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  • Writer's pictureTheWristorian

Vintage “VW Design” Watch

In the world of watch collecting, does imitation equate to flattery?

I have said it before, and I will say it again, online auction sites are the ultimate digital rummage sale. The physical limitations of a one family garage sale are non-existent online, making it a vast and nebulous galaxy of keepsakes and trinkets. Virtually any obscurity you could hope to find will pop up eventually. Some are silly. Some are downright strange. If you are anything like me, you enjoy a quirky watch. The example we are taking a look at today belongs to my twin brother, Devin. Over his years of collecting, he has amassed some charmingly offbeat timepieces of his own. This “VW Design” watch is one such representation of his penchant for the eclectic.

Dots and grids.

If you are new to watches, be warned that there are specific words and phrases that are (generally speaking) taboo within the community. After some time you will begin to recognize these controversial buzz words. After mastering recognition, you will then learn to predict the specific response that these words illicit. For example, “faux patina”, will enrage hordes of watch fans. In a way it unites the vintage and modern collectors against a common foe, that of falsely-aged lume plots. The vintage collectors will say that the watch is a fraud. It never put in the work to earn that patina. Well played vintage watch fans. Bravo. The modern watch fans will say, “if I wanted a watch to look old, I would buy an old watch.” Touché modern watch fans. Nice.

Another common term that seems to stoke the fires of rage is “homage”. According to Merriam-Webster, an homage is “an expression of high regard” or “something that shows respect or attests to the worth or influence of another”. In the watch context, many consider “homage” and “fake” to be synonymous. There are some who look at homage watches as respectable (and often more affordable) timepieces which take design cues and pay tribute to a different model. We are talking about a watch designed to look similar to another without pretending to be the original. A good example is the Rolex Explorer 1016. This is an iconic reference that is simply out of the reach of many due to price and availability. There are, however, a number of similar homages that are far more attainable. Generally homage watches are regarded as cheaper imitations of the real thing. The kicker with today’s VW Design, is that few corners were cut in terms of production quality. This makes it extremely close to the source material, in this case the Porsche Design/IWC collaborations of the eighties and nineties.

At only 34mm, this auto-inspired eighties enigma cuts a classic silhouette

Based upon the quartz ETA movement powering this VW Design watch, it likely dates to the mid-1980’s. Although small by modern “men’s watch” standards, the bezel-free design makes it wear larger than the 34mm diameter would have you suspect. After some digging, this watch shares many similarities to the IWC/Porsche Design Ultra-Sportivo reference 3335. They share the round color matched date window (although the VW’s has been rotated from 6 o’clock to 3 o’clock). Where the dial on the Porsche Design iteration has some subtle futuristic elements, the VW Design punches it up to eleven by featuring a grid patterned dial and round hour markers. If there was a Pac-Man/Tron crossover event that had to be immortalized in a watch, this would be the result. The hour and minute hands are well lumed, and although the glowing power has faded over time, they fit the general sport-watch aesthetic perfectly. Even the octagonal crown is strangely industrial in nature. At least if you lose it you can pick up a replacement at any local hardware store.

The bracelet on this watch is quite complex. Just as the IWC/Porsche Designs of the time, each link is removable and the watch and bracelet are made of titanium. While homage watches are generally more wallet-friendly alternatives, full titanium construction in the mid-1980’s must have been expensive. Despite the numerous similarities, the name of the company responsible for manufacturing this watch eludes me. It is void of any defining markings on the caseback or movement. I do not believe it was made by Porsche Design/IWC, and frankly I am a little surprised a watch this similar was ever produced given the similarities.

Bracelet links reminiscent of vertebrae or jigsaw pieces


· Water Resistance: 50 meters

· Movement: Quartz ETA 955.112

· Lug Width: 18mm

· Diameter: 34mm

· Thickness: 6.7mm

According to the seller of the watch (who was not the original owner), this came in a box set with an even smaller women’s version. The information on “VW Design” is extremely scarce, so I have had minimal success in tracking down the original of this particular piece. From what I was able to gather, “VW Design” watches could be ordered through in-flight catalogs on Lufthansa Airlines in the 80’s and 90’s. This is likely the only place the watches were available for purchase. The thought occurred to me that this could have been a promotional gift or prize for an event run by Lufthansa, but the truth is that we may never know for sure.

1986 Volkswagen GTI Advertisement. So great.

Porsche may get the lion’s share of the recognition as a “sports car enthusiast” brand, but Volkswagen had some vastly underappreciated performance machines of their own in the mid-1980’s. Two of my personal favorites, the 1985 Golf GTI and the VW Scirocco featured design and styling entirely their own. This watch would pair perfectly with either of those funky hatchbacks. Like this timepiece, their design was forward –thinking and a little offbeat, but destined to gain a following over the course of time.

So what do you think of this uber-unusual titanium timepiece? Do you know anything about “VW Design”? Let me know in the comments!

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1 Comment

Parker S
Parker S
Aug 28, 2020

The grid pattern on the dial reminds me of a Sega Genesis box!

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