John Mayer On 5 Neo-Vintage Watches That Slipped Under Instagram's Radar
There's no doubt that Instagram has changed the watch industry forever. New timepieces are revealed almost weekly, and get logged in both the public consciousness and the now-well-preserved digital annals of what-came-out-when. It's easy, then, to lose track of watches that were released before the social media era, especially in the last 20 years. It's always fun to show an example of a pre-IG watch to someone who swears they've seen it all, as they reconcile in real time the fact that an ultra-cool watch by a brand they love had slipped their radar. The truth is, before Instagram (and Hodinkee), there really wasn't a good way to track what watches were being released. So I thought, in celebration of 10/10, that I'd show you a few of those pieces that I remember seeing and loving, in the hopes they might join the Instagram hayride.
Launched in 1994 and discontinued in 2009 at the dawn of Instagram, the 5004 is one of those watches that'd be the piece everyone fought for if it were released today. It's basically a 5970 perpetual calendar chronograph, but with a split seconds feature, a 3.5mm smaller case diameter, and in my opinion, the greatest cosmetic detail on a modern-era Patek: a split second pusher in the center of the oversized winding crown. The currently available ref. 5204 is an updated version, but something has been lost in the 36mm dimensions that make the 5004 a one-of-a-kind reference.
Audemars Piguet has been shaking things up with their design and manufacture since long before it was expected of brands to do so. A really great example of this is the Royal Oak Offshore Survivor. If this watch came out today it would most likely sell out of its 1,000-piece run faster than it did in the late 2000s. It's big, it's knurled, it's milled and drilled, and it's got a stovepipe-shaped crown and skeletonized pusher guards that clamp down like hinges on a Pelican case. There doesn't seem to be anything structurally about it that makes it more suitable for survival than any other Offshore model is, and its PVD coating seems to come off fairly easily, but I'm a sucker for a narrative, and if you are too, you're already trying to hunt one down. It's bold, it's weird, and what better way to create scarcity than to have already released it more than a decade before you ever heard of it?
The year 2008 saw the watch industry fully embrace chunky, feature-filled dive watches. If it tells you anything about the oversized watch contagion of the late aughts, even ultra-refined JLC released several models meant to capitalize on the trend. (I'm wearing the one I bought in '08 as I type this.) I've probably thrown the mechanism out of calibration by pressing on the exposed pressure sensor too many times, but it's just too fun to watch the hand move as you push harder. I still think this watch holds up; black rubber-coated link bracelet (it's crazy nobody did this more, as I love the look and feel), big rubberized pushers with flanges that lock down and keep the case waterproof to 300m, and a big rubberized C-shaped cover that slips over the titanium deployment clasp. It was interesting then, and it's even more so now.
If you want to make me crazy to own something, tell me some version of the following: The product in question was too hard to make, was more expensive to produce than it sold for, and couldn't quite find an audience – I'll be putty in your hands. The IWC Deep One is a watch with exactly that story. Released in 1999, when interest in mechanical watches was truly an esoteric pursuit, this was a hulking, technically ambitious dive watch based on IWC's successful GST line of watches (a long-lost gem of a product line) that ingeniously allowed water into the case in order to achieve maximum depths of…100 meters? Okay, but that's not the point. Or maybe that's actually more the point; just as I've said that a tourbillon is a long walk down a short path, so too is a watch that comes with its own pump that connects to the case and siphons water out after a dive. Hewn from titanium, back when it was comparatively harder and pricier to work with than it is now, the Deep One run is said to have capped off at around 1,000 pieces.
No brand in the history of mechanical timepieces has been more disciplined in its releases than the mighty Rolex. It's this very commitment to being regimented, patient, and downright strict that makes enthusiasts go nuts for any deviation from the norm as the brand has carefully established it. If I told you that in 1999 Rolex made a Submariner celebrating the transfer of the Panama Canal from the United States to Panama, you'd probably have a hard time believing me. And even if you did believe that, you certainly wouldn't think the watch features a seal of the Panama Canal on the dial. 'Rolex doesn't do that!' you're thinking to yourself. And they don't! But they did. (They produced a handful of other "double-signed" watches around this time, as well.) Limited to 75 pieces (ref. 16610 in steel and 16613 in two-tone), the watch has enjoyed somewhat of a second life at auctions, seeing as it stands so far apart from Rolex's offerings of the last 20 years. I don't think I've ever seen this watch on Instagram anywhere, and I wonder if someone posting a wrist roll wouldn't get comments calling the watch into question.
It's normal to be skeptical of that which we haven't yet seen and accounted for, and I'll admit it still happens to me sometimes with watches I didn't know existed from an era I thought I knew. If age has a benefit, it's memory and experience. I remember these watches being either sold in a boutique or available for resale just a few years after, and it's always been interesting to me that Instagram can't account for the product releases of the past the way it can in real time. It's also a really great reminder that watches from the past can tell a more powerful story set against the backdrop of the present than they might have been able to the day they were released. That's why we hold onto things – so their story runs against the grain of future times. After all, investing isn't always a cash business
THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON www.hodinkee.com