Luxury Watches have been the go to status symbol for centuries. From the most elegant of dress watches worn by royalty, to the ultra rugged sports watches seen in the most extreme environments, luxury watches are a constant representation of the pinnacles of craftsmanship and design. Among the millions of watches produced over the years, a few of them have become icons of culture and luxury. We are going to cover a few of these impressive timepieces and what makes them an icon.
Whether it’s the ever enduring and rugged Rolex Submariner, or the avant-garde styling of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, each watch on this list made an immediate impact on the world of horology and became a cultural icon in the process. You will no doubt know that each of these watches continue to capture the imaginations of watch collectors all over the world.
If you see a Submariner, you know it’s a Submariner. Rolex released this design in 1953 and haven’t looked back since. The design is so timeless that they have only ever updated the watch, never fully redesigned it. It became the go-to setup for other brands to mimic. The simple dial, rotating bezel, and Mercedes hands makes this the perfect everyday watch. If its timeless good looks aren’t enough for you, Rolex has a history of reliable watches and the Submariner is easily one of them. Combined with the celebrity collection, especially early James Bond films, the combination of good looks, reliability, and celebrity connections easily make this one of the most iconic watches ever released.
Omega Speedmaster Professional
Not only the first watch worn on the moon, it is also the only watch worn during all six lunar landings. Since its introduction in 1957, the Speedmaster Professional is such a beautiful design that Omega never required a redesign, only minor updates. This manual wound chronograph is also known to be quite durable, easily passing the challenges NASA threw at it before authorizing it for use on manned space flight missions. This is the standard for chronographs with a tachymeter scale on the bezel, and when you’re the standard all others just try to ride the coattails. Any celebrity with a decent watch collection will be seen with one of these at one point or another, and anyone who knows even the slightest knows about the iconic Moonwatch.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
Gerald Genta had already been a watch artist for years before he was approached by AP. In 1972 he created the Royal Oak, a radical departure from traditional designs of the time. This was due to the unique octagonal shape and exposed bezel screws based on classic scuba gear. This is widely considered to be the very first luxury sports watch, a watch designed for both formal settings as well as casual wear. The timepieces are extremely functional and good looking making for an icon of design. Since its introduction over 50 years ago, there have been very minor updates and currently there is a waitlist to purchase a Royal Oak from your Authorized Dealer. As a holy trinity brand, Audemars Piguet is known for creating exquisite timepieces that last, and this further brings this timepiece to icon status.
Patek Philippe Nautilus
In another nod to the genius of Gerald Genta, Patek Philippe looked to him for a new luxury sports design of their own. This time he used a slightly different nautical theme, the porthole. In between round and geometric, the shape is instantly recognizable. As another entry into the luxury sports style, the Patek Philippe Nautilus quickly gained status as an icon, and combined with the already well known Patek Philippe name, is on the list of any high end collection.
Designed specifically for pilots, the Navitimer earned instant praise from AOPA, who approached Breitling and selected this watch to be their official timepiece. This wasn’t just because it was a cool watch, it was due to having all the functions needed to perform necessary flight calculations right on the wrist. This very distinctive look is oversized for easy reading and the slide rule allows precise measurements. Not only was it popular with pilots, but the likes of Miles Davis and a few Formula 1 champions also became fans of the watch upon non AOPA public release just a few years after its initial introduction. This strong ties to pilots, and Breitlings status in the watch world makes this an icon in the industry.
Just a few years before designing the Tank, Louis Cartier designed the first mass appeal wristwatch with the Santos. It was only natural that a watch, from this man, inspired by war tanks would become an icon in the luxury watch world. As a formal design, it is easy to wear and the rectangular case found favor with the elites of the world such as Jackie Kennedy and Andy Worhol. This made it not only a fashion icon, but a cultural icon as well. Cartier has always been known in the high luxury jewelry world, it was only natural that any wristwatch he made would become a success with those same clients. As the times changed, Cartier never abandoned the original but gave us more Tank offerings such as the Must and the Francaise so anyone can find a Tank of their liking. It’s safe to say, the Tank is a true icon.
Vacheron Constantin Overseas
Gerald Genta watches were all the rage in the 1970s. His luxury sport invention inspired other brands to test the waters. Here is where Vacheron Constantin released the “222” in 1976. With a round, notched bezel on a barrel shaped case, this ultra thin watch showed strong influence of Genta designed watches. One of the prominent features was a Maltese Cross at 5. When the Overseas was officially released, this bezel was changed to incorporate a notched Maltese Cross. Being a part of the watch world’s “Holy Trinity”, has definitely helped this watch obtain icon status, as well as being the oldest continuously operating watch company. This luxury sport style continues to dominate waiting lists and may do so for many years. The design is the most useful, able to be worn in formal or casual settings, and this timepiece keeps that true.
It’s interesting how a watch that was only released 30 years ago became an icon. The history behind the Panerai Luminor is iconic. The Italian military sought a rugged timepiece for its men during World War II. Panerai approached Rolex for a case and movement. It was the dial, however, that made Panerai famous. After patenting Radiomir, a Radium based luminescent material, the dial was actually assembled like a sandwich with a luminescent plate, coated in Radiomir, sandwiched between a base and a dial with cutouts. When Radiomir was dropped due to safety issues, Luminor was released followed by the iconic crown guard we all know and love today in the 1950s. The watch design is so popular, the copies don’t even try to mimic, they straight up copy. Not to mention the celebrity following, people from Sylvester Stalone to Heidi Klum, and John Mayer to Bill Clinton, the Luminor took less than thirty years to become an icon. Not many pieces can say that.
Zenith El Primero
It takes a premier brand to have Rolex select you for a movement. Zenith is one of those brands. Known for precision, winning over 2300 awards in its lifetime, Zenith movements have always been of the highest quality, allowing them to supply Rolex for the Cosmograph Daytona we all know and love. It is not only the El Primero, but early links in the aviation industry and modern high tech materials and movements, including the 1/100 sec chronograph, that vault the El Primero line into icon status. You may not have seen the El Primero itself on many wrists, but the movement is often used for some of the best chronographs out there. Not only did the Daytona rely on Zenith in its first iteration, but Hublot in the Spirit of Big Bang, TAG Heuer in the Caliber 36 equipped Carrera and Monaco, even Bulgari (a fine movement maker in its own right) utilized it for the BVL 328 movement. Because the movement is more famous than the watch itself, it also lends to better value for your money than some of the other icons.
The World of luxury watches is filled with icons that became synonymous with style and innovation. From the timeless elegance of the Cartier Tank to the rugged design of the Panerai Luminor, each watch is an historic look into the history of how humans track time. Becoming status symbols and collectors icons, both enthusiasts or simply people that appreciate fine craftsmanship can agree these timepieces earned their way into the level of watch icons.
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