We here at Horological Underground understand the allure of the vintage, and we’re not alone in that. As technology accelerates into the 21st century, it seems as though we can’t help but look back and admire the simpler mechanisms of the past. Longines is among many watchmakers who have noticed this shift toward antiquity in collectors and mere enthusiasts alike, and just over a year ago released this reimagining of a classic 1940s military design in the Longines Military Heritage. It is an object without embellishment or a need to show off, which speaks not only of its practicality in a wartime context (what soldier has the time to admire the intricacies of his watch dial?) but of a middling period in the history of watch design, where the engineering had been perfected and the design needn’t say anything more than ‘I am a timepiece’. Aside from a marginal size increase (33.5mm to 38.5mm), the watch has all the trappings of its ancestor; robust utilitarian steel case, prominent and tactile crown, a high quality green leather strap whose cracked texture makes it look almost ageless. Even the lume-less dial is a faithful callback to the times, as the use of radium-based lume wouldn’t be conventional in WW2 until 1942.
This is clearly a love letter to the timepieces of the past, and one that has had considerable praise, but Longines’ choice to include faux-aging in the form of black paint spots on the dial to imitate mould has been met with some contention. Some feel as though this is inauthentic, perhaps detracting from the idea of an artefact being polished, updated, and brought into the modern age. Personally, I think it’s tasteful. The sepia-tone, mottled texture evokes the patina of a legitimate vintage, but without any scuffs or other granular detail that true wear and tear would produce, this design doesn’t read as a thing trying to be something else. The ‘effect’ of looking old is sufficient to get the point across.
Artificial aging is something we’re all familiar with, even if we don’t realise it. Wood can be chemically aged to bring out a deeper colour or more complicated texture, copper cladding on buildings is often pre-oxidised to give the appearance of a structure that has existed for decades. Distressed clothing is an entire industry in and of itself! We try to break in shoes as fast as possible not just for comfort but for the way that leather takes on character as it creases and fades, and a non-insignificant amount of people buy pre-torn jeans. We are drawn to an old object not just because of the story it tells, but because it reminds us of the way things are. Metal rusts, ink fades, Earth reclaims it all and time moves on.
This maxim is well represented in our collection of rare vintages. Take this 1970s Tissot Excalibur, a piece of Swiss watchmaking history. The first inhouse quartz invention by Tissot, it features a unique time setting system that adds to the esoteric individuality of this watch. Housed in its stainless steel case is a pearlescent, Geneva-band dial with a soft tropicalisation around the complication. At first glance you may see this feature as a blemish, but upon further reflection you come to understand it as a graceful mark of a watch that has lived for over half a century. Or our Orator Chronograph, a post-WWII gem with a two-counter dial and freshly lumed indices. The complex pattern of corrosion and oxidisation creates a patina only earned by an object that has matured over many years.