Ten game-changing timepieces that haven’t lost their looks.
In the watch world trends come and go. Watches get larger, smaller, more adorned and more austere, and while each trend brings with it remarkable achievements in design and watchmaking technology, the appeal of some watches transcends the whims of fashion. The following are all icons—timepieces that introduced groundbreaking movements, materials and designs—which have endured as objects of desire. Strap one to your wrist and you’ll understand why.
TAG Heuer Monaco
Before the days of big-bucks product placements and brand ambassador contracts, Steve McQueen picked out a TAG Monaco to go with the white racing suit he wore in the 1971 film Le Mans. TAG didn’t pay him a dime. Since then, the chunky square-cased Monaco has been a symbol of speed and savvy, with the unshakable association to McQueen’s era-defining cool. The watch, introduced in 1969 in honour of the Monaco Grand Prix, was the first automatic chronograph and the first chrono to feature a square case. The latest modern version, Monaco Chronograph LS, is steel with a linear, 30-second-increment small seconds at 3 o’clock (LS stands for Linear System). Other cool features include an angled date window at 12 o’clock and arced 30-minute counter at 9 o’clock. $8,700
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
At a time when watches, especially Swiss watches, were invariably round, gold and no more than 34mm wide, the Royal Oak shocked the watchmaking establishment when it launched in 1972. Named in honour of a fleet of ships kept by the British Royal Navy, the unconventional Royal Oak was the world’s first luxury sports watch to be made in steel. It was also large (relative to other watches of the day), with a 38.7mm case, and uniquely shaped, with eight sides. Today’s models retain the same trademark hexagon case, eight hexagon-shaped screws on the bezel, patterned dial and deeply beveled edges. Classic Royal Oak with automatic movement. Approximately $22,100.
Corum Admiral’s Cup
Corum outdid Audemars Piguet in the angles game by upping the eight-sided case to 12. The Admirals Cup—which was at the forefront of the trend toward super-sized watches—launched in 1960 in a square case, one of the first water-resistant watches in that shape. Having gained favour with the yachting crowd, it was relaunched in 1983 in a 12-sided case, with hour markers depicting nautical pennants that correspond to the international maritime code. Admiral’s Cup Legend 42, with automatic chronograph movement, $6,350
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner
The Rolex Sub is easily the world’s most recognizable watch. Introduced in 1953, it was the first timepiece capable of submerging to 100 meters, thereby achieving cult status among divers even before James Bond made it cool in Dr. No in 1962. By 1959, the watch was water-resistant to 200 meters, and in the 1960s, the trademark Cyclops date window was added to the model. Today the Submariner can withstand water pressure to 300 meters, and has been updated with a ceramic bezel and subtle case and crown refinements, as well as a state-of-the-art, proprietary movement. $13,600
Patek Philippe Calatrava
Patek Philippe’s signature model, created in 1932, kicked off the original trend in extra-thin watches. The Calatrava’s most distinguishing feature is its signature hobnail patterned bezel. The rest is pure minimalism: Roman numerals or simple markers and cleandials. The Calatrava is the prototypical heirloom watch, but should you not care to hand it down to the next generation, there is always room for a Patek Philippe at any Sotheby’s, Christie’s or Antiquorum auction. Widely regarded as the greatest watch brand in the world, the craftsmanship in a Patek is second to none. White gold Calatrava, $97,200
Panerai made watches exclusively for the Italian Navy until 1993, when it first introduced a Luminor to the civilian market. With its oversized case and minimalist dial, the Luminor stood out immediately. Sylvester Stallone—then in the midst of his Demolition Man-era career re-launch—soon became the brand’s most outspoken fan, and in 1995 Panerai created a special-edition in his honour called the “Slytech.” Arnold Schwarzenegger also touted the brand, clinching its enduring reputation as the ultimate tough-guy watch. Luminor Marina 1950 3-Days, with signature crown protector and a hand-wound movement. $11,200
Zenith El Primero
The El Primero is actually a movement rather than a particular model. In the 1969 race to create the first automatic chronograph, only Zenith succeeded in designing a fully integrated movement (that is one built from the ground up as a chrono, rather than modifying an existing movement). Noted for its high-frequency oscillations (and therefore greater accuracy), the El Primero was uniquely tested in 1970 by being strapped to the landing gear of a Boeing 707 on a flight from Paris to New York. Subjected to drastic changes in temperature, pressure and weather, it kept perfect time. Zenith El Primero Chronomaster 1969, a tribute to the original, $9,000
The Reverso has a whiff of the jet set about it; the flip-over case was originally created for polo players to protect their watch dials from the rigours of the polo mallet (in the days before tough, sapphire crystals). Today, the reversible case is handy for showing dual time zones or different dial options. The design is also considered a pure, authentic expression of the Art Deco aesthetic. Since 1931, the Reverso has housed over 50 different mechanical calibers, from the world’s smallest to largest complications, ranging from ultra-thin movements to tourbillons and minute repeaters. Grande Reverso Duo, $10,200
IWC Big Pilots
IWC has been making pilot’s watches since 1936. In the pioneering days of aviation, the main priority was to protect watches against dust, extreme temperature fluctuations and the strong magnetic fields created by cockpit instrumentation. Also crucial was a “hacking seconds,” a second hand that stops when you pull the crown out to set the watch, enabling pilots and navigators to synchronize with precision. Above all, the dial had to offer optimum legibility—hence the large width: the model shown here is 46mm, but IWC makes them up to 55mm wide. IWC set the standard in pilot’s watch design: black dial, triangular index, and luminescent hands and index markers. $15,400
The Tank, launched in 1917, was inspired by the design of the Renault tanks used by the Allies in World War One. Not only was it the world’s first square wristwatch, it was designed by the makers of the world’s first wristwatch, Cartier’s equally iconic Santos. Despite a number of variations overthe years—including the Tank Americain, Tank Francaise and, this year, the Tank Anglaise, shown here in white gold—the Tank’s distinctive shape and Roman numerals make it highly recognizable. $41,600