Retro Watch Designs That Need to Make a Comeback

The Time Bum is not an artist, engineer, or industrial designer, but like all watch enthusiasts, that doesn't stop me from pontificating about what real watch designers could do better. (It's a gift.) Along those lines, I have been thinking about certain design features that have caught my eye, and which I hope the creative entrepreneurs of the affordable watch world will consider. These are not completely novel ideas; most were common a few decades ago and every one of them is employed on at least one current watch, but I think all merit more exploration.

Surfboard Dials

This design encloses two registers on a chronograph in a single elliptical shape that contrasts with the primary dial color. The one that jumps out of my mind is the Breitling Datora 2031, but given the remarkable variety of vintage surfboard watches, like the Nivada pictured here, you would think that every watchmaker in the late 60s and early 70s tried this at least once. I do not understand why there are so few new ones today. Rec Watches used this design on their Mark I, as did Moto Koure on their MK1 (I'm sensing a theme here), but I am hard pressed to come up with a third.

I'd jump all over an affordable, mid-sized surfboard chronograph. The Seiko VK64 MechaQuartz or NE88 would be natural choices for the traditional horizontal motif, and a movement with registers at 12 and 6 o'clock like the Ronda 3520.D could make for even more distinctive, vertically oriented shape. 

Concave Bezels

This one is simple: instead of the bezel being higher at its inner edge, it is highest at its outer edge so the insert is angled inward towards the dial, similar to an internal bezel. I have no idea what, if any, purpose this serves. Likely none whatsoever but I don't care, it looks cool. 

Trintec used a concave bezel to dramatic effect on the massive Zulu-07 ProI'd like to see someone try it with a smaller case. For example, on this 1970's cushion case Tyrrell the bezel appears to sink into the surface as it accentuates the high domed crystal. Lovely. More of this please.

TV Dials

I recently posted a question about TV dial watches on a forum and was stunned to discover that some folks didn't understand the reference - not because they had never seen that kind of watch, but because they had never seen an old cathode tube television. Yes, something I had once regarded as a common modern appliance is now as relevant as a butter churn. So for all you Millenials, let me tell you that back in my day, televisions were not long, flat rectangles mounted on walls but squat boxes with convex screens bulging from their faces. What can I say? We were primitive then.

In the watch world, TV dials are fat ovals or rectangles with curved sides. Many were in square cases but my favorites were barrel shaped, creating a pronounced contrast between the thick, oblong case and the comparatively narrow dial. The Memostar Alarm is one of the best-known examples but there were dozens of others out there.

Quilted straps

Ok, this isn't exactly retro because I'm not sure they were ever very common, but I want one, so I'm listing it. Depending on the execution, diamond quilting can look refined and elegant like a Chanel purse, or rugged and sporty like Barbour hunting coat. 

A friend of mine owns a Movado Museum Watch on quilted olive fabric and I have often thought I might offer to buy the watch just to poach the strap. Department store favorite Michele has a line of quilted straps for women's watches, and there are maybe a handful of other fashion brands who have used this style on a model or two, but that was about it. Then Manchester Watch Works launched the Morgan Chronograph on matte black, diamond quilted leather. It looked like the transmission hump of a Ferrari 250 GTO and reminded me of why I was drawn to the pattern in the first place. Clearly, the world needs more quilting, and I'm sure some enterprising strap maker can make it happen.

Yacht Timers

A yacht timer is a chronograph with a countdown function to aid a skipper at the start of a regatta. Do we need them race our yachts? Of course not. Then again, do you really need that racing chronograph to time your minivan run to Home Depot? I thought not. No, we need more yacht timers because they are cool and colorful throwbacks to another age. For inspiration, I'd suggest a 1970's Memosail. It had a bulbous case, bold dial, and a lurid 10-minute countdown that terminates with the letters S T A R T. Even the most land-locked, hydrophobic watch nerd has got to love one of these.

Other Ideas?

Now that you have read my opinions, I am quite sure you have some of your own. What design cues would you like to see more of in the affordable market? It may be an underrepresented style, an uncommon shape, or just a clever little detail that has caught your eye. I find my inspiration in vintage watches, but perhaps there are some features of high end watches that might be brought down to earth for the rest of us? Whatever it may be, The Time Bum wants to know. Share your ideas in the comments section, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. 

Vintage watch photos provided by Retro Watch Guy, Jordan Litt. The Nivada is long gone, but the Tyrrell, Memostar, and Memosail are currently available for sale at

Manchester Watch Works Morgan photo by Marcos Santana (EL_GEEK)

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