Tributes, reissues, & homages. A look at some tastefully reimagined modern watches. First installment.
As much as I enjoy a classic vintage watch, I will admit that sometimes the flaking lume, movement servicing expense, tracking down of hard-to-find parts, and all those little idiosyncrasies that present themselves on a 40-to-70 year old watch can be a drag. So a well-presented and executed tribute or reissue of the original is almost always interesting to me. And although I'm pretty much over the whole homage watch thing, I still have one that I enjoy for lots of reasons.
In some cases I enjoy owning both specimens, the original in all its flaking-lume glory and the modern reinterpretation. Where I don't own both, I've borrowed some pictures of good examples from the Internet for purposes of this essay. What surprised me when I sat down to outline this blog entry was how many watches I own that would qualify for membership in this club in some detail or another (twelve by my count, and I used to own more).
I will start with a fairly new watch, the Alpina KM Tribute. KM is an abbreviation for Kriegsmarine, the German Navy, which in the 1940s specified "waterproof" watches for naval service. The watches were produced by other companies in addition to Alpina and are small by modern standards, but quite lovely and enjoyable to study. Alpina used their caliber 592 in their KM watches and so their watch was known as the KM 592. Here's a picture of a nice one posted on MWR by member Grentch:
And here is Alpina's new KM Tribute. This watch uses a completely in-house manufacture movement, the new caliber AL-710. I love how Alpina reinterpreted the sub-dial at 6 as a date indicator. It's been my experience that a lot of tribute watch designs are ruined by the perceived modern need to include a date, which is often cut into the dial in an ugly way. But Alpina has given us the modern convenience of a date feature and honored the original watch at the same time. Absolutely brilliant in my view. Note also the shape of the hands, rectangular indices at 3, 6, 9, & 12 (round elsewhere), and the font used with its open 4 and flat topped 3. Modern touches that I really like include the logo counterweight on the seconds hand. Like its forebear, the modern Alpina is very nicely built and executed and is a joy to wear. Mine keeps almost perfect time, too.
On to a less successful reissue. If you like British military chronographs, you are no doubt familiar with the 30-minute Valjoux 7733-powered chronographs from the 1970's. These watches were produced by four companies from 1970 to 1982: Hamilton ('70-'74), CWC ('73-'78, '80, '82), Newmark ('80 only, ca. 500 pieces), and Precista ('81 only, unknown production, perhaps 1,000 pieces). Here is a picture of what are sometimes called the Fab Four. You will note that the Hamilton is a sterile dialed specimen, which is because the watch was re-dialed by the Ministry of Defence at some point in its service life as a matter of routine maintenance.
Three of the Fab Four have been re-issued by their makers, with varying degrees of success in my opinion. The awkwardly named CWC 1970's Remake Chrono is perhaps the best. It uses a Valjoux 7765 and its overall look, feel, and size are the closest to the original. CWC only produced about 450 of these remakes, and the series is almost sold out. Its level of detail accuracy goes right down to the fixed strap bars and tritium dial, which should age nicely on its own.
Precista (the brand is now owned by Time Factors of the UK), also produced a tribute to its original chronograph known as the PRS-5. I have owned two of these watches but could never warm up to the Seagull ST19 movement, so neither lasted with me. The hands, while quite nice on their own, just seemed wrong to me on this watch. And the case had a funny, awkwardly tall shape.
Finally, when Hamilton announced in 2013 that they were releasing a tribute to their original 1970 British military chronograph I knew I had to have one. Unlike Precista and CWC, however, Hamilton committed the tribute watch sin of tacking on a date aperture in a haphazard and awkwardly placed way. Compare this to the thoughtful and tasteful way Alpina included a date on the Tribute KM. The watch is also quite large, certainly compared to the original, but also in an absolute sense. It's just a big chunk of a watch. First I tried the black dialed version in blasted case, feeling like it was closest to the original. It didn't last with me however, and so a couple years later I picked up the champagne-dialed model with the brushed and polished case. The ugly date aperture is much less objectionable on this dial for some reason, and I find that I really like the case finish better. Even though the watch is quite tall already, it really wears quite nicely on a nylon NATO strap. So this Hamilton is staying with me and has a place in my collection. I suspect Hamilton will drop production of this watch soon.
Hamilton uses their caliber H-31 movement in this watch, which has a 60-hr power reserve. The watch is nice to wind, and despite the size I like to wear it. This might be the only Hamilton watch I own on which I actually like the Art Deco logo. On literally every other Hamilton watch I own, I prefer the Jet Age logo.
Staying on the subject of Hamilton watches, in the 1990's they produced a successful tribute to their British military classic, the 6B navigator's watch. The reissued watch is reference 9721 and is quite a lovely little watch in its own right. The iconic railroad dial and handset are just about perfect, and the size is just right too. And although they didn't avoid the tribute watch sin and did put a date window on the reissue watch, I find it fits in reasonably. I own two of these watches, one with glossy black Hamilton dial, and one with the more matte dial sold by LL Bean in one catalog only, Spring 1991. Here's the original 6B I used to own. Its case is about 35 mm with 18 mm lugs. Note the by now familiar railroad track dial with rectangular cardinal indices.
And here are the modern 9721's I own. Look what a nice job Hamilton did on these dials and handsets. The railroad track, indices, and handset are all looking good, but I would have preferred if Hamilton hadn't added the 13 thru 24 inner race. Still though, it's well executed and not entirely out of place. The 9721 uses automatic caliber 2824-2 and at 36 mm they are extremely comfortable to wear. 9721's can still be found in NOS or very lightly used condition for under $300 on eBay.
Switching gears entirely, Junghans is about to release a new tribute to their classic Bundeswehr chronograph from the 1950s. The original watches used Junghans' caliber J88, so the watch is often referred to by this designation. I have never owned one of the originals but wouldn't mind trying one at some point. But I am not tempted at all by the re-issue they are getting ready to announce. It's too big, utilizes a modular movement unfortunately, and has some kind of funky Star Trek font on the dial.
The previous reissue, on the other hand, was brilliant. It is known as a Flieger Chronograph 1955 LE, and its dimensions are spot on at 38 mm. The dial is a near perfect reproduction of the original and it uses a modified Valjoux 7760. This watch has become harder to find than a well worn original example. Here is the original J88 from 1949 (photo courtesy of junghans.de):
And here is my 1955 LE, released in 1998.
That's it for now. In the next installment of Tributes, Reissues, & Homages I'll be talking about Smiths, Precista, Mk II, Junghans again, and Omega. Thanks for reading!