Posted on May 17 2020
Heritage and Vintage Reissue Watches - What are the best available and affordable models?
It started with the Russians.
That’s where I can really say that my interest in watches began.
I’d had watches before, having a Swatch collection as a teenager, and a few high street pieces through my early 20’s. But it was discovering Russian watches online that drew me in deeply.
To be more specific it was Vostok.
The company that produced cheap, bullet-proof watches for the Russian military. Of course, I had a little awareness about watch companies and could appreciate the brand’s stories, but this was different. For the first time, I took an interest in the history and development of the watch. In this instance, there was an interesting tale of a displaced wartime watch factory, innovation on a budget and the Space race thrown in too.
I was wearing something on my wrist that had a story.
What's more, because the Russian watches had their own unique and quirky design, people did actually ask about them. I found it satisfying to have an answer and it just made me appreciate the brand more.
Years later, when it came to retailing watches, Vostok was the first brand I sold. In part, I wanted to tell their story.
The next watches I sold were the G10 - their story was the development for, and use by, the British Army.
When Northwind was launched, the watches story based on the heritage of Northern England, was central to the brand. For me, the appeal of watches is as much the history as it is the design or the engineering. That could be Omega’s Moonwatch, James Bond’s Rolex or the humble Vostok worn by a KGB officer in the Soviet Union. Ideally, I want my watch to tell a story.
So I’ve also spent a fair amount of time scouring flea markets and auctions looking for vintage pieces. Something a bit different, not available on the high street and ideally with a bit of history.
Of course, watches are mechanical. They break and scratch. Finding a vintage piece at a flea market and having a reliable working watch on your wrist can be separated by a lot of time and money. Which gets us to the point of this article.
I love it when the manufacturer does the hard work for me.
What if the watch company took a vintage design we’re already fans of and made a new version? Using modern watchmaking knowledge and tweaked just enough to meet today’s standards? A watch that looked 50 years old, but has an easily repairable modern movement, water-resistance and a full manufacturers warranty?
It’s having your cake and being able to eat it.
So, I’m a big fan of heritage and reissue models.
But again, I tend more towards the affordable end of the market. There are some beautiful pieces recreated by the big established Swiss names - they’re great, but obviously don’t come cheap. There are others that are more realistic purchases for the average watch buyer. Here are five of my favourites.
Perhaps unjustly, Chinese manufacturing hasn’t the best reputation. But that should very much depend on the product, and importantly, the budget. There’s no end of cheap Chinese mechanical watches offered for sale online and the quality can vary greatly. There’s also the reality that some of the great watches we love are made in Chinese factories, particularly the Microbrands.
But really, how good are Chinese watch brands?
Let’s look at the history of Seagull, arguably China’s foremost watch brand.
Their factory has been producing watches since the 1950s, with the company focusing only on mechanical models since 1997. They’ve supplied the Chinese military with reliable watches for decades and their Tianjin factory is currently the largest watch manufacturer in China.
This brand has stood the test of time well, produced watches to be used in tough environments and has recently adapted to supplying the consumer market.
My first Seagull watch was the M177S, a Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control homage. Now discontinued, it’s a great dress watch and my first experience of a piece from a Chinese manufacturer. Then I picked up this 1963 Chronograph, a watch that Seagull had reissued.
Like the Russian watches I’ve collected, this watch seems to shout out its heritage. It’s a remake of the watch that Seagull made for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and it looks like I’d expect it to.
It’s unashamedly Chinese and displays both the Red Star and the Made in China text on the dial. It comes in 42mm and 38mm versions, with the latter being the more authentic of the two. I bought mine from a friend so I have the 42mm, but if buying new I would have chosen the 38mm.
This is a mechanical watch with Seagull’s own ST19 Chronograph movement inside. It’s a complex and attractive movement that is visible through the exhibition back. The watch is modestly priced, a real conversation piece and a good place for us to start our list.
In my post about vintage style divers I included Rotary’s Ocean Avenger, a reissue they produced based on one of their own 1960s divers watches. It’s a great looking piece, and as I hinted in another article, we shouldn’t be too snobby about our watches. With an open mind, you’re able to find gems in unexpected places.
Yes, Rotary is a high street brand that you can pick up in the Argos catalogue, but there’s nothing to suggest that they don’t produce decent watches. Particularly if you’re shopping on a budget.
This watch is more of a heritage piece than a faithful reissue.
It has an authentic 1940s style, the design being reminiscent of aviation watches of that period. There’s both a domed dial and crystal and a dark brown leather strap. The subtle modern touch can be seen in the shape of the lugs and the 40mm case size. But you really have to look closely to see the contemporary elements on what passes for a pretty convincing vintage watch.
Powered by an automatic movement and with a limited run of 300 pieces, this is a distinctive and original timepiece that is worth a closer look.
It often seems like I can’t make it through a blog post without including this ubiquitous Japanese brand.
Seiko has managed to create a company that can supply high street retailers with watches for the masses, collectable pieces for the Watch Idiot Savants and all the niches and styles in between.
With a watchmaking history stretching back to the late 1800s there’s a large back catalogue for this giant company to trawl through for inspiration.
The Recraft collection is one method they’ve used to reissue previous models. If we’re splitting hairs, this collection can be described as retro-themed rather than the vintage style of the previous two watches. These models are based on watches released in the 1960s and 1970s.
The first two features that you’ll notice with this piece are the relatively uncommon cushion case and the beautiful blue gradient dial. The orange second hand is an additional nice touch.
The rear has an exhibition back where you can view Seiko’s own 7S26 automatic movement. At 40mm it’s not overly large, but the case shape does make it appear quite substantial.
There’s a sweet spot that this watch hits, particularly if you took an interest in watches a few decades ago, or wanted a watch just like your father used to have. This and the other Recraft models have proved popular with Seiko fans and if you like this I’d also recommend checking out the larger, green dialled SNKM97.
Seiko Recraft SNKP23
Timex, like Seiko, is a household name. Again, like Seiko, I’ve featured this brand repeatedly on the blog. However much I love to feature microbrands and more obscure watches, it’s often hard to escape the big names that have been watchmaking for more than a century. In this case, there was a point in the 1960s where a third of all watches sold in America were Timex.
What's more, they have a substantial number of models that come from their own history, be it the military MK1 or the famous Snoopy collection.
While preparing this article I messaged my friend Glen who has had his Timex Q Reissue for a while now. As expected, he responded by describing it as a “lovely little watch” and “really retro on the wrist”.
The original diver’s watch was released at the tail-end of the 1970s and was made with the then-new Quartz technology. The angular cased piece was re-released in 2019 when both sports watches and Pepsi bezels were back on-trend.
However, this new release is a faithful recreation of the original maintaining the domed acrylic crystal, the woven stainless-steel bracelet and a functional battery hatch. It also has the 38mm case diameter. It was released to some fanfare and seems to have lived up to the hype.
Timex Q Reissue Pepsi
Bulova intrigue me. I never wanted to be a fan.
But as I dig deeper into the world of watches I keep uncovering gems from this American brand. I started collecting watches with a passion when I discovered Russian watches, and central to that interest was the Space race. Bulova was there with their own Moonwatch, the iconic Luna Pilot.
Aside from their involvement in the production of a watch for the Moon landings, Bulova is most widely known for its military watches and the production of the Accutron - a watch that used a tuning fork, rather than a balance wheel, to regulate the timekeeping.
This reissue, nicknamed Surfboard, is from their civilian watch range. From the same era as the Timex, Chronograph A takes inspiration from the popular dive watches Bulova produced then. The surfboard reference comes from the black oval that includes the two subdials.
The modern watch features a stainless steel case with black and red accents and a slightly off white dial. The rectangular hands and indices preserve that retro appeal, as does the domed sapphire crystal. With 200M water resistance, it doesn’t just play the part of a divers watch. It’s functional too.
Bulova Archive 98A252
There's an obvious appeal in collecting vintage watches - but there can be pitfalls when buying old and used mechanical items. One way to get around this is to buy a piece reissued by the original manufacturer.
These watches can range from affordable quartz models to expensive heritage releases from the top Swiss brands. If it's an affordable watch you're after there are plenty of choices but bear in mind that some, like the Rotary here, are produced in limited quantities.
If you have any thoughts or recommendations, leave a comment below.