An Unpopular Watch That’s Turned Collector Grail
By J. Heffner | @pinaplwtchs
An innovative timepiece, a brand few remember, and an era long gone
The modern day Abercrombie & Fitch brand is far from what they used to be. Once a premier sporting retailer, now a shell of their former identity.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Amelia Earhart trusted the outfitter for supplying her fight jacket. From Antarctic expeditions and Theodore Roosevelt’s safari, to Hunter S. Thompson’s corduroy and Hemmingway’s shotgun - these are mere pages in the novel that’s A&F’s history.
Many collectors, and even vintage enthusiasts are unaware of the timepieces produced by the brand during the 20th Century. Some of the most desirable watches in their vintage catalog feature a bending style unlike anything else mass produced during that time.
Today, we examine the story behind an Abercrombie & Fitch timepiece/complication; a relic from a brand, and lifestyle that few appreciate to this day.
A timepiece that was reportedly not popular at the time of its release, it’s estimated that roughly 1,000 Solunar watches were produced before being discontinued. Beyond this fact of low production, these watches remain a ‘perfect storm’ of sorts for collectors - a blend of rarity, niche styling, and brand name.
Some 2017 results / Credit: Christies
What exactly is the Solunar complication? Shown in the Seafarer above, it should be no surprise that an outdoorsman retailer valued a complication that predicted the best times for hunting/fishing.
In fact, the Solunar theory was developed nearly a century ago in 1926 (by John Alden Knight). In an attempt to describe its genesis succinctly, the theory explains that wildlife activity can be predicted in relation to the Moon’s position, and high/low tides. These predictions were yet another tool in the outdoorsman’s repertoire to achieve success.
Fast forward to around the 1950s, Abercrombie & Fitch partnered with Heuer to produce watches to feature this rather uncommon complication (hence the ‘brand name’ aspect of this equation).
Aside from their disputed application, and often exorbitant price tags, these watches feature both classic Heuer design language, and a rather uncommon pop of color. This combination, sold by an avant-garde brand in the watch world, culminates to both an impressive and rare package.
Often found in honest condition, these watches appeal to a very specific type of collector. I don’t believe these have, or ever will be, sought after on a mass scale (akin to a vintage Rolex), but instead, by a crowd who values true heritage in watchmaking
A classic Solunar on the market for nearly $9,000 / Credit: Timeplex
Then Heuer CEO Jack Heuer is often credited with bringing the complication to life at just 15 years old. Quoted below, he explains the early days of the Solunar project -
One interesting thing that happened during my school days was that around 1947 or 1948, when I was 15, I made my first professional contribution to the family watchmaking business. One day my father came home from work and said that Walter Haynes, who was then the president of upmarket sporting outfitters Abercrombie & Fitch in New York, had asked him to create a watch which could display the time of tides.
Impressive as this may be, it’s hard to think of a time when such innovation was employed in the modern day watch industry. Often we must look to the history books in this community to find stories of daring, truly original designs.