Making The Past Look Better Than It Ever Did — The Restomod Is The Ultimate Feelgood Watch
Off-the-shelf stuff — how do you feel about it? Well, it has its advantages. I mean, a product that’s available immediately and doesn’t need to be specially made to suit a particular purpose comes in most handy. But is an off-the-shelf product a luxury product? Let me rephrase that and include something relevant for Fratello readers. Is a watch made by a brand that produces roughly a million watches per year a luxury watch? It most definitely is an off-the-shelf watch that wasn’t specially made to suit your wishes. And isn’t personalization a crucial element of enjoying luxury? The restomod is the ultimate feelgood watch that offers both familiarity and individuality. And it’s luxurious in every sense. Let’s look at “restored” and “modified” watches and some cars to get into the mood, then explore something I call the retromod.
There’s a certain kind of magic to something that looks and feels familiar yet is also custom made. It’s like hearing your favorite song from decades ago that has been carefully remastered. It immediately finds a way to your heart and warms the soul. I know it’s a cliché, but when I was a kid, the first-generation Porsche 911 Turbo 3.0 from 1975 was my absolute dream car. When I see a current 911 on the road, I see a 911 drive by. I register what I see very matter-of-factly, and nothing happens. But when I see a 911 that has been restored and beautified by the US-based company Singer Vehicle Design, my senses go into overdrive.
The restomod comes in many shapes and sizes
What Singer in Sun Valley, California has been doing to Porsches built between 1989 and 1994 — FYI, that’s the 964 chassis — has been nothing short of mind-blowingly spectacular. And the company has been doing that at the requests of its clients. This is roughly how Singer works: the client buys a 964, brings it to Singer, and the company works its magic, guided by the client’s wishes. The client is blown away by the result — a cool retro color, interior details, carbon fiber parts in the engine bay, et cetera, et cetera — then pays a mind-blowing bill and drives off into the sunset.
Singer might be the most famous of restomod builders, but there’s a string of breathtaking reimagined cars being unleashed upon those who have fond memories of, for instance, the Lancia 037 or Delta Integrale, Magnum’s Ferrari 308, and the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 EVO II — please feel free to take a look at these 10 very different and very fabulous 2022 restomods on My Car Heaven.
The restomod watch
There’s a big difference between tuners and companies who produce a restomod. This is true when it comes to cars but also when it comes to watches. You can black out a Rolex, but that’s like putting a rear wing on a 3-series saloon. What companies like Artisans de Genève, Tempus Machina, and Label Noir are doing is different and goes way further. Okay, it’s not the same modus operandi as Singer’s, for example. In the case of a heavily customized watch, the start is a new, modern watch, not an old car. But the result is more or less the same — a vintage look with modern workings.
The restomod project starts with a client buying a watch — nine times out of 10, that’s a Rolex. After that, the company goes to work following the client’s guidelines. Think along the lines of shaving the crown guards off of a modern Submariner, replacing the crown with a NOS big crown, or even changing fonts on the dial. Because every watch is made to measure, the often-outspoken result may not speak to you. It wasn’t meant to speak to you in the first place. But when the client has tastes that are similar to yours, the result can be absolutely breathtaking. It was Artisans de Genève’s Honey Green Daytona that got me thinking., and it was The Uncatchable GMT-Master II for Frank Abagnale Jr. that made me write this thought piece. You can find all the details about these watches here and here.
Not the watch equivalent of pork bellies
Sure, an off-the-shelf GMT-Master II is a great watch. But it’s not exactly rare or anything, now is it? I mean, Instagram is flooded with them. Also, the gray market made it all about money, and for me, that made a big dent in its allure. Along with a whole string of other Rolex watches and the usual suspects from Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet, a GMT-Master II has become a commodity first and foremost. But I don’t feel like I’m looking at the watch equivalent of pork bellies when I look at, for instance, the Tempus Machina 711Z — quite the opposite. That creation is a reinterpreted GMT-Master ref. 6542 based on a modern GMT-Master II ref. 116710. And with its smaller crown and custom “small arrow” GMT hand like those from early models, for me, that creation is watch love materialized
Brand-new and brand-owned restomods
What Singer, Artisans de Genève, Label Noir, and many other restomod companies have to deal with is the fact that the original makers are very protective of their brand. To prevent very lengthy, very costly, and virtually unwinnable lawsuits against the likes of Porsche and Rolex, the restomod makers make it very clear that they are independent companies that are not associated or affiliated with brands A, B, C, and so on.
Interestingly, the folks at Jaguar saw the potential of restomods (and the success of Eagle E-Types) and decided they wanted in on the action. The right moment came when the famous E-Type, the car Enzo Ferrari dubbed the most beautiful car in the world, celebrated its 60th anniversary. Jaguar then presented the E-Type 60 Collection. It was a collection of 12 once lost, then restored, and subtly upgraded examples of the Jaguar E-Type 3.8.
You could argue that watch brands do the same by presenting retro watches. They take old models and recreate them carefully using modern methods and materials. There are plenty of great examples, such as the Zenith Chronomaster Revival El Primero A3817. The new Tudor Black Bay 54 — the 37mm timepiece based on the brand’s earliest dive watch, the ref. 7922 — also has strong restomod vibes. Well, it’s close but no cigar because everything is new.
Not quite restomod but close
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s new program “The Collectibles” is not (reissue) retro and not restomod, but it is something in between. It is a curated collection of historically important watches that were completely overhauled by the brand in Le Sentier. The watches come with a certificate of authenticity and a two-year international factory guarantee. The starting point is old, and the goal is to restore and stick to the original. So in the end, the final product is not quite a restomod watch.
Rolex doesn’t have a program like JLC. What it does have is a Certified Pre-Owned program through trusted retail partners like Bucherer, dealing watches that are at least three years old. What Rolex also won’t do is retro. Yes, there are some hints of the 1931 Oyster Perpetual in the new Perpetual 1908, but calling it a retro watch goes too far.
Retro + modern = retromod
The closest thing to a retro Rolex — let’s be honest: vintage Subs and GMT-Masters are some of the most charismatic, charming, attractive, and dream-worthy watches of all time — can be found in the Tudor catalog. The individual restomod watch is a very costly affair. It starts with obtaining a watch, and on top of that, the lengthy customization process isn’t exactly cheap. It’s for the happy few. But for those who feel attracted to the concept — I certainly am — please have a look at the Tudor Black Bay Pro. Feel the “Freccione,” and save a large chunk of money.
Sister brand Tudor took a Rolex watch as the source of inspiration and created something new. The Black Bay Pro is a watch that’s retro and modern — glue those words together, and you get not “restomod” but “retromod.” Okay, the result is not a unique, made-to-measure timepiece. But it is very much like a restomod, made possible by Tudor, and, in a way, powered by Rolex. Who would have thought?
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