A Watch By Any Name
Watch collecting, like most other technical hobbies, is chock-full of nicknames and acronyms. Often, these nicknames stem from associations with a famous personality or event. Omega’s Speedmaster Professional went to the Moon in 1969 and is now known as the Moon Watch, while vintage Speedmasters which pre-date the Moon landing are thus known as pre-Moon […]
Watch collecting, like most other technical hobbies, is chock-full of nicknames and acronyms. Often, these nicknames stem from associations with a famous personality or event. Omega’s Speedmaster Professional went to the Moon in 1969 and is now known as the Moon Watch, while vintage Speedmasters which pre-date the Moon landing are thus known as pre-Moon Speedies.
The most avidly collected brands and genres are those with the greatest proliferation of nicknames, so it’s no surprise that the richest brand in the horological lexicon is Rolex, especially of the vintage sort. To the uninitiated, the vernacular of Rolex fanatics is baffling, yet often logical. Tropical dials refer to dials which were originally black, but have since faded to tones ranging from dark brown to light caramel, ostensibly due to the tropical sun.
Many nicknames are thanks to the famous wrists the watches were once spotted on. Paul Newman once wore a particular Rolex Daytona chronograph with a distinctive two-tone dial, giving that Daytona its nickname. A more recent vintage is the Patrizzi Daytona, named after Osvaldo Patrizzi, the Italian auctioneer who discovered, or at least publicised, the fact that a certain number of Rolex Daytona watches from the early 1990s have discolouration on their chronograph sub-dials – the silver rings darken into brown.
Patrizzi’s achievement also reveals another aspect of the Rolex collector dialect. Italian influence in vintage watch collecting, particularly in Rolex, is pronounced because the Italians were amongst the first and most enthusiastic collectors some thirty years ago. So the Rolex Eef. 8171 triple calendar is known as the padellone, which is Italian for large pan, in reference to its case shape. And then, there is the ovettone (meaning ‘egg’ in English), which is a form of the Rolex Bubbleback, and also the freccione (big arrow), another nickname for the Steve McQueen Explorer which has a large, arrow-shaped GMT hand.
Nicknames are often shared, perhaps a reflection of the limited number of celebrities available for naming. The Rolex Explorer Ref. 1655 is named after Steve McQueen, but so is the square-cased Heuer Monaco chronograph.This extends to imaginary characters as well. Amongst the most collectible vintage Rolex watches is the James Bond Submariner, which refers to the watch Sean Connery wore. Rolex was mentioned by Ian Fleming in his novels (he also mentioned Girard-Perregaux) and also used in the early films. But Omega has been a title sponsor for the super spy’s films since Pierce Brosnan, and now makes a limited edition for each Bond flick. However, Omega’s watches have also been decorated with nicknames of their own. The Constellation ‘Pie Pan’, for instance, caught on like wildfire when it was coined. Referring to the design of the dial, which resembles old-school pie-baking apparatus, it is widely loved for the distinctive shape. In fact, vintage Omega Constellations are also called Connies by watch aficionados. Amusingly, owners of the Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation also call their planes Connies. So you’ll want to be sure of the context of any conversation before jumping to announce you’ve got a Connie on the wrist.
And then there are the Genta creations of the 1970s: the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Patek Philippe Nautilus and IWC Ingenieur SL. All three were designed by Gerald Genta, the most influential watch designer of his day. They share similar wide and flat profiles, giving rise to the nickname Jumbo, which applies to all three.
But verbal creativity in watch collecting extends even to the most affordable end of the spectrum. Modern Seiko timepieces, especially dive watches, have a curious abundance of nicknames. There exist the Monster, Sumo, Samurai, Stargate, Starfish and the even Tuna (with the prefixes Baby, Darth and Gold). Though these are unofficial monikers, they have stuck fast. In fact, Seiko itself uses the Monster appellation for a series of limited editions made for the Thai market, which is an uncommon instance of a watch brand actually adopting an informal nickname. But why not, really? As the Italians always say, when you’ve got a nickname, it means they really love you.