With anything from a hundred to two thousand moving parts that can take years to piece together, a high-quality watch is made to last. But not only that, it’s built to carry the years with grace; soaking up history and appreciating in appearance and value with every year that passes.
It’s for this reason a watch tells so much more than just the time; it recounts the story of a moment or even whole era in history. Its materials, design, and provenance all adding up to paint a rich tapestry of what life was like in the days of its production.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at three decades from the watchmaking history books and some of the classic timepieces that define them.
The 90s: The start of a new era
Watches from the 90s are a tad too recent to be classed as vintage, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t special. After the quartz crisis, the decade saw several watchmakers revive themselves as makers of luxury items steeped in history and tradition, sparking the beginning of the modern watch industry as we know it today.
You can see what I mean by the watches it produced: The Omega Speedmaster Professional was born in the mid-90’s, as was the first four offerings of the German watchmaking company Nomos, founded two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall. As they’re recent, you can pick up many 90s watches in decent condition today, and for less than a few hundred pounds become a proud owner of an important part of watchmaking’s evolution.
The 70s: The quartz revolution
While some watch enthusiasts may be opposed to quartz watches and what they stand for, there’s no denying the role they’ve played in the history of watchmaking. They may not begin to rival the craftsmanship of mechanical watches, but as even the old ones keep such good time, they undoubtedly make sensible and reliable investments.
For example, you couldn’t go wrong with any model from Favre Leuba, one of Switzerland’s oldest watch brands and leader of the quartz revolution. Or the Seiko Grand Quartz, produced with high-end finishing and a no-cost-spared design. But if you’re after a real piece of history and a decade-defining timepiece, there’s the Longines Ultra-Quartz, one of the first and finest quartz wristwatches ever made.
The 50s: The rise of the greats
After two world wars, several Swiss watchmakers rose to fame in the 50s and took their place as leaders in the industry. One of these brands was Rolex, who, already with 40 years under their belt, released three new model lines that are still going strong today.
One of these classics is the Submariner. The watch debuted in 1953 and two years later became the official timepiece of the British Royal Navy. But even before then we saw the Explorer, released to celebrate the first successful ascent of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who both wore Rolex watches to the summit. And finally, there was the GMT-Master, the ultimate in luxury wrist wear that was aimed at the international businessman, due to its capability of telling the time in two time zones at once.
All the models in top condition will set you back a good few thousand pounds today, but as one of the greatest decades in watchmaking, it is unquestionably worth it.