Similar to thrift shopping in fashion, the vintage watch market is an interesting place to trawl for cool and unusual timepieces. Of course not all watches are created equal; some are simply cooler while others are lusted and sort after by generations. The others are often relegated to the sidelines, but that does not mean they are bad watches; some are simply underrated and do not command the attention it deserves.
Today, we bring the spotlight to four watches that certainly deserve more attention.
Prior to designing the Royal Oak or Nautilus, Mr. Gérald Genta left his first indelible mark on the watchmaking industry when he was just 23 years old. Universal Genève approached the young Swiss to design a watch to commemorate SAS’s (Scandanavian Airlines Systems) polar flights from New York/Los Angeles directly to Europe. The flight was essentially routed over the North Pole to reduce flight time, which gave the watch its namesake. The watch was named Polarouter when it was officially released in 1954 but was renamed Polerouter a year later.
The Polerouter family grew over the years but if one were interested in acquiring one, look no further than the OG Polerouter. Measuring across at 34.5mm, the watch punches hard aesthetically and technically despite its petite build. A textured indices ring, combined with the crosshair dial, gives the dial a two-tone look that most vintage watch hunters would die for.
A forward-thinking automatic calibre 215 powers the Polerouter, one that features a micro-rotor which was unheard of in the watchmaking industry prior. Micro-rotor now graces some of the finest made watch calibres but this will be reserved for a separate story.
The Universal Genève Polerouter will certainly not command the same value as its Universal Genève Tri-Compax or fabled “Nina Rindt” chronograph counterparts but it is one of the most accessible Genta designed watches available.
Born out of the Quartz Crisis is the mechanical (and design marvel) Mach 2000 Dark Master Chronograph by French watchmakers Lip. At a time when the Swiss/European watch industry was in turmoil, industrial designer Roger Tallon was tasked by Lip in 1973 to breathe fresh life into the ailing brand.
The relationship brought forth the funky looking timepiece inspired by one of Tallon’s famous works — the TGV Bullet Train.
The aluminium watch case resembled the cockpit of the high speed train; though it was rendered in black. Pops of colour were given to the watch on the dial side and chronograph pushers; yellow for the chronograph hands and the traffic light chronograph pushers. Powering it is a manual winding Valjoux chronograph calibre that remains a popular option for vintage enthusiasts.
The unusual watch has been reissued on several occasions but the original is the one to track down.
It is safe to say that the necessity of a dive watch was born out of war and destruction, but as the carnage gradually died off, recreational diving and a new generation of dive watches took off. Doxa, founded in 1889, jumped into this segment to revitalise itself and the Doxa Sub 300T Professional was born in 1967.
The two outstanding design elements were the bezel and dial. The US Navy Air Dive Table for no-decompression dives was engraved on the bezel alongside the dive bezel. Black was the choice of dive watch dials for stealth reasons but since it was peacetime, Doxa opted for an eye-catching orange dial.
Orange is also said to be the most legible colour underwater. The minute hand was deliberately shaped larger as divers relied on it during dives to check for elapsed dive times.
Apart from Doxa, there are many underrated dive watches that also deserve attention such as the Zodiac Sea Wolf or Squale 101 Atmos.
A watch is the last thing one would think of when hearing the words Abercrombie & Fitch. Dimly-lit stores, overpowering cologne and swathes of topless men are most commonly associated with the American brand, but within its long history is a collection of watches that are considered underrated grails. Abercrombie & Fitch was an esteemed brand during its glory days counting the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart and Ernest Hemmingway among its clientele.
Then president of Abercrombie, Walter Haynes visited Jack Heuer in Switzerland and finally a set of watches known as the Seafarer were manufactured by (TAG) Heuer on a private basis.
The Seafarer had a very special complication built into the chronograph movement known as the tide dial positioned at nine o’clock. Once calibrated, it would show the high and low tide timings of a particular day. The chronograph minute counter at three o’clock featured blue five-minute segments that were useful for regatta races.
Ever since the first reference was made, nine other examples were released featuring different complications.
The Seafarer commands tens of thousands dollars and is a tough one to track down, especially authentic ones. A Seafarer ref. 346 was sold at a Christie auction for US$60,000 when it was estimated to fetch US$20,000-30,000.