Contributor and photographer Gareth Munden ponders his experience of virtual representations of vintage-inspired recreations, those recreations in person, and then asks how they stack up against vintage watches.
Images by Gareth Munden.
Tudor Ranger on loan from Stuart Young.
Encountering The Virtual Tudor Ranger Via Social Media
On Friday July the 8th 2022, I was meant to be loading a truck with furniture, but I found myself glued to my phone watching a slick video introducing the new Tudor Ranger instead. Out of images of snow and Arctic explorers the watch came into view, and I was lulled into a consumerist daze.
The Tudor Ranger recreated here was originally released in 1963 as Tudor’s less expensive version of the Rolex Explorer reference 1016, released the same year. The most basic Ranger, reference 7995/0, was a no-nonsense everyday field watch, with a 34mm Rolex signed Oyster case and distinctive, straight-to-the-point 12-3-6-9 dial. These Rangers were pure mid-century joy sprung from the mind of Rolex founder, Hans Wilsdorf, and I had always wanted one. However, the prices slipped away from me, going up thousands each year starting around 2018 as I failed to pounce.
Images of the 2022 Ranger had been leaked on Instagram, and I was hooked learning that one of my favorite watches was going to be reissued (again). The Instagram presentation did not disappoint. Images of the 1950s British North Greenland Expedition that the new Ranger draws its inspiration from pulled me in further – though the actual Tudor supplied to that expedition was a pre-Ranger white-dialed Tudor Oyster Prince, but whatever. There were Arctic planes, tracked vehicles, and bearded men in fur-lined hoods: all the stuff of boy’s adventure fantasies that draws grown men to vintage-styled field watches.
The coolest and most popular Instagram accounts were posting images within seconds of the release. I saw stunning and moody images, wrist shots, shots on textured backgrounds and ones with glowing lume. The more hip the Instagram account, the faster the Ranger appeared. The hype machine had sucked me in. I even followed #tudorranger.
Encountering The Actual Tudor Ranger Recreation of 2022
I eventually loaded that truck, but the very next day I traveled on the London Underground to an Oxford Street authorized dealer to buy myself this new Tudor Ranger. I was tingling with excitement, like a child on Christmas morning. But when the very nice salesperson brought the Ranger out for me, I fell completely flat. I was shocked and disappointed to find that this Ranger – finally on my wrist – bored me. It’s not that I totally disliked the watch. The watch was perfectly fine. I was just entirely disinterested.
What was it that made me feel this way?
Ultimately, my answer is social media. All those amazing posts on Instagram had made me believe this new Ranger was exactly what I had been waiting for, that this was the watch that was going to get me them ‘likes’ from my fellow Instagram watch junkies. But something was missing. I’ve since figured out what it was: aesthetic character; and its twin, historical authenticity.
Can Recreations Obtain Character and Authenticity?
Tudor has produced some amazing vintage-inspired watches in the last decade: more than a few Black Bays are lovely recreations of vintage Rolexes, others more unto themselves. Chronographs, GMTs, divers – many of them quite wonderful. I own a Black Bay 58. I wear it often and love it. By comparison, the Tudor Ranger failed to obtain the illusive qualities of character and authenticity.
But why exactly?
The modern Tudor Ranger’s authentic historical connection to the British North Greenland Expedition is tentative at best, but I could have lived with that if the watch itself had more aesthetic character.
Gone was the 34mm case, the perfectly proportioned smaller dial, the less-is-more simplicity. The new Ranger uses the Black Bay 58’s 39mm case, and for me this is where the problems begin. 39mm is considered the darling of case size now, and in watches that were originally larger, like the Black Bay 58 and the IWC Spitfire Pilot, that size can work very well. Smaller just works better in a field style watch.
A 39mm case on paper sounds perfect, but the lack of wide dive bezel makes for a cartoonishly large dial. To my eye, the negative space doesn’t appear designed; it just looks empty. The minimalist text isn’t restrained and efficient as much as it is dull. There’s too much of the fake-aged lume, this in a yellow hue that reminded me more of my worst chest colds than the creamy tritium of yesteryear. The larger dial even made the hands feel a little lost, whereas they work perfectly on the original 34mm model. The 39mm Black Bay case is of very high quality – as with all Tudor watches – but some polished surfaces would have nodded to the original.
This upsizing conundrum is by no means unique to the Tudor Ranger. There are quite a few watches that fall apart when blown up from their original smaller size to modern proportions. But this Ranger seemed particularly off the mark in person. This made me question the representation of the new Ranger on social media. Do we now see the world in that 2”x3” hyper sharp screen with its rich colors edited to perfection, with no real-world context by which to judge how the watch might actually feel in our lives? When faced with reality after consuming idealized virtuality, are we bound to be disappointed?
We watch enthusiasts don’t tend to follow social media accounts that present watches with warts and all in pictures. We seek out images that excite and stimulate us, that validate our world view. That’s the core of the social media problem: it shows us what we want to see. I’m not blaming the accounts, as there is nothing wrong with wanting to post appealing images, or wanting to consume them. But reality may bear little resemblance to the perfected virtual world of social media, and reality certainly can end up disappointing us.
As regards the Tudor Ranger, I clearly had an authenticity problem on my hands.
Finding Character & Authenticity at The Vintage Shop
The 2022 Ranger left a funny taste in my mouth and I needed an horological rinse, so I visited a vintage dealer on Piccadilly Arcade, just opposite Burlington Arcade in Central London. This is my happy place where I get to handle vintage watches, which reliably possess character and by definition authenticity. Unsurprisingly, it was the vintage military watches that caught my eye, the real field watches, built for an actual purpose, drenched in actual history, possessing an actual story and not merely adopting an old (and arguably inapplicable) story, as the 2022 Ranger was.
One watch that I loved for its simple direct design and approach was the Smiths W10. Smiths is not a terribly important name in the watch collecting world, a British brand that disappeared in the 1970s, one that is better remembered for its gauges, dials and instruments for dashboards and cockpits. But Smiths made some great pieces, some with wonderful history. Sir Edmund Hillary and his co-climber Norgay even took a Smiths watch to the summit of Everest, though neither Rolex nor Tudor mention this lesser known fact, of course.
Smiths had been producing watches and instruments for the British Military of Defense (MOD) for decades when, in the mid 1960s, the MOD commissioned a new field watch for both ground soldiers and pilots from Smiths. The resulting W10 was actually marked 6B when supplied to the RAF, but collectors call it the W10 regardless. This commission was not only the last hurrah for the British watch industry; the W10 is broadly considered the last British watch of the 20th century.
Originally produced with a round case from 1966 to 1970, a tonneau case shape later emerged. But thousands of the round W10s would end up on the wrist of servicemen through the 1960s and 70s, and eventually a small few made it to London’s vintage watch shops in the 21st century.
The Smiths W10 has all the hallmarks of a mid-century military field watch. As a mil-spec model, it is reminiscent of the IWC or JLC Mark XI which also filled these consignment contracts with the MOD. The W10’s dial is black and carries Arabic numerals, a circled T for tritium luminescent paint (the same as you’d find on a Rolex Mil Sub, for example), and like all MOD-issued watches the W10 carries the Broad Arrow on the dial and caseback. The Broad Arrow is a symbol used as far back as 1383 to mark barrels as British royal wine, and starting in the 18th century it became the symbol for property of the Board of Ordinance and King’s Navy, which was the precursor to the MOD.
The W10’s case measures 35mm, is cut from a block of stainless steel and uses fixed spring bars to secure the strap, a true military-grade feature. The acrylic box crystal has bonafide vintage vibes. It runs on the Smiths cal. 604966E, a hand wound movement heavily inspired by the Jaeger LeCoultre caliber used in their Mark XI military watch, but, importantly, produced by Smiths in England.
I picked one up for £1300 ($1569) which is right in the middle of the 2022 Tudor Ranger price bracket. The Smiths A10s are not all that rare, and a search on eBay will throw up about a dozen. Many are battered, however, so I suggest patience, as a clean example will eventually turn up.
The Feeling of Historical Authenticity Derived From Aesthetic Character
The Smiths W10 is the real deal, an actual military field watch loaded with character – not a recreation attempting to obtain character. The W10’s build quality isn’t quite up to modern specs, but it’s a solid-enough daily watch. There’s something about being able to rely on a vintage watch as a durable daily item that adds to the experience of authenticity.
There’s a deeper resonance when wearing a vintage tool watch that you just can’t get from a modern reissue. As the new owner, you become part of the history of that object, a custodian if you will. There is a sense you’re on a journey with fellow travelers who went before you, their lives leaving the markings and patina of their good and bad times. And now it’s your turn to leave the marks of your own adventures. Like setting foot on the stone steps of a medieval church, you’ll be left wondering who walked that path before you.
This historical perspective is entirely absent from a new watch, even one styled to recreate an older watch – perhaps even more so with a recreation because we are conscious of the effort to recreate a history this object was not a part of. Few things feel as inauthentic as self-consciousness.