Touching the Past: Six Modern “Retro” Watches and the Historical Pieces That Inspired Them

When retro-inspired watches are modeled after specific predecessors, fans of mechanical timekeeping can “grasp” design history. In this feature from the WatchTime archives, we take a look at six watches that awaken a longing for the past.


Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox - Front
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Memovox (above) and the original Memovox Polaris from 1968 (below)
JLC Memovox 1968

A sporty and elegant wristwatch is a good choice to wear on a trendy beach. And the alarm function assures that a night owl won’t forget an evening rendezvous. The alarm also functioned underwater on the original watch, which Jaeger-LeCoultre premiered in 1965. A variation with a sporty design (left) debuted three years later. It served as the inspiration for the new model, which arrived in 2018. Stainless steel, 42 mm, manufacture Caliber 956, automatic, limited series of 1,000 watches, $12,600.



Breitling Navitimer 1 B01 Chronograph 46
The Breitling Navitimer 1 B01 Chronograph 46 (above) and the original Navitimer from 1952 (below)
Breitling Navitimer 1952

The Navitimer enjoys cult status not only among pilots, but also with their earthbound counterparts. Introduced in 1952, this watch also represents an epoch when increasing air traffic revolutionized travel. Numerous new versions without a slide rule on the bezel and even without a stopwatch function debuted in 2018. But classical model variations with both of these functions, such as the Navitimer 1 B01 Chronograph 46 (shown), are still available for Breitling fans. They differ from the original Navitimer mainly due to their larger size and contrasting-colored subdials. Stainless steel, 46 mm, manufacture Caliber B01, automatic, chronometer, $8,215.



Rolex GMT-Master II Oystersteel - soldier
Rolex GMT-Master II in Oystersteel (above) and the original Rolex GMT-Master from 1955 (below)
Rolex GMT-Master 1955

Thanks to an additional 24-hour hand and its corresponding rotatable bezel, this Rolex model is the epitome of a traveler’s watch. The main hour hand wasn’t separately adjustable until the debut of the GMT-Master II in 1982. The two hour hands were inseparably linked when the original model premiered in 1955, which meant that if the wearer wanted his watch to show the time in a second zone, he had to turn the rotatable bezel until it matched the additional hour hand. Nicknamed “Pepsi,” the coveted steel version with its blue-and-red bezel celebrated its comeback in 2018. Stainless steel, ceramic bezel, 40 mm, manufacture Caliber 3285, automatic, chronometer, $9,250.



IWC Portugieser Hand-Wound Eight Days 150
The IWC Portugieser Hand-Wound Eight Days Edition “150 Years” (above) and the original Portugieser from 1939 (below)
IWC vintage Portugieser

Elegance spanning generations: IWC celebrated a milestone anniversary in 2018 with the latest version of this icon. The new Portugieser Hand-Wound Eight Days Edition “150 Years” is inspired by the large, straightforward, steel watches that IWC delivered to Portuguese importers in 1939. The elegant 41.5-mm case surrounded various dial options. Rose gold, 43 mm, manufacture Caliber 59215 with power-reserve display on the back, hand-wound, $18,800.



Seiko Automatic Divers SLA025
Seiko Automatic Diver’s Re-Creation Limited Edition (Ref. SLA025, above) and the original model from 1968 (below)
Seiko Divers - 1968 original

Fifty years after the debut of its first divers’ watch with a high-frequency caliber, this Japanese manufacturer pays homage to the timepiece with the release of Reference SLA025. The manufacture caliber completes 36,000 semi-oscillations per hour. The fast-paced movement and the water-tightness to 300 meters are as exciting as the new design: it’s nearly identical to the styling of the original. Hardened stainless steel, 44.8 mm, manufacture Caliber 8L55, automatic, limited edition of 1,500 watches, $5,400.



Tudor Pelagos
The Tudor Pelagos (above) and the Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner from 1969 (below)
Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner - 1969

The styling of this instrument for professional divers traces its ancestry directly to the Oyster Prince Submariner from 1969. This model premiered the so-called “snowflake” hands with their eye-catching rectangles, which assured that the hour hand wouldn’t be mistaken for the minutes hand. Meanwhile, the steady progress of the luminous rectangle on the seconds hand instantly reassured a diver that his watch was still running in the dark depths. The Pelagos remains watertight to 500 meters, is equipped with a helium valve, and lets divers choose between a rubber strap and a titanium bracelet. Titanium, ceramic bezel, 42 mm, manufacture Caliber MT5612, automatic, chronometer, $4,400.

No Responses to “Touching the Past: Six Modern “Retro” Watches and the Historical Pieces That Inspired Them”

Show all responses
  1. George Kages

    Don’t forget the Mido Decompression Timer, patterned after the 1961 original.

  2. Michael Hartmann

    What about the Glashutte Original Sixties, especially the orange with a great dial!!

  3. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to use the first Navitimer with a reverse panda dial as the historical predecessor?

  4. Very good article. Would have been nice to mention the original prices as well, and a note on what the value is in today’s dollars. Just for comparison.

  5. Not to be a contrarian, but I like the newer models, except for the IWC, love those blue hands. On the others, the dials and numerals seem sharper, could it be modern photography? And as much as I like the lines and coloring of the new Pepsi, I can’t like that jubilee bracelet on any other watch but a DateJust. Overall a great article provokes thought, this one does, thanks

  6. May I suggest that the modern Breitling was inspired by the Navitimers with white sub dials? I totally agree with TrevorXM.

  7. Sylvio Bertoli

    Nice article.Very interesting read. Despite the efforts, for me, none of the new versions can beat the original ones.

  8. Sylvio Bertoli

    Am I the only one to find all the original models -except for the Seiko – much more beautiful and classy than their re-editions?

    • No, I completely agree with you. Only the Seiko feels like a significant upgrade. I was close to getting it myself. Shame my wrists were too skinny to do it justice.

  9. TrevorXM

    All are successful except for the JLC Memovox Polaris. The 1968 is a much more attractive watch with more character to the hands and smaller numbers for a better aesthetic. The modern one is just too plain and uninteresting.

Leave a Reply