It doesn’t matter if you’re newly introduced to the watch-loving world or have been researching your favourite models for decades – everyone should know about the iconic watches in the industry. Whether due to their fine craftsmanship, pioneering technology, or fascinating history – here, we list the top 10 watches that have had a substantial impact on the watchmaking world.
1. Cartier Santos
In 1904, at the request of the Franco-Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos, Cartier developed one of the first ever wristwatches known to mankind – the Cartier Santos. Prior to this point, Santos had difficulties checking the time mid-flight since it was difficult to pull out his pocket watch whilst keeping control of the steering wheel. The Cartier Santos quickly solved this problem and ultimately revolutionised the world of watchmaking. However, it is not only the history of the Santos that still captures the hearts of watch aficionados today, it is the classic and elegant design of the timepiece that makes it so alluring. Today, the Cartier Santos collection is divided into the Santos-Dumont and Santos 100 lines, both of which charm with an elegant appeal and tell a tale of a pioneering history.
2. Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso
Debuted in 1931, the watch was manufactured specifically for Britain’s elite polo playing society and featured a watchcase that could swivel around in order to protect the watch glass from cracks caused by sheer force. The art deco styling of the timepiece was immediately met with approval and the design of the timepiece still highly appeals to watch collectors today. Its angular case and bold blue hands distinguish the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, which is powered by an in-house, rectangularly shaped movement.
3. IWC Pilot’s Watch
The first Special pilot’s watch was introduced by IWC in 1936, and the timepieces deriving from the collection have continuously impressed ever since. Stemming from the Special Pilot’s Watch, for example, is the legendary Mark 11 – a watch that was manufactured for the Royal Air Force. The timepiece features a stainless steel waterproof case as well as a soft inner iron cage that protects the movement from magnetic fields. The timepiece is considered to be one of the finest military watches ever produced and has come to be an impressive collector’s item today. The successors of the Mark 11, such as the exemplary Big-Pilot, carry on the name and the philosophies of the impressive pilot’s watch.
4. Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
The first perpetual calendar chronograph was the Ref. 1518 by Patek Philippe, which was introduced in 1941 and measured 35-millimeters in diameter. Not only was the timepiece able to keep track of the date without any required adjustment for 200 years at a time, it was also able to measure small increments of time, thus taking the watch loving community by storm. Over time, Patek Philippe modified the timepiece, eventually evolving into the reference 2499 and so on. Today, the Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar still causes a sensation and is probably one of the most highly sought out pieces by watch collectors. The current perpetual calendar (Ref. 5270G) from the brand comes equipped with an in-house designed and manufactured movement that features a complex split-seconds chronograph.
5. Rolex Datejust
Simple, strong, and precise, the Rolex Datejust was introduced in 1945 and was distinguished by its handy date indication on the dial of the watch. Initially, the date displayed on the very first models would begin to change hours before midnight. However, in 1955, thanks to intermediate gears and a spring mechanism, the date was easily able to jump at the stroke of midnight – a feature that was considered a revolution in the watchmaking industry. A long known trademark of the Rolex Datejust, the Cyclops lens, was not actually introduced until 9 years following the presentation of the watch. Since then, the overall design of the watch has remained nearly unchanged. Adorned on the wrists of countless influential individuals, such as Winston Churchill or Dwight D. Eisenhower, the timepiece remains a symbol of strong and elegant character.
6. Breitling Navitimer
Known for its practical slide rule, the Breitling Navitimer is not only a favourite of aeronautical enthusiasts but avid watch collectors and connoisseurs alike. Introduced in 1952, the timepiece incorporates its traditional slide rule bezel, which is used to calculate complicated operations, such fuel consumption, air speed, and distance. But it is not only the practical features of the watch that appeal to the watch loving market, but also the bold and distinct aesthetic of the timepiece itself. A striking case, a ratcheted bezel, and red seconds hand ensure that the Breitling Navitimer is a watch to be noticed on the wrist.
7. Rolex Submariner
Introduced in 1953, the Submariner was the first diver’s watch with waterproof capabilities up to 100 meters. Rolex created a lot of attention and awareness surrounding the model prior to its release, as numerous rigorous field tests were conducted in order to ensure optimal functionality. When the timepiece was finally introduced to the awaiting public, it featured unmatched technology – a screw down crown system called Twinlock. Furthermore, the aesthetics of the timepiece left a great impression on the watch-loving community, and eventually adorned the wrist of Sean Connery, the first actor to portray the sleek M16 agent, James Bond. Today, the Rolex Submariner is considered to be the ultimate diving watch and is the first timepiece that comes to mind when thinking about exploring the underwater world.
8. Omega Speedmaster
The Omega Speedmaster, which also goes by the name of “Moonwatch” or “Speedy”, was launched over half a century ago and is one of the most famous timepieces around the globe. Initially created as a professional instrument for the racetrack, the Speedmaster eventually underwent rigorous NASA testing, becoming the official timepiece for the space agency. The Speedmaster was not only the first timepiece to be worn on the face of the moon; it also saved the lives of NASA astronauts during the 1970 Apollo 13 mission. Since then, no fundamental modifications have been made to the aesthetics of the timepiece although it has been improved with modernised movements.
9. Zenith El Primero
Zenith El Primero is a timepiece known for its utmost precision. It took watchmakers a full seven years to complete the complex watch movement, which beats at a high frequency of 36,000 vibrations per hour, making it possible to precisely measure time to 1/10th of a second. In addition to its high frequency, the timepiece enables an impressive power reserve of over 50 hours. Not surprisingly, the name El Primero translates to “the first” in Esperanto and is especially suitable since the timepiece was the first automatic chronograph to be created. Today, the Zenith El Primero is still considered one of the most precise chronographs of all time and is thus one of the most famous watches around.
10. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak began as an avant-garde timepiece that caused initial distress in the market. Known for noble materials and timeless forms, Audemars Piguet faced financial troubles during the quartz crisis and set out to introduce a timepiece that would redefine a luxury watch. Designed by the revolutionary Gérald Genta, the Royal Oak was inspired by a traditional diver’s helmet and was comprised of a robust stainless steel – a material that was virtually unused in the world of fine timepieces. It was introduced at the Basel Watch Fair in 1972 and immediately became a huge international success. Although the timepiece has slightly evolved in design and technological aspects throughout the years, the distinguishing features of the watch – the octagonal form and exposed screws – have remained unchanged.