Why It's Time for the Piaget Polo to Shine
As interest in vintage Piaget watches picks up among collectors, the future of Polo looks quite bright
The Piaget Polo was born in 1979, right at the tail end of one of the most interesting — and influential — decades in watch design. The Polo was Piaget's sports watch, its entry into the emerging field of luxury sports watches, defined only a few years earlier by watches like Audemars Royal Oak and Patek Philippe's Nautilus. However, the Piaget Polo should in no way be considered a follower. Instead, it's a watch that not only captures the spirit of excess and exuberance of the era but also fits within Piaget's existing language of design.
To contemporary watch aficionados, Piaget is perhaps best known for its legendary slim calibres, especially the manually wound 9P calibre from 1957 and the automatic 12P from 1960. What's perhaps less recognized is that Piaget didn't pursue ultra-thin for its own sake. Instead, these slender movements allowed Piaget to explore never-before-possible designs and even more creative expressions of the watchmaker's art.
Slender calibres opened the door to new creative possibilities. Piaget led the way in hardstone dials, offering jade, lapis lazuli, malachite and more in 1963. Stone dials are hard to perfect today, and were presumably even more challenging in the pre-digital era, but Piaget prevailed. The brand is known as the jeweler of watches, and its expertise in precious metalwork and gem setting is hard to argue with. In addition to stone dials, Piaget's jewelry influence freed them from the conventions of watch design, and saw them turn timepieces into expressive works of art, with improbable case designs and exceptionally fine bracelets.
Given this context, it should come as no surprise that when it came to their new sports watch, the Polo, Piaget didn't hold back. The original iteration of the Piaget Polo isn't just a luxury sports watch, it's a luxury sports jewelry watch. For vintage watch dealer Gai Gohari, "the iconic Polo of the 80s is defined by its gold case and quintessential ribbed texture following a smooth integration between the watch and its bracelet — or even its strap." The Polo was intended as a purely precious metal watch, with a gender-neutral design defined by the seamless flow from case to bracelet, all in yellow gold. This design is blocky and dominated by the full-width polished gadroons that alternate with the otherwise brushed blocks of the gold case. It was initially released in two shapes: the more familiar rounder model or the almost cuff-like design.
Unusually, each bracelet link was carved from a solid block of gold, rather than cast, as is far more common. In addition to absolutely capturing the more maximalist aesthetic of the 1980s, Piaget's Polo also has the honor of being the first Piaget timepiece to have a model name — seen as critical for success in the American market.
Regardless of whether or not it was the flashy new name or the even flashier new design, the Polo put Piaget on the map, and as Piaget continued to evolve the design throughout the 80s, the watch found its place in pop culture, notably on Robert De Niro's wrist in 1995's Casino. Sidenote: it's surely no coincidence that Sylvester Stallone, playing an aging mobster in Tulsa King, also wears a vintage Piaget Polo. Gohari, with his eye on the current market for Piaget Polo models, notes that it's the outliers that are the most interesting. "I think the most collectable ones are the ones in white gold and the like, which are very rare given that 90% of the production was — as you would expect — in yellow gold. On top of that, the models featuring special stone dials or other Piaget magic are highly sought after. I was fortunate to acquire and sell a rare "Tetris" texture one and I am a proud owner of a Tiffany signed dial one that I wear when I feel extra cocky."
There's one other aspect of the original Polo that makes the model important was the fact that it was the vehicle for Piaget's own Caliber 7P. Now, Piaget was part of the consortium of makers that developed the first Swiss quartz movement, the Beta 21, but Piaget found the chunky beta 21 unsuitable for their slender approach to watchmaking, so in 1976, they did it their way, releasing the 7P, which came in at only 3.1mm thick — the world's thinnest quartz calibre at the time. The 7P, with the durability and precision that quartz is known for, was the perfect choice for Piaget's sports-oriented Polo.
From 1988 to 2001, the Polo was placed on hiatus until the Richemont group (who acquired Piaget in 1988, decided to bring it back in 2001. Here the case size was bigger, but also more conventional, as with Arabic numerals, date displays and a less integrated feeling — though the look of the gadroons was still preserved. In 2009, the Polo evolved once more, with the Polo FortyFive — a 45mm increasingly complicated sports watch that moved even further away from the core identity of the original Polo — though it did still reference the historic gadroon construction on the bezel and bracelet. By the time the current version of the Polo was released in 2016, any semblance to its primogenitor was sketchy at best, it looked a lot more like an Aquanaut-ified version of the Polo FortyFive rather than a descendant of the 1979 model.
The time is right for a change, though. Piaget models from the 1970s and 80s have been on the up, in general, and the Polo is caught up in the flurry. Gohari is optimistic about the future of the model. "The market for vintage Polo is quite strong. It is trailed by its iconic retro factor and the value it represents against other gold vintage counterparts. There is still a long road for growth, though, as only a small niche of collectors have recognized it for now. It'll trickle down inevitably - I foretell especially soon!" We've seen similar trends recently with the Vacheron Constantin Overseas, as well as the seemingly never-ending interest in vintage Cartier in all its permutations. Of course, every vintage model is a case unto itself, but it does make you wonder, could the Piaget Polo be the next Cartier Crash?