Editor’s Note: I am right there with you, but Charles Bellinger makes a point. Like almost everything, the 70’s weren’t all bad, and he has made a case here. – JB
If aesthetics must be judged within the context of their time, then the watch world of the 60s and 70s was a lot like the sexual revolution that was happening concurrently. If the 60s were all about pushing toward the limits of what was there, then the 70s were about throwing all that out and getting weird. Hear me out, the 70s was bad for a lot of things but there was some genuinely brilliant style moves occurring at the time. For watches, long time makers were letting loose, dropping pretense, and doing some pretty awesome stuff.
Its fair to say that a lot of things weren’t that great about the era. The automotive world was in a period called the Malaise era. Toward the end of the 70s Cadillac would offer a 7-liter V8 engine with a whopping 180 horsepower. To put that in perspective its comparable to the output of the inline 4-cylinder engine currently found in the Mazda Miata. There was also Stagflation in the states, economic decline in Britain (which would usher in Thatcherite reforms for good and bad) and the slow crawl of a Europe that had finally rebuilt after the Second World War and found it no longer had the ability to ascend ever higher riding on the economic headwinds of the Marshall Plan era. Also, let us know forget the hideously proportioned leisure suit lapel widths and rash inducing textures of every polyester sport coat and trouser.
The 70’s for the Swiss watch industry meant something altogether different was coming down Disaster Pike. The 70s meant the Quartz Crisis. A quick browsing of Ebay and etsy will show any number of old Swiss watches. Often with similar movements and price points as well as similar aesthetics and features. A lot of them share movements with then (and still) big hitters such as Zodiac, Heuer, Rolex (not every movement was designed in house). At the start of the 70s there was over 1600 watchmakers in Switzerland by the early 80s less than 600. Switzerland is not that big and 1600 is an absolute over saturation. Put into geographical context, Switzerland is about the size of two New Jerseys and while a Double Jersey could certainly house 1600 mediocre pizza joints, you can bet your bippy 1600 watch companies is a bit too much.
If you follow Timex, you’ll be aware of the relaunch of the Q line. It was their incredibly successful 70s quartz line up and its even more popular today. It was in a lot of ways a snapshot of the industry at the time. Here was an onslaught of new pieces featuring a technology that was accurate, easily maintained, and affordable. Freed up resources allowed for cutting edge designs, new features such as digital lcd screens, multiple timers and stop watches. Watch makers such as Seiko in the east and Timex in the west suddenly were at the front of the line while older steadfast makers were gutted and often left for dead. Knowing that fast and cheap would not work, the bigger brands had to make it work on style and innovation like never before.
Exhibit A: The Rolex Cellini (all photos courtesy of Chrono24)
Sure, its tasteful and elegant and I love it. It’s a perfectly handsome and reserved wristwatch I would wear any day of the week but by 1974:
Now that, that’s good. Its luxury, its fun. If it were able to be consumed, I would stick it right in my veins. It says “Hello, this is luxury, I am beyond such simple trifles as taste and timidness.”
Example B: OMEGA
Omega as many are well aware are known for such timeless watches as the Seamaster and the Moonwatch. They are good solid watches I adore but look at this funky fabulousness:
1974 Omega Constellation
This just says chunky and funky and chic. Its as disaster from a staid 50s Pie Pan model as you can get.
Here’s a 70s Omega Dynamic. Its like a UFO for your wrist. I love it please give it to me posthaste:
Example C: Seiko
Even Quartz giant Seiko themselves, knowing that enthusiasts would cling to mechanical watches got all up in the funky stuff. Take a gander at this:
And The Bullhead:
Sure, the 70s had some rough bits but it also had some brilliant ones. Old brands found new life in a suddenly dynamic market. Sports cars got smaller and more nimble and not quite so thirsty. In France and Italy, the early to mid-70s saw a post war rebirth of elegance that put the aesthetic absurdity of America to shame. If you’re watch tendencies are feeling a bit Pet Sounds and you want to take them up to Diamond Dogs, you owe it to yourself to leave the disco boots and leisure suit aesthetics of the era aside and check out some truly weird and funky pieces from our most maligned decade.
- Charles Bellinger