Orient Place

Orient Place

Sunday 22 January 2023

A Retrospective of Orient's Retro-Future Watches

In 2005 Orient launched a new design concept under the name of "Retro Future". The concept combined Orient's watchmaking approach with elements from the industrial design of the 1950s.

The 1950s (or "Mid-Century") were the post-war years, and new design trends that emerged were characterized as optimistic and commercialist. They involved natural, organic shapes, whose mass production was enabled by modern manufacturing techniques, allowing them to reach growing consumer markets in America and Europe.

As Orient were exploring new ways to take their new Open Heart architecture forward, the adoption of mid-century industrial design must have made a lot of sense: the fun, sometimes larger-than-life approach suited the brand's design philosophy well.

Over the years, Orient produced numerous retro-future models, mostly under the Orient Star sub-brand. Some of these were already mentioned, or reviewed in past blog posts. In this post we won't dive too deeply into watch specifications; instead I'm looking to provide a high-level guide to the various designs introduced by Orient.


The Orient Star Retro-Future "Motorcycle" watch was first introduced in 2005. Like almost all Retro-Future models that would follow, it is characterized by a semi-skeletonized dial. The watch case is sculptured into an organic, flowing shape – this is particularly evident in the lugs that are quite different from any preceding Orient watches.

Other motorcycle elements include the power-reserve indicator that's shaped like a tachometer, and the plates on the right side of the dial that are clearly inspired by the shape of the gas tank. Possibly the crown also was made to resemble a fuel cap.


Another model launched in 2005 was inspired by sports cars. The case is a more elongated, somewhat barrel-like shape. Here, the power reserve indicator is made to look like a speedometer, and the bracelet resembles the timing chain of a car engine.

Curiously, the open heart section of the dial is hidden by a little element shaped like a steering wheel.


The third Retro-Future model presented in 2005 was also the most popular, and the one that received the most versions and iterations throughout the years – despite, or maybe because of, having a more subtle design where the "retro" elements blended very organically with natural elements of watch design.

Here, the bezel was adorned with typography inspired by lens apertures; the crown inspired by shutter release buttons, and the open heart was covered by a lens. There you have it, a camera!


Having already launched car and motorcycle-inspired watches, doing something with an airplane was a logical next step. So in 2006, Orient did just that.

At the center of the Retro-Future Airplane's dial is an "instrument panel" with the PR and small-second sub dials; the hour and minute hands are shaped (a little bit, you need to use your imagination here…) like a propeller. And, the end links of the bracelet are meant to resemble wing flaps.

An interesting feature here is the 12 o'clock marker – this one's not actually inspired by any part of an airplane, but by classic pilot watches.


Another model introduced in 2006 was the Retro-Future "Interior" – although "Sofa" would have been the more appropriate name. This was the first of the Retro Future watches designed for women, and the first to feature a full dial, without skeletonization.

The watch is said to have been influenced by classic 1950s Italian sofa design. The shape of the case follows the outlines of the armrest of the sofa; the curved, silky dial is reminiscent of a pillow.


The second Retro-Future watch for women, and the only other non-skeletonized model here, was the Stationery, released in 2007.

While not too much information exists, it seems that the main inspiration for this model was an award-winning pencil sharpener designed by none other than the legendary Raymond Loewy, the most prominent creator of iconic product designs from the 1930s until the 1960s.


In 2008, Orient released yet another small Retro-Future watch – this time, an undersized version of the Camera model, reduced from 38mm (41 with the crown-guard) to 35mm. Retaining the skeletonized, more rugged look of the original, Orient did not call this a ladies' watch, but rather a "boys" watch.

Other than omitting the power reserve indicator, this model retained most design features and "camera inspiration" of the original, larger version.


In 2009, Orient returned to the drawing table to produce a proper new Retro-Future watch, the Bicycle.

The watch featured plenty of references to bicycle design, such as the unique tube-like lugs, the bracelet that combined rubber and steel to look more like the bicycle chain, and various dial elements.

In addition, the crown is on the left side of the case, which Orient claimed makes riding with cycling gloves easier.


It took three more years for Orient to return with yet another new model – this time, inspired by SUVs. Mind you they had retro SUVs in mind – ones that actually trod through mud, not modern, comfy family carriers!

The 2012 SUV watch was an appropriately tough-looking piece, with a skid-plate-like bracelet and an element resembling a grill guard "protecting" the grill shape on the dial. A few symbols printed on the dial were also meant to remind one of dashboard signs.


In 2013 Orient released what might be its best-loved Retro Future design, the "Guitar". It had numerous guitar-inspired features on the dial, like a white "pickguard", and an hour marker shaped like a pick at 12.

The Guitar was the only World Timer in the Retro Future family, and instead of the usual country or airport names, its rotating internal bezel featured mostly famous music festival locations.


In 2015 Orient wrapped up a decade of Orient Star Retro-Future releases with the "Turntable", a suitable musical follow-up to the guitar watch.

Here the dial has circular grooves like a vinyl record; the bezel has the appearance of a platter on which the record is put, and the crown guard extends into what looks very much like the tonearm.

Note that this was the first (and last) Retro Future watch that carried a standard Orient Star logo – not the special logo applied to all previous models.


As the Retro-Future series was coming to an end, Orient shifted its focus to the Modern Skeleton, a more consistent semi-skeleton design that is still going strong today.

During its heyday, though, the Retro-Future series was constantly going through an evolution of shapes, colors, and even movements. Its latest iteration, as a regular non-Star Orient, arrived more recently in the shape of the guitar and camera revival models.

The next blog post will be more technical, and will contain a complete list of Retro-Future references and main specs!


Sunday 8 January 2023

The Polka-Dot Royal Orient

A few months ago I posted a story about unusual Royal Orient designs. Among the models featured you may have noticed one particular watch, with a dial that was rather lavishly adorned with dots. That "polka-dot" piece is really rare, but I was lucky enough to get my hands on one – in pretty good shape too.

This watch was made in 1959. Like all Royal Orients of the 1950s, it made use of the time-only version of the N-Type movement. This particular model is equipped with the 19-jewel variant of this movement.

The movement here certainly seems to live up to its good reputation. Winding the watch feels very robust and sets the Royal Orient ticking away happily. All in all, using it is a very positive and vital experience, not just considering old age. It feels like a very dependable mechanism.

As a dress watch, this timepiece works as you'd expect – back "in the old days" they weren't fooling around. At 36mm wide (excluding the crown) and about 11mm thick, with long lugs and a thin bezel, it is classically proportioned and wears very well. It would be perfect for slim-to-average wrists, but the design keeps it appropriate as formal wear on larger wrists too, as long as one keeps their "sport mode" turned off.

Obviously, this isn't any regular vintage dress watch. The dial is the attention grabber here. So let's pay some attention to it.

At first glance, you notice the peculiar design. The white dots are spread almost randomly against the darker background. In theory, this should produce a confusing appearance and lead to reduced legibility; but in reality, somehow this works. The gold hands remain clearly visible, and the overall appearance is special, in a good way.

Upon closer look, the unique texture of the dial is revealed. It doesn't really look like any watch dial I've seen before: the surface seems like it has been imprinted by some kind of fabric. In the macro shots it even appears like brush strokes, but it is somewhat misleading, as in reality that would have to be a very tiny brush indeed – keep in mind each white dot is about one millimeter in diameter.

The dial does however succeed in making the "Royal Orient" moniker disappear almost entirely. It takes some very sharp eyes (or some keen photo enhancement…) to identify any of the dial text.

To sum it all up – this "polka dot" Royal Orient is one seriously cool vintage piece. It was certainly built to high standards, which is evident in how well this specimen has survived its 64 years in service.

Naturally, abuse can leave any old watch, no matter how well made, in bad condition – and when buying a vintage watch you need to verify its condition prior to making the purchase. But there are enough vintage Royal Orients that look pretty good out there to testify to the longevity of the movement, design and execution. If you buy from Japanese sellers, for example, you are likely to find fine samples at really low prices – certainly when compared to high-end Seikos of the same era.