5 minutes

The 10 Most Famous Watches of All Time

By Donato Emilio Andrioli

Mechanical watches are a dime a dozen these days, but there are few out there that are much more than just a timepiece. The ten watches on this list don’t only have interesting histories to look back on, but also timeless designs that will never go out of style. So, here are the ten most iconic watches of all time. Is your favorite model among them?

1. TAG Heuer Monaco

Angular lines and 1970s flair: The TAG Heuer Monaco may not be quite as timeless as some of the later entries on this list, but it is without a doubt an icon in the industry. This chronograph made racing history on the wrists of famous drivers like Jo Siffert and Jochen Rindt. It reached absolute cult status when it starred on the wrist of Steve McQueen in the classic film, Le Mans.

Even modern versions of the Monaco are unmistakable.

2. Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

The Art Deco-inspired Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso is arguably the brand’s most famous model. Originally designed for polo players, the watch’s unique reversible case is a unique selling point that you won’t find elsewhere. Nowadays, the case back doesn’t just serve as a protective cover, but can even include a whole second dial. This is what icons are made of.

The reversible case is a unique selling point of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso.

3. Cartier Santos

The history of the Cartier Santos dates back to 1904. As the story goes, pioneering aviator Alberto Santos Dumont found it difficult to read his pocket watch while flying. He turned to friend and watchmaker Louis-François Cartier to develop a wristwatch suitable for life in the cockpit. Dumont reportedly wore the resulting wristwatch during all his subsequent flights, and thus, the Cartier Santos became the world’s first pilot’s watch. The model’s iconic design has hardly changed since its official introduction in 1911.

The Cartier Santos has a unique look thanks to screws on its case and bracelet.

4. Breitling Navitimer

The Breitling Navitimer is yet another aviation classic. This watch doesn’t really even need introducing. Back when watches were truly functional companions, the Navitimer chronograph was doing far more than just telling the time. Thanks to its rotating slide rule bezel, pilots could perform a number of complicated calculations related to flying. Today, Breitling offers this aviation icon in a range of sizes and dial colors, but the essential design remains as true to the original as ever.

The Breitling Navitimer is both a chronograph and navigation device.

5. Rolex Daytona

The Rolex Daytona definitely deserves a spot on any list of famous watches. Today, this sports icon is one of the most coveted Rolex models. Unsurprisingly, this has led to market prices far outpacing the watch’s official list price. Strange enough, this wasn’t always the case. When it was first introduced in 1963, the now-legendary chronograph was considered a slow burner – hard to believe now.

The Rolex Daytona has become one of the most coveted watches of all time.

6. Patek Philippe Nautilus

The Patek Philippe Nautilus has truly shaped the modern watch industry. When it was first released in 1976, this elegant Genta-designed timepiece was one of the first luxury watches to be made of stainless steel (we’ll talk about the very first steel luxury watch shortly). In the decades since, Patek Philippe has truly perfected the popular concept of a stainless steel luxury watch.

The iconic Patek Philippe is only available in precious metal in the current catalog, but it was one of the first steel luxury watches.

7. Rolex Datejust

The Rolex Datejust is a true style icon. Every last detail of this timepiece has made its mark on watch design history. The fluted bezel is a signature characteristic, as is the Cyclops lens and Jubilee bracelet, the latter of which was designed specifically for this model. The Datejust has been an indispensable part of the Rolex lineup since 1945. The precious metal Day-Date, which was based on this model, is no less iconic with its additional day display and Presidential bracelet. You can spot the Rolex Datejust in countless films, and it remains one of the most famous watches of all time.

The Rolex Datejust is one of the most popular watch models ever made and is now available in different sizes and designs.

8. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

At the start of the 1970s, luxury watches were delicate pieces of jewelry made exclusively of precious metals, steel sports watches were purely functional tools, and the quartz crisis was in full swing. Audemars Piguet achieved the seemingly impossible in the midst of all this: The brand commissioned designer Gérald Genta to create a stainless steel luxury watch essentially overnight. He delivered a masterpiece, making himself a legend in the industry. The 1972 release of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak marked the debut of the first luxury watch made of stainless steel. The model’s design remains one of the most iconic to this day. What would the watch world look like today without this legend?

The 1972 release of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak marked the debut of the first luxury watch made of stainless steel.

9. Rolex Submariner

The Rolex Submariner is the most copied and replicated watch in the world. Even if you aren’t that into watches, chances are you’ve seen this icon somewhere. While it’s been continuously perfected and improved since its introduction in 1953, it remains the unmistakable watch first made famous by James Bond. The diving icon is still considered a status symbol to this day and is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. Any guesses as to how Rolex will honor this absolute icon of the watch world?

The Rolex Submariner is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.

10. Omega Speedmaster Professional

There’s nothing the Royal Oak, Nautilus, or Daytona can do about it: the fact is, the Omega Speedmaster Professional is unquestionably the most iconic watch of all time. Several Moon landings, a rescue mission in space, and part of NASA’s official kit, the so-called Moonwatch is an absolute legend. The model’s timeless design has remained virtually unchanged since the pioneering days of space travel. When you wear this watch on your wrist, you can feel a tangible link to this model’s many famed adventures. No other timepiece can claim such a long and exciting history as the Omega Speedmaster Professional. Legend personified.

The Omega Speedmaster Professional is a piece of watchmaking history.

The 10 Most Famous Luxury Watches at a Glance

Watch Market debut Category Diameter
TAG Heuer Monaco 1969 Chronograph 39 mm
JLC Reverso 1931 Dress watch 42.9 x 25.5 mm
Cartier Santos 1911 Dress watch Up to 39.8 mm
Breitling Navitimer 1952 Chronograph 41, 43, or 46 mm
Rolex Daytona 1963 Chronograph 40 mm
Patek Philippe Nautilus 1976 Sports watch 40 mm
Rolex Datejust 1945 Dress watch/Allrounder 36 or 41 mm
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 1972 Sports watch Up to 42 mm
Rolex Submariner 1953 Diving watch 41 mm
Omega Speedmaster 1957 Chronograph 42 mm

About the Author

Donato Emilio Andrioli

With the purchase of my Tudor Black Bay 41, I discovered a passion for mechanical watches. I am particularly drawn to iconic watches with long and exciting histories.

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