The Vintage Watch 'Curriculum'
And the story of an unusual Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
The Vintage Watch ‘Curriculum’
Rescapement has a new Resources page, providing links to audio, visual, and written resources to help make you smarter about vintage watches
Watch collectors have always used the internet to share information, help fellow collectors identify and buy watches, and document their latest find. Over the decades, this has moved from forums to highly professional digital publications, but the premise remains the same: information is essential. You can’t buy a vintage watch without digging deep into the story behind a particular brand or reference. I’ve attempted to compile some of the best in-depth articles, videos, and other resources on vintage watches from around the web. The core of this page is (and will continue to be) these in-depth articles. I’ve also begun to collect various other links to videos, podcasts, serial number databases, groups, etc. that one might find interesting in their collecting journey.
On the go? Check out the Spotify playlist with some of the best podcast episodes featuring some of the most important players in the watch industry:
This is a dynamic page, and I plan to add more to it — for example, in-depth explanations of movements and complications, reputable dealers, and more. Let me know what you’d like to see from this page going forward. Consider this something of a vintage watch “curriculum.” If you read and re-read these articles, digest them, and apply what you learn to your own collecting habits, you can go far. If you know of an article I missed, please reach out.
Friends of the program
This week, a guest post by esteemed collector Greg Selch. He tells the story of a rare Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, and his years-long journey to find one. Most watch collectors know about the Fifty Fathoms, created in 1953 by Blancpain and CEO Jean-Jacques Fiechter and now considered the first modern dive watch. But few know the story of a version that came later:
Over the years, Jean-Jacques Fiechter’s wife had noticed that her husband wore his diving watch all the time, not just as a diving instrument for his brief diving excursions, but all day, and everyday. One reason for this was that the watch had an automatic movement so there was no reason to wind or set the time, thereby wearing out the stem/crown or compromising its waterproof double gaskets. In fact, this had become a habit, and style, for divers. They all wore their specialized watches, even with evening wear or to business meetings. There was one problem, noticed by Mme. Fiechter: the large rotating bezel with its prominent knurling for grip with wet hands caused expensive shirt sleeves to fray.
Couldn’t a watch be designed, which would function the same way, without this problem?
Read on for the full story about the unusual Fifty Fathoms, and Greg’s journey to find one.
Another great article from a writer we know well at Rescapement, Rich Fordon. He goes deep and tells the story of the first three generations of the Eterna Super-KonTiki, spanning 1960 to 1971.
The dive watch takes its name from a balsa-wood raft sailed on by Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl on a 101-day journey from Peru to the Polynesian Islands in 1947. However, Rich says that “any direct link between the expedition and Eterna is unclear,” and “while the Swiss watchmaker’s website claims, ‘strapped to his wrist, each Kon-Tiki crew member carried an Eterna timepiece,’ in reality, none of these timepieces have been recovered or identified. A single early-military style Longines even sits in Oslo’s Kon-Tiki Museum. Nevertheless, Eterna introduced an automatic timepiece bearing the KonTiki name in 1958, and the ethos of these timepieces is rooted in Heyerdahl’s Expedition.”
But Rich’s article really begins with the first generation of the Super-KonTiki, first introduced in 1960. This was Eterna’s effort to offer a true diving watch, on par with other dive watches of the era that collectors may be more familiar with.
And if you’re skeptical about the Super-KonTiki, or Eterna, take it from Rich:
Prior to starting this process I, like most vintage watch enthusiasts, had not owned or even handled an Eterna Super-KonTiki, or even an Eterna. Outside of hearing a vague story about the brand’s connection to movement supplier ETA, I had not spent much time thinking of Eterna. In all honesty, Eterna did not excite me. That changed. I handled a 130 PTX during a friendly meet-up; then, an earlier first-generation crossed my path. And, for a week, I wore a third generation every day, to work, with a suit and all, on a Veblenist green nylon NATO.
What does “contemporary design” mean in an industry that perennially looks backward? That’s the question the New York Times poses in this article highlighting the 10 watches that have had the most profound effect on the industry over the part quarter century. It’s great to see a well-rounded watch article from the Grey Lady, more than the typical “look how expensive this watch was just sold for.” The list is full of modern icons, from independents and large brands alike; and of course, one “is it a watch, or isn’t it?!” electronic timepiece.
As to the writer’s justification for the electronic Apple Watch’s inclusion? “Given how the total value of Swiss watch exports was $21 billion in 2018 (up 6 percent year over year), Apple Watch is about 60 percent the size of the entire Swiss watch industry.” Fair enough.
Of course, some will always argue that the Apple Watch isn’t a watch. Professor Cunningham argues over at Horolonomics that the Apple Watch is more like a “dumb phone”. Either way, he points out there’s a positive correlation between Swiss watch exports and smart watch sales. There’s some explanatory power in this correlation, too (that is, there’s a decent R-squared, for you statistics nerds).
Call it whatever you want: in 2015, 44 percent of U.S. adults wore a watch. Four years and five Apple Watch series releases later, that number sits at 55 percent. If the Apple Watch is serving as a gateway into traditional mechanical watchmaking, we’re all better for it.
Ticks & Tocks
🚲 Ace x Nomos Zurich Weltzeit Amsterdam, a 25-piece limited edition from the German brand and Amsterdam retailer. 🇩🇪 More from Glashutte: The Glashutte Original SeaQ. 🎁 GQ’s Winter Best Stuff Box is solid. 🏎 Penske is buying Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 🔪 How to use Occam’s razor without getting cut. 🚘 Ferrari x Armani are collabing on clothes… 🏊 Google bought Fitbit. What does it mean for the future of wearables?
In Chicago: Why is Molson Coors moving from Denver to Chicago?
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