Seventies Week continues with Watchismo.com’s Mitch Greenblatt curating the coolest and quirkiest watches of the era
So, TPG’s Seventies Week has looked at a Seventies gem revived, a veritable crown of Seventies-inspired gems from other brands getting down and groovy, plus all the automotive and cinematic touchpoints that completed the picture for any flare-clad dude about town with a few dollars to spare. But what about the actual, properly far-out, acid-trip casualties of the era? The man to ask is Mitch Greenblatt, originally of Brooklyn, NYC, now of San Fran, California. First interviewed on these shores by QP magazine, back then he was a self-confessed watchnerd, obsessively tracking down archived examples of the Seventies’ out-there obscurities, armed with nothing other than a copy of History of the Modern Wristwatch by Pieter Doenson.
The out-of-print book focuses on the advances in post-war watch design, including those by Richard Arbib, who created the mechano-lectric Hamilton Electric hybrid, and Pierre Cardin whose watches came out circa 1971, just before the designer licensed-out his name for countless other products. “That book changed everything. It got me focused on what was out there,” Greenblatt told QP.
But what about the properly far-out, acid-trip casualties of the era? The man to ask is Mitch Greenblatt
Greenblatt travelled across the USA, Switzerland, France, The Netherlands and beyond in search of the most unusual timepieces from the 1960s and 1970s, curating and selling them on his Watchismo site, and writing about them on his Watchismo Times blog. It quickly escalated, and his vintage space oddities started to fly off the shelves, and – the flip side – he began building a healthy trade selling the modern, wacky equivalents. With his brother, Greenblatt now runs a world-leading online watch boutique, boasting a high-end collection no less, AKA ‘The Vault’ – Devon Works, Meccaniche Veloci, Ventura, U-Boat and Hamilton amidst it all. Not bad for a vintage-watch collector.
Here’s Mitch’s pick of the Seventies’ craziest conceits, first seen in the pages of QP, and many of which he’s now sold (sorry)…
“Leaving New York in 1999, I found myself in Switzerland at the dawn of 1972. My timewarp led me to a universe in a Neuchâtel – a world filled with hundreds of Spacemen, sitting undisturbed in the Zeno factory with no plans of visiting the moon anytime soon. This grounded crew was actually a secret stash of vintage Spaceman watches I unearthed at the Zeno Watch Co., a former distributor of the timepieces designed by Andre Le Marquand, an architect from Neuchâtel. The futuristic watches had fallen out of style during the ’80s and ’90s but I was ready to fly them out of their dark Swiss graveyard and back onto the wrists of space-age sentimentalists like myself.
“Hundreds of Spacemen, sitting undisturbed in the Zeno factory with no plans of visiting the moon anytime soon”
In the late Sixties Claude Lebet, owner of the Bulle based watch brand Catena asked Le Marquand to create a timepiece inspired by man’s conquest of the moon and the astronauts who made it there. Mr. Le Marquand provided him with his first wristwatch design called, what else, the ‘Spaceman’. The Spaceman was unlike anything seen before and Catena introduced the fleet at the Basel Fair of 1972. The large oval case appeared to be docked on your wrist held by a triple-forked Corfam strap by DuPont. The case also had a coned dome crystal half concealed by a coloured metal visor that allowed viewing of the dial to only the wearer. All hands and markers were perfectly seventies orange with models in a variety of colours only possible during that special decade.
The watches were powered by automatic and manual winding mechanical ETA movements and were distributed by a variety brands, among them Jules Jurgensen, Fortis, and Zeno. The success led to the development of new Spaceman a few years later, an audacious design by Le Marquand and appropriately named, the ‘Audacieuse’.”
“Stars shine their brightest before they blow up. That’s also true for innovative French brand Lip, first established by Emmanuel Lipmann as far back as 1867. As the company began the final stages of an implosion in the mid-Seventies, revolutionary French designers were beamed up to save Lip with a fleet of futuristic wristwatches. Prince Francois Baschmakoff, an illustrator and package designer, was the first to push Lip into hyperspace, hired by Fred Lipmann before his (forced) exit ended over 100 years of family control.
Famously known for the TGV train, designer Roger Tallon’s D-shaped Mach 2000 watches are iconic
Claude Neuschwander then led the company into wackier territory with designs by the likes of Roger Tallon, Isabelle Hebey, Michel Boyer, Marc Held, Michel Kinn, and Rudi Meyer. Tallon was a successful industrial designer, famously known for the TGV train. His Mach 2000 watches for Lip are the most recognisable of the group and have since become an icon for the company. Most prevalent is the asymmetrical chronograph (Valjoux 7734 movement) with protruding multi-coloured balls for the pushers and crown, which fit inside the spaces cut from a D-shaped case. (Alain Silberstein is clearly a fan.)
Michel Boyer, an interior designer, might have been the most foreshadowing of all. He was responsible for ‘Les Candides’, an inexpensive line of colorful mechanical plastic watches produced in large numbers for ‘expendable’ mass production – a whole 10 years before the first Swatch watch was produced.
Isabelle Hebey, who turned her pencil to everything from the Honda logo to Concorde’s interior, created very modern ladies’ watches for Lip. A series of rectangular shapes with a variety of minimal dials and extended and hinged lugs – one of my wife’s absolute favourites to wear.
Sadly, Lip shut its doors in 1976 only to be revived a few times in the following decades. Lip has recently returned under new ownership, reintroducing many of its designer models in the ‘Revival ’70s’ and Mach 2000 collection. All are quartz, some are faithful to the original designs, others with liberties taken to appeal to a younger crowd, and many with entirely new looks. Like Halley’s Comet, Lip seems to keep returning to Earth.”
“The sideview, or ‘driver’s’ watch, rethought the arm-twisting mechanics of checking the time. Theoretically, these have been ergonomically designed, freeing the wearer to view the readout while clutching the steering wheel. In practice however, like the ones featured here, they’re designed to be different for different’s sake. Though relatively obscure in watchmaking history, such calculated distinction breeds truly unique engineering solutions. With the face pushed to the side, traditional hands are replaced with innovative features like rollers, mirrors, and digital displays. The current burst of independent watchmakers and automotive-inspired timepieces is again leading to new impressions of side-viewing wristwear – not least Parmigiani’s Bugatti and Urwerk’s 103 collection. Here are some of my vintage highlights…”
Patek Philippe ‘Cobra’, 1958
A prototype designed by the renowned Louis Cottier features a futuristic angular case with an integrated bracelet and two graduated linear openings showing the hour and minute marks, which are printed in a spiral on rollers. Far ahead of its time, even today, the unfamiliar time display, advanced design and high cost of production prevented it from ever being made. The boys at Urwerk deliberately paid tribute with the UR-CC1, which is nice.
Amida Digitrend, 1970s
“One of the most off-beat, ‘retro-futuristic’ timepieces I’ve ever seen is a sideview jump-hour, the Amida Digitrend, also seen by the brand names Hudson and Crehor. The numbers are printed in reverse on two discs (minutes and hours) projected sideways through a prism that reflects and corrects the digits to the viewer. This manual-wind mechanical emulated and competed with the newly developed LED digital watches of the time. Max Büsser’s a fan, clearly!”
“Conceived in the early Sixties and first produced in 1968, the first Solar watch ever was invented by the reclusive inventor Roger Riehl. Solar panels on the top with a sideview LED display operated by pressing a panel (unlike LCD, LEDs are too battery-draining to stay on constantly). Heavily debated within a microcosm of vintage watch collectors as the first digital watch ever. That distinction is commonly given to the 1970’s Pulsar LED. Remarkably similar to Girard-Perregaux’s highly covetable Casquette.”
“Designing collarless suits for the Beatles in 1963, Nasa Spacesuits in 1970, Pierre Cardin released his very brief Espace watch line in 1971. Made of metal blocks, lucite cubes, layered disks, contouring arcs, bold stripes or Futuro domes, my most prized collection of watches are near majority but forever incomplete due to unearthed prototypes and rare versions of already scarce models. Most are in my gallery for viewing. Cardin was an ‘O.G.’ of the space-age set along with Andre Courrèges, Mary Quant, Rudi Gernreich, and Paco Rabanne, all creating clothing for the future where you’d be accompanied by your best friend and confidant, Barbarella. All mechanical watches fitted with handwound Jaeger FE 68 movements.”
“We’ve saved the wackiest till last! When I first saw this sideview Record automatic watch by Longines in Pieter Doensen’s book, my jaw dropped. I visited Mr. Doensen himself in Utrect, viewed the watch in person and left my jaw in the Netherlands. Jawless and determined, my patience paid off in the form of my very own model with original box!”
Seventies Week on the Prodigal Guide is sponsored by Vacheron Constantin. Read about its 1972 Prestige watch here.
Space Oddities: far-out ’70s fashion watches
Seventies Week continues on TPG with Watchismo.com’s Mitch Greenblatt curating the coolest and downright quirkiest watches of the era
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