On today's post I'm going to get a bit more controversial than usual. That's because we're going to touch on the sensitive subject of Homage Watches. Homage, as in "a watch that is not a fake or a replica, but bears a significant resemblance to one particular (and usually very easily recognizable) model designed by some other brand".
Some brands focus almost entirely on homage watches; these are controversial brands by nature, usually getting the cold shoulder from regular watch snobs while appealing to people looking to "get the looks of the original, for less". However when it comes to manufacturers that are known for having sufficient creativity in-house, like Orient, things take on a different perspective.
Today I'll look at three typical examples, one of which is a current model, and the other two are no longer in production. Photos below are all from catalogs and ads; I actually haven't owned any of the homage models – or the originals, for that matter…
Everybody Wants To Be a Little Rolex
…and so, obviously, did Orient, on numerous occasions. Here, for instance, is one of their well-known homage creations: the "President", day-date, in all its two-toned glory. One of Rolex iconic watches, its design had been borrowed by many brands – some fairly respectable (the Bulova "Super Seville" springs to mind).
Don't worry about the difference in colors. Both Orients and Rolexes appeared in every possible combination of steel and gold, on case, bracelet and dial.
In the case of the President, the similarity between brands' offerings was great and stood out from a mile away. As nice as the basic design was, there is no doubt people were looking to buy the Orient for its "presidential" looks rather than any particular qualities it may have possessed. Honestly in most ads it was simply advertised as "Orient President" or "Orient Day Date", its true model reference no. quickly forgotten.
Even More Rolex
Yep. This time, the Explorer II is the star, and this is actually my favorite Rolex watch (which makes the Orient variant very appealing to me as well).
Orient actually made this GMT watch, here shown in ref. WZ0011FE, in a number of colors and dial versions, most of them quite different from the Rolex original. The model pictured too, while mostly resembling the original "Steve McQueen" Explorer II, had some features changed, so that while being a clear homage – it is much less of a copycat design.
Now, How About Some IWC?
The new Orient Star Heritage Gothic is very classy family of watches, largely influenced by design of the respectable IWC Portuguese.
The dial layout is similar to the Portuguese chronograph, while functionally this is more similar to IWC's power reserve version. To Orient's credit it must be noted that the Portuguese power reserve layout is horizontal (not vertical as in the Gothic), and that Orient managed to avoid cutting into the 6 and 12 hours markers, which many people would appreciate.
So What's The Verdict
Well, this is not a trial so there's no verdict. Just an opinion. I admit that I'd normally shy away from models that are too boldly a homage to another brand's design, and when a watch company has so many original designs to offer – I'll choose those over homages, any day.
I'll make an exception in the case of the Explorer II/WZ0011FE, because it is a design no longer in use by Rolex (and was not in use at the time of the Orient version production) and to be honest, it is too nice to just leave it to fade away into history. Some designs simply deserve to remain alive, if not in the hands of their original creator then by someone else.
As for the Heritage Gothic, I'm still deliberating. Is it too similar to the IWC? Has its design been sufficiently differentiated, or given some "Orient Flavor"? Should we even care, as long as it is clearly not faking it and the end result is an attractive, well made watch? What do you think?