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A Return to Classic

After a decade of progressive technology, the watch industry returns to most of its classic values
Elizabeth Doerr
From the Print Edition:
Phil Ivey, March/April 2010

(continued from page 2)

Jacob & Co., a jeweler who entered the world of high watchmaking in the late 1990s, confirms the new power of "classic" in the company's corporate philosophy. A watch brand born of the mechanical boom of the last decade, Jacob & Co. was one of the proponents of the funky new style of mechanics aimed at high-quality collectors. Combined with owner and founder Jacob Arabo's own style of design-his jewelry brand, famous for its hip-hop clientele, profited greatly from the bling era and the motto "more is more"-this company's watches became the epitome of interest-attracting mechanics.
Intuitively ahead of the trends, Arabo was able to divine the market's inclination to simpler mechanics and unveiled his first classically styled watch in 2008: the Epic. It is so devoid of any of Jacob & Co.'s signature flashy elements, that the round Epic could almost be mistaken for another brand. Closer inspection, however, reveals a number of geometric design characteristics that identify Arabo's style.

In similar manner, Cuervo y Sobrinos made a slight detour from its usual "shaped" forms (in watch-making parlance, "shaped" refers to any form that is not round) to present a new round watch. Cuervo y Sobrinos finds most of its inspiration in the Art Deco period of Havana, Cuba. Thus, the very fine cases of this brand focus on unusual shapes that are named for cigars. In late 2009, however, the brand released the Historiador Cronógrafo. Though its 41 mm size projects a more modern feel, the watch's roundness and 1940s style typeface reflects the public's current appetite for classics. "Not all of our clients like shaped forms," confirms managing director Massimo Rossi. "We thought it was time for a classic round watch." Accentuating its traditional appearance on the outside is an absolutely classic movement doing the work on the inside: an original Venus 188 chronograph caliber from 1960.

Introduced in 1993, Chopard's classically appointed L.U.C. line centers around the company's exceptional mechanical movements-technology created in-house as opposed to purchased from outside sources-clothed in classic horological beauty. One of the line's only concessions to fashion is the case size, which currently comes in at 42 mm. But Chopard will be delving even deeper into antiquity this spring when it releases the L.U.C. Louis-Ulysse Tribute pocket watch. The 49 mm timepiece pays homage to Louis-Ulysse Chopard, who founded the brand in 1860, and can be transformed into a wristwatch.
Classic beauty in wristwatches can also include "classic" models that become a brand's signature. Cartier, for example, boasts a number of "classic" wristwatches that have become nearly legendary: the Santos, the Pasha, the Panthère, and above all the Tank.

The stylistically interesting Tank is both a square and a rectangle. Legend has it that Louis Cartier designed the watch in 1917, based on the horizontal section of the Renault military tanks. Created during World War I, the first prototype of the Tank watch was presented to General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. The strength of the watch's design made a clean break with the fashion of the times, ringing in a new design rigor. Timeless and contemporary at the same time, it tends to be an eternal favorite that is reissued year after year in various versions.

Zenith, one of the brands involved in the 1969 race for the first automatic chronograph, has now geared its collection for an almost complete return to classic. This year, consumers can expect to see Zenith offering the types of watches that sealed its reputation-and at prices that are far more modest than those of recent "boom" years.

"I cannot speak for the entire industry," Dufour remarks, "but it is certain that the entire world is [now] looking for real value for their money, and in my opinion this is very closely linked to a ‘return to classic.' "

Elizabeth Doerr is a freelance watch writer based in Germany.

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