Please read the Intro to this part 2 here. Today things have really changed. Over the past one or two decades the watch enthusiasts’ market has grown tremendously. While certain iconic vintage watches – especially Rolex – are practically unobtainable, due to stratospheric values (a mint “James Bond Big Crown” can be upwards of $50k and a “Big Red Cosmograph” can be close to or above $100k), many new watch startups and micro brands have filled the void for us common people, who are nevertheless passionate enthusiasts.
There are a lot of exciting designs, and many are taking cues from the iconic past. Even a lot of big brand names are referencing themselves and creating homage watches inspired by their own past, as the aforementioned Tudors, described in Part I. Ooh! There it is again – that trigger word: Homage Watches! This is where watch snobs, based enthusiast and show-offs are all parting company. What the hell is it anyway?
…and who is allowed to make an “homage watch” and why and who is being frowned upon?
Well, let’s talk about it. Because this subject is a minefield among enthusiasts and opinions vary. See, the problem is that certain designs, which being now half or even a full century old, are still in use today. There are certain watches, many decades old, that can still be worn and used today and subsequently may have seen their value increase dramatically. And there are brand new watches that use similar or identical designs because they just stood the test of times.
To keep it very basic, there are four categories:
- Originals: good
- Fakes: bad, illegal
- Copies: depends
- Homages: can be good, can be bad
- Originals: It is simple. There is only one. The one that was conceived, designed, developed and built by the brand company. If it developed into an icon over the years, influencing design in the horological field overall, it can be worth a fortune (BELOW LEFT)
- Fakes: That is also simple. Those are counterfeit, usually cheap copies that pretend to be a brand that they are not, including writing the copied Brand’s name on it. These are illegal for good reasons. Their intent is to pretend what they are not, to deceive and usually have no value for a genuine watch enthusiast.
- Copies: Here it gets already muddier. Define “Copy”: noun – a thing made to be similar or identical to another.
See: which one is it, similar or identical? If it is identical but NOT the original, in the watch world you would call this a fake, see above. But if it is similar – how similar? So many designs influence one another. For example, the sword-shaped hands of the Rolex MilSub Ref 5513 & 5517 (BELOW LEFT) was first seen on the Omega Seamaster 300 (BELOW RIGHT), as was the fully graduated bezel. But the design may have originated from neither Omega nor Rolex. It could have been a precise requirement from the British Military (both watches were specifically built for them). The details are a bit fuzzy.
So, did Rolex copy the hands from Omega? What about the diving bezel in general? Did Omega copy this from Rolex or did Rolex copy it from Blancpain? We will never know. While you can have endless variations, 90% of wrist watches will have similar layouts, overall. Why: Because they are wrist watches. Most cars have four wheels.
I follow several collectors, dealers and watch brands on Instagram and am a member of a number of watch groups on Facebook as well as watch enthusiasts’ online forums. The more watches you see, especially vintage watches, the more you realize how they all influenced each other. Seiko has been blatantly copying all kinds of designs for decades, which did not prevent them from becoming a respectable luxury watch brand, after all, with the advent of the “Grand Seiko.”
Recently I was at a watch fair in New York City that assembled many of the new micro brands and watch startups. The fair gave them a platform to show their products to enthusiasts in person. Most of these brands don’t have “authorized dealers” but work strictly by online orders, which makes it very difficult to look at their pieces “in the flesh.” I’d say 90% of them copied something from somebody. This of course is very subjective judgment, in which lies the problem.
- Homages: Let’s tick off the dictionary definition first: noun; special honor or respect shown publicly. Historically, it was a formal public acknowledgment of feudal allegiance. From medieval Latin hominaticum, from Latin homo, homin- ‘man.’ The original use of the word denoted the ceremony by which a vassal declared himself to be his lord’s ‘man’. It means great respect, tribute and honor, or something done to honor a person or thing.
In this sense homage watches aren’t copies of random expensive watches like cheap fakes but are a different kind of copies, intentionally created to honor the original watch – to pay tribute to its iconic state and awesomeness. I think it necessitates applying the highest craftsmanship and producing it to the best possible level of quality to bestow that said “honor.” And my view is that Steinhart does exactly that. Now if you further consider that the original that is being paid tribute to, does not exist anymore or only in extremely reduced numbers and/or surviving pieces gained astronomical monetary value, then, creating an homage watch is not only legitimate but should be widely appreciated in the enthusiast community.
Let’s use the analogy of the automotive world to further explain: An all original 1990 BMW E30 M3 Sport Evolution II would be admired while a same era BMW 316 with wider wheels, arches, spoilers everywhere and fake M3 labeling would be laughed at. However, a Backdraft Cobra (BELOW LEFT), while still not the genuine article is a great proposition to experience the visceral excitement of a genuine Ford Cobra (BELOW MIDDLE) for the 10th of the price. And today a beautifully put together Backdraft Cobra can be admired in its own right. Many exclusive car manufactures understand that. Jaguar is now building “continuation” D-Types again, Aston Martin builds “continuation” DB4GT Zagatos (BELOW RIGHT), DB4GTs and even “Bond DB5s,” the latter including all the Bond-gadgets, while Bentley – incredibly – builds now pre-war Blower Bentleys again. Now these “copies” can be bought from the original manufactures for merely millions rather than tens of millions (which is what originals are worth now).
And so do watch companies: Vertex does a fantastic job re-issuing their own design from the 1940s in order to produce their main flagship watch, today. And the brand states it clearly. Vertex takes pride in its heritage and wants to preserve it. On their Website they say: “The Vertex M100A (BELOW RIGHT) is a finely honed 40mm tribute to the watch Vertex produced for the British military” (BELOW LEFT). And I am all for it – 100%! This is totally legit.
But as in the car world, what happens when it is NOT the original manufacturer that rebuilds that original icon? Of course, again, if the intention is to deceive and to make big money via fraud, we hate it. But if that is not case it could be a totally legitim effort. Take for example the incredible “homage” Jaguar XJ13s, built by Rod Tempero from New Zealand – NOT built by Jaguar!
Rod Tempero was so fastidious in rebuilding the car of which only one original exists in a UK museum, probably worth between $50M and $100M today, that he gained the respect of the Jaguar Heritage Trust as well as of the surviving XJ13-Team members, who subsequently supported his project with knowledge and documentation, such as original engineering drawings. Now, thanks to Rod’s passion, seven of those tool-room recreations are in existence, matching the original (pre-crash) One-Off prototype to an incredibly high level. Only this way other human beings are able to experience what it is like to pilot such brilliant car on the road. (BELOW)
Or what about the only two Lancia D50s Formular One racecars in exitance? Neither of them is an original, as those where all irretrievably lost. These two cars are built up from left-over parts. But I don’t know anybody who is NOT grateful they exist, so we can continue to admire their sound and performance on the track. (BELOW)
Another complicated case, illustrating the fine line and possible confusions between “Original”, “Copy” and “Imitation,” may be that of the famous “Dirty Dozen” of UK military watches. That Dirty Dozen refers to twelve wrist watches, all manufactured by different brands, but all commissioned by the British Ministry of Defense, to be custom built to very precise specifications, and to then be given to soldiers fighting in the 2nd World War. (BELOW)
The 12 companies were Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor, and Vertex, the latter we already met above, now re-releasing its original design, greatly up-dated mechanically but almost unchanged visually.
All these watches are now collectors’ items, and many have influenced the design of watches these brands manufactured and designed afterwards. Three current offering by Timur, Vertex and IWC (BELOW) prove the point.
Even Tudor is today somewhat of an homage watch producing company – the sister company of Rolex, that was originally conceived by founder Hans Wilsdorf to bring Rolex-quality precision watches to the “working man” at a lower price point, by using Rolex cases and bracelets with less expensive but still high-quality ETA movements (instead of Rolex in-house movements).
Today they produce many homages to their own and Rolex’ timepieces of the past. Apart from the watches we already mentioned in Part I, they just released the Black Bay 54 (BELOW) that resembles its own original predecessor from 69 years ago exactly; the 1954 Tudor Submariner. It even pays tribute to it in the name; “54.” It “copied” the original in almost every detail, including its size, however upgraded to latest technology. This could not be more of an homage. And to be honest, having worn a 1950 Rolex Submariner for a decade in the past myself, the new Black Bay 54 is a watch that interests me a great deal! This 54 is the watch I really wanted when they came out with the original first red Black Bay a decade ago.
So, what then is the ”copy,” what is the “homage,” who is “allowed” or ”not allowed” to produce this non-original design or that one?
I don’t think there is a definitive answer. This would need to be judged on a case-by-case basis, according to the level of integrity in the effort. Whether in design or in art or in fashion or in music; creative minds always influence each other and to have a truly new creative thought is almost impossible anyway. Most things are recombinations of recombinations.
And so, I finally come to Steinhart…
…the German company that builds Swiss watches. They opened their micro-brand in the early 2000s and I would think by now one can drop the “micro” moniker.
Steinhart became famous or infamous because they offer A LOT of “homage” watches, particularly to Rolex sport watches and IWC pilot watches. They also have their own original designs and some of them are quite good. They also mix style elements from Rolex and Tudors and other iconic watches and designs, so it becomes all very confusing. And I think what offends some enthusiasts particularly is that they offer copies of contemporary, currently available Rolex watches (in which instance I would call it a “copy” rather than an “homage”). But I think what the real “problem” is that ALL of their watches are made of truly fantastic quality with high-end components, Swiss movements specifically, that very much compete with their often 20 or more times expensive counterparts.
To be continued…
In the conclusion of Part III we’ll explore all the beautiful details and qualities that Steinhart’s Ocean Vintage Military watch has to offer to a real enthusiast. Stay tuned.
ABOVE LEFT: Contemporary Tudor MilSub, CENTER: Vintage Rolex MilSub, RIGHT: Homage Steinhart MilSub.
All unmarked pictures (such as the one on the far right) are copyright of DAVIDIS FILMS, INC. aka DF MEDIA, all rights reserved 2023 ©
Disclaimer: I have no association whatsoever with Steinhart nor any other watch brand discussed here. This essay is just an expression of my personal enthusiasm for these type of watches and serves no economic gain.
Please continue to Part 3