What’s Old is New Again: Modern Versions of Vintage Watches

ARTICLE DATE 10/27/2017
Modern Versions of Vintage Watches: Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch
Modern Versions of Vintage Watches: Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch

While we love contemporary luxury watches, there’s something to be said for vintage timepieces. In addition to appealing aesthetics, they are a window into a moment of time. They help us understand the zeitgeist of the era–whether it was wartime, an explosion of the arts, or a shift in cultural norms. However, wearing vintage watches sometimes comes with compromises in condition, sizes, and technical abilities. A great way to bridge the gap is to sport modern versions of vintage watches. Sometimes called heritage watches, brands often reissue milestone watches from their archives to mark an anniversary. Here are some of our favorite modern versions of vintage watches.

Panerai Radiomir 1936

In 1936, Panerai created a batch of prototypes for the frogman commandoes of the Royal Italian Navy. These watches set the tone for what would become Panerai’s signature design and technical detail. These being very large cases, highly luminescent dial, and fantastic water resistance.

Modern Versions of Vintage Watches: The original Panerai Radiomir prototype from 1936 vs. the reissue Panerai Radiomir 1936 PAM00249
The original Panerai Radiomir prototype from 1936 (left) vs. the reissue Panerai Radiomir 1936 PAM00249 (right)

70 years later, in 2006, Panerai unveiled the contemporary Panerai Radiomir 1936 PAM00249 to mark the milestone anniversary. Complete with a 47mm stainless steel cushion-shaped case, the Art Deco California style dial with a mix of Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, and stick indexes, wire lugs, and hand-wound movement, this watch is incredibly historically accurate to the prototype. Limited to only 1936 pieces, these modern versions of vintage watches are an awesome way to wear the original military spec Panerai.

Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 GMT

Perhaps unbeknownst to some, Zenith was integral to the development of the pilot watch. For instance, when Louis Blériot flew across the English Channel in 1909 as the first man to ever do so, he had his trusty Zenith pilot wristwatch. 30 years later in 1939, Zenith began supplying hand-wound aircraft clocks, dubbed Type 20 Montre d’Aéronef, for aircraft cockpits. Decades later in 2012, Zenith unveiled the Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 heritage collection and several models were released in the following years.

Modern versions of vintage watches
Louis Blériot’s Zenith (top left), the Type 20 Montre d’Aéronef aircraft clock (top left), and the contemporary Pilot Type 20 Montre d’Aéronef GMT watch (right)

One of them is the Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 GMT watch seen here. These modern versions of vintage watches clearly take their design cues from Blériot’s watch as well as those aircraft clocks. In fact, they are even named after the original Type 20 Montre d’Aéronef cockpit instruments. The Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 GMT sports a large 48mm stainless steel case, along with the oversized onion style winding crown. The expansive dial boasts bold Arabic numerals paired with big hour and minute hands. There’s also the large GMT-hand with a red tip, which in conjunction with the 24-hour scale on the periphery of the dial, indicates a second time zone.

IWC Portuguese Chronograph

Do you know what the most successful IWC watch ever produced is? The Portuguese Chronograph. Although the modern Portuguese Chronograph collection is relatively new–having made its debut in 1998–its history, design, and inspiration actually dates back to 1939. As the story goes, two Portuguese businessmen commissioned large steel wristwatches from International Watch Company (the name of the company during that era) with the requirement that they had to be highly precise. So the company developed a hunter-style wristwatch powered by a pocket watch movement. The 43mm size of the original Portuguese watch was massive for the era.

Vintage Portuguese (left) and modern day Portuguese Chronograph (right)
Vintage Portuguese (left) and modern-day Portuguese Chronograph (right)

Over the next few decades, the International Watch Company only issued few Portuguese models. And the watch was almost forgotten completely. Thankfully, however, in 1993, IWC revived the collection to mark the 125h anniversary of the company. The modern-day IWC Portuguese collection, also known as the Portugieser, quickly adopted new models including minute repeaters, manual chronograph rattrapante models, and finally, the automatic Portuguese Chronograph.

A particularly luxurious version of the popular chronograph is the 18k rose gold Portuguese Chronograph. With its characteristic 40.9mm round case, super slim bezel, balanced dial with Arabic numerals, and brown leather strap, the Portuguese Chronograph ref. IW371480 is one of the dressiest chronographs available today.

Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch

We cannot discuss modern versions of vintage watches without examining the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch. In 1965, NASA declared the Omega Speedmaster “flight-qualified for all manned space missions” and since then, the Swiss watch company has been a part of historic American space missions. The most famous of which was the historic lunar landing in 1969. Both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had their NASA-issued Omega Speedmaster ref. 105.012 watches when them as they journeyed to the moon. While Armstrong had to leave his onboard the during his steps on the moon, Aldrin had his Omega Speedmaster wrap around his spacesuit while he took his historic lunar walk.

Modern Versions of Vintage Watches: Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch
Modern Versions of Vintage Watches: Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch

Omega has since then issued several modern versions of those legendary vintage watches, including the Omega Speedmaster Professional “Moonwatch” ref. 311. Protecting the black dial housed with the 42mm stainless steel case is hesalite crystal–the same material used on the original Moonwatch. Plus, as an authentic reissue, the modern-day Speedmaster Moonwatch runs on a manual-wound movement just like the vintage Omega Moonwatch. The contemporary Speedmaster Moonwatch comes in a full set equipped with a special presentation box, two extra straps–a NATO-style strap and an astronaut-style strap–a loupe, tools, and a Speedmaster and space information booklet.

If you enjoy the designs of vintage watches but need modern-day practicality, then look no further than heritage watches. There are so many luxury watches out there that offer retro looks repackaged to reflect contemporary tastes. Modern versions of vintage watches truly offer the best of both worlds.