Today, we’ll take a look at a vintage Movado Disco Volante. This is a lovely watch with an incredible case. It also marks the first article I’ve written about Movado. Hopefully, that’s a good thing because there are more on the way about this oft-forgotten brand.

Since moving to London, my interest in watches from the 1930s through the 1950s has risen dramatically. Tanks, pointer dates, and dress watches are styles that have recently entered my collection. Today’s Movado Disco Volante falls into the latter category but is not a run-of-the-mill formal piece. As we will see, the small details are incredible. It’s another reminder that there are amazing vintage watches from more than just the usual brands.

Movado Disco Volante

Disco Volante — what’s in a name?

The historic and modern watch worlds are littered with nicknames. Some illicit eye-rolling while others feel appropriate. “Disco Volante,” meaning “flying saucer” in Italian, seems correct for today’s watch. The moniker comes from the case shape and the stepped bezel. A brief search online reveals many pieces under the description. Some are without lugs, while others are more traditional. A stepped bezel, however, serves as a common characteristic.

Image: Wind Vintage

The Patek Philippe 2552 Calatrava

I think it’s important to spend some words on the watch that undoubtedly inspired today’s Movado Disco Volante. Patek Philippe introduced its first automatic caliber, the 12-600, in 1954. The brand chose a stunning 36mm gold Disco Volante case to house it, dubbing it the Calatrava ref. 2552. It had a distinctive “PP” signed crown sunken into the case. Some may say this crown breaks up the perfect UFO case form, but I think it’s handsome. In keeping with many other Calatravas, strong lugs bring sturdiness to the overall design. Our friend Eric Wind sold a gorgeous example worth recalling as we move on to the main topic.

Some words about Movado

I hadn’t given Movado much thought before meeting my friend Lawrence, aka @mostlymovado, here in London some eight months ago. It was last August, and he brought a fine assortment of vintage Movado watches that turned my head. Their quality surprised me; they boasted in-house movements and cases from high-end makers. I’ve been on the hunt ever since. Interestingly, there’s a general lack of coverage on vintage Movado despite a deep and interesting back catalog. Perhaps the modern Movado brand’s lack of overt interest in its history is the reason. Another issue is that, despite this once being one of the larger watch brands, finding a decent vintage Movado is incredibly difficult. A small group of avid collectors seems to gobble them up, and the leftovers are typically undesirable. Refinished or rotten dials are the most popular afflictions. So when an opportunity arose to acquire a splendid example, I jumped at it.

Movado Disco Volante profile view

The Movado Disco Volante

It was a normal evening when Lawrence sent a WhatsApp with a photo of a lovely gold Movado. The watch looked unworn and was equipped with a beautiful case design. It turns out that while he was messaging me, he was chatting with the seller as well. The next piece of news was unexpected. The seller had two identical watches in similar condition. I decided to look more closely, and it was then that Lawrence mentioned the “Disco Volante” case and a manual-wind movement. More questions and answers ensued, and I agreed to buy the slightly more patinated model for £1,000. So, what did I buy?

This Movado is a lovely 35mm × 38mm dress watch made of 9K gold. We saw 9K gold on the Universal Genève Microtor that I reviewed earlier this year. This was and still is a popular grade of gold for the UK market. Hence, the Disco Volante has a UK-made case. The case maker, DS&S (David Shackman & Sons), was a highly reputable firm in Chesham, just outside of London. Inspection of the inner side of the case back shows us the maker and gives us vital clues as to the age of the watch. This handy website allows us to decode our observations. A leopard’s-head hallmark points to a London assay. The “C” tells us that the case is from 1958.

Movado Disco Volante profile view

A stunning case

When a watch gets its nickname for its case design, it had better be good. Thankfully, the Movado Disco Volante does not disappoint. I’d wager that this DS&S case rivals some of the best Swiss cases I’ve seen. From straight on, this Movado combines thick, purposeful lugs with an elegant, stepped case. The stepped portion is a removable bezel, but the “shut line” is so tight that it appears as part of the main case. It’s only upon closer inspection that a slight notch is visible to help remove it if necessary. I highly doubt that this bezel has ever been separated from the case.

Oddly, the best view of the Movado Disco Volante is taken by looking down the watch from the lugs. This reveals the incredibly slender and lithe case edges. In particular, the edge on the 9 o’clock side is an absolute marvel and would be a complete waste if overpolished. It’s as thin as a razor and reminds me of the Master Ultra Thin that Jaeger-LeCoultre made for the movie The King’s Man in 2021. Topping off the UFO-like form is a domed acrylic crystal that makes a smooth, almost seamless transition and brings the watch to just 8.5mm thick in total. With a case like this, it’s sad that England’s watch-case-making industry is all but gone.

More details

Sadly, the Movado Disco Volante doesn’t have a gold, emblazoned crown like the Patek 2552. However, the unsigned winder is countersunk, and its main part is flush with the case edge. Here again, the precision is admirable. The reverse side of the watch echoes the front’s design with a stepped snap-on case back. It still has its original linear-brushed surface, showing that this watch was barely worn. The trapezoidal crown tube is exposed and nicely formed. Finally, note the hallmarks on the backs of two of the lugs.

The dial is the perfect partner

It’s a good thing that Movado showed serious restraint when designing the dial for the Disco Volante. A case this nice requires a complementary partner, not a scene stealer. A silver dial comes together with applied gold stick indexes and a gorgeous applied “Movado” logo. Substantial dauphine hands pay direct tribute to the Calatrava. It’s a good but rarely followed example of not trying to fix something that isn’t broken. Then, a simple crosshair design is used for the sub-seconds display in concert with a slim gold hand. Overall, the design has perfect proportionality, making the watch look larger than its 35mm size.

Movado Disco Volante movement

Hand wound instead of automatic

The Movado Disco Volante uses the brand’s in-house caliber 205. This is a 17-jewel, 22.8mm-diameter, ultra-thin, manually wound movement with an 18,000vph frequency. This strays from Patek’s usage of an automatic caliber, but that reminds us how exotic a self-winding watch was at that time. That works out for my preferences, though, as I prefer winding a watch. As far as the movement, it’s certainly old world with its multiple bridges. Mine winds nicely, but it will soon be off for what is likely its first-ever service!

Movado Disco Volante wrist shot

Magic on the wrist

My recent foray into 70–90-year-old watches has left me flummoxed about the topic of size. The more watches I try, the more convinced I am that figures such as diameter or lug-to-lug are just numbers. This watch looks much larger than its dimensions and wears so beautifully. The sparse dial, the substantial but short lugs, and the 18mm lug spacing come together perfectly. Anything substantially larger would lose its elegance. A watch like this Movado Disco Volante likely came with a black or brown reptile strap some 65 years ago. I’ve paired it with a taupe strap from Wind Vintage, and it’s a less stodgy look.

Parting thoughts

More than six decades later, this Movado Disco Volante is still a stunner. The design strongly resembles a far more expensive watch, but I don’t see it as a direct copycat. The case and dial workmanship are impressive, and so is the use of an in-house movement. A 9K gold case may not sound like much, but I like the less rosy sheen and enhanced durability. All in all, this is a splendid watch for less than the cost of most modern stainless pieces. Of course, finding one is a real challenge, but every so often, they come in pairs.

Watch specifications

Disco Volante
Silver with applied indexes
Case Material
9K yellow gold
Case Dimensions
35mm (diameter) × 38mm (lug-to-lug) × 8.5mm (thickness)
Domed acrylic
Case Back
9K gold, snap-on
Movado 205: manual winding, 18,000vph frequency, 17 jewels
Leather strap with pin buckle
Time (hours, minutes, small seconds)
Special Note(s)
Made in 1958