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Back to the Future

Luxury watches embrace ’70s nostalgia and space-age glam.

A photograph of Rolex Explorer II Shop at Rolex

LUXURY WATCH BRANDS have long tapped their design archives for inspiration — whether to produce a revival piece for a milestone occasion or simply to stir creative juices when developing a new collection. In the wake of the 2008 global economic meltdown, a significant shift in watch design took place. Conservatism and nostalgia were palpable, as throwback designs reminiscent of the golden age of sport watches from the 1950s and ’60s dominated the market for years. Purpose-built, midcentury-styled tool watches evocative of Sean Connery’s James Bond became all the rage.

Recently, however, the reference timeline has been shifting again, this time to the oh-so-fab 1970s and early ’80s — think Roger Moore’s 007, less serious with a hedonistic wink. As fashion, film, music, and, of course, design broke from established conventions, watches reflected the changing paradigm from sci-fi, “Battlestar Galactica”­ futurism to yellow-gold, yacht rock decadence. We can dig it!

Shop at Girard-Perregaux

Girard-Perregaux Casquette 2.0

From a galaxy far, far away. Last spring, Girard-Perregaux revived its Reference 9931, an innovative quartz watch that was in production from 1976 to 1978 during the height of the quartz crisis, when inexpensive, super-accurate quartz technology decimated Switzerland’s traditional mechanical watch industry. GP decided to take quartz head-on, developing its own superior movement and pairing it with a suitably radical futuristic design featuring a tubular LED display worthy of a placement in “Star Wars.” Over time the Casquette, as it was nicknamed, became a cult classic for vintage collectors with a yen for retro-futuristic design.

This year’s Casquette 2.0 is limited to 820 pieces in a nod to the original’s 8,200-piece production run. And while it stays true to form, it has gotten an upgrade in lightweight, durable black ceramic with a Grade 5 titanium caseback, plus a new movement. In keeping with the vintage vibe, the top of the case is emblazoned with a 1970s GP logo. Like the original, it displays hours, minutes, seconds, day, and date, but the new movement adds some additional functions: month and year, a chronograph, and a second time zone, plus the option to save a secret date, such as an anniversary, that can appear every day at a specified time. SHOP NOW

Shop Vacheron Constantin

Vacheron Constantin Historiques 222

Solid gold. Vacheron Constantin recently resurrected its 37-mm yellow gold 222 “Jumbo” from glitzy 1977. The design by Jorg Hysek elegantly marked the maison’s 222nd anniversary with a glamorous take on a sport watch that embodies today’s active-chic ethos.

Vacheron Constantin’s Historiques collection is so named for its faithful re-editions of vintage models plucked from its vast archives. Accordingly, the 222’s aesthetic codes have been retained with a few twenty-first-century tweaks. The flat-based tonneau-shaped monobloc case, topped with a fluted bezel, features the brand’s emblematic Maltese cross in white gold at 5 o’clock. The gold-toned dial is appointed with yellow gold hour markers and baton hands that are treated with Super-LumiNova, so they glow lime green after dark, in a nod to the luminous tritium that was used in the 1970s. And the integrated gold bracelet is smoothly satin-finished and retooled for a more comfortable fit. Peer through the sapphire crystal caseback for a glimpse of the new-generation ultra-thin Calibre 2455/2 movement, equipped with a specially engraved oscillating weight. SHOP NOW

Shop Glashütte Original

Glashütte Original Seventies Chronograph Panorama Date

Steel wheels. Following its vintage Sixties range, Glashütte Original’s Seventies collection, which debuted in 2011, took retro aesthetics in a different direction with an unconventional square-shaped case with rounded corners, inspired by Seventies design rather than an actual vintage watch.

The latest addition to the Seventies family is the Chronograph Panorama Date in polished stainless steel, looking especially timely with a dial in “fab green,” watch design’s current color du jour. Changing up the look is a snap with the choice of three straps and bracelet options: brown-gray nubuck leather, black rubber, or cool stainless steel. But there’s also substance behind all that style, with the reliable Calibre 37-02, a column-wheel chronograph delivering up to 70 hours of power reserve and 10-bar water resistance. SHOP NOW

Shop at Chopard

Chopard Alpine Eagle 33

Fly high. Launched as a collection in 2019 to catch the wave of popular retro steel sport watches, Chopard’s Alpine Eagle descended from the St. Moritz, a design from 1980 envisioned by the brand’s current co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele. The Alpine Eagle alludes to the vintage St. Moritz piece without directly copying it. The broad bezel is accented with four pairs of visible and functional screws, and the gently tapered three-row integrated bracelet features an ingot-shaped central link. Flourishes, such as the eagle feather central seconds hand and dials with a sunburst motif evoking an eagle’s eye, reference the namesake raptor.

This year Chopard extended the range with the Alpine Eagle 33, designed for smaller wrists. The new 33-mm size comes in six versions with and without a splash of diamonds. Choose from the brand’s exclusive Lucent Steel A223, which is harder and more luminous than regular steel while incorporating 70% recycled material; or go for Chopard’s ethically sourced 18-karat rose gold. Plus, there’s a two-tone version that evokes ’80s flair. Each metal option is paired with a colored dial inspired by the natural environment of the Swiss Alps: Aletsch Blue, Bernina Gray, Vals Gray, and Pink Dawn. SHOP NOW

Shop at Rolex

Rolex Explorer II

Adventure set. When it debuted in 1971, Rolex’s Explorer II was positioned as an evolution of the 1950s-era Explorer, an archetypal tool watch designed to meet the robust needs of mountaineers, who weighed in on the project. Distinguished by its 24-hour display, Explorer II took the adventure theme to extremes, appealing to polar explorers, speleologists, and volcanologists.

Last year, the brand revisited this classic sport watch with a few oh-so-subtle updates, as Rolex is inclined to do. The classic steel versions with white or black dials closely resemble their predecessors from about a decade ago, with a few tweaks, plus an upgraded GMT movement, the Calibre 3285, that powers the latest GMT-Master II. SHOP NOW

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Our Contributors

Laurie Kahle Writer

Laurie Kahle is a freelance writer who frequently covers watches, fashion, and luxury travel. A former editor at Robb Report, her work has been featured in Barron’s, Cigar Aficionado, Departures Intl., Hodinkee, and Centurion, among others.

Departures and American Express do not provide, endorse, or guarantee any of the items, and the sale of such items is governed by the third-party seller’s policies, terms, and conditions.

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