Now, what I’m about to say is guaranteed to make me sound like a curmudgeonly old man, but there are a lot of things that I think were better a few decades ago than they are now. Music, movies … and watch prices. For what you’d pay for a Rolex Submariner back then, you’ll be a long way short today. In fact, you’d be downgrading to Rolex’s more affordable cousin, Tudor—although, between you and me, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
It’s the same story elsewhere, too. Omega’s bargain Speedmaster Professional now costs twice what it used to. The Seamaster just had a big chunk added to the price. A B01-powered chronograph from Breitling costs as much as a Daytona used to, and a Daytona—well, it’s basically unpurchasable.
Through the sound of wailing and gnashing of teeth from people who dreamt ten years ago that they’d save up for a Rolex, it all seems a bit bleak. And it would be, were it not for brands like Hamilton, Longines and Maurice Lacroix. With over three-and-a-half centuries of experience between them, they’ve got what it takes to right the balance and rewind time on watch prices.
Regardless of budget, it’s hard to resist a chronograph inspired by the greatest era of chronographery, the 1960s. Never mind the genius idea of combining a clock and a radio to create the ubiquitous clock-radio, 1969 was the year watchmakers dared to dream big and join in matrimony two of the industry’s greatest achievements—the chronograph and the automatic movement.
It’s hard to believe that, a century-and-a-half after the invention of the chronograph and nearly two centuries after the invention of the automatic movement, that it wouldn’t be until 1969, in the autumn years of the mechanical wristwatch’s reign as top tech, that the automatic chronograph would come to be.
TAG Heuer and Breitling were in on it, but so too was Hamilton. The three smashed open their piggy banks and clubbed what they had together to pay for an automatic chronograph called the “ChronoMatic”, even releasing their individual watches at the exact same time to keep things fair.
Hamilton’s offering back then is what inspired today’s Intra-Matic, a 40mm homage that sticks very close to the 1969 original. But the looks aren’t the only thing taking a leaf from the pages of history: with a price one-fifth what Rolex asks for a Daytona, you don’t have to write the cheque its looks would ordinarily be asking.
And don’t think the Hamilton is in a class of one, because bringing up the rear is Longines, a watchmaker that I think gets a bit of a raw deal. Did you know it was founded in 1832? 1832! A baby could have been born in 1832, grown into a man and lived a full, healthy life before leaving this mortal coil—and still Rolex wouldn’t have existed yet.
Longines has the oldest known registered logo, helped define the processes Swiss watchmaking uses today—and for some reason has been relegated to the budget end of the scale, having somehow swapped places with Omega. Rumour is the name “Longines” wasn’t as easy to pronounce.
But don’t feel too sorry for poor old Longines, because this is a chance to capitalise on the situation. You know those beautiful dive watches of the 50s and 60s, the ones with the double crowns and internal bezel? The very same ones that fetch a pretty penny at auction these days? Those were the counter to Rolex’s crude external bezel solution by casemaker Ervin Piquerez, a design known as the Super Compressor.
Rather elegantly, the bezel was accommodated within the case itself, keeping the externals clean and the design very much simpler than the likes of Rolex’s Submariner. A second crown was used to adjust that bezel, which offered a secondary function of making the bezel very hard to accidentally knock—extremely important in a dive watch. The result is elegant and immediately recognisable, and was adopted by many brands like IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre—and, of course, Longines.
All that heritage sounds like a recipe for an expensive watch today, but no. A 42mm Longines Legend Diver today costs just a quarter the price of a Rolex Submariner. A quarter! For a watch that packs in way more brand kudos and beauty. It almost feels like a con, but believe me, it’s not.
But perhaps vintage styling isn’t for you and you want something a bit more stylish, like an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. I mean, if you’re looking for a budget Royal Oak, you’re going to be disappointed—that is, until you try a Maurice Lacroix Aikon. At 39mm, it’s the perfect size. With a hobnail dial and integrated bracelet, it feels more 70s than a pair of bell-bottoms and a chest wig. And, most impressively, at seventeen times less than a Royal Oak Jumbo, it’s also the cheapest here.
Watchmaking is too expensive? We were just looking in the wrong place.
Editor’s note: This is one of the first of the regular fortnightly columns on Revolution by Watchfinder’s mysterious expert ‘Mr Talking Hands’.