Hug or hate a homage?
Let’s take a moment to reflect on something that is barely spoken about in watch circles. The “homage” watch.
I jest, of course. This is one of the most hotly-discussed topics among watch aficionados and whilst there is no definitive and compelling argument which seems set to give the topic some closure, I thought I would throw some thoughts into the ring.
To begin with, let’s set aside a few words on replicas or fakes. Those are blatant copies of watches from esteemed watchmakers which are made to look like the original: logo, styling, sometimes to the point of replica boxes and paperwork. Something that most true watch lovers agree on is that these are not tolerated. Have I owned one before? Of course I have. Visiting Thailand many, many years ago, the young and impressionable me was overjoyed to find that he too could be the proud owner of a Rolex Datejust and an Omega Seamaster 300m for the price of a pint of milk.
Fast-forward a few weeks and pieces started falling off the watches and the “Omega” began turning my wrist green where the plating had already worn off the cardboard or human bone or whatever it was keeping the watch together underneath. Needless to say, they ended up in the trash and I’ve never looked back.
In my more learned years, when I first started seriously collecting watches, I was introduced to Steinhart. A solid name among watch collectors, Steinhart has many people divided on their watches due to many of them being sought-after originals and the remainder being “homages” to more famous models marketed by luxury brands.
The market is not limited to Steinhart, as Tisell, Tiger, Invicta and even Seiko have veered dangerously close to the homage market. For every luxury watch from the top-tier brands, you are more than likely to find an affordable Seiko with similar DNA. By and large, however, Seiko tend to avoid being labelled as copycats as they have created many hundreds of unique designs in their own right. Where Steinhart and Tisell and others upset the purists is that they veer all too close to the exact design, albeit with lower grade materials and frequently with different specifications, than the iconic watches unto which they are rendering homage.
Glance through any watch group or forum and you’ll find many of the purists deriding these copies, despite having small differences to the originals, in logo, size, lug shape etc. When I say deriding, I mean angrily, with many insults being bandied about regarding the type of person who doesn’t man-up and simply buy a genuine Panerai.
Yet when we look at the marketplace for most modern goods, we see a pattern of mimicry which escapes such heated scrutiny. Most high-street clothing brands have a large portion of their new collections containing slight variations on the latest designer collection presented in Milan or Paris. Cars take many blatant design cues from other brands and designs, as do furniture, pens, smart phones and the list goes on. Charles Caleb Colton, an English cleric and writer from the 18th century was the origin of an oft-quoted saying – “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” – but I doubt that he was shot down in internet forums for saying so.
It ought to be said too, that whilst many in the watch collecting world would love to have one or more of the iconic and original pieces, some of them simply remain out of their reach, due to restricted means or simply having vastly different priorities in life. I recall seeing one video where watch-addicts were told that “it’s not that difficult” to save up and buy a Rolex Submariner instead of an homage watch, which had people on both sides of the argument having polarised opinions about that suggestion. Let alone that some of the models which smaller brands make as homages are for original watches which are either prohibitively expensive vintage, limited editions, or simply do not come in sizes which appeal to a certain portion of the customer base.
Therefore, why shouldn’t they spend 500 Euros on a well made, hand engineered, reliable and who-cares-if-it-gets-damaged watch from a brand or microbrand that also makes original pieces? Many of the microbrands do indeed have watches which take strong cues from, or copy almost identically, the legendary pieces, yet also have a growing range of their own designs which are, in part, funded by the success of their homage sales.
I personally have had the good fortune and opportunity in the past to pick up a Rolex Submariner myself. I chose not to. Simply put, I wanted something that I could enjoy, and the questionable quality of the bracelet simply didn’t make it enjoyable for me. Instead, I have a Steinhart Ocean One which I love to bits, has a more appealing size to it, and a much more sturdy and confident bracelet on it. Furthermore, if I dent it… who cares? It’s not the end of the world!
Similarly, my collection has a Marina Militare in it, as opposed to the Panerai from which it takes its design, for reasons I may go into in another article, as well as a bronze homage to the iconic Seiko 6105. However, I quite simply could NOT part with my Omega Planet Ocean, nor with my Tudor Black Bay despite them having many homages in the marketplace, because in them I feel the quality and the enjoyment which I seek in a watch.
So do we have to pick a side? Well, that’s down to individual choice. Personally, I find that homage watches make the inaccessible more accessible, the unaffordable more affordable, and allow many of us to fuel our watch addiction even more frequently than we would if we were only restricted to the hallowed originals. As long as watchmakers who are building a name for themselves remain dedicated to bringing us quality homages, with individual design flare (no matter how minimal) and personalised logos, I’m for it.
To those of you who can afford all of the top-tier brands and continue growing a collection, fair play to you… but I for one am content to be someone who walks happily in both courts, loving my original and homage watches with equal affection. That’s what it’s all about, right?