While the term “iconic” is admittedly used generously in the luxury watch industry, there are a few standout timepieces that have rightly earned that title. Whether it’s because of a unique design, a particular innovation, appreciation among celebrities, or all of the above, some watches have stood the test of time and remain as sought-after models today. Here are seven iconic mens luxury watches that all watch collectors should know.
Here are 7 mens luxury watches that every true collector or enthusiast should know.
Rolex Day-Date President
Rolex has plenty of iconic mens luxury watches to its name but the Day-Date is arguably the most recognizable thanks in part to its bracelet design with semi-circular links, precious metal construction, and its duo of calendar windows on the dial. Today, the Day-Date is better known as the Rolex President watch for two reasons.
First, the name of that distinct bracelet is the President bracelet and it was developed specifically for the introduction of the Day-Date collection in 1956. Second, the Rolex Day-Date has long been a favorite luxury watch within the world’s most glamorous and powerful circles worn by high-profile individuals including a few American Presidents. Rolex even ran some ads in the 1960s when Lyndon B. Johnson (who wore a yellow gold Day-Date) was in office, calling the Day-Date “The Presidents’ watch,” forever cementing that nickname and the idea that this is the watch that signifies power and success.
Omega Speedmaster Professional
In 1957, Omega introduced the Speedmaster chronograph as a watch for motorsports. This was the first chronograph that had the tachymeter scale on the bezel rather than on the dial for better legibility. However, despite its automotive racing roots, the Speedmaster became famous around the world as the “Moonwatch” after it was revealed that NASA issued the three astronauts of Apollo 11 these Omega chronographs. When Buzz Aldrin became the second person in history to step onto the Moon, he had his Speedmaster Professional chronograph strapped to the exterior of his spacesuit – there’s even a famous photograph of that moment.
While there are plenty of different Speedmasters in Omega’s catalog, the Speedmaster Professional models that are the direct descendants of the original Moonwatches are the most iconic. These classically-styled mens luxury watches are characterized by 42mm steel cases, black dials with three registers, black bezels with tachymeter scales, and manual-winding chronograph movements.
Breitling has long been associated with aviation but its most famous pilot’s watch is the Navitimer. Breitling released the Navitimer in 1952 and equipped it with a slide rule bezel – a component borrowed from the earlier Chronomat chronograph. Named after the words “navigation” and “timer,” Breitling developed the Navitimer chronograph to help pilots with flight-related calculations like fuel consumption, rate of climb, and distance of descent.
Over the years, Breitling has manufactured a bevy of Navitimer variations, yet the vast majority of these iconic mens luxury watches all remain recognizable as Navitimer models because of their instantly recognizable slide rule bezels. Even the current non-chronograph versions of the Breitling Navitimer retain the characteristic circular slide rule.
The oldest model from our list still in production today is the venerable Cartier Tank, first invented in 1917. Legend has it that Louis Cartier took inspiration from French military tanks used during World War I when designing the wristwatch, where the case mimics the cockpit while the “brancards” (the thick vertical edges of the case that also serve as lugs) echo a tank’s treads. American World War I General John Pershing was presented with a Tank watch as a victory gift post-WWI.
Over the last century, Cartier spun the Tank collection into a vast assortment of sub-models – Tank Cintrée, Tank Américaine, Tank Française, Tank Solo, just to name a few – all of which share the same lug-integrated case design. The elegant Cartier Tank owes its iconic status in part to the watch being worn by some of the most famous personalities including Andy Warhol, Frank Sinatra, Cole Porter, Rami Malek, Jeff Goldblum, and many more.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
In 1972, Audemars Piguet not only released a brand new watch model called the Royal Oak but essentially kicked-off an entirely new timepiece genre – the luxury sports watch. Designed by Gerald Genta, the Royal Oak was an avant-garde watch, to say the least, with its octagonal bezel, integrated bracelet, and large size. However, perhaps more surprising than its design was that the stainless steel Royal Oak’s price point was on par with classically styled gold watches – a shocking proposition for the era. While other steel watches offered other purposes beyond telling the time (for example, dive watches, chronographs, pilot’s watches) the Royal Oak was positioned as a high-end timepiece for, as one advertisement stated, “Discerning men of action.”
Audemars Piguet’s risk paid off; the Royal Oak has flourished to become the brand’s signature timepiece and an absolute icon in the world of mens luxury watches. Today, AP makes the Royal Oak in a variety of metals and sometimes equipped with complications, but always executed it its distinctive octagonal silhouette.
Patek Philippe Nautilus
Not to be outdone by Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe also stepped outside of its comfort zone with the help of Gerald Genta by introducing its own luxury steel sports watch in 1976 called the Nautilus. Drawing inspiration from the sea, the Patek Nautilus featured a case shape fashioned after a porthole, complete with “ears” to recall the window hinges and a horizontal grooved dial. The watch also included an octagonal bezel but with rounded edges, as well as an integrated bracelet.
Fast-forward four decades and the Patek Nautilus collection has expanded to include other material options such as gold and additional functionality with perpetual calendar and chronograph versions. However, the model that remains the most sought after – and by many accounts, the hottest mens luxury watch in the current market – is the simplest time and date Nautilus in stainless steel.
Many watches were invented to solve a particular problem. Take the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso for example, developed in the 1930s to meet the needs of polo players. Combining the speed of horses and the strength of a swinging mallet, polo is a fast-paced and dangerous game that can destroy a delicate wristwatch in a heartbeat. Enter the Reverso watch, which was cleverly designed to flip around so that the fragile dial side could be tucked away, leaving the sturdy caseback exposed to the elements.
The JLC Reverso may have begun as a sports watch but today, it is recognized as a fine dress watch, appreciated for its elegant rectangular Art Deco case and refined style. Available in steel or gold, with one dial or two, the Reverso is Jaeger-LeCoultre’s most well-known timepiece.
From elegant to sporty, simple to complicated, these mens luxury watches illustrate that there’s no one formula to achieve iconic status. As any watch fan will tell you, the broad range of styles and functions available, not to mention the histories and stories behind certain models, is what makes collecting timepieces so enjoyable.