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Watches & Jewellery

Watch Houses Are Rolling Out Their Vintage Timepieces

Classic watches are gaining newfound popularity.

Watch aficionados are literally going back in time, as the popularity of vintage classical timepieces hit a new high. Record prices have been fetched at auctions, while pre-owned watch shops specialising in vintage pieces are mushrooming. On top of that, luxury watch brands with a rich heritage have been rolling out the classics, so collectors are now spoilt for choice.

This article first appeared in The Business Times.

Vacheron Constantin's Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955
When this watch was first launched in 1955, it was Vacheron’s first water-resistant chronograph. It was powered by one of the greatest chronograph movements of all time, the Lemania 2310. Reference 6087, as the Cornes de Vache was then known, was also the last stopwatch on the wrist to be made by Vacheron till 1989.   The elegance of the chronograph speaks of the design codes of the day, but it’s the unique cow horn-shaped lugs that make it distinctive – reinforced by its name which translates to ‘cow horns’ in French. Only 36 pieces (28 in yellow gold, six in rose gold and two in platinum) of Ref 6087 were produced.   It’s not hard to see the appeal. Vacheron reintroduced the model in 2015 in a larger platinum case – 38.5 mm wide versus 35 mm in the original – and fitted it with an improved in-house hand-wound movement. The watch is water-resistant up to 30 metres. A pink gold version followed in 2016.   The latest reissue, unveiled in 2019, is exactly the same as the previous two re-makes apart from a less expensive stainless steel case. At $60,000 it’s a third cheaper than the platinum version. Instead of crocodile leather, the steel model has a retro dark brown calf leather strap carved by Serapian, a Milanese luxury leather maker. Zenith's Chronomaster Revival “Shadow”
This watch was meant to be a follow-up to Zenith’s legendary El Primero chronograph 50 years ago, but mysteriously, the prototype for the timepiece, a manual winding chronograph encased in blackened steel, didn’t go into production.   The revived watch is not exactly a replica of the obscure black prototype from 1970. It features a faithful reproduction of the 37 mm case on the very first watch fitted with the El Primero. Instead of traditional stainless steel with a superficial black coating, Zenith has opted for microblasted titanium, bringing out the dark grey nuances of the lightweight yet highly durable metal with its completely matte finish.   Unlike the original prototype, which is driven by a manual-winding movement, the Chronomaster Revival Shadow, priced at US$8,200 (S$11,398), turns on an automatic El Primero chronograph mechanism. Longines' Heritage Military 1938
A reinterpretation of a military watch produced in 1938, the shape of its 43mm stainless steel case is typical of the ’30s. Other details include the bevelled bezel and the ribbed sea urchin-shaped crown for easy winding.   The baton hands and Arabic numerals, set on a streamlined, matt black dial, are coated with Super-Lumi Nova to allow visibility in any condition – essential for any military watch. The timepiece, which works on a hand-wound movement, is limited to 1938 pieces at US$2,450 or S$3,405 each. Audemars Piguet's (Re)master01
Despite its long history, vintage Audemars Piguet chronograph wristwatches are extremely rare – only 307 pieces were made between the 1930s and 1950s. The (Re)master01 is based on Ref 1533, a round-cased chronograph Audemars Piguet produced in the ’40s.   The new interpretation stays close to the original, right down to the two-tone steel and pink gold case with a champagne dial. But the case is wider at 40mm, to accommodate a bigger and new generation automatic movement with a flyback mechanism. Limited to 500 pieces, the (Re)master01 retails for US$53,100 (S$73,809). IWC Schaffhausen's Portugieser Automatic 40
The very first Portugieser model launched in 1939, Ref 325 set the look for the quintessential time-only watch: a neatly organised, open dial with small seconds at six o’clock, in an extra-large case with a hand-wound movement.   In the last couple of years, there have been no time-only models in the Portugieser collection. With the Automatic 40, the original is back, but in a more compact 40 mm case and powered by a modern and more efficient automatic movement. It comes in gold (US$16,900 or S$23,491) or stainless steel (US$7,250). De Ville Tourbillon Numbered Edition, Omega
Omega is well known for making timepieces for James Bond and astronauts; not many people know it’s among the pioneer developers of the gravity-defying watch that is the tourbillon. Its early efforts in this area in the ’40s and ’50s were devoted to the cause of horological advancement.   Omega’s first commercial tourbillon only appeared in 1994, in celebration of the brand’s 100th anniversary. While the floating tourbillon cage of conventional tourbillons is located at six o’clock, it is in the centre of the watch in the Omega complication. The new model is also a central tourbillon but is powered by Omega’s new highly anti-magnetic and precise Master Chronometer manual winding movement. Priced at US$168,000 (S$233,520), the new central tourbillon comes with a certificate which mentions the specific number of each watch.