The cultural relevance of watches is often overlooked, if not completely forgotten. Whenever we look for classic designs to represent a certain era, we tend to turn to architecture, cars, furniture, and art but not to watches. That’s a shame since so many watches perfectly encapsulate their time of creation. Furthermore, they survive generations and are just as relevant as other design icons.
When buying a watch, few people would admit that they’re buying it because they love how “80s” it is. However, that doesn’t mean that style doesn’t subconsciously influence purchasing habits. More likely than not, a personal story is behind their purchase of a vintage watch. Perhaps that story is even directly connected to an event that took place all those years ago.
So why don’t we tend to use watches to define an era? First off, it could be because many luxury watches feature timeless designs intended to remain in fashion for generations to come. While it may seem logical for watch brands to try to do something unique to stand out from the crowd, in reality, few watch brands are willing to rock the boat when it comes to design. It’s the smaller, independent companies that are pushing the boundaries of watch design, but they are almost never seen as ‘defining the industry.’
individual designers, making it harder to connect a watch with a face and name and create a narrative around it. Just think about the number of architects or car designers you could name and then compare that to the number of watch designers you know. The ability to associate designs with an individual could be very helpful in making watches more overtly culturally significant.
There are, of course, some big names in the industry that have broken the mold. The famous watch designer, Gérald Genta, and his revolutionary take on the luxury sports watch gave us the iconic Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Patek Phillippe Nautilus, and IWC Ingenieur in the 70s. Then there’s the iconic style of the Jaeger Le-Coultre Reverso, a proud statement from the Art Deco era. Lastly, the Omega Constellation Manhattan screams “1980s” in both name and design. Having grown up in the 80s myself, I never would’ve expected that decade to have such a major impact on the way I look at design. In fact, I wear my Constellation Manhattan from 1983 with great pride because I feel a personal connection to it and it reminds me of an extremely influential part of my life!