If 2018 was a good year for anniversaries – the Omega Seamaster turned 70, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore turned 25, Mido turned 100 – wait till you get a load of what’s turning 50 in 2019.
It’s the 50 anniversary of the self-winding chronograph. Yes, in 1969 – three different factions staked claim to being the first to produce an automatic chronograph. While the Zenith debuted its famed El Primero, the first integrated column-wheel chronograph with a self-winding mechanism and a high beat escapement; the Chronomatic group (Heuer-Breitling-Hamilton/Buren combine) developed the Caliber 12, a modular automatic chronograph movement that placed a Dubois-Depraz chronograph module on a slim Buren movement fitted with a micro-rotor.
Meanwhile, Seiko quietly debuted the Speed-Timer Ref. 6139 automatic chronograph in the domestic market with a minimum of fuss. We’ll leave discussions about who among these brands was the first to hit the market to internet forums. It really doesn’t matter to anyone other than opinionated aficionados anyway. Without further ado, here are some of the watches that will mark important milestones in their history in 2019.
Zenith El Primero
Whatever the truth about who won the race for the first automatic chronograph, Zenith achieved a PR victory of sorts by having the ingenuity and foresight to name their candidate the El Primero, Spanish for ‘The First’. Ref. A386, unveiled at the Basel fair in 1969 was the first automatic chronograph with a high-beat movement, its escapement boasted an extremely fast oscillation rate of 36,000 vph (the most common frequency for modern mechanical wristwatch movements is 28,800 vph). Read more here.
Boasting a couple of firsts ‒ the first square water-resistant time-piece, the first chronograph movement with a micro-rotor (initially called the Chronomatic until the name was dropped after a year) ‒ the Heuer Monaco remains one of the few watches that can easily be identified across a crowded room. Launched in 1969 when TAG Heuer was still known as merely Heuer, it was named the Monaco after the glamorous French principality of the same name and its links to the Grand Prix. Read more about this iconic timepiece here.
Seiko Speed-Timer Ref. 6139
Seiko’s Ref. 6139-600X was first released only in the Japanese domestic market. It was often referred to as the “Speed-Timer” as Seiko had this printed on the dial of the early models. The watch had a 30-minute counter, a day and date indicator, and a tachymeter scale. It would also become the first automatic chronograph worn in space when Col. William Pogue wore it on his wrist alongside the standard-issue Omega Speedmaster during the NASA Skylab 4 mission in 1973.
Omega Speedmaster to commemorate the Apollo XI landing?
The Speedmaster famously accompanied the Apollo XI Mission crew to the moon and astronaut Buzz Aldrin famously had it on his wrist during the historic moon landing on July 20, 1969. While Omega hasn’t unveiled anything yet to mark the 50th anniversary of this historic event, collector forums are rife with speculation as to what the Apollo XI limited edition Speedmaster will be like. Omega has marked the Apollo missions in the past and in 2018, and more recently, it issued the Apollo 8 limited edition Speedmaster. The Apollo XI 50th anniversary limited edition could be the most important Speedmaster yet!
The watch that would define the next decade was launched in the last week of the 1960s. On December 25, Seiko launched in the Astron, the world’s first quartz wristwatch, in Tokyo. Limited to just 100 pieces, these gold-case watches were priced at ¥450,000, equivalent then to the cost of a Toyota Corolla. The battery-powered movement featured a quartz oscillator and would pave the way for the mass production of affordable quartz-powered watches in the next decade, and eventually lead to what the Swiss watch industry refers to as the “Quartz Crisis”.