A design that became an icon of the time, amid the quartz crisis and the Swiss exploration of luxury steel sports watches designed with integrated straps. It’s the Polo Piaget. Piaget goes against the grain with a proudly unique and iconic signature watch, even in its time.
We managed to handle and photograph this magnificent example, owned by the Piaget private collection during its recent exhibition in Singapore. This is not a review of the watch, but a presentation and reminder of the historical icon that it is.
It was 1979. Yves Piaget dreamed of a watch worn by the nobility attending polo matches. Not a sports watch for gamers, but for spectators. An appropriate dress watch, more suited to those sipping champagne in the stands than those riding the ponies. And not stainless steel, but solid gold. As Yves said, a watch to “express an elegant interpretation of a soul that is both active and refined”. It had to have a case, dial and strap design that visually blended into a harmonious whole. And be named “Polo”. He explained: “The whole philosophy of Polo can be summed up in one sentence: it’s a wristwatch rather than just a wristwatch.
A brief history of luxury sports watches and the quartz crisis
The genre of sports watches dates back to Jaeger-LeCoultre with their Reverso. The intention of the Reverso was clearly aimed at polo players and carried the Art Deco spirit of the Roaring Twenties and 30s. And the Reverso is an icon that we know and love very much. But the genre is also one that was revived by Gerald Genta and his twin masterpieces of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak in 1972 and the Patek Philippe Nautilus in 1976. A genre that enjoyed some success at the era of the quartz crisis, where the Swiss watch houses fell. like flies in the face of cheap, high quality and superbly accurate watches from Japan. Many who jumped on this cart managed to survive being devastated. AP and Patek were the two most important houses, and although this list is very short, they were not the only ones. Rolex was another. And yet, another example is Chopard whose St. Moritz designed by Karl-Friedrich Schuefele in 1980, emerged largely unscathed from the devastation that swept through Switzerland. These houses remain with the same private owners as before the crisis.
Other houses that have joined in the offer of a luxury steel watch have not quite succeeded. On this list we count the likes of Vacheron Constantin with their Ref. 222 (1977) and later overseas designed by Jorg Hysek. VC survives today under Richemont, but went through a turbulent period after the Quartz Crisis under Yamani (from 1987) before being bought by the Vendôme group (now Richemont) in 1996. Also, IWC with their Genta designed Engineer in 1976 which managed to survive the crisis only thanks to the ingenuity of the last years under the leadership of Günter Blümlein within the framework of Manufactures Horlogères (LMH). IWC was also acquired by Richemont in 2001. Or the Girard-Perregaux Laureato launched in 1975 by an unknown Italian designer (yes, we checked and confirmed with Stefano Macaluso, the son of the late Gino to whom the house had no records to attribute the design), which was saved by Gino Macaluso and sold more late at the Kering Group in 2011. And of course Piaget. Piaget enjoyed considerable success with the Polo, but ultimately was not spared. Piaget was also acquired by the Vendôme group in 1988, and is now part of the Richemont empire.
The Polo had an iconic design, representative of the early jet set era of the late 1970s. The model we show here dates from around 1980 and is owned by Piaget.
Piaget polo shirt Ref. 7761 C701
The watch that we photographed and presented here is the Ref. 7761 C701 Polo, circa 1980. The case has a nominal diameter of 34m and is fully integrated into the non-detachable bracelet. The entire watch is made of 18k yellow gold and weighs approximately 145g. The design features an alternation of polished and satin-brushed surfaces. It has become a signature look for the Polo. The design featured prominent gadroons, which are decorative borders on metal formed by parallel rounded bands called reeds. It looked like reverse splines that were set all over the case, dial, and bracelet. These markers have made it possible to visually integrate the links of the bracelet onto the dial for a homogeneous aesthetic. The crown is hidden in the case back, so the lines on the watch face, as worn, are clean and uncluttered, leaving room only for the aesthetics of the fluted design.
The dial bears this design, and the minimalist look is presented with an almost mysterious dial, with no hour markers. A series of dots are marked around the rim to indicate the minutes. The Polo is a two-hand watch, with the hour and minutes indicated by double-faceted dauphine hands. Markings on the dial are minimal, with only the Piaget logo and the words “SWISS” in small print below the minute dots at 6 o’clock. On some models, the word “QUARTZ” was inscribed on the dial under the Piaget logo. A proud testimony that it was fashionable and desirable at that time. And that the Swiss thought that quartz was sold as a luxury item, while the Japanese quickly saw in the quartz movement an opportunity for inexpensive, highly accurate, mass-produced watches. This led to the Quartz Crisis.
The movement used in the Polo launch model was the 7P, which at the time was the thinnest movement in the world. The thickness was 3.1 mm and contained the equivalent of 888 transistors. A marvel in its time. The movement design also allowed the Polo to change time zones without changing the position of the minute hand, which was a challenge for quartz movements of the time. In 1980, the 7P was replaced by the even thinner 8P, measuring just 1.95mm thick.
Regardless of its quartz movement, the Polo of this vintage is highly sought after. And maybe it’s now cool and trendy to wear a 1970s quartz watch.
In 2016, Piaget introduced an update to the Polo in the form of the Polo Swhich was met with some controversy by the media.
Photographed in situ on the site of the Piaget exhibition. Fujifilm GFX 50S II with Hasselblad HC 4/120 and HC 2.8/80 + H26 extension tube via Profoto H.Flashes adapter.