The Contrarian View: Vintage is rather problematic

Editor’s Note: The Contrarian View is a column submitted by the community. It is dedicated to taking an unpopular or controversial point of view and defending it. We invite readers to respectfully debate the proposition in the comments.

I like vintage. A lot. However, I don’t think that vintage is cool. And here is why you shouldn’t either.

At risk of being accused of hypocrisy; I must first make a confession. Most of the watches I own were made pre-1970 (for the sake of argument and brevity, let’s say any watch older than, say 30 years, is “vintage”).

To me, they represent the perfect blend of history, design, and classical watchmaking. And as someone with smaller wrists, I appreciate the relatively tiny cases.

So what’s the matter with vintage? Let’s put aside the rather obviously technological advantages of modern watches (improved manufacturing tolerances, advanced materials and water resistance are just a few advantages) and consider something much deeper.

I see two problems. First is the problematic effect that the vintage trend has had on the development of “new” watches. Second, is the idea that “everything was better before” that has emerged. The real issue here is the paralyzing effect of unassuming, yet toxic nostalgia…

Perhaps more importantly, these watches do not speak to our time in the way they should.

What we often forget about vintage is how cutting edge and revolutionary these watches were at the time. When the Patek Philippe ref. 1518 was launched in 1941, it was not just execution in timeless design; it was state of the art watchmaking!  That watch represented the taste and technology of an era.

So what is the ref. 1518 of our time?  Why do we consider a watch made nearly 80 years ago to be among one of the most beautiful watches ever made?  Why is there an almost unanimous consensus that “it was better before”?

In short, I think it has everything to do with how we choose to view the future. Hardly an original idea, however one that, I think, is not given enough thought.

Perhaps one of the best answers I’ve seen comes from IWC CEO, Mr. Christoph Grainger-Herr in an interview with

“There is a rising demand for retro and vintage watches since a few years. I have always asked myself why. One answer that I have found for myself is the fact, that in the post-war era we had a clear vision for the future. We knew that technical progress and an increase in productivity led to better prosperity. In the 90s this upward swing has started to diverge”

In practical terms, this means considering the effect of “vintage/nostalgia” has had on product development. My friend Mike made an interesting remark regarding this “It is easier to escape into the past than invent it’s future […] nostalgia is quite lazy and requires no creation”

To make a watch that speaks to our time, we must look to the past (with great humility) for inspiration but also must willing to break from it.

Then again, perhaps our desire for vintage inspired reissues speak perfect to our time – a time of great uncertainty instead of one of great exploration! Maybe what we should aim for is that people will one day feel nostalgic about the present.

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