by Dana Li
Although I never was one to curate my watch collection based on certain themes (specific dial colors, references of the same design, etc.), I recently noticed that a majority of my pieces were from the 1970s. Even when I come across new references, I somehow naturally gravitate toward ones from the 70s, even if I don't initially know the year it was produced. While I wouldn’t call myself an exclusive collector of pieces from that era, I do believe the 1970s were one of the best decades for watches and here's why.
Brands were not afraid to experiment with designs
For me, the 70s were unbeatable from a design perspective. From funky case shapes to crazy dial designs, so many watchmaking brands were pushing boundaries and not afraid to experiment with their watches. As a result, you get some incredibly unique watches that are archetypes of 70s culture, yet feel modern and relevant to this day. Many iconic watches, including the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the Patek Philippe Nautilus, and the IWC Ingenieur, were introduced during this era.
In addition to the watch design itself, I also love how wearable vintage pieces from the 70s are. There are a wide variety of case sizes ranging from a small 26mm to the larger 40mm, all of which often sit on the wrist incredibly well thanks to the slimmer proportions of the watch. Compared to their modern counterparts, these vintage references give a much more subtle look while still packing a punch on aesthetics.
The Quartz Crisis pushed brands to be innovative
The 70s were a pivotal time in the watchmaking world. After Seiko introduced the first commercially available quartz watch in 1969, there was an increase in demand for quartz watches since people felt mechanical ones were more expensive and less accurate. This boom in demand, combined with rising production costs for mechanical watches put the Swiss watch industry on the brink of collapse.
To address the quartz crisis, Nicolas G. Hayek, a consultant at the time, merged two groups of Swiss watchmakers called SSIH and ASUAG (which collectively oversaw brands such as Omega, Tissot, and Longines) into today’s Swatch Group. This move set the foundation for Swatch’s global brand presence as an affordable, fun watch brand that truly has something for everyone. Since then, Swatch has gone to create amazing designs both in-house and in collaboration with other brands and artists like Kiki Picasso, Vivienne Westwood, and Keith Haring.
On the flip side, there were a few Swiss watchmakers who stuck to their guns and doubled down on producing mechanical movements, even going as far as creating some of the most technologically advanced ones during that era. For example, Audemars Piguet created the Quantieme Perpetual, the world’s thinnest perpetual calendar, in the late 70s. The project was developed in secret and is credited with helping Audemars Piguet to continue to grow as a company during the quartz crisis.
Audemars Piguet first series Quantieme Perpetual. Photo credits: Analog Shift
During my collecting journey, I’ve noticed that many watches that were designed and produced in the 1970s captured my attention more so than others. As I continued to learn more about the history of the industry and the stories behind the references that were developed during this time, I became increasingly fascinated with watches during this era. For anyone interested in truly unique vintage pieces, look no further than the 70s.