For centuries, luxury watches have been a symbol of status. From the most elegant formal watches worn by royalty to the extremely robust sports watches found in the most extreme environments, luxury watches have always represented the pinnacle of craftsmanship and design. Among the millions of watches produced over the years, several have become icons of culture and luxury. We will present a few of these impressive timepieces and what makes them icons.
Whether it’s the enduring and robust fake Rolex Submariner or the avant-garde styling of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, each watch on this list has had a direct impact on the world of horology and has become a cultural icon in the process. You will undoubtedly know that each of these watches continues to capture the imagination of watch collectors around the world.
If you see a Submariner, you know it’s a Submariner. Rolex released this design in 1953 and hasn’t looked back since. The design is so timeless that they have only ever updated the watch and never completely redesigned it. It became the setting of choice for other brands to emulate. The simple dial, rotating bezel and Mercedes hands make it the perfect everyday watch. As if its timeless good looks weren’t enough for you, Rolex has a history of reliable watches, and the Submariner is easily one of them. Combined with the celebrity collections, especially the early James Bond films, the combination of good looks, reliability and celebrity connections easily make it one of the most iconic watches of all time.
In another nod to the genius of Gerald Genta, Patek Philippe looked to him for their own new luxury sports design. This time he used a slightly different nautical theme, namely the porthole. Somewhere between circular and geometric, this shape is instantly recognizable. As another entry into the luxury sports style, the Patek Philippe Nautilus soon gained iconic status, combined with the already well-known Patek Philippe name on any list of high-end collections.
Designed specifically for pilots, the Navitimer immediately won the praise of the American Pilots Association (AOPA), which contacted Breitling to choose the watch as its official timepiece. This was not just because it was a cool watch, but more importantly because it had all the features needed to perform the necessary flight calculations on the wrist. This very unique look is oversized, easy to read, and the slide rule allows for precise measurements. Not only was it popular with pilots, but the likes of Miles Davis and some Formula 1 champion also became fans of the watch just a few years after its non-AOPA public release. This close association with pilots, as well as Breitling’s position in the watchmaking world, has made it an icon of the sector.
It’s interesting to see how a luxury replica watches that was only released 30 years ago has become an icon. The history behind the Panerai Luminor is iconic. During the Second World War, the Italian military was looking for a rugged timepiece for its soldiers. Panerai found Rolex for the case and movement. However, it was its dial that made Panerai famous. After patenting Radiomir, a radium-based luminous material, the dial was actually assembled like a sandwich, with a Radiomir-coated luminous plate sandwiched between a base and a dial with cutouts. When Radiomir was abandoned due to safety concerns, the Luminor was released, followed in the 1950s by the iconic crown protection that we all know and love today. The watch’s design was so popular that imitations didn’t even try to emulate it, they just copied it. Not to mention the celebrity following, from Sylvester Styron to Heidi Klum, from John Mayer to Bill Clinton, it took less than thirty years for Luminor to become an icon. Not many pieces can say that.
The world of luxury watches is filled with icons that have become synonymous with style and innovation. From the timeless elegance of the Cartier Tank to the rugged design of the Panerai Luminor, each watch is a retrospective on the history of mankind’s ability to track time. Becoming status symbols and collectors’ icons, both enthusiasts and those who simply appreciate fine craftsmanship will agree that these watches have earned their place in the hierarchy of watch icons.