Watches / November 2018

Why Vintage Watches Have Never Gone Out of Style

To mark Phillips’ rare and vintage watch auction in New York next month, for which The Rake has styled matching looks, Wei Koh opines how vintage timepieces have never been more relevant.

Rolex stainless steel dual time wristwatch with “tropical” gilt glossy dial.

Maybe it was in response to worldwide fear that the Y2K virus was going to plunge us back into the dark ages, or that our planet was on an impending collision course with some juggernaut of a space comet, but shortly after the turn of the millennium we collectively lost our minds. Particularly for men, contemporary culture had hijacked our cerebellums and infected us with mendacious concepts such as metro-sexuality and the deification of youth.

Men were being told by fashion magazines to seek out plastic surgery, hair replacement technology and to inject themselves with embryonic stem cells and human growth hormones to recapture the fleeting vestiges of youth. All of this militated against the consensus in every generation previous to ours that a man got better and became his more essential, primal self, as he got older. After all, when you close your eyes and conjure up an image of Cary Grant, it is not of him in his twenties, but at his most debonair, silver-haired paradigm in his late fifties.

It was for this very reason that in 2008 I felt the moral impetus to launch The Rake magazine, to reconnect a lost generation with the irrefutable veracity that men got better as they aged. Fortunately, a full decade later, we are now once again in an era where the concept of age has noble associations, evinced by the monochromatic deluge of silver-haired models in fashion spreads, the number of very sexy sexagenarian and septuagenarian action stars on movie screens, and our current fascination with all things vintage – from air-cooled Porsches to monopole Burgundies and Tre Tacche-cased sector dial watches.

As a generation, we’ve once again learned that ageing has a magnificent transformative effect on everything from botrytis-infected grapes to bespoke jackets which run the danger of appearing vaguely arriviste until the newness has been expunged from their hand canvassing. Indeed, the Duke of Windsor used to bid his servants to wear his clothing and Fred Astaire would fling his suits against a wall to rid them of their newness. We are now allowed to marvel at the spectacular effects of age on wine, cigars, cheese, cars, clothing, watches, even sushi – which is the correct original Edo style – and, yes, human beings. As early as Ancient Greece and Rome, the most erudite vinophiles understood the powerful effect of age on wine. The Greeks would store sealed amphoras of wine for years, while the Romans would age their coveted Falerian nectar for decades before drinking it. But in the last two decades it has been Aurel Bacs of Bacs and Russo, which heads up all vintage watch auctions and private sales at the venerable Phillips auction house, which has single-handedly transformed our worldview on vintage watch appreciation. Because for many decades, in the same way that the American auto collector would immediately enact a frame-off restoration on any classic car he bought, the common practice was to polish, clean and otherwise remove all patina from a vintage watch, transforming it back into what was effectively a new timepiece.