When Arwind Jhand’s son was born, the watch enthusiast purchased a limited-edition Zenith A3818, a reproduction of a 1970s model that he already owned.
“I got very excited with the thought of having a cool vintage watch for myself and a matching modern watch for my son,” the London-based finance executive said. So far, of course, the new timepiece sits unworn, as his son is only 20 months old.
Mr. Jhand is one of a growing group of collectors buying limited-edition revivals of some of their favorite old models. These vintage styles have the same retro aesthetic as the original timepieces but with technological advancements that make them even more durable and efficient.
“The manufacturing standards are vastly improved, and these toys can now be relied on to withstand a variety of situations,” Mr. Jhand said, adding that he is more carefree while wearing revival models than his delicate vintage timepieces.
This year, buyers seem to be feeling especially nostalgic about retro timepieces. “The last few years haven’t been the easiest or the calmest for a lot of people, and they are looking to the past for something that gives them pause and enjoyment in a different way,” said Ira Melnitsky, chief executive of the luxury watch retailer Tourneau LLC, a Bucherer Group company.
“Collectors like the heritage and history of retro watches that are reworked for today,” he said. “The technology is state of the art, but the look and feel hearkens back to another time.”
The retro models also appear to appeal to younger collectors who may not recognize them from the past, but like their distinctive aesthetic.
“We have more young collectors who want to know about the history behind the watches and the different case shapes,” said Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s image and heritage director. He noted that some newer collectors, especially those in the art world, are more interested in the aesthetics of a watch than its mechanics, something that has prompted the house to continue to focus on case shapes. “When we work on an existing design idea,” he said, “we question the relevance of that exact design for today and think: ‘Could we take this further?’”
This year, the house unveiled the Pasha de Cartier Grille, a readily identifiable style with a square grid over a round case, first introduced in 1985. Like the original, the new model ($18,900) is available with a removable protective 18-karat gold grid on the dial, a design element Cartier first used with its watches in 1943.
In the case of the Pasha, Cartier did take the look further by using the same design in moonphase and skeleton models. In a playful spirit, it offered gold charms — a double C, heart and evil eye — that can be clipped to the watch crown cover.
Watch revivals are a way for brands like Zenith and Hublot, both known for their bold contemporary styles, to educate collectors about their past. Hublot, for example, returned to its roots with six new Classic Fusion designs, which are modeled after the brand’s original 1980 18-karat gold Classic, a sporty model paired with a rubber strap.
“Over the past decade there was an evolution in the watch industry,” said Ricardo Guadalupe, Hublot’s chief executive, and the Fusion is part of the desire for more subtle, elegant timepieces. The new models paid tribute, he said, to the brand’s best-known watches: Big Bang, Classic Fusion and Spirit of Big Bang.
However, “we don’t want to repeat the past,” Mr. Guadalupe said. “We always want to add a touch of modernity.” The 42-millimeter Classic Fusion Chronograph ($26,800) reflects the original watch’s clean, understated style, but in a slightly larger dimension than the original 36-millimeter case.
Zenith’s Defy Revival A3642, introduced earlier this year, has a distinctly retro spirit with its octagonal case, a gradient gray dial that darkens toward the edges, wide hands and a paddle-shaped seconds hand. Zenith took laser measurements of its original 1969 Defy model to create an exact reproduction of the case, said Romain Marietta, the brand’s vice president of product development. “We wanted to highlight a chapter of our patrimony, to educate new collectors and help them understand what Zenith has achieved, both in the last decades and throughout its 157 years of history.” The Defy Revival A3642 is being made in a limited edition of 250 watches at $7,000 each.
Another advantage to limited-edition revival timepieces is that they are often more affordable than the original model, said Robert Weintraub, manager of Manfredi Jewels, a watch and jewelry retailer with two stores in Connecticut. “It can be hard to find a good example of a vintage watch that runs well, is in good shape and not pay an arm and a leg.”
Mr. Weintraub, who owns an original Zenith A384 from the 1960s, said the new version appeared to be nearly identical. “Zenith gives you an opportunity to own the original style with a new quality build at current market prices,” he said.
Other brands scheduled to release limited-edition revivals this year include Omega and its Speedmaster Calibre 321. Originally created for racecar drivers in 1957, it was the first chronograph to feature a tachymeter scale. The new gold version houses the same Calibre 321 as the original with retro details that include a deep black onyx dial with a vintage Omega logo.
And after 25 years, Chopard is updating its L.U.C XPS 1860 Officer, which featured the company’s first in-house movement. The 40-millimeter gold watch will be made in a limited series of 50 pieces.
Yet, as one retailer noted, updating old favorites isn’t as simple as that may sound.
“Some watches are hard to improve upon because they got it right the first time,” said Ruediger Albers, president of Wempe Jewelers in New York. “Brands can update these models with technical advancements in the clasp designs and improved power reserve, but the look is identical or maybe a little modernized. These styles stand the test of time.”