The Vintage Corner

Abercrombie & Fitch 1950s Tri-Compax Chronograph

When Abercrombie & Fitch wasn't your urban teen brand...

calendar | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Alistair Gibbons | ic_query_builder_black_24px 5 min read |

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. was not originally the urban teen clothing brand we know today… Named after its founder David T Abercrombie, it was bought and incorporated in 1904 to become Abercrombie & Fitch. It was essentially an early luxury brand focusing on outdoorsy types, offering very high-quality items, shotguns, fishing rods, canoes, camping equipment, objects made for the ‘well-heeled’ traveller. Famous names like Hemingway, Gable, Porter, Hepburn and Roosevelt – who was a big fan of the outdoors and a conservationist himself – patronized the store and brand. And in addition to that, it had some watches bearing its name. Quite cool ones to be honest.

Ava Gardner, Clark Gable and Grace Kelly in “Mogambo”, by John Ford, 1953

The store offered a mail order service and I have a 1950’s Christmas Catalogue here that displays such useful items as the Swiss Military Knife, Ray-Ban Glasses and in this particular offering, a range of Gallet watches. Comforting to know that at the bottom of the sales certificate in the back it reads; “Prices Subject to Change Without Notice.” All goods prepaid, except axes, guns & ammunition and the Coleman Stove. So get an axe and arm yourself in front of a warm fire appears to be the advice.

In addition to Gallet, there was another external brand supplying A&F with watches, such as this one here… which were made for them by Ed Heuer et Cie, with movements signed Ed Heuer & Co. SA, as well as with the Abercrombie name engraved on the bridge, like the one below. If you wanted to show someone what a classic vintage watch looks like, then you need to look no further than this spectacular Tri-Compax 12 hour recording chronograph.

At the time, probably only Airforce Pilots and the burgeoning amateur pilot market would even know what it was or indeed what it was used for…. This beautifully finished 1950s Abercrombie & Fitch Tri-Compax Chronograph combines style and practicality all in one. It was produced by Heuer for Abercrombie with slight differences on the dials to distinguish it from other famous Heuer watches like the Solunar and the Seafarer. The solid stainless steel case with an octagonal screw-on caseback has a large crown that is fitted on the shoulders of the case. It is not a screw-down crown so the watch is not water-resistant but ‘dustproof’,  as they liked to say. This watch has had a service at some stage in its lifetime.  Many of these aged watches got their crowns knocked off when used for more rugged activities than those intended. A Heuer signed crown has been fitted, although the original would have been unsigned because they were not quite so ‘Logo Crazy’ as we are today.

The crystal is made from thick acrylic, which is not domed but not quite flat. This allows the wide dial to be seen undistorted by the curve, right to the edge – allowing a good view of the outside edge of the dial for those rapier-like hands to reach fully across the dial. The dial is silver straight scored with large chronograph registers, which are very clearly printed and easy to read – which might be a good idea if flying in an open cockpit and trying to time waypoint plots navigating across the Great Plains or perhaps the Serengeti in Africa.

The Arabic numerals are gilt with a dark outline so as they stand out and there are gold nipple markers at 10, 2, 4 and 8 o’clock. This creates a rectangle adding a visual reference attitudinally. The chevrons on the outside edge of the hour markers create the key visual look for a chronograph. A chronograph has a lot going on, and the design has to allow a vision of the whole and a vision of the separate parts.

The main hands need to stand out so as you can consult the time. The registers need to be seen as another layer so you can read the chronograph. But the registers also need to look different enough from one another so that when you are checking timings while doing something else – like driving or flying – the information can be digested at a glance. It is a trick of the great designers that all chronograph levels are a little different from each other to differentiate them and make them easy to recognise.

The watch is large for the time – 37mm in diameter and 15mm in height – but wears well. It is fitted with the venerable manual-winding Valjoux 72, the go-to “Ebauche” movement of its type since the 1930s. It is signed Abercrombie & Fitch Co. Switzerland serial 453306. The case interior is signed Ed Heuer & Co., SWISS. This is a very elegant timepiece… yes timepiece, a hidden treasure to put away for the next generation like a Patek or a Vacheron Constantin and yet it is purposeful not just something to wear out to dinner or to the Opera.

Abercrombie & Fitch also appear to have made its own alligator straps signed A&F, as this watch came with its original strap, tapering from the 20mm at the lugs down to a 14mm unsigned buckle – so as to temper the idea of “large watch” on a large strap, which adds again to the overall elegance. I personally find it very beautiful. Is it the best vintage watch? Probably not. Is it a piece of Americana? Most definitely! Would I wear it every day if I could… you know I would and I am sure you would too!

You can find an Abercrombie & Fitch watch HERE at Wanna Buy a Watch in Los Angeles.

5 responses

  1. Thank you for a most enjoyable read! I was fortunate enough to visit the downtown Chicago A&F store known as VL&A(Von Lengerke & Antoine) back in the day. As an avid outdoorsman and watch enthusiast it was a destination I visited often. There were watches shown on display throughout the store with many being chronographs but all of them marketed to the person living and active lifestyle. The famous Chicago department store Marshall Field & Co was directly across the street. Their watch department included Patek, JLC and Rolex amongst others. On the 10th floor was the sporting department for the outdoorsman where the Rolex Oyster was guaranteed to handle the recoil of the fiercest rifle or the stresses of the hardest golf swing. How I miss those great stores!

  2. Esos relojes son muy buscados por su relación con heuer y hay similitudes de varios modelos que hacía la firma Suiza en esa época con el nombre de la tienda en si entiendo que ahora tienen un valor interesante debido a,su historia

  3. This is definitely a nice vintage watch and I went into the link to take a look. But it’s not US$6.9k nice to me…

  4. Funnily enough the owner of this watch just emailed me…. 🙂

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