The 10 most iconic men’s watches of all time
From the deep-diving Rolex Submariner to the ever-ingenious, case-flipping Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso, these are the most timeless timepieces in the world
Time is a cruel mistress — something watch collectors are presumably more aware of than most. As fads flit by, and fashions come and go, these enthusiasts can only stare on helplessly as their once-prized timepieces tick out of favour; depreciating drastically as they go. And there’s nothing they can do about it.
Of course, if they’d acted pre-emptively, they wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with. Finding a timeless timepiece is a tricky business, but there are icons in the watch world that promise never to go out of style. So, next time you consider adding the latest colourful craze to your collection, perhaps opt for one of the following instead…
The Rolex Submariner
Because there’s nothing more fashionable than function. The Rolex Submariner was first strapped onto wrists at the 1954 Basel Watch Fair, and it has spent the best part of a century winning watch folk over. In a dark dial colour, it is monochromatically chic, and that unidirectional scratch-resistant Cerachrom bezel is an icon in and of itself.
Of course, the whole package is impressive with Rolex. That strap boasts a folding Oysterlock clasp — a key innovation in Rolex’s storied watchmaking history. And, as the nautical name suggests, it is very, very waterproof. To over 300 metres, no less.
The Tag Heuer Monaco
The TAG Heuer Monaco wears many faces. But, out of all the limited runs and exclusive editions of the chronograph, this is our favourite — and your safest bet to invest in. That rich, denim blue dial with dual chronograph sub-dials and those vibrant red, luminescent hands establish the colour scheme in Steve McQueen-approved style.
The actor, who accessorised his character with a Monaco in the 1971 film Le Mans, lifted the timepiece to legendary status. And for good reason. With a powerful Calibre 11 movement, 40-hour power reserve and water resistance to over 100 metres, this is a watch worth celebrating.
The IWC Portugieser Chronograph
There’s a certain meticulous beauty to IWC’s iconic Portugieser Chronograph. That simple, silver-plated dial, encircled with a clear, functional scale. Those slender Feuille hands ticking their way tidily around a ring of easily legible Arabic numerals. And that thin bezel, keeping the whole design as closed and compact as possible.
Inside the sporty Swiss chronograph, the IWC-manufactured 69355 calibre does its job just as reliably. Robust and precise, it is a chronograph in a classic column-wheel design, visible through a sapphire-glass caseback. And, with a compact diameter of just 41mm, it fits almost any wrist. As dependable as they come.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
With the AP Royal Oak, it’s all in the case. With that instantly recognisable octagonal design, this Swiss showstopper is a true icon of the watch world. Classically cast in stainless steel, it is understated, glareproof and boasts a screw-locked crown.
And its dial, blue with “Grande Tapisserie” detailing and white gold applied hour-markers, comes second only to the timepiece’s signature luminescent Royal Oak hands in the style stakes. This is that rarest of beasts; a signature timepiece that will fit in anywhere.
The Patek Philippe Calatrava
The very essence of refinement, Patek Philippe’s Calatrava has been turning heads and classing up wrists since 1932. Today, almost a century later, much of the original design remains. We still enjoy the supreme elegance of the round dial, the silvery opaline dial and the gold hour markers. But there’s more modern luxuries to enjoy.
The mechanically-wound 215 PS movement is a masterstroke among watch mechanisms, the yellow gold case has been machined to perfection and that chocolate brown leather alligator strap offers the perfect sophisticated colour counterpoint to the precious metals. What more could you want?
The A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1
Perhaps the most striking dial on this list, the Lange 1 from A. Lange & Söhne is an icon in our eyes for its combination of traditional elements of Saxon watchmaking artistry and an extraordinary dial. The design of the Lange 1 follows a clear-cut principle: all displays are arranged off-centre, forming an isosceles triangle.
And this, paired with useful innovations such as Lange’s typical outsize date, have made the Lange 1 one of the most awarded watches of the last two decades. First revealed in 1994, our favourite iteration is the 2015 platinum model; with a dial crafted from solid silver and graced with rhodiumed gold hands.
The Breitling Navitimer
We’ve always got time for a Navitimer. Geared towards aviation, the dial of this Swiss watch may at first look a little busy; intimidating, even. But, upon closer inspection, the wearer will learn that every single function and numeral is where it is for a reason — to create one of the most ergonomic, practical watches known to man.
The chronograph’s generous 46mm diameter both accentuates its presence on the wrist and increases legibility. The transparent caseback reveals the chronometer-certified, high-performance self-winding chronograph calibre. And that circular aviation slide rule? A timeless piece of timepiece design.
The Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso
Some watches achieve iconic status thanks to their bold, distinctive designs. Others make the grade due to a fantastic backstory. And some, like Jaeger LeCoultre’s Reverso, have both. The watch was born of a challenge, that of designing a model that could withstand the polo matches of the British Army officers in 1930s India.
The Reverso succeeded — and then some. Over the last century, it has cemented itself as a watchmaking icon. The marked Art Deco aesthetic, especially on this Small Seconds model, is a large part of the allure. But, of course, the main draw is that most incredible of innovations; the reversible case.
The Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Self-Winding Ultra-Thin
When Vacheron Constantin calls one of its watches Ultra-Thin, it means ultra-thin. The calibre in this watch, the 1120, is just 2.45mm thick. The mass of the winding rotor is concentrated on the outer rim, allowing it to fit flush to the movement and making the whole thing much slimmer than it otherwise could be. It’s a mechanical marvel.
But, while the watch has pared back on weight, it has also streamlined its design. The Traditionnelle Self-Winding Ultra-Thin has a simple pink gold case, gold markers on a white dial and dark brown leather strap. In simplicity, this is a watch that will live forever.
The Omega Seamaster
For 25 years, the Omega Seamaster has been the watch of choice for James Bond. And if that doesn’t qualify it as an icon, we don’t know what does. A line of manual winding, automatic winding, chronometer, and quartz watches the Seamaster has spanned all levels of watchmaking — and we’re always excited to see what the Swiss maison will do with the model next.
But there are some constants within the Seamaster sub-brand. A steel case, screw-in crown, impressive water resistance, luminescent hands, unidirectional bezel and helium release valve make an appearance in nearly every iconic iteration.
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