Anyone who is remotely interested in watches will have come across the word Homage. Homages are watches that draw very strong inspiration from discontinued iconic models and are usually being offered to the public for more attractive prices than the legends of the past. This is not set in stone however, with a few tributes selling for a significant amount of money such as the offerings from Artisans de Geneve and Bamford.
Quite a few enthusiasts have very strong opinions regarding the matter and I believe that the debate will only grow stronger as watch collecting turns mainstream and prices of vintage watches keep increasing at the rate they do at the moment. Some of the collectors seem to appreciate the effort that has gone in from different brands but others claim that they would never try one of them.
So, what is my opinion? This will have to be a multidimensional response. When I first got into watches, I decided to take a neutral stance. I was not the one to judge people supporting homage watches but I was also not interested in buying any of them. That was three years ago, when a number of vintage watches were still available for reasonable prices and I was suddenly presented with a vast number of opportunities and choices. Three years later things seem to have changed a lot. Prices have been skyrocketing and the trend does not seem to be slowing down any time soon. At first chronographs seemed to be the hot items but now divers and other sport watches seem to be in huge demand as well. This means that the entry fee into the watch world has suddenly increased beyond the means of a lot of aspiring collectors. The reasons regarding these increases will be analysed in a future post.
As was mentioned above, most of the homage offerings draw their inspiration from the past but there are quite a few which are almost identical to current offerings from luxury brands. I can see the appeal of homages as far as the models they have been inspired from have long been discontinued but I cannot really understand the need for an almost identical watch with a different name on the dial, especially when so many, good quality, modern mechanical watches are offered by a number of brands and manufacturers at very attractive price points.
As far as vintage watches are concerned there are a few reasons to consider the possibility of purchasing a homage watch.
Vintage watches are becoming increasingly expensive and beyond the means of the vast majority of people
Some vintage watches are quite fragile and cannot withstand the challenges presented by everyday use
Servicing of some vintage watches is extremely challenging and parts are becoming increasingly obsolete
Vintage styling is becoming increasingly popular
Homages mitigate against the high cost entry barrier to watch collecting
Before diving further into the debate it is worth considering the state of the industry in the 60s, 70s and the early 80s. Some of the hardcore enthusiasts will mention that homages are simply rippoffs from successful past designs but I am not sure that this is always the case.
All 4 watches shown above were offered simultaneously by 4 different brands and are hugely sought after by collectors today. Due to the high cost of tooling most brands did not own factories as they do today but sourced components from specialised manufacturers in order to bring their designs to life. Gay Freres were renowned for their bracelets, Singer for their dials and Piquerez, Schmitz and Squale for their cases and this is just a small sample of manufacturers at the time. In order to keep costs down a lot of the brands would choose off the shelf parts rather than order bespoke components and that is the reason that so many watches of that era share components, movements and designs. This makes it quite difficult to actually attribute each design to a specific manufacturer. To make things even more complicated just have a look at this Tradition Chronograph with a valjoux 7750 movement but with a Seiko Pogue case, handset bezel etc.
Even the legendary Rolex Daytona depended on Valjoux for its movement, Singer for its dial and Gay Freres for its bracelet.Dials using “Paul Newman” elements where used by chronographs from other brands the same time Rolex offered its own as a choice.
UK’s Ministry of Defence issued the image of an unbranded Omega Seamaster 300 as an acceptable design in a specification booklet available to all interested parties and of course competitors.
People sometimes cringe when homages are concerned but we are currently witnessing a glorious revival of the past in the design world. Companies that produce homages where the first to fill the market gap and capitalise on this phenomenon. The watch industry has taken notice and is trying to respond. Just have a look at Omega’s new 60th anniversary trilogy, their SpeedyTuesday and their First Omega in space, Zenith has revived some legendary El-Primero designs, Tag-Heuer is constantly embracing its past, Tudor is continuously capitalising on its history with their Heritage line and even Rolex who seem to do things their way introduced a black ceramic bezel on the Daytona and some red text on the Seadweller as nods to the past.
Most homage producers are quite nimble and are constantly engaging with the online community in order to bring a design to life. This approach seems to be so effective that even the new Heuer Autavia was actually selected by the consumers through the Autavia Cup.
A common misconception is that homages are cheaply made, low quality watches. I own a Precista, PRS-82 and it is one of the most well made watches I have ever tried on. In 1982 the Royal Navy issued some Precista manufactured watches to their divers. This proved to be the last batch of mechanical watches to be issued by the Royal Navy. The watches were not available to the public and some forums claim that only 16 of them have survived. In the 1990s the company went bankrupt and Eddie Platts, the owner of Timefactors, purchased the rights to the name. He hunted down a batch of new old stock movements that were used on the issued watches and set off to produce a high quality re-issue. Such was the success of the endeavour that all 500 watches with the NOS movement have all been sold and such is the demand for the PRS-82 that the production has now continued using the ETA-2824.
MKII is another company that has some very dedicated followers. What is most impressive is that quite a few of the MKII buyers not only own the homage but also the original version of the watch! Just have a look at their Key-West. A GMT-Master homage that offers among other choices, a gilt dial with a pepsi bezel, reintroduces the chamfered lugs and gets away from using crown guards. Now, ask a few GMT enthusiasts how their ideal GMT would look like…