The retro revolution: How Swiss watch companies are looking backwards to go forwards

Alex Doak
Longines Flagship Heritage 60th Anniversary 1957–2017; Bremont AirCo Mach 1; Oris Chronoris Date

In times of harsh realities, it’s obvious why we fall in love with sepia-filtered timepieces plucked from a steady, golden era of watchmaking – from doppelganger reissues and revivals, to old-fashioned faces that seem strangely familiar…

Oris Chronoris Date, CHF1,600,
First introduced in 1970 (“the 60s” lasted from 1964 to 1972, lest we forget), the Chronoris was Oris’s debut “stop-seconds” chronograph, with a groovy ovoid case and racy orange accents – a far-out design language that became prevalent in the 70s and is now enjoying a rightful revival. It’s not a chronograph as we know it, however – instead of the usual set-up, with stopwatch function on top, you use the crown at 4 o’clock to rotate the inner timing ring, aligning the triangle with either the hours-minutes or seconds hand, then reading off the elapsed time.

Longines Flagship Heritage 60th Anniversary 1957–2017, £TBC,
This is the sort of watch your grandfather would have worn, if your grandfather happened to be Don Draper. As smooth and sepia-tinged as the ad man himself, it’s the Swiss watchmaking giant’s flagship men’s watch (hence the name, durr), but it was actually Longines’ Ambassador of Elegance, Kate Winslet, who was invited to choose the face of its 60th-anniversary limited edition during a visit to the brand’s factory in Switzerland’s Jura Mountains. She’s clearly a woman after our own hearts.

Bremont AirCo Mach 1, £2,895,
A no-nonsense wristwatch is essential kit for any pilot, and we Brits used to make them just as well as the Swiss. It was this homespun pedigree, combined with a fully licensed passion for flying that inspired brothers Nick and Giles English to establish Bremont in 2002. Since then, they’ve linked viscerally with some legendary aircraft – even a limited edition containing actual wing fabric from the Wright Brothers’ historic ‘plane. But this nostalgic beauty, named after one of the first British military aircraft manufacturers, forms a new core collection that’s as fit for the Easyjet generation as Biggles himself.

Montblanc Summit

And now for something completely different...

At the opposite end of the spectrum to nostalgic retro reissues, Switzerland is also pushing the smartwatch envelope, and Montblanc’s is the latest.

Up till now, barring Frederique Constant and Alpina’s more classically styled Horological Smartwatch (essentially an activity monitor), the only high-end Swiss smartwatch trying to compete with Apple’s ubiquitous Watch was TAG Heuer’s Connected – an all-singing all-dancing star turn, now available in modular form, should you wish to switch out the tech and mount a mechanical tourbillon chronograph instead.

But last month Montblanc unveiled a serious contender to TAG’s crown, at a significantly lower price. Launching in May, the “Summit” combines traditional styling with state-of-the-art technology and premium materials – such as slightly curved sapphire glass covering the timepiece’s display, a first in smartwatches. Running on the same Android Wear 2.0 operating system as TAG’s, but with a Qualcomm processor rather than Intel, the possibilities are virtually endless, functionality-wise. But the seemingly small detail that will win the respect of hardcore watch-nerds is the “always on” display – no more disconcertingly blank screens.

The Montblanc Summit will be available for £765

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