10 Most Iconic Watches of All Time

Decades later, these watches are still as fresh as when they were first created

These are some of the most iconic watches known to mankind—how many can you name?

Watches have always been associated as a masculine accessory, which is why it’s understandable how it might be harder for females to get into the world of watches. However, these pieces are as cool on a man as it is on a woman, and that’s why they’re still so iconic even decades after. Some may know the watches on this list, but even if you don’t, it’s never too late—today’s the day to get acquainted with them. 

Rolex Submariner 

When one thinks of a dive watch, the Rolex Submariner naturally comes to mind. The story began when it was first introduced in 1954 at Baselworld. As the first dive watch to reach a resistance of 100m, the Submariner found its audience not only within the dive community but also amongst the general public—even today. But what really skyrocketed the Rolex Submariner was the Reference 6538 Sean Connery wore in the James Bond film Dr. No, and continued his relationship with it in his subsequent Bond films such as From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball and Lie and Let Die. The defining characteristics are its black dial and high-contrast luminous hour markers. Later on, Rolex added a date window and now carries multiple coloured line-ups. Although the Submariner now feels more like a luxury watch (especially when it’s available in yellow gold or white gold), instead of an actual dive watch, it’s no doubt that this timepiece will continue to stay iconic. 

Rolex Datejust

Instantly recognisable, the Rolex Datejust is simple, yet it’s the foundation of the Rolex collection. In 1945, for Rolex’s 40th anniversary, the Swiss watchmakers celebrated their success by launching the Datejust. It was iconic because it was the first automatic wristwatch featuring a date window that would automatically change at midnight. It was massive (at the time) as to how the mechanics worked. In 1950, the Cyclops lens—named after the one-eyed giant in Greek mythology—was introduced, magnifying the date and making it easier to read. The Jubilee bracelet and fluted bezel are also defining characteristics of the Datejust. The most notable on-screen moment was seen on the wrist of psychopath Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. (PS: We’re not encouraging psychotic behaviour while wearing the Datejust.)

Cartier Santos 

In 1904, Alberto Santos Dumont, a Brazillian aviator discovered a problem: using a pocket watch while flying was impractical and unreliable. So he did what any other person would—he asked his friend Louis Cartier to design him a wristwatch, and that’s how the Cartier Santos came about. The flat wristwatch with a square bezel and large Roman numerals fulfilled Santos-Dumont’s request—to have the time shown clearly. Wristwatches weren’t a popular concept for men then, but many men began to enquire about the Cartier Santos. Soon, Cartier commissioned watchmaker Edmond Jaeger (yes, of Jaeger Le-Coultre) to go into full production and it has continued to be a mainstay in the official Cartier catalogue up till now—with many new variations, from a skeletonised version to the Santos Chronograph. 

Omega Speedmaster

The Omega Speedmaster or the “Moonwatch” is a legend and a brand of its own. Known to be the first watch that walked the moon, the chronograph watch first developed in 1957 was initially made to be used in high-precision sports and racing timers—a watch with a ‘stopwatch’ functionality, making Omega the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games. In fact, the name “Speedmaster” was termed from the tachymeter scale bezel. Soon, the model was put through the official qualification for space flight. Test after test, the Speedmaster eventually became the official timepiece for NASA. The Speedmaster followed astronaut Edward White out on a spacewalk in 1965, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin took the Speedmaster out to the moon in 1969. The Speedmaster was also integral to the Apollo 13 mission. Now, you’ll find the Speedmaster on the wrists of big names from actor Daniel Craig to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Cartier Tank

The Cartier Tank is the epitome of a timeless design. Created in 1917 by Louis Cartier, the founder’s grandson, the inspiration behind this watch is quite literally, a tank—specifically, the Renault FT-17, a French tank employed during World War 1. The design of the watch that features Roman numerals and blued steel Breguet hands had its first production run in 1919 and has since diversified into many variations like the Tank LC and Tank Normale. The list of celebrities and royalties spotted with a Cartier Tank is endless, including the likes of Muhammad Ali, Michelle Obama, Cary Grant, Truman Capote, John and Jackie F. Kennedy, with Andy Warhol most famously saying, ​​”I don’t wear a Tank watch to tell the time. Actually, I never even wind it. I wear a Tank because it is the watch to wear!”

Patek Philippe Calatrava 

Would the Patek Philippe Calatrava or Nautilus be more iconic? We went with the Calatrava, because even though the Nautilus is the ‘hype’ watch of the 21st Century and the brand is a pioneer of multiple watchmaking technological advances including the first perpetual calendar and the first annual calendar, the understated Calatrava dress watch still holds a special place in the Patek Philippe catalogue. The first Calatrava model Ref. 96 was launched in 1932, designed by English horologist David Penney who was inspired by the Bauhaus art movement in Germany. Penney’s idea was to keep it simple with a round case and uncluttered dial. The name “Calatrava” is a reference to their ‘Calatrava cross’ emblem, trademarked by Patek Philippe in 1887. Now, the Calatrava is the most coveted dress watch.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

The Reverso was another watch that was made to solve a problem. In 1930, during Swiss businessman César de Trey’s travels to India, he attended a polo match where one of the British army officers had just broken the glass of his watch. He challenged de Trey to find a way to protect the glass of polo players’ watches during matches. De Trey thought of a case that could flip over. His inspiration brought him to look for Jacques-David LeCoultre, then-owner of the LeCoultre, and together they commissioned René-Alfred Chauvot to design the watch. In March 1931, René-Alfred Chauvot officially patented his invention of a “wristwatch which can slide on its base and flip over on itself”, and since then the Reverso has remained an icon up to this day. Although nobody uses it for the same reason it was created anymore, we’re not complaining. 

Audermars Piguet Royal Oak

In the 70s, the Swiss horology industry was hit with a crisis where many manufacturers were on the brink of bankruptcy due to the rise of the Japanese quartz movement (the Seiko Astron broke Switzerland); it was affordable and accurate. Audemars Piguet, founded in 1875, was also hit by the “quartz crisis”. They had to do something, or rather, contact someone. And that someone was Gérald Genta, a master watch designer. They had tasked him to create a “luxury sports watch” to be made in steel (something unheard of, at the time) and most importantly, “a design sketch to be ready by tomorrow morning” as they would need to present something at the Swiss Watch Show (later known as Baselworld). Genta created something unconventional: an octagon-shaped watch with eight exposed screws. It didn’t initially hit it off at the 1972 Swiss Watch Show, but slowly, with the right marketing, it did. And that’s how the Royal Oak saved the company.

Tag Heuer Monaco

The first square-cased, water-resistant to 100m, and with the Chronomatic Calibre 11—this Tag Heuer is the first automatic chronograph movement with a microrotor. When we think of the Monaco, we think of how Steve McQueen featured it in the 1971 movie Le Mans. The timepiece’s success was partly due to that, but credit must also be given to the founder’s great-grandson, Jack Heuer. He established a commercial deal with Formula 1 driver Jo Siffert to be the brand’s first ambassador. Consequently, Siffert introduced McQueen to Heueur, and the actor later chose the Monaco to be worn in the film thanks to its unique design. Now, the watch is synonymous with racing mavericks like Max Verstappen. 

Breitling Navitimer

The Navitimer is considered to be a computer on a wrist. First developed in 1952, the rotating bezel allows the wearer to calculate the distance travelled, flight time, airspeed, and remaining fuel consumption due to the integration of a slide rule (initially developed in the 17th century, which is a mechanical analogue computer used to multiply and divide). The name “Navitimer” is a combination of “navigation” and “timer”. The Swiss-watchmaker and the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (the AOPA) soon developed the Navitimer chronograph in the early 1950s, debuted it to the public in 1954, and has since been one of the most famous pilot watches of all time.

This story originally appeared on GRAZIA Malaysia


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