hese days, with everything pre-packaged and instantaneous, it is good to remember the tools of times gone by and their aura of adventure and resourcefulness. These timepieces, which witnessed a period that I did not, titillate my feeble Millennial appetite for discovery.
Here, the focus is not on the great travel watch classics but rather on four models which range from the practical to the absurd, yet which all have the common objective of simplifying and accompanying the wanderer in an original way.
1. Sicura Safari
When you think of the ultimate adventurer tool, the Swiss army knife surely comes to mind. This multi-purpose object makes it possible to do just about anything... Just about, indeed, since although it is Swiss, there is one thing the knife cannot do: tell the time. That is where the Sicura comes into play. The brand that saved Breitling in the beginning of the 1980s forged a reputation for itself in the 1970s, creating watches as practical as they are extraordinary...And sometimes even weird.
The Sicura Safari, which might potentially be betrayed by its name, conceals a blade in its case; and not just any blade, since this one is produced by Victorinox. This rather original timepiece might have been a James Bond gadget, since it could get you out of certain risky situations...
Although it is difficult to imagine using it to chop down a tree. With no teeth or stop notch, this blade is almost more of a dissuasive tool than a practical one. In terms of robustness, its manually wound 17-jewel movement does the trick. However, its chrome case is less resistant to extreme conditions than steel. In any case, its imposing look and resolutely 70’s character bring it a certain elegance on the wrist.
This is the perfect tool: practical, discreet in travel – since security checks at the airport should not be a problem –, and snazzy.
Estimate: It is not easy to find a Sicura Safari in good condition because of its chrome case. You’ll pay between 1,000 CHF and 2,000 CHF for one in a good condition.
2. Dalil Muslim Watch
If you mix up watchmaking and religion, you might think of the Datejust of John Paul II or the rudimentary quartz watch of Pope Francis; but never has a watch been specially designed with the precise objective of satisfying religious needs. Never? Well, not exactly. If you are a very pious Muslim with a taste for vintage timepieces and you are often away on travel, the Dalil Muslim is the watch for you.
This watch, with its atypical design and unusual – to say the least – usage is, to my knowledge, the only vintage mechanical timepiece with a “religious complication” that may be worn on the wrist. This watch, of which the full name is Dalil Monte-Carlo Muslim, was produced from the beginning of the 1970s with the self-winding Swiss Made movement AS 2063, which features the hour, the date, a worldtime complication...
And most importantly, the five prayer times of the day. Moreover, at the centre of the dial is a compass that not only indicates the north but also the direction of Mecca, essential for the Muslim prayer customs. While its design is characteristic of the 1970s, it will certainly not suit everyone. A version clearly inspired by the Rolex Datejust with the jubilee and a grooved bezel was also introduced shortly afterwards. Basically, this is the ultimate timepiece for a true believer on the move.
Estimate: Depending on its condition, it is still possible to find relatively a ordable examples. 150 CHF to 400 CHF.
3. Favre Leuba Bivouac
It is easy to forget, but Favre Leuba, founded in 1737, is not only one of the oldest watchmaking brands, but also one that marked history on more than one occasion. In 1963, nearly 10 years after Edmund Percival Hillary accomplished the achievement of climbing Everest for the first time, Favre Leuba released the Bivouac, a one-of-a-kind watch that includes – for the first time in a watch – not only a barometer but also an altimeter.
Designed by mountaineers and Arctic adventurers, the watch makes it possible for the wearer to not only determine the exact altitude where he is located, but also to calculate the atmospheric pressure there. By combining the two, the traveller / mountaineer / explorer / meteorologist can predict the short-term weather conditions in order to avoid perilous situations in a hostile environment.
The wearer must pay attention to rapid, significant variations of the barometer which often indicate the approach of a disturbance, a thunderstorm or strong winds, the intensity of which will correspond to the barometer hand’s movement. In a word, an experienced, observant user might avoid the potentially fatal tantrums of Mother Nature by taking refuge in the cave of a Yeti or in the carcass of an ibex.
Although it is complex, the Bivouac sports has an understated and even elegant appearance, particularly with its original steel bracelet. Its charming Bakelite bezel, tritium hour markers and steel case o er a marvellous representation of time, bringing an almost melancholic charm from the days when watches were designed foremost as tools.
Although the taste for adventure and travel has been made sterile these days by too much information and technology, you can console yourself with thoughts of Michel Vaucher, mountain guide, and his partner, the mountaineer Walter Bonatti, who avoided a snow storm thanks to the information provided by the Bivouac just before reaching, for the first time in history, Pointe Whymper of the Grandes Jorasses along its northern face.
Estimate: An original Favre Leuba Bivouac in good condition costs between 2,500 CHF and 3,500 CHF.
4. Glycine Airman
If I ask you to think of a watch brand with a crown as a logo, and then I add that its emblematic model took on a GMT feature in the beginning of the 1950s, and then mention that it was originally highly appreciated by pilots, you will most likely think of the Rolex GMT-Master. And you’ll be right.
But another watch, introduced to the market one year before the GMT-Master, also ticks all these boxes: the Glycine Airman. It arose from a simple idea, far from the pressures of marketing, think tanks and costly developments: to bring a simple answer to the realistic desires of a pilot in the 1950: a self-winding, waterproof watch with date display and 24-hour dial and bezel.
Contrary to the GMT-Master and the Polerouter, the Glycine skipped over the partnerships with prestigious airlines (Pan-Am for Rolex, SAS for Universal Genève) and conceives of a pilot’s timepiece as simple, robust and a ordable, to the point where it won over a number of men in the armed forces, not just pilots but also infantrymen. The Airman was not the first watch to feature a 24-hour bezel; however, the brand took out a patent on the mechanical locking of the bezel, which is performed by rotating the push-button at 4 o’clock.
This action offers security despite blows or shocks that might otherwise deregulate and misalign the second time zone indication. The designers of the Glycine even had military operators in mind, since they incorporated a one-of- a-kind system that stops the secon ds hand. Once the crown is pulled out, the direct-drive seconds continue to turn until they stop on the 12-hour marker, enabling an extremely precise synchronisation of watches. This is useful both for men obsessed with precision and for soldiers needing to coordinate their actions with brothers in arms down to the second for a surprise attack.
In addition to being functional, this Airman has a story to tell, and it is simply and aesthetically beautiful: that is certainly why it remained in the catalogue for more than 40 years. Its design is a subtle balance of strength, brute functionality, purity and finesse. With its 36mm diameter, long horns and slim case, it is the ultimate ‘tool watch’ for the regular traveller.
Estimate: The Airman is available in a number of versions, but an authentic model will cost you between 600 CHF and 1,500 CHF depending on the condition.