5 Vintage Designs We’d Love to See Make a Comeback in Modern Watchmaking

As vintage watches grow in popularity, watchmakers should take notice.

A 35mm Rolex Oyster with a linen dial: Case. In. Point | Eric Yang

Interest in vintage watches continues to boom, and don’t think modern watchmakers have turned a blind eye. “Vintage” has become a buzzword in the modern watch world and increasingly-accurate reissues and renditions of old icons from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s are winning the favor of watch enthusiasts. Now everyone seems to want Daytonas, Autavias and Seamasters.

While it might feel like we’ve hit peak reissue, it’s important to remember: For every mid-century icon, there are countless other watches. This isn’t to say they should all be brought back, but watchmakers from this era felt emboldened to experiment with new designs. Not all of them stuck but general trends led to unique pieces that now demand attention by many a growing number of watch buyers. In that regard, it wouldn’t hurt for watchmakers to consider modernizing some of the design traits that once made for special watches back in the day.

Textured Dials

Though eye-catching dial textures aren’t entirely ridden from the industry, they are few and far between, with watchmakers more apt to choose simple dial designs. Back in the day, watchmakers seemed willing to try out different designs, such as the cloth-like linen, the honeycomb (waffle) or brushed metal. They added personality and definition, and, for the most part, watches with these textures — especially from brands like Omega and Rolex — are highly sought after today.

Bright Colors

Bright colors on watches — red, yellows, oranges and blues — became significantly more common on tool watches during the late ’60s and ’70s. Sometimes this manifested itself on the dial but, more commonly, on hands and hour markers. Ostensibly, the addition of these colors was meant to bolster legibility (especially on dive watches like the Doxa 300t and Omega Seamaster “Banana”), but they resulted in fun, unique designs.

Sometimes some flex is a good thing.

Lighter Bracelets

As watch cases have grown in diameter and heft, so to have stainless steel bracelets — they’re thick, heavy, chunky and indisputably durable. But as Jason Heaton recently wrote for Hodinkee, there is an irrefutable appeal for jangly, lightweight bracelets. Since they’re lighter, they tend to be more comfortable. And because they aren’t as chunky, they flex more, better conforming to the wrist. If watchmakers do decide to more accurately recapture the smaller watch cases of yesteryear, it’d behoove them to build bracelets that match.

Small Cases

In the past 20 years or so, watches have gotten big. Really big. Many attribute this to the resurgence of Panerai in the ’90s, but whatever may have caused it, the average modern watch seems to come in at over 40mm in diameter. This is a stark contrast to the heyday of watch design during the mid-20th century where most watches sold hovered around 34mm to 38mm in diameter — that included chunky divers, too. As some watchmakers are catching on to the market’s demand for vintage watches, sizes are (slowly) starting to fall back to their original sizes)

Distinct Lugs

For the most part, modern watch designs feature straight, simple lugs (these are the pieces of the case that hold the strap on) that seamlessly blend into the case design of the watch. While these designs are unfussy, there is something to be said about a more stand-out lug design. Many old watches feature unique shapes like “spider,” “bombé,” and “teardrop” lugs caught on with tons of watchmakers like Bulova, Omega, Hamilton and even Rolex during the ’50s, and the effect looks almost detached from the case.

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