was still thinner than most other modern watches. Speaking of modern, this watch is thoroughly so, with a ceramic bezel, silicon balance spring, display case back, and a sapphire crystal. It has all of the conveniences that one would expect from a contemporary watch. Because of all of the tech, I would say this watch did not match the vintage charm of the Longines, primarily due to the glossy ceramic bezel and case thickness. I still enjoyed the watch, and it would definitely be my choice over a Submariner, especially on the sail cloth strap. Also, who is to say I can’t source another rivet style bracelet for it.
In this space of watch collecting, I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone that said you can’t enjoy both modern and vintage watches. People tend to sway towards one camp over the other, but no reason why modern and vintage can’t sit side by side. It seems more difficult, to get the best of both. While the Longines does it better than the Blancpain in these references, I would say that they do attempt to bring both worlds together in one watch, and do so successfully. I hope to see more watches like this in the future.
To learn more about the Longines, visit their website here.
To learn more about the Blancpain, visit their website here.