Why Modern Reissues Don't Excite Me
During the initial days of Baselworld 2017, I recorded a Vlog entitled "Are Omega running out of ideas?". The title was not entirely representative of what the video was about, but it was a lot more concise than "Are the recent slew of heritage releases proliferating the idea that the best days of watch design are behind us at the expense of new designs". Over the last four months I've thought the Omega 1957 Anniversary editions and the idea reissued watches as a whole, and I'm finally able to put into words what I failed to do back in March: whilst individual reissues can be wonderful, the greater trend of releasing old watches is getting tired.
Out of the 141 new SKUs that Omega announced in Baselworld, it was the 1957 Trilogy set that got the most attention. Everyone who came into contact with the watches at Baselworld and since have said nothing but good things. If I ever get to see one of these watches I'm certain that I'd agree with the praise, but I'm more concerned about the trend of heritage reissues, than I am about the quality of the trilogy set. There is nothing wrong with the occasional watch being a reissue of a vintage piece but the amount of reissues we're seeing is reaching the point of oversaturation.
To use an example from cinema; the idea of shared cinematic universe between films with interconnecting plot and characters was unheard of before Marvel Studios came along. Now, with the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, every Hollywood studio is making their own, unnecessary, Cinematic Universe to varying degrees of success. (Are you excited to go see more Universal Studies Dark Universe movies after seeing The Mummy? I thought not). The same is happening with watch brands and I'm not impressed. There can of course be individual successes, the micro examples of the macro trend. Wonder Woman is the sole survivor of DC Comics amidst the car crash that is the DC Extended Universe. Yet for every Guardians of the Galaxy, there is a Suicide Squad. For every Rado Captain Cook, there is a Longines Heritage 1918.
The successes take the best of vintage but the failures completely fail to capture what is so fascinating about the old watches.
On the most basic of levels, modern reissues appear superior to the originals and to a certain customer they can be. If you want a reliable watch that looks vintage, but doesn't require any special care whilst wearing it, a reissue is the watch for you. Entering into the world of vintage watches can be incredibly daunting with the prospect of Frankenwatches lurking around every corner, waiting to pounce on naive collectors. So as a first step in vintage style watches, modern reissues are a safe bet but once you build up a good knowledge of vintage watches, they may not cut it anymore.
At their worst, modern reissues can be boring, compromised and unimaginative, the Longines Heritage 1918 released in 2016 is a prime example of this. I could be wrong, but I believe that the average customer isn't going to want a modern interpretation of a trench watch and a seasoned collector won't care for the faux patina, tacked on date window and odd size. Taking inspiration from vintage designs is not a bad way of making watches but forging your own path leads to greater results. The Oceanking from Monta watches showcases this. Monta are only 2 years old so don't have any vintage models they can transform into a modern watch. Instead, they took inspiration from guiding principles of 1950s and 1960s dive watches to create a new watch and even if the Oceanking wasn't perfect, it's still superior to any reissue because it's new.
The Alpina Alpiner Automatic 4 I reviewed back in February takes the name of a vintage Alpina but completely modernized the design. It kept the original intent behind the original Alpina 4, four being the number of essential qualities to a sports watch (anti-magnetism, water-resistance, anti-shock and a robust steel case) and created something new. The Bremont Airco Mach 2 I reviewed in May isn't inspired by a particular watch but rather vintage aviation and officer's watches of the past. It certainly looks 'old-fashioned' with its Breguet numerals and thin leaf hands, but the design was original.
This is why I fail to get excited about the Omega 1957 Anniversary Trilogy
It's not new, it's a reissue. By reissuing old designs as a celebration of the release of the master series of watches, it proliferates the idea that the best days of watch design are behind us. The 60th Anniversary of one of the greatest chronographs of the 20th Century deserves more than a reissue. I'm sure a lot of effort went into manufacturing these watches, but I still find it disappointing, especially when I know Omega can do better. They have proved with the success of the Planet Ocean that they can be influenced by past designs without repeating them.
Much like the trend of superhero movies, adaptations of young adult dystopian novels and attempts to make Jaden Smith "a thing", I believe that the watch industry will buckle under the weight of this new trend. I don't fault the watch industry for following this trend. With dwindling exports figures of Swiss watches across all price points, it makes sense to cling to any financial lifeboat that you can find.
Longines has been sitting happily in this heritage lifeboat for several years and have perfected, for the most part, the concept of a brand focused on releasing new versions of old watches. But as more and more brand clamber aboard, the boat will sink down and now will soon be taking on water. Inevitably the boat will capsize. When it will happen I don't know, but it will. The brands who were too busy clambering aboard the trend will be left treading water once again. The silver lining to this is that those that forged their own way through uncertain waters will be even clearer to spot.