Often described as the decade that taste forgot, the 1970s have become cool again thanks to Alessandro Michele at Gucci, who has inspired a thousand imitators and almost certainly ushered in an era of brown corduroy trousers and possibly flares. Shudder. Still, the 70s weren’t all bad (George Clinton and David Bowie for starters) and watch design was enjoying a golden age as Swiss manufacturers focused on clean, modernist designs and what could be done with steel.
The daddy of all 1970s watches, and a real game-changer, is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. It’s easy to forget how revolutionary this watch was when it was released, in 1972, at the Basel fair. Until then, Swiss luxury watches almost invariably came in gold cases, were rather elegant and classical in design and more often than not slim on the wrist. The Royal Oak put aside conventional thinking and did exactly the opposite, designer Gerald Genta unleashing an almost industrial-looking watch in steel with visible screws and a completely modern design language.
Royal Oaks still make up Audemars Piguet’s premier collection. The brand has created hundreds of iterations over the years, but this self-winding version (above) is the closest to the original and, in our opinion, the best. The 41mm steel case comes with matching bracelet. The dial has a grande tapisserie finish and the markers are white gold. Features are simple, with only hours, minutes, seconds and date, and power reserve runs to 60 hours. The self-winding Royal Oak is priced at HK$140,000.
Longines is a brand with such a rich heritage and stupendous design archive it’s always baffled us that it doesn’t look to the past more instead of churning out rather uninspiring new pieces. But every so often, the brand does dig deep and re-releases a classic and this time it’s the gorgeous Heritage 1969.
Yes, 1969 is not the 70s, but I’m including it as the watch design is certainly more indicative of the latter decade, with the brushed-steel face, clean lines and the lack of pretension. The cushion-shaped case is sized at a very retro 36mm by 36mm, and features are straightforward for what is essentially a dress watch. The in-house movement drives 64 hours of power reserve and the strap is alligator leather. Longines wins extra marks for the pricing; the Heritage 1969 comes at a tempting HK$16,500.
Lastly, we have a blast from the past from Germany in the form of the Glashütte Original Senator Seventies Chronograph Panorama Date. Despite the mouthful of a name, this is a delightful watch, more inspired by the ’70s than a true re-release.
A sporty chronograph that doubles as a nice dress watch, this piece has a busier dial design but the focus is still on the 40mm by 40mm steel square case and bracelet. It’s feature packed, too, with power reserve indicator, a sizeable date window and chronograph. Rooted in ’70s design, the watch bridges the gap between the looks of the era and modern features. The Senator Seventies Chronograph Panorama Date is priced at HK$127,500.