Obituary writers were traditionally hailed as the masters of euphemism. The squeamish reluctance to speak ill of the dead prompted the use of tactful doublespeak where “bon viveur” was code for “alcoholic” and “notable vivacity” implied nymphomania, while “tireless raconteur” meant a crushing bore you’d try to avoid at parties.
Yet such verbal chicanery is now eclipsed by the vintage watch trade, which has elevated the art of understatement to staggering heights. A watch dial faded by sun damage is knowingly described as “tropical”. Old diving watches are hailed if they have “ghost” bezels (translation: heavily discoloured). Dial patina makes a watch more “collectable”, despite being a sign of decay.
The Mido Ocean Star: pastel-hued glory; Longines’ stainless-steel utilitarian winner; Breitling’s Top Time: retro look, modern tech.
What’s more, in a shameless act of successful marketing spin, such features even raise a watch’s price. These cosmetic flaws are rebranded as hallmarks of authenticity and character – the equivalent of laughter lines on an old man’s face.
In reality, “vintage” can mean frankly decrepit, as I learnt to my literal cost. A couple of years ago, I bought a 1960s Vacheron Constantin dress watch that wasn’t particularly cheap. The first weekend I wore it, the ageing strap broke and it fell off my wrist. When I belatedly noticed its disappearance, I was forced to run around Rushcutters Bay in Sydney frantically plastering trees and benches with felt-tip-penned posters offering a $100 reward for the watch’s return. Thankfully, we were reunited and I hastily bought a new strap. Two weeks later, the glass tinkled off the dial and it required an extensive service. That first month of ownership cost me $800.
The moral: vintage watches demand maintenance. Their geriatric innards need cosseting and plenty of TLC. All of which is a nuisance if you’ve a weakness for throwback charm.
Breitling has resurrected its Top Time watch, worn here by Sean Connery in Thunderball.
But there’s a hard-headed alternative. Many brands now do modern reissues of classics they’ve plucked from their archives. Longines excels in this department and its Heritage Military Marine Nationale is a utilitarian winner in a stainless-steel case. The Mido Ocean Star Decompression Timer 1961 revives the Swiss brand’s cult diving watch in all its pastel-hued glory, while Breitling has resurrected the natty looks of the Top Time as worn by Sean Connery in 1965’s Thunderball.
Essentially, what you’re getting is retro looks backed by the latest horological tech. For a set-and-forget option in the vintage space, it’s the right choice for your left wrist. Which isn’t a euphemism, by the way.