Editor’s Note: For all the shiny new watches we come across every week, nothing gets our hearts racing like a great vintage timepiece. These are watches with stories, some known, some lost to history. Watches from the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s come from an era when a man’s timepiece was his everyday carry, a tool for the job that wasn’t put away when things got down and dirty. Many vintage watches bear the marks of use that we endearingly call “patina”, and remain that much more lovely in spite of (or because of) it.
The other appealing aspect of vintage watches is their rarity. Even the most common old timepieces are becoming harder to find in good shape. So while you can walk into a retailer and buy a brand new watch anytime, finding a good vintage piece requires patience, persistence, research and legwork. This leads us to the tenth installment of our ongoing series, Timekeeping Selects, a partnership with Analog/Shift, the New York-based purveyor of vintage watches. We’ve done the legwork for you, handpicking the coolest, most unique old watches, all of which have impeccable authenticity and are serviced and ready to wear.
In the 1960s, Heuer was the chronograph brand. Its Carrera, Autavia, Camaro and Monza wrist timers were worn by race car drivers and well-heeled enthusiasts alike. But being the leading brand, they were more expensive than a lot of armchair racers could afford. This gave rise to the so-called “Poor Man’s Heuer”, those chronographs that resembled Heuers and, in some cases, were even made by Heuer for other brands. Many of those brand names have been lost to history — Clebar, Aristo, Tradition — while others have lived to the present day in one form or another. One of the better-known examples of a Poor Man’s Heuer is the Hamilton chronograph we’re featuring today.
Hamilton is a well-known brand with roots dating back to the 19th century; the brand made pocket watches and chronometers for the American railroad and Navy, respectively. By the 1960s, Hamilton was losing ground and tried to stem its losses by purchasing the Swiss company Buren, from which it produced watches with the “Swiss Made” label on the dial. It also outsourced the production of some of its watches, including a popular line of chronographs that were built to order by Heuer itself; resembling the latter’s Carrera, they featured dual contrasting “Panda” registers, a broad, creamy dial and classic mushroom push-pieces. Inside ticked a hand-wound Landeron 248, a venerable movement that later morphed into the Valjoux 7733. The watch proved successful for Hamilton and is one of our favorite Poor Man’s Heuers for reasons beyond its OEM build. It’s also eminently more affordable than a vintage Carrera of the same age.
Though Hamilton lost its all-American cachet, the watches it sold in the late 1960s had a cool elegance to them. This chronograph is a perfect example. The 36-millimeter case has the clean lines of a classic ‘60s watch and a minimalist design — a departure from the garish, angular watches it was building in the ‘50s. Even the logo, with its sans-serif font and stylized “H”, looks right out of a Mad Men episode. The watch also comes from the last halcyon years of the hand-wound chronograph, a species we particularly covet. Only a year or two after this watch was originally sold, Hamilton was part of a consortium of brands, including Heuer, that worked to develop the world’s first self-winding chronograph movement. We’ll still take ours hand-cranked, thank you very much.
This Hamilton chronograph comes off of a fresh service in remarkable condition, with only minimal patina to the steel case and a very clean dial, devoid of oxidation or discoloration. The chronograph function snaps to attention and the watch keeps good time. We’re selling it on a ‘60s vintage leather strap along with an assortment of Crown & Buckle nylon and leather straps for mix-and-match fun. This is one time being “poor” isn’t a bad thing.