The period of the 1970s/1980s was a golden age for funky watches with complications that made sense back then but that no longer do today. Now we have smartphones that do everything for us, for example reminding us of an appointment, timing an event, and keeping track of our health. But as one digs into vintage catalogs one will find quite unique watches. Not the V8-looking super watches that are unwearable and cost the same as a Ferrari. No. Instead I’m talking about the ones that were rather affordable and looked elegant and oftentimes like a regular watch.
Actually, a few brands have been bringing back these particular watches, as we will see below. In this article, we will take a look at three watches that came with a unique feature (or complication) that had an actual purpose in peoples’ daily lives..a few decades ago.
The Alarm Watch
Perhaps my favorite funky complication is the alarm one. I grew up in the 1980s/90s and I once owned a Casio F91W that came with several practical features such as a timer, an hour repeater, and an alarm. Having an alarm on a watch in the 1990s made sense since I didn’t have a smartphone but I did have an alarm clock, I wouldn’t drag it on vacation, however. So having an alarm was useful not only to wake up in the morning while away from the house but also to be reminded of things taking place at a certain time each day.
And an alarm clock doesn’t have to be digital, and that’s where things become interesting. You see, the Vulcan Cricket was known for having an alarm complication in which a tiny bell would vibrate inside a sound cage inside the movement to make it audible. I can imagine this feature being very useful for travelers and business people before the age of smartphones. And although we don’t need it today, it’s quite fascinating to see that Vulcain has brought back to life the Cricket and that we can buy a modern version of it.
The Parking Meter Watch
Speaking of Vulcain, the brand had also created a parking meter watch. Yes, a chronograph that had a disc in the middle of the dial indicating minutes from 0 to 60 so that one didn’t forget to put money in the meter to avoid getting a ticket. Of course, one could have accomplished the same result using a regular chronograph with a 60-minute totalizer or a dive watch with a 60-minute bezel. But going to the lengths of creating a specific complication to track the parking meter? That’s pure genius to me. Unfortunately, this type of watch no longer exists but I kinda wish it did.
The World Timer
Brands do still make World Timer watches but we don’t need them, of course. Actually, we don’t need watches anymore! Our smartphones—once again—indicate the time in our local timezone and in any timezone we wish to track, in addition to providing count-down and count-up functions. Oftentimes, World Timers came with both a bezel indicating the name of the main cities in the other timezones, but also a 24-hour scale to make tracking a second timezone easy. I could see myself using a World Timer as I travel a lot and am connected to people who live in multiple time zones.
The Moisture Indicator
Changing things a little bit, I wanted to mention the moisture indicator that was historically found on Blancpain Fifty Fathoms’ Mil-Spec models. Back in the 1950s, dive watches were not always as reliable as they are today, even those made for underwater navy commandos. Technology was such that not all divers were guaranteed to be water resistant due to the continuous pressure that was applied on the gaskets that seal the case-back. This meant the gaskets would wear and water could leak. (See my recent article about the EPSA Super Compressor case.) To remedy this problem and potential danger of having a leaky dive watch, Blancpain added the moisture indicator that would immediately indicate whether water had infiltrated the watch. Again, we don’t need this but it’s pretty neat that Blancpain re-issued the Mil-Spec model.
The fact that we have smartphones and smartwatches doesn’t mean that we can no longer enjoy the aforementioned features. As someone who has made it a ritual to read the time on a watch instead of looking at my phone, I wouldn’t mind having a mechanical timepiece with an alarm function or a chronograph built-in to remind me that my parking meter is going to run out. (Yes, we now have apps to do that but what’s the fun in it?) And the fact that brands still produce certain watches or seeing entrepreneurs re-create these brands is quite unique to me. We might not need these types of funky watches but they are part of the horological history that has brought us to where we are now.
Would our smartphones come with timers if mechanical chronographs would have never been invented? Perhaps not.Featured image: www.fratellowatches.com