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The launch of Sputnik in 1957 sent mankind rocketing into the Space Age. After the devastation of the Second World War, mankind turned its eyes toward new horizons, and the launch of the first artificial satellite proved to the world the truth in the motto excelsior. It also saw a mania for space-themed designs in the world of watches and cars.
The most well-known "space watch" is the Omega Speedmaster. However, brands as wide-ranging as Jaeger-LeCoultre, Bulova, Hamilton, Benrus and Fortis produced watches inspired by the Space Race. With retro-futuristic designs that mirrored rockets or satellites, they started a trend that persisted through the 1970s.
Fortis was established by Walter Vogt in 1912 in the Swiss town of Grenchen. Originally a co-founder along with Alfred Rüefli, by the 1920s Vogt had become sole owner. In 1926 Fortis became the first manufacture of automatic wristwatches, using a movement invented by British watchmaker John Harwood. Throughout the 20th century, Fortis achieved a series of horological firsts, not least of all being the production of the first waterproof wrist alarm in 1956. Fortis was also at the forefront of style—visually, at least—releasing brightly-colored watches in the 1960s and 1970s that could in many ways be considered forefathers of the Swatches of the 1980s.
This watch, the Spaceleader, is just one of several watches Fortis produced that carry the model name. The line first appeared in the late 1960s, following the triumphant Apollo 11 mission, which saw 600 million viewers across the world tuning in to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin take their first historic steps on the Moon’s surface. While the first Spaceleader watches featured hefty “UFO”-shaped stainless steel cases, this one utilized the same case found on Swiss Army divers the brand produced in the 1970s.
The cushion case is crowned by a ratcheting rotating bezel similar to that on the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms “Barracuda. Also like several watches of the period, such as the Heuer Monza, it’s coated in black PVD. In addition to giving the metal an additional layer of protection, it also gives the watch a sleek exterior that is infinitely attractive to modern eyes (especially due to the recent popularity of PVD-coated watches).
But perhaps the most visually-arresting element to this watch is the crystal. A real trompe l’œil, there appears to be a grid etched onto the dial. However, a closer look will show that it’s actually on the crystal, giving it a touch of three-dimensionality that’s a visual feast and harks to black-and-green, 8-bit radar screens - the kind that Houston would have employed.
We here at Analog/Shift certainly have a love for the off-beat, and this Fortis Spaceleader is certainly that. Plus, with a name like Spaceleader is so on-the-nose that we can’t help but smile when we see it. We’re certain you will too.
PVD-coated case is approximately 42mm (excluding crown). ETA Caliber 2784 Self-Winding Movement. Circa 1970s.
PVD-coated case is in very good condition with only some slight degradation to the coating near the crown. Ratcheting bezel is in very good condition with crisp printing and only some slight flaking throughout. Dial is in excellent condition with only some slight discoloration at 12:00. Fortis crown. Case back has two deep tool marks but is in otherwise very good condition.
Includes one 22mm black leather rally-style strap.