Leading Watch Brands are Reviving Vintage Watch Models

Words by
Avril Groom

23rd November 2023

The world’s leading brands are turning to their archives for inspiration, reviving vintage watch models with contemporary detail and flair.

How Brands are Reviving Vintage Watch Models


Every week, it seems, a watch brand announces a new anniversary model. Many recent launches, however, have been about renewing historic pieces that have reached a significant date.

The revival watch suits a fast-moving modern industry where constant newness feeds social media needs, and clients love the nostalgic design of many inspirational archive models. Matthias Breschan is CEO of Longines, and the brand’s latest revival originated in 1925. He believes revival watches reflect a “desire for craftsmanship and individuality in a world driven by technology and change. For younger people a watch is a symbol rather than a practicality — something durable and authentic that reflects their personal taste.”

Vintage Watch Models - Cartier Baignoire
Cartier's Baignoire timepiece is set with 42 brilliant-cut diamonds

The rise of the revival watch has deep roots. Houses with rich design resources have always produced them, in tune with the style zeitgeist. Cartier is a past master, returning now to the oval Baignoire that was designed in 1912 and re-appeared at intervals before flourishing in 1958 in simple gold form. The most recent iteration, in 2019, was truncated by the pandemic; it is now redesigned with a gold or diamond bracelet, true to the mid-century style coveted today.

Vintage Watch Models - Ludo Secret watch
The Ludo Secret watch from Van Cleef & Arpels in 18ct rose gold with pink sapphires, white mother-of-pearl and Swiss quartz movement

The Ludo Secret from equally venerated Van Cleef & Arpels dates from 1934, when it was still social death for a woman to scan her watch in company. In this model, a bracelet of highly flexible gold sections had a central motif of precious stones with two tiny doors that sprang open to reveal the dial. The main changes to the timepiece are unseen high-tech materials.

Vintage Watch Models - Rolex Perpetual
The Rolex Perpetual 1908 in 18ct white gold

These distinctive models lend themselves more to subtle improvement than structural revamping, but not all brands are so literal. Rolex’s new 1908 is a sleek dress watch, addressing a different market to that of its sporty styles. Elegant and slender, with an innovative, five-patent movement, it looks vintage without referencing a particular piece. Its name refers not to a launch date but to the year that founder Hans Wilsdorf registered the brand’s name. Longines’ new Spirit Flyback doesn’t replicate the design that carried the first flyback movement — to ease the resetting of chronographs for pilots — but is a technologically advanced version that aptly reflects the spirit of the original, rather than the body.

Vintage Watch Models - Longines Spirit Flyback
The Longines Spirit Flyback embodies timeless elegance

Omega’s anniversary Seamaster range is as wide-ranging as its predecessors over the past 75 years, including dress styles alongside professional dive watches, all highly water resistant. The range is united by a new colour, Summer Blue, which appears on dials, bezels and even rubber straps, varying from pale and sunlit to deepest ink depending on the resistance. There are nods to previous models, but all are clean-lined, modern designs with co-axial chronometer movements and sophisticated refinements, such as the engraving of the Challenger Deep trench on the dial of the Ultra Deep, or a laser-ablated map of the Earth, viewed from above the North Pole, on the Aqua Terra Worldtimer’s titanium surface.

Vintage Watch Models - Omega Seamaster
The Omega Seamaster range features the new Summer Blue colour

The mid-century era driving current aesthetics and client taste was a fertile time for watch design — the best models are now revived with upgraded movements and finishes, brighter colours and different sizes for global market appeal.

Vintage Watch Models - Panerai Radiomir
Panerai's Radiomir California watch - the Radiomir was the brand's first design

After World War Two, military references predominated. Panerai’s 1940s Radiomir California, revived this year, has distinctive multi-font numerals, a weathered strap and steel case ironically aged by modern technology to look vintage. Breguet’s Type XX — Roman numerals for the civilian version of the Type 20 supplied to French military pilots in the 1950s — is now a sophisticated, subtle sports watch.

Vintage Watch Models - Breguet Type XX
The Type XX from Breguet honours the original 1950's timepiece

Prosperity in the 1950s encouraged a focus on travel, with designs including Breitling’s Navitimer — its complex dial featuring a pilot’s slide rule. The 2023 women’s version is immediately recognisable, with its simplified rule and the original dished dial.

Vintage Watch Models - Breitling Navitimer
The Breitling Navitimer, one the the world's leading mechanical chronographs

Orient, founded in Japan in 1950, is now available in Britain and offers well-priced styles with in-house automatic movements. Its new Neo Sport, with a block-pattern scale, day-date function and crown-rotated inner bezel, in a cushion case, recalls 24-hour models from its early decades.

Vintage Watch Models - Orient Neo Classic
Orient's Neo Classic takes its design cues from the 1960s and 70s

The 1960s saw a flourishing of sports styles, including models that are still iconic today. The Tag Heuer Carrera from 1963, designed by motorsport enthusiast Jack Heuer as a driver’s chronograph, has been a brand constant, apart from 12 years during the quartz crisis. The 60th Anniversary edition, with a panda dial and silver sunbrushing, embodies vintage detail down to the punched leather strap.

Vintage Watch Models - Tag Heuer Carrera
Tag Heuer's Carrera 60th Anniversary model is a limited edition of 600 pieces

Zenith’s Defy was a singular design in 1969, with its polished, angular case and 14-sided bezel. The new Defy Revival Shadow is equally dramatic, in matte titanium with a black dial and striped, block indices, inspired by early blacked-out designs made as prototypes.

Vintage Watch Models - Zenith Defy Revival Shadow
Zenith's Defy Revival Shadow reinterprets the first Defy model from 1969

1970s design shifted to glamorous engraved gold and hardstone jet-set styles such as master goldsmith Piaget’s ultra-plain and slim but generous Black Tie. Andy Warhol’s favourite dress watch, it now comes customised with unique mineral dials. “It’s authenticity rather than nostalgia,” says Piaget’s product director, Cynthia Tabet. “Our educated audience demand it, keeping the spirit alive while updating the model.”

Vintage Watch Models - Piaget Black Tie
Piaget's latest Black Tie Vintage Inspiration model

Faultless engraving features at Grand Seiko on the Silver Birch, in ultra-hard platinum with different patterns on the case and dial, inspired by a birch forest in winter and the dial and case of a 1969 model.

Vintage Watch Models - Grand Seiko Silver Birch
Grand Seiko's Silver Birch timepiece

Vacheron Constantin’s newest women’s Overseas has multi-layered inspiration. It resembles 1977’s 222, itself reintroduced last year, which also contributed elements to the original 1996 Overseas. “Our contemporary watches link to our heritage — the Overseas is modern yet neo-vintage,” says Christian Selmoni, the brand’s style and heritage director. “There is no questioning the prominent vintage trend.” Possibly the watch world‘s biggest truism, so expect the revivals to keep on coming.

Vintage Watch Models - Vacheron Constantin
The women's Overseas watch from Vacheron Constantin