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Micheal Delage-Pandeli travels back in time to look at the 'wristwatches of the future'

Wristwatches since their inception in the early 20th century have followed simple functional design, round, square, cushion shape with conservative dials. Even in the heyday of watches in the 1950s they got no more daring than fancy lugs, the watch equivalent of fins on a car. By the time it got the 1960s everything was changing. There was a new optimism of youth culture, class barriers were coming down, and younger people were now working in design positions in many companies. Houses, furniture, cars, clothes all began to look forward rather than back. This was the period of the E-type Jaguar, Mary Quant, Carnaby Street and the Beatles.

In 1968 Omega launched the first ergonomically designed watch called the Dynamic. This was an oval shape across the wrist. It had a onepiece case with a hidden winder and no lugs as the strap or bracelet which were made in one piece were held on with a screw on ring on the back of the watch. This meant the watch had a 

clean uncluttered design and sat very low on the wrist. The front of the watch had a brushed steel finish and the dial was in three tones with long lines marking the hours and shorter lines marking the minutes, it also had an unusual second hand that was long and tapered a bit like a snooker cue shape, this was usually in a bright colour. This watch at the time was advertised as the watch of the future, and so it has become, being sought after by young people today who like it's clean modern lines. The preffered models today need to have bright coloured dials and bracelets in good condition. Omega took the design of the Dynamic and amalgamated it with the 70s chunky design for the Flightmaster and Speedmaster MkIII. These had tonneau shaped cases that were very deep to accomodate the complications of the movements. Off the wrist they look too fat and chunky but their design means they sit well on the wrist. The dials are bright and easy to read the many functions these watches have.

In the late 1960s Rado also made a watch in a similar style called the Diastar, this watch had faceted glass, which was a nice style detail even though in some light conditions it makes it difficult to read the time. Another feature that was a first on the Diastar was a scratch resistant coating on the case, which eventually led to their current watches, made of ceramic material, which makes the whole watch scratch-proof. The Diastar evolved by 1973 into the Diastar 48 which had the new quartz movement but still had a modern looking case with some interesting faceted angles.

Movado did their take on the Dynamic, but made the case finer so all you see is the dial. The watch has grained and smooth square hour markers with the 12, 6, and 9 having cut-off tapered batons. The strap on the Movado is fitted behind the case so no lugs are needed which keeps the clean lines of the watch.

Aquastar in the early 70s made a version of their Regate yacht-racing timer, the dial had an oversize orange and black tapered second hand. The case hada brushed steel finish with facets on the quarters. This is an elegant and interesting watch, which would make no mistake on a countdown to a race.

The Tissot Seastar example I have chosen shows a late 60s take on the 1920s cushion shape watch. This design went to be called 'TV screen design' from the TV' of the period. This watch also has the faceted rectangular hour markers and the brushed steel finish to the case. 

The Fortis chronograph continues the TV screen look but instead of the sharp edge to the case as on the Tissot the Fortis has a smooth rounded edge, it also uses bright colours for the hour markers, hands and the 45 minute stopwatch dial, and starburst lines radiating from the centre to show hours and minutes.

Another example of a rounded case is the American Wittnauer watch, which has a dome shaped case (currently popular in the Corum Bubble range). In this watch the winder button sticks out but the watch has no lugs to break up it's smooth shape. The typical 60s/70s brown colour is used for the dial, the hour markers are faceted squares except 12,3 and 9, which have double batons, and lastly the large easy-to-read day date windows at 6 o'clock.

I have saved one of the best known watched till last and that is the Bulova Accutron Space view. This is the first electric tuning fork movement made in 1962. This used a battery to vibrate a tuning fork at a set frequency to run the watch. When you put this watch to your ear you can hear it humming and for this reason I never keep mine in the room I sleep in as the noise is amplified by whatever you rest the watch on. The Spaceview design was an accident of it's marketing. When it was launched dealers were given models of the Accutron with the dial removed to show potential customers how this revolutionary watch worked. But customers wanted it as they saw it, so Bulova made them without a dial and the hour markers and brand were painted on the glass. The watch has no winder (the hands adjustment was on the back of the watch) and minimal lugs to emphasise the dial (or lack of). This movement was bought by Omega who developed it further, making various models into the late 1970s when it was replaced by quartz.

I hope this article will make you look at late 1960s and early 1970s watch in a new light. In my opinion they have as much going on in design and innovation as post-war watches. If you hunt down the best examples they can at the moment be bought very cheaply and most are still to be found at car boots and flea markets. As to values two to three years ago nearly all of the above could have been bought for less than £100. Today is a nice Dynamic in working order on a metal bracelet can be bought for £300 to £500.  The Wittnauer, Movado, Tissot, Fortis, if you find any in good condition will cost between £150 and £250. The Aquastar I have recently bought for myself for £250, but I've not seen another. The Omega Flightmaster and Speedmaster MkIII I have recently sold for £2,000 each, but they were both mint as new condition. You can get a working MkIII for about £1,000; Flightmasters I am sorry to say are so rare that the cheapest ones are £1,400. Lastly the Bulova, a gold plated model can be bought for about £150, steel models for £300 to £600, but make sure they work, as repairs can cost more than the price of the watch.

I have just made a small selection of interesting watches from this period. Others to look at are Seiko, Favre Leuba, and Hamilton to name a few. I have also pointed out some of the style details typical of this period. I feel now is a good time to buy these watches as they are of good quality, interesting design, and of possible future price growth. As with all antiques buy the best you can afford.

Michael Delage-Pandeli: 11th Feb 2013 11:52:00


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