Yup, you read that right — a wristwatch from Abercrombie & Fitch. And you saw that right — one of the downright coolest looking watches ever made, full stop. But what is this strange vintage chronograph, why is it so darn colorful, and what are its origins? Let us explain…
You probably know Abercrombie & Fitch as a clothing store catering to tweens where bare-chested, six-packed young men sling overpriced sweatshirts in bright, primary colors while choking on some ungodly fragrance is pumped into the store's air supply. However, the brand’s origins describe a very different business: Founded in New York City in 1892 by avid outdoorsman David T. Abercrombie, the store original sold high-end outdoor equipment to high-end customers - think Holland & Holland elephant guns to the Rockefellers for their bi-annual safari trips. When Ezra Fitch, a wealthy lawyer and real estate developer bought a stake in the business in 1900, the company was renamed Abercrombie & Fitch, and sales soared.
Madison Avenue and 45th Street. Abercrombie and Fitch Building. - (Image by Museum of the City o New York)
Setting up shop on Madison Avenue, A&F opened a 12-story megastore that outfitted clients such as Ernest Hemingway and Theodore Roosevelt, who bought supplies such as rifles, tents, and all manner of safari and exploration gear. (Unfortunately, the shotgun Papa used to take his own life in 1961 was purchased there — but that’s a story for another time.) Floor after floor of fishing rods, boots, ammunition, and accessories catered to world-traveling outdoorsmen; the store even had an in-house watch counter and watchmaker.
Abercrombie & Fitch Sub-Sea - IN THE SHOP
Beginning in the 1940s, for sale at said watch counter were numerous models produced by none other than Swiss watchmaker Heuer, and signed with the retailer’s name on the dial. Twice each year, Abercrombie & Fitch president Walter Haynes would visit the Heuer headquarters in Switzerland to pick out new models, the result of which was a wide selection of high-end, waterproof chronographs, alarm watches, yacht timers, and more.
Heuer | Solunar, retailed by Abercrombie & Fitch a stainless steel center seconds wristwatch with tide indicator circa 1950 - (Image by Sothebys)
Toward the end of the decade, Abercrombie requested a special watch from Heuer, one that would be based on the “Solunar” theory. This theory, popularized in the 1930s by avid outdoorsman and angler John Alden Knight, posited that the sportsman could determine optimal times for hunting and fishing according to the position of the sun and moon. (For fishermen, this meant reading the tides.) Charles-Edouard Heuer tasked his young, 15-year-old son Jack Heuer, with developing a watch that would display Solunar information; the industrious young watchmaker in turn took the problem to his high school physics teacher, and together, they developed the basis for the Solunar watch.
Charles Edouard Heuer and Jack Heuer in 1963, Switzerland - (Image by The Edge Magazine)
The Solunar is not a chronograph — rather it features a unique display above 6 o’clock with a tide indicator. By using a pusher on the side of the case, the user sets the watch for a specific location, after which this indicator makes a full rotation every 50 days, or twice the duration of the 28.5-day lunar cycle. The colorful disc, which is surrounded by a 24-hour ring, indicates high and low tides: The white lines ringed with blue point to high tide, while the white lines surrounded by tan point to low tide.
Unfortunately, the Solunar never quite found an audience, and sold poorly. But this didn’t stop Abercrombie & Fitch and Heuer — rather, the two companies decided to combine the tide indicator with a three-register chronograph, a well known and universally useful complication, and the Seafarer was born.
In order to accommodate the tide indicator into a three-register chronograph, certain problems — some mathematical, some aesthetic — needed to be solved. In the end, Heuer rejiggered the workhorse Valjoux 71 and Valjoux 72C movements it had been using in its triple-calendar triple-register chronographs to accommodate the tide indicator, reconfigured the placement of the sub dials, and altered the number of gear teeth in order to display the tides.
Signed Heuer, Retailed by Abercrombie & Fitch, Seafarer Model, Ref. 346 - (Image by Christie's)
The very first Seafarer was housed in the same 37.5mm, stainless steel case used by the brand’s Reference 346 chronographs. Despite its colorful dial, it was every part a purpose-built tool watch: The oversized 30-minute totalizer at 3 o'clock, for example, featured minutes 0-5 and 10-15 demarcated in blue, which allowed it to do double-duty as a yacht timer. A conventional (but likewise oversized) 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock was joined at 3 o’clock by the tide indicator which, in this case, was housed in a cutout, with only the top 180 degrees of the arc visible. Despite the plethora of dial functions, this remains a distinctly legible watch — evidence of the tremendous thought and consideration that went into its design.
Abercrombie & Fitch, Ref.346 Second Execution - (Image by OnTheDash)
Heuer quickly updated the Reference 346 with a second execution that changed the handset from ‘syringe’ to ‘pencil,’ and removed the cutout over the tide indicator such that the entire disc was now visible. Likewise, the 30-minute indicator was given an additional blue 5-minute segment, such that it now featured three blue segments and three silvered segments. This execution, like its predecessor, was powered by a modified Valjoux 71 hand-wound movement.
Abercrombie & Fitch Seafarer Ref.2443 - (Image by Phillips)
Replacement of the Valjoux 71 movement with the Valjoux 72 saw Heuer swap out the Reference 346 case for that of the Reference 2443 — the one seen in this example for sale here at Analog:Shift. The 12-hour recorder was now smaller, though the 30-minute and tide indicators remained oversized. A second execution added two more Arabic indices, at 5 and 7 o’clock, to those at 11, 12, and 1 o’clock, and added triangular hour indices at each index. Meanwhile, the blue color on the totalizers was made mint-green, while the handset became gold with matching, mint green-colored lume.
Reference 2444 Seafarer | Retailed by Abercrombie & Fitch Co.: A stainless steel chronograph wristwatch with tide indicator, Circa 1963 - (Image by Sotheby's)
Following the Reference 2443 came the Reference 2444. This smaller, 36mm version of Seafarer featured smaller pushers — as well as a third pusher for the tide indicator at 9 o’clock, as opposed to a recessed button — plus a slotted caseback in place of a 12-sided hex caseback. While the first execution of this reference largely mirrored the dial of the previous-gen Reference 2443, the second used a bright silver dial; replaced the mint-green coloring with bright blue; nixed the ‘sword’ hands in favor of a more elegant ‘dauphine’ type; and swapped out the old indices for applied steel markers.
Reference 2446 Seafarer 'Screw-back Case' Retailed by Abercrombie & Fitch: A stainless steel chronograph wristwatch with tide indication, Circa 1963 - (Image by Sotheby's)
The next reference, the 2446, marked a big change, as it coincided with the entrance of the Autavia into the Heuer catalog in 1962. This short-lived (and ultra-rare) variant of the Seafarer kept the dial layout and color scheme of the previous-gen Reference 2444 but added a rotating count-up bezel, thicker pump pushers, and an overall chunkier appearance. Then, in 1963, Heuer introduced the famous Carrera chronograph, housing it in the Reference 2447 case. Of course, the brand then transitioned the Seafarer into this new home, retaining the dial of the previous two generations but adding the Carrera’s distinctive inner tension ring with 1/5th-second scale. The pump pusher at 9 o’clock was retained but miniaturized, while a comfortable, stainless steel beads of rice bracelet was made available. This reference was available from roughly 1963 until 1968, when Heuer deployed the Reference 2446C compressor case, the Seafarer’s final housing.
Abercrombie & Fitch Seafarer Ref. 2446C - (Image by OnTheDash)
The 2446C compressor case, with its 100m of water resistance, proved an excellent, robust case for this sportsman’s tool watch. As with the Reference 2446 case, it received a rotating minutes/12-hour bezel for timing events independent of the chronograph, but in this instance, the dial was reworked in a handsome, dark anthracite color and paired to matching ‘baton’ hands. The second-generation 2446C did away with these hands in favor of bright white ‘feuille’-style hands adapted from the company’s military chronographs developed for the German Bundeswehr. Finally, the very last version of the Seafarer swapped out the count-up bezel for one with a tachymeter scale and added additional demarcations to the tide indicator.
Even rarer, perhaps, than the Abercrombie & Fitch-retailed Seafarer are the versions retailed by Heuer itself (called Mareographe) and those retailed by Orvis (called Solunagraph). The Mareograph was produced alongside many of the earlier Seafarer references, including the Ref. 346, 2443, 2444, 2447, and 2446C, while Orvis’s Solunagraph was released in the compressor case 244C only beginning in 1973.
By the mid-1970s, the Seafarer was gone, the Quartz Crisis was in full swing and Abercrombie & Fitch itself having filed for Chapter 11 in 1976. For some decades, the Seafarer, moderately rare as it was, remained a dormant model around which serious collector interest had yet to coalesce. Over the past decade, however, prices have soared at auction, with even the most pedestrian of examples hammerings for multiple tens of thousands of dollars, and special examples — such as this tropical, first-exection Reference 346 — realizing eye-watering sums.
Abercrombie & Fitch Seafarer 'MKII' - IN THE SHOP
Purpose-built, colorful, utilitarian, ingenious — the Seafarer and its cousins are all these things. These days, the market has corrected upward, and Heuer’s masterpiece no longer flies under the radar. Snag a good example, however, and you’ve earned yourself one of the most unique timepieces ever produced by any brand during the 20th century.