In a world where watches continue to grow in size and become more cunning in the way they display time, and the boundaries between jewelry and timepieces are increasingly blurred, one sector is beating on against the current: relaunched classics. These are watches with clean, simple lines, enduring style and lasting prestige—catering to the needs of a gimmick-weary market.
This July, the watch world will see two relaunches. The sleek and simple Omega Seamaster 1948 London 2012, previewed at Basel this year, will be released in late July as a pre-Olympic tie-in. The model features the same dial as the original—which was developed specifically for deep dives—and is a streamlined 38 millimeters, just a bit larger than the 1940s model, with an updated caliber. The company will sell 1,948 pieces, retailing at around $6,800. The only downside to the new model is a rather gaudy Olympic slogan—which is thankfully hidden from view on the back.
Another classic relaunching this July is TAG Heuer's Monza. The limited-edition Calibre 36 Chronograph harks back to the manual-wind chronographs and stopwatches of the early 20th century, specifically the TAG Heuer 1933 chronograph, which was inspired by the Italian racing track. The watch will have a run of 1,911—the year Edouard Heuer patented the world's first dashboard chronograph—and retail for around 8,000 Swiss francs (€6,400).
"The likely target market for the new Monza is a fairly young population of watch enthusiasts who are probably not old enough to have seen the model in the 1960s and 1970s, but who have built up a great knowledge of the brand and what it represents," says Justin Koullapis, of the Watch Club in London, which deals in second-hand classic watches for collectors. "Watch models with strong associations to their historical predecessors have proved themselves without question to be the ones collectors will always reach for first," adds Mr. Koullapis. "In my opinion, the TAG Heuer Monza Calibre 36 perfectly fulfills what collectors want in a watch: a proven model whose style is solidly rooted in its legitimate ancestry."
Classic watches—such as the Rolex Explorer II worn by Steve McQueen in the 1970s and relaunched this year (£5,180)—are appealing on multiple levels. "Now that art and classic cars have gone oligarchic, fine watches are an economic entry to collecting culture," says British cultural commentator Stephen Bayley.
One watch that is sure to attract collectors' attention is the Officine Panerai Radiomir 3 Days Platino. The new model from Panerai, an Italian watchmaker that has provided timepieces for the country's navy since 1867 and was known for its luminescent face that glowed in pitch black, pays homage to a rare version of the original Radiomir, which was launched in the mid-1930s; only two models have ever been found. The 2011 watch has a limited edition of 199 numbered pieces, costing £26,000 each. Panerai has also relaunched the Luminor 1950 3 Days, which, while staying true to the original, has updated features such as a more rounded case and a plexiglass face, rather than sapphire.
With Omega and Panerai referencing their seafaring histories and TAG Heuer replaying its association with motor racing, it only seems appropriate that Brietling would hark back to another era of adventure—aviation. The Swiss watchmaker has relaunched the Transocean, which was originally designed as a tribute to the Boeing 707s and DC-8s that began commercial flights in the late 1950s, when the watch was launched. The brand's link to the aviation industry was bolstered as it supplied chronographs for propeller planes and later jet planes. The relaunched watch is close to the original, but has been upgraded with the latest technology, including Breitling's Caliber 01 in-house self-winding movement, and a sapphire case at the back and front, and is water-resistant to 100 meters.
"Avant-garde design and technology will always be around," says Breitling Vice President Jean-Paul Girardin. "The market is increasingly segmented and the classic sector is just a part of this."
Jaeger-LeCoultre's 1931 Reverso, created in response to a challenge set by British officers stationed in India who wanted a watch capable of surviving a polo match, was worn by the likes of the Prince Aage of Denmark, King Edward VIII of England and Amelia Earhart. The company's new Grande Reverso Ultra Thin is slightly larger than the original in diameter—although, as the name suggests, it is also thinner. The dial is identical to the 1931 version, down to the color of the Super-Luminova indexes and form of the hands.
Stéphane Belmont, marketing director of Jaeger-LeCoultre, thinks that part of the appeal of classic relaunches is a response to the straitened economic times. "After the financial downturn, clients need to be reassured, and they look for timeless objects that represent a style that will last and watchmaking expertise, and consequently such models will represent a good investment. The clients look for brands with history, offering classical and iconic pieces," he says.
It is also about enduring appeal, adds Michael Czerwinski, public-program coordinator at the Design Museum in London, who delivers lectures on design-related topics. "If good design works, it has longevity. Classic wristwatches, which date back to the beginning of the 20th century, hit such a correct note, and an object such as this doesn't need to change or evolve," he says. "There is something very powerful about wanting a watch like one's father. It is about discerning taste—expressing a strength, with pared-down dynamics. It is an easy vehicle through which you can express yourself."
Mr. Czerwinski says that, in the past, we tended to get seduced by evolving technology—for example, the digital watch became a statement about being a modern person. "However, now our attitude toward technology is different and we no longer need to promote our status in that way," he says. "A watch is no longer saying what status is in terms of modernity; these classic watches allow it to be what it is. It can be purist. You don't need it to be tricksy or expressive of modern design—it just needs to tell the time." - WSJ