As we have said many times, luxury watches do so much more than just tell time. They are an important cog in your overall style statement. They help tell your story.
Are you about to purchase your first serious timepiece? I have a number of iconic timepieces in my collection, for you to consider as a starting point.
Related: Celebrity men’s watches: Six brands that hit the mark
Let me explain – iconic timepieces have a design language of their own, whether in form or function, in which to draw from. In searching for the timepiece that is perfect for you there is a good chance you will return to the same type of watch. That could be racing chronographs or dress watches. Or it could be a type of style or design cue from a particular era, like simple dials or bold numerals. In the end, it’s a very personal choice.
There is a huge range. It would be a shame to first make a large investment in a timepiece. Then you find out there was a time period (vintage) or technical innovation (ceramic bezels or modern alloys) that better capture your imagination.
So use this article as a starting point to help before you make that first serious purchase:
Types of watches
Watches are generally placed into a handful of categories. There are many exceptions and blurred lines between categories. So I am presenting a number of modern iconic pieces from each one.
Dress watches are to be worn at formal occasions and are characterized by a simple, elegant time-only design. They are typically in precious metal with a leather, crocodile, or other type of hide strap. Some include a date function, although that’s traditionally frowned upon. Usually dress watches are presented in an understated fashion. At a distance, then, they appear not to be present at all.
A Patek Philippe Calatrava, or a Cartier Tank would be perfect examples of a classic dress watch. From my own collection, the Seiko SARB033 designed for the Japanese domestic market (JDM) would also fall into this category.
I classify casual luxury watches as modern-day dress watches. It’s just they are not dress watches in the strictest sense. They could today be worn with just about anything short of a tuxedo and not be frowned upon.
Day and Date complications and metal bracelets are welcome in this category. Classic watches include a Rolex Datejust and a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso. A Cartier Santos on a metal bracelet, and Annual and Perpetual Calendar watches like Vacheron-Constantin’s Patrimony Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin, are other examples.
The birth of the modern sport watch lies firmly in the mid-1970’s, with arguably the two most iconic steel sport watches ever made. Those would be the Patek Phillippe Nautilus and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Modern versions still are out there, like the reference 5711/1A and 15500 respectively. Vacheron Constantin released their take on the steel sport watch in 1977 with the Overseas collection. Those are also still in production with modern variants.
It is also interesting to note that all of these models of luxury watches are available with a variety of complications. That varies from GMT and Chronograph functions, to complex calendars. From my collection the Seiko SNA525 steel chronograph fits into this category.
Inside of the sport watch category are Dive watches. They could be a category all on their own (more on dive watches here). Defined by a unidirectional bezel for timing submerged time on a scuba dive, classic examples would be the Rolex Submariner and the Doxa 300T (a personal favourite).
From my own collection, the Tudor Black Bay Steel and Gold, reference 79733N, is a modern interpretation of the dive watch. It features vintage design cues, like the riveted bracelet and lack of crown guards. Also included in my collection are two Japanese domestic divers, the well-known Seiko SKX007 and SKX009.
One could also argue that sport chronographs are a stand-alone category. The Tag-Heuer Monaco and Rolex Daytona are classic examples of racing chronographs. The Breitling Navitimer and IWC Pilot Chronographs are iconic examples of the Aviation type.
Chronographs have been used for a variety of purposes. For example, “Pulsations” chronograph scales were used my doctors and nurses to measure a patient’s heart rate. The Omega Speedmaster was NASA standard issue for Apollo astronauts. My collection includes an Aviation chronograph from Seiko, the SNA411, or the “Flightmaster”. I also have a vintage racing chronograph, also from Seiko, the reference 7526 09X4 R 2, from 1970.
Iconic sports watches
Related originally to aviation, but now to travel in general, are watches capable of tracking two or more time zones. The Rolex GMT, originally designed for PanAm pilots in 1954, is a classic example. It utilizes a similar rotating bezel as dive watches. They are generally referenced as GMT watches.
Others include more casual/dressy versions of dual time zones. The Glashutte Original Senator Cosmopolite is an example. So is the Patek Philippe Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph ref. 5990/1A, a dual time complication cased in an iconic sport watch design.
Military and field watches are characterized by robust construction, legibility in poor light conditions and simplified, practical dial layouts. They trace their history back to military-issued timepieces. Although not categorically “luxury”, military watches blend the design and construction of modern and iconic timepieces.
Military and Field watches
The Hamilton Khaki Field watch is a great example of a classic field watch. The Rolex Explorer and Explorer II are probably more in the field watch camp than that of sport watch. To fill the field watch void in my own collection I settled on the Hamilton Khaki King, reference H64455523.
The Canadian company Marathon makes military specification pieces in various configurations. That’s if you are interested in a true military grade timepiece.
A complication in timekeeping is a function that is incorporated into a timepiece that goes beyond the keeping of hours, minutes, and seconds in a conventional way.
Common complications are date, day of the week, moon phase, annual and perpetual calendars. It also includes chronographs, power reserve indication, celestial trackers, chimes and alarm functions. And, of course, the tourbillon.
These are luxury watches that are mechanical masterpieces, tracking the days, hours, months, years, and even the heavens.
A. Lange & Söhne, Tourbograph Perpetual “Pour Le Mérite”
It is often debated which timepieces are truly the most iconic or most important. What I have presented here are simply examples.
As you explore the world of luxury timepieces, I will let you decide which pieces belong on your list of most iconic or important.
(Colin Potts purchased the Tudor and Rolex watches from Knar Jewellery in Oakville)