Traditional watches reinterpreted for a new time

On the eve of Watches and Wonders 2021, we look back on watchmakers including Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet who are drawing inspiration from the past

Tudor watch
(Image credit: Rolex)

In the century since we began strapping the time to our wrists, classic watch design has evolved. Watchmakers, adept at intertwining historical references with accomplished technology, keep one eye on the past when drawing up plans for the future.

Rolex did just this with the Datejust, with the first iteration appearing in 1945 to mark the brand’s 40th anniversary. At the time of its release, it could claim to be the first waterproof chronometer wristwatch with the now ubiquitous date window at 3 o’clock. This newest piece retains the most familiar design codes with its fluted bezel, juxtaposition of knitted metals and dark grey dial.

Hublot watch in titanium

Classic Fusion 40 Years Anniversary Titanium with black lacquer dial, by Hublot

(Image credit: Hublot)

Audemars Piguet watch with champagne dial

[Re]master01 in stainless steel with pink gold bezel, crown and pushpieces, by Audemars Piguet

(Image credit: Audemars Piguet)

For Hublot, understatement is key in the Classic Fusion. Released to mark the brand’s 40th anniversary, the Classic Fusion in titanium with a black lacquer dial stays faithful to the original with its then-groundbreaking amalgamation of rubber strap with a case in precious metal. The simple silhouette, inspired by a ship’s porthole, remains too, making for a chic dress watch.

The Tudor Royal also looks back to its heritage with a name the brand first used in the Fifties. In steel and yellow gold with a champagne-coloured dial, the newest iteration takes a sportier bent with a focus on comfort, with an integrated bracelet making for a smooth silhouette.

Tudor watch in steel

Tudor Royal in steel and yellow gold with champagne-colour, diamond- set dial, by Tudor

(Image credit: Tudor)

With the (Re)master01, Audemars Piguet chose to stay faithful to the design codes which inspired the piece with a champagne dial, round case and Art Deco-inspired numerals belieing the modern heart within. For Patek Philippe, simple design is also key, and the Calatrava is a quintessential example with its round case and clean ivory lacquered dial. A classic becomes disrupted for Richard Mille with the Manual Winding Tourbillon which brilliantly rethinks the familiar tonneau-shaped case in red gold and diamonds. 

Patek Philippe Calatrava watch

Calatrava 5227R-001 in rose gold with ivory lacquered dial, by Patek Philippe

(Image credit: Patek Philippe)

Richard Mille watch

RM 17-01 Manual Winding Tourbillon in red gold with diamonds, by Richard Mille

(Image credit: Richard Mille)


This shoot originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of Wallpaper* (W*260)

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels. 

With contributions from