While the age of mechanial timepieces seems to be past, however masterful they may have been as highly precise and technical creations, there is more behind the relaunch of a pre-quartz watch than the manufacture looking for a stop gap launch.
Mechanical timepieces herald the spirit of the glorious 1960's, when the art of mechanical watchmaking had reached its peak. The craft had reached the peak of its development and represented the cutting edge of timekeeping technology. By the end of the decade electronics had rendered it functionally obsolete. You could say that the timepieces of the sixties were the last truly authentic mechanical watches.
It was also a decade of stylistic and social revolution that shaped our world today. It built the most beautiful aircraft, the Concorde, and, according to Enzo Ferrari, the most beautiful car, the E-Type Jaguar. It produced the Mini and the mini-skirt — both constantly revived and enduringly modern. New materials and psychedelic colours transformed interior design. The music of the time remains popular; ageing rockers still draw youthful crowds, 50 years on.
The 1960s also saw a revival of the chronograph wristwatch as a rugged, go anywhere, functional instrument. It had become popular in the 1930s and 1940s as the essential adjunct to the age of speed, but had been out of fashion for a couple of decades only to come back with a vengeance in the dying days of the mechanical watch. Eberhard & Co, always early adopters (it made its first wrist chronograph in 1919), set the style in 1960 with its Contograf, establishing a look that can still be found in Omegas, Rolexes and Zeniths of today — the rotating bezels, subdials, tachymeter scales and black trim.
The 1960s Contograf was a best seller of its age. The big, easy-to-read dial would not look out of place on the wrist of the well-dressed man of today. It also had a couple of unique features: a third button at 9 o'clock to set the date quickly in the short months and three long markers set at three-minute intervals on the minutes-counter scale.
In those days, long-distance telephone calls were still horrendously expensive and were charged for three-minute periods. In 1965 the Bell telephone company offered a three-minute transatlantic call for 12 dollars (nearly USD90 in today’s money). By the simple expedient of its three-minute markers, the Contograf enabled callers to cut short an expensive discussion about the weather with “Sorry, I must hang up now.”
There might be several reasons why Eberhard & Co. chose this moment to launch their “Tribute to Contograf - 1960s” revival. Perhaps they sensed a market reaction to the overpriced gadgets of today, a yearning for the authentic watch and the everlasting appeal of sixties styling. After all, with 127 years of watchmaking behind it, the company certainly doesn’t lack experience.
In any case, the new Contograf is a lesson in the art of revival: capture and refine the essential elements of the style while introducing modern conveniences and materials.
Thus the new Contograf retains the trapezoidal dates window of the old as well as the luminous dauphine hands and the one-way rotating bezel. But the bezel is now in scratch-resistant ceramics. The dial is essentially the same except that the dates window replaces the 6 o'clock hours marker and the numerals on the bezel are bolder and easier to read. A silvery dial with black counters is available in addition to the black dial. The three-minute markers on the minutes counter are retained to remind us to be grateful for the age of Skype. The main difference is the red chronograph seconds hand to match the dates and the red stitching on the leather strap.
A new feature that could save you a speeding fine is the numeral 50 in red at 12 seconds. If you drive over a measured kilometre in one minute and 12 seconds by your chronograph you will be doing 50 km/h, which is the urban speed limit in most European countries.
Under the dial, the 14-ligne manually wound chronograph has been replaced with a selfwinding movement based on the well-tried 13 ¾-ligne Valjoux 7750 chronograph calibre and the dates are set by the crown. Both the steel bracelet and the leather strap are fitted with the patented Déclic® folding clasp as an option.
The original Contograf, like most of the popular watches of that era, will now be coming to the end of their useful lives. Its revival perpetuates a design that — to borrow a watchmaking cliché — will remain a timeless classic for another half century.