Hayseed Brown

Watches, Seventies Style

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One need not look far to find contemporary wristwatches that were influenced by the styles of their predecessors from the 1970s. The very popularity of two iconic Gerald Genta pieces from the seventies, the Patek Philippe Nautilus (the 5711 flies off shelves with legendary abandon) and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (in its infinitesimal iterations), proves the spirit of the seventies to be alive and well in 2015. Glashutte Original even released their own homage to the decade when they introduced their appropriately-titles “Seventies” line in 2011.

And, while any of the aforementioned watches are beautiful reinterpretations of classics that will provide shiny newness reminiscent of days past, what about those of us who seek the real thing? Who want a tangible piece of the seventies, from the seventies? Who want that big style without dropping those big bucks? The true watch collector knows where this one is headed…going vintage.

While there are a myriad of watches from the 1970s worth considering, let’s take a look at two worthy examples that embody the panache of that time-period, the Zenith Respirator-X Day/Date and the Omega Seamaster Day/Date.

Perhaps the most defining attribute of a watch that screams “seventies” is the case shape, including the bezel. Both the Zenith Respirator-X and Omega Seamaster have TV screen cases, which amount to squarish bezels with rounded corners. Think 1950s tube televisions.

While the Zenith Respirator-Xs from the 1970s seem to have been made exclusively in this TV screen case, certain Omega Seamasters from the 1970s will also feature circular bezels and crystals. The TV screen Seamasters give off more of a seventies vibe, and the watch may “wear” larger due to the greater dial surface area. Both watches are usually found with silver-colored dials, day and date windows at three o’clock, applied indices, and sweeping seconds hands. Both dials feature a combination of print and italic lettering.

When it comes to the dial size, the Omega Seamaster beats the Zenith Respirator-X, 35mm to 30mm. While those measurements seem slim to today’s standards, the TV screen cases help beef-up these watches’ appearance, because corner to diagonal corner winds up being greater than the listed sizes. The stainless steel bracelets of these watches, which are each about 20mm at the lugs, also help to give them a modern wrist-presence.

In looking at the bracelets, Omega wins quality-wise, as the Seamaster’s links are made from solid stainless steel, and the Zenith Respirator-X’s links are made from rolled or folded steel. The folded steel bracelet, though made by an easier, cheaper, and less durable production method, doesn’t sacrifice looks. Because of the thinness of the steel sheets used to produce the links, Zenith is able to produce a bracelet with slim-sized links that flow nicely together.

There are two things to look out for when looking at the bracelets of these watches. The first is in reference to the Omega, and that is to make sure that the bracelet is complete and will fit its intended wrist. Because the Omega Seamasters from the 1970s use integrated bracelets, replacement with a leather strap is difficult, and replacement with a NATO strap (often adorned by vintage watches) is near-impossible. The second thing is regarding the Zenith bracelet: make sure it’s not too warped. Heavy use will warp a folded steel bracelet to a much greater degree than it would a solid steel bracelet. While the Zenith Respirator-X will take a replacement strap easier than the Omega, it’s the stainless bracelet really completes that whole seventies look.

When purchasing a vintage watch, one should almost always service the movement immediately to avoid any future surprises. One of the things to consider with these watches is that the day/date mechanism that was added to these manufacturers’ base movements may increase the service costs. Both movements are automatics, and, if properly maintained by watchmakers versed in vintages, should be dependable and long-lasting. The movement in the Omega Seamaster is the Caliber 1020, and the movement in the Zenith moves at 36,000 beats per hour. Of the two, the Zenith has the more interesting movement, if only for the high beat-rate.

Final Thoughts
The Zenith Respirator-X and Omega Seamaster are both striking wristwatches from the 1970s. If I wanted something a bit more refined, I’d go with the Omega; with a bit more funk, I’d go with the Zenith. Both watches will give you value for your money, fodder for your watch buddies, and style for your wrist.

So, boogie on down to your favorite vintage watch shop and pick up a slice of that 1970s style you know you’ve been missing.

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  1. drunken monkey's Avatar
    I am a big time TV dial fan.
    If I were to be called a collector of watches, they could well be my poison.

    In particular, I have a mild obsession with those Omega watches, all of which come powered by a 10xx variant.
    At the moment, I only have four of them but I am working my way slowly as finding an "original" one that I trust to be original enough is tricky.
    Of the few that I have bought as a gamble, most have been turned to parts.

    As it stands:

    These two cases came in day date (1020) or day only (1010).
    I've seen the first one with black or the white silver dials but I'm not sure how original the black dial is.

    The second case style came with the black and the white that I have. I know the gold plate case one came with a gold dial or a grey dial. I have the gold dial (just the dial, not the watch) but I have not yet seen the grey so there's an off chance that my black is actually the grey as I've not seen a period parts document that lists black and my only reference are modern copies that list silver for the steel case and grey or gold for the gold plate case.

    There's a shockingly knackered GP on the bay right now that's being going around for a while; I just might buy it anyway....

    There were also quartz models that had the case from the 0266 (my striped dial ones) and a bezel that was more similar to the one on the 0213 (the one you show).

    older photos of one of my dad's old watch:

    the cheaper Geneve series: note the lack of the distinctive bezel as found on the other two.

    The one you have is 166.0213 and is the missing one from the series that I have yet to get.
    This is the most common found but unfortunately, also most commonly frankened. The few that look truly original on the Bay have always looked that little too damaged to put money on it.
    The good looking ones are either Indian or Korean refinished ones.
  2. drunken monkey's Avatar
    Apart from these, there is also a hooded lug version of the 0213 and a regular lug version. Neither of these tickle my fancy so I haven't looked at their details yet.
    (photos not mine)

  3. drunken monkey's Avatar
    .....and an imposter that I picked up in a market in Hong Kong.

    Zenith had a great one in the Defy line:
    (following photos not mine)

    which is arguably the non-chrono version of the Surf

    The Surf (AKA Big Blue) comes up quite regularly in Auctions and not for as much as the more famous/popular A386 EP but the Defy is a rarer one. I keep missing it (as in, I spot it is results listings days after the event). There is one coming up next week so I'm keep my fingers crossed for that one.

    Sticking with Omega, there were a couple of nice ones in the Constellation, F300 and Megaquartz lines too.
    In fact, now that I'm going through the lists, Omega made a heck of a load of TV dials because they tended to make variants of each style.
    This is one Constellation that I'm after.

    And here is where I think I'll stop....
    I can easily go one about these TV dial watches for a few posts yet.
    Off the top of my head, I can already picture another four that are on my definite hit lists and maybe three more that are there to fill in the gaps for the sake of "completion".
  4. Broker's Avatar
    The integrated bracelet is the worst invention in the history of watches. It really limits the amount of "customization" that can be done. Article is great!
  5. Hayseed Brown's Avatar
    DM - Great posts. And some great watches of yours. I actually like the Omega with the hooded lugs as well. You are certainly more qualified to write this type of article than I am.

    Broker - Thanks!
    Updated Mar 10, 2015 at 07:54 PM by Hayseed Brown
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