From the Omega Speedmaster worn on the first moon landing to a comparative youngster by Patek Philippe, watchmakers are marking anniversaries with new editions of legendary pieces
Words Jessica Diamond
Photography Benedict Morgan
Watchmakers love an anniversary – which comes as no surprise as the passing of time and its marking are intrinsically linked. Significant moments have occurred of late, including Patek Philippe’s 175th birthday in 2014 and Vacheron Constantin’s 260th the following year. Celebrations surrounding such milestones are lavish and often intricate, with astonishingly complicated, one-off timepieces created to impress, dazzle and underline their enduring success. But what of individual models? As tastes shift and technical advances are made, many designs are left by the wayside – a product of their time, long since consigned to the archive. A select few, however, prove to be keepers because, for whatever reason, they have hit the watchmakers’ design sweet spot: the timeless classic. Tweaks may be made (a larger case here, a slightly less cluttered dial there), but ultimately they are the same: a beautiful homage to a craftsman who first imagined them 20, 50 or 100 years ago. In an age of endless consumption and frenetic desire for the new, these beacons of longevity deserve their moment of celebration. Here, we round up seven of this year’s finest commemorative editions (contact your nearest showroom for more information), from Patek Philippe’s relative youngster of a mere 20 years ago to Rolex’s iconic quinquagenarian.
China: It is traditional to celebrate a 20th anniversary with a gift of china. The reason? China is durable, yet fragile – like a marriage (or a well-made Swiss watch), it can last you a lifetime, but you must always remember to handle it carefully, and treat it with the respect it deserves.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph (above, left)
It’s amazing to think that the Royal Oak was met with a barrage of criticism on its launch at Basel in 1972. Conceived by revered watch designer Gérald Genta, it was considered too daring for the time – largely on account of the octagonal case, exposed screws and integrated bracelet. Today, it’s one of the most instantly recognisable watches in the world. A progression of the original model, the Royal Oak Chronograph celebrates its 20th birthday with this 42mm, chocolate-brown dial version presenting an imposing tribute in brushed steel case and textured petite tapisserie dial.
Patek Philippe Aquanaut Jumbo 5168G (above, right)
It was 1997 when Patek first launched the Aquanaut, a similarly sporty timepiece to the already 21-year-old Nautilus. Fashioned from stainless steel with a less complex construction, it was aimed at a younger audience with a less generous budget. And it was an immediate success. To celebrate its 20th birthday, this year’s model – bigger at 42mm – pays homage via its name to the original timepiece, which was nicknamed Jumbo. Available in white gold, it is water-resistant to a depth of 120 metres.
Gold: Ever since medieval times, this most lustrous of metals has been associated with a 50-year celebration. Like a Rolex timepiece, gold is a universal symbol of prosperity and wisdom – and will always be among the most precious things you own.
Rolex Sea-Dweller (above)
Rolex first patented the helium escape valve – an ingenious device that regulates accumulated pressure during deep-water dives – some 50 years ago. Today, the technology is still ground-breaking, allowing the Sea-Dweller to reach depths of 1,220 metres – ten times the current free-diving record and more than three times the depth of the deepest-ever scuba dive. Slight increases in case size to 43mm and the addition, for the first time, of a Cyclops lens over the date indicator at 3 o’clock are the two most obvious changes. Die-hard fans (of which there are many) will notice the name picked out in red on the dial in homage to the first model.
Diamond: Diamonds have come to symbolise strength, beauty, purity and longevity. These precious stones have long been associated with 60th anniversaries, and the word ‘diamond’ is derived from the Greek word ‘adamas’, which means ‘unconquerable’ and ‘enduring’ – a perfect description of all the iconic timepieces seen here.
(Above, from left)
Breitling Superocean Héritage II
Think of Breitling and aviation most likely springs to mind first. But 60 years on from the launch of the Superocean, this hugely successful professional diving watch has spawned its own tribute collection. The Superocean Héritage II is tasked with keeping alive the spirit of the original model. Subtle retro styling abounds, from the original logo on the dial to the unusual triangular hour hand and the lozenge-like shape of the minute hand. This handsome model in Mariner Blue also ticks all the right technical boxes, with COSC certification, a unidirectional rotating bezel and water resistance to 200 metres.
Other brands may be snapping at the heels of Piaget when it comes to ultra-thin watches, but for the purist appreciative of a design classic that appears as contemporary today as it did six decades ago, look no further than the Altiplano. Named after the arid, flatter-than-flat, high-altitude plateau in the Andes, Altiplano is a perfect, uncluttered, elegant wristwatch that defies reason (the original hand-wound 9P movement was just 2mm thick). Numerous 60th anniversary models are presented this year, with this raspberry pink 34mm edition in white gold – printed with the original logo – being an incredibly chic women’s timepiece.
Longines Flagship Heritage 60th Anniversary
It’s no surprise that the Longines Flagship collection has endured so long. With a clean, uncluttered dial, thin profile and elegant, tapered hands, all powered by a mechanical movement, it boasts the sort of timeless character that appeals to many – including brand ambassador Kate Winslet, who apparently picked it as her watch of choice on a visit to the Longines headquarters. Like the original, the Flagship Heritage capsule collection will feature case backs stamped with a ship. The steel version will be limited to a run of 1,957 to mark the year of its inception.
Omega Speedmaster Moonphase Chronograph Master Chronometer ‘Blue Side of the Moon’
Sixty years ago Omega launched the Speedmaster, a watch that will forever be defined by its place in history: in 1969, on the wrist of Apollo XI astronaut Buzz Aldrin, it became the first watch ever worn on the surface of the moon. This year’s Moonphase Chronograph Master Chronometer, dubbed ‘The Blue Side of the Moon’, features a highly detailed image of our nearest satellite; on closer inspection, one can even see the footprint of an astronaut. In typical Omega form, the watch is impressively accurate, tracking the lunar month (measured as 29.5 days, not 30 as commonly thought) in a complication that only needs adjustment every ten years.
This article comes from the spring/summer issue of Calibre, the official magazine for Watches of Switzerland, Mappin & Webb and Goldsmiths. The magazine can be picked up in our showrooms or to subscribe to our digital Calibre newsletters, click here