Up to the Minutes: Brands turn to the past with rose-tinted timepieces

In the first of our new watch news column, Alex Doak explores a selection of new releases bound by an outward nod to the past, while inwardly moving things forward…

We are but days from the doors of Palexpo convention centre finally being flung open, welcoming the great and the good of the luxury-watch world after far too long, to Watches & Wonders. Gentleman’s Journal, naturally, will be there, blinking in the halogen spotlights as we step from Geneva Airport’s hectic spaghetti junction into soaring halls of cosseting champagne hues, with actual champagne on tap, not to mention vitrine after vitrine of gleaming new timepieces. So, stay tuned for those.

Meanwhile, it says everything of the past two years that while we’ve missed ‘IRL’ global trade fairs, the industry has rallied on a more localised basis post-pandemic, to uphold a constant, if not quite as urgent, buzz of new, ticking metal.

Last week saw Bremont’s new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Oxfordshire thronging with visitors, gawping at 11-axis milling machines as well as a particularly strong 2022 collection. The week before, a stream of VIPs enjoyed hands-on first looks at Zenith’s smash hits, from the plush confines of Mayfair’s Connaught Hotel, and just yesterday Longines launched its all-new GMT aviator watch at the home of time itself, Greenwich’s Maritime Museum.

We’re very happy to be boarding a plane to Switzerland next week, after all too long. But we’re also very happy this is no longer the be-all-and-end-all, once a year. Here are five great reasons why the watch world has moved with the times, upholding regular freshness, while, ironically, rolling with the unflagging, sepia-tinted trend for vintage revival.

Sashay into the Seventies

Zenith is doubling down on its wildly successful ‘Defy’ this year, three years after the Seventies’ sports range’s revival. So much so, not only has the watchmaker from Le Locle built the confidence to go 12-sided with the sleek new Defy Skyline, but also full retro with the Revival A3642: an utterly faithful reproduction of the very first model from 1969.

Crafted in a robust octagonal stainless steel case with 14-sided – or ‘tetradecagonal’ – bezel and paired with a tobacco-fade brown dial and ‘ladder’ bracelet, needless to say, all 250 pieces are spoken for already.

The spirit of 617 Squadron

If Britain’s Ministry of Defence reckons Bremont’s chronometers are fit for service across all three forces, then they’re certainly good enough for whatever you can throw at their hardened-steel, in-house-engineered cases. But perhaps not the particular payload slung beneath the aircraft that the Henley-on-Thames watchmaker pays tribute to this year. Commemorating the 80th anniversary of Avro’s Lancaster heavy bomber, the new Dambusters monopusher chronograph pays tribute, of course, to the daring raid on Germany’s Mohne and Eder dams by 617 Squadron, led by Guy Gibson.

Known as ‘Operation Chastise’, it was one of the most famous air ops of WWII, all hinging on Barnes Wallis’ Heath Robinson-esque ‘bouncing bomb’ system. The watch is limited to 232 pieces, because 232mph was the speed of the planes’ approach run, at an altitude checked by two spotlights overlapping on the lake below, bombs away when the dams’ watch towers aligned with the navigator’s coat-hanger-derived sights.

Spirit in the sky

One of the earliest aviation pioneers wasn’t Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart or Amy Johnson, but rather the Swiss watchmaker that all three of them relied upon heavily: Longines. A cockpit clock made by what has since become China’s most popular luxury watch brand was even crucial for Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon Jr’s successful navigation over the Pacific Ocean, which they did before anyone else in 1931.

It’s this ‘Spirit’ of globetrotting pluck that inspires the latest in Longines’ titular collection, boasting an all-new self-wound movement that features a ‘true’ 24-hour GMT, or home-time hand, with ‘local’ hours hand adjustable independently in discrete hour ‘jumps’. The ceramic bezel can also be twizzled to provide a third time reference, should your aeronautical exploits prove particularly peripatetic.

Joyful and triumphant

Back when the Fifties ‘café racer’ subculture was building, at the leather-gloved hands of hip motorcyclists in northwest London, Switzerland’s own racy watch magnate Willy Breitling set out to capture the scene, with a whole new take on the chronograph (which he’d made his speciality during the middle of the 20th century, pausing only to kit out RAF cockpits in WWII). His ‘Top Time’, for “young and active professionals”, flaunted a rakish bow-tie motif, since nicknamed ‘Zorro’ by Breitling collectors.

Luckily for them, its freewheeling spirit is back, in collaboration with Britain’s oldest-running motorcycle brand Triumph; the ‘top’ manufacturer for every discerning café boyracer. Its ice-cool blue harks back to the Leicestershire marque’s Thunderbird 6T from 1951, while Triumph itself is launching 270 Breitling-branded Twin Speed bikes. As Watford’s iconic biker café would have it: Ace.

Diode to joy

Back in 1971, Girard-Perregaux was having none of Switzlerand’s collective effort to compete with the Far East’s newfangled quartz tech (the ill-fated ‘Beta 21’ project) and took it upon itself to develop at huge cost its own battery-powered movement, the Calibre 350. In doing so, this practitioner of ornate tourbillons established the now-universally adopted oscillating frequency for a quartz-crystal regulator, 32.7kHz.

The launch was ‘Buck Rogers’ levels of retro-electro futurism, going into hyperdrive with the now-reissued digital beauty you see here: the Casquette. The 2022 revival, in ceramic, is a reminder of how devastatingly cool Cylon-visor-red LED digital displays can be (though you do still have to press a button to read it, given the drain on battery life).

Want more watches? Audemars Piguet celebrates the Royal Oak’s 50th anniversary with six new watches…

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