Legendary watches: famous models with a great history

Legendary watches

Of the thousands of watches that appear on the market each year, few remain in collections for one to two decades. Historical epochs survive only a few units, and these units are truly beautiful – they are legends of watchmaking.

Rolex, Oyster Perpetual – 1931

Until this year, the Oyster Perpetual had a rather modest place in the Rolex collection. Alas, this is so, although 1931, when models with this name appeared, was marked in the history of the brand, and indeed in watchmaking in general, as a serious achievement: Rolex developed the first reliable, efficient, practical and technological system of automatic winding with a centrally mounted rotor, which could rotate without stops and in both directions. The watch, in a certain sense, turned out to be forever going, of course, if you do not forget to put it on, that is why both the rotor and the model itself were called “eternal” – Perpetual. This year  –  not for the anniversary, but according to the plan for the modernization of the entire collection  – the manufactory decided to renew the Oyster Perpetual line of models, returning to the style of those very first watches of the 1931 model. First of all, they are distinguished by sleek flat bezels and dials of an unusually laconic design, which distinguishes the new models from standard Rolex products. This is especially noticeable in female models.

Watch sample 1931

Modern Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches

Jaeger-LeCoultre, Reverso


The Reverso reversible watch was invented with only one practical purpose – to protect the watch glass from the inevitable blows of polo. There were just one, two polo players in this world, and the situation in this  regard has  not improved since the 1930s, but the model itself was so popular with the public that it remained in the Jaeger-LeCoultre collection, eventually becoming the second self of this stamps. It is interesting to note that many modern Reverso’s look like they haven’t changed a bit since 1931 – this applies to the case, and the dial, and even the hands. All this stirs up collectors’ interest in watches, for example, in May this year, at the Antiquorum auction, a steel watch belonging to General MacArthur was sold for 87,500 francs.

Watch sample 1931

Modern watch JlC Grande Reverso

IWC Schaffhausen, Portugieser


The Portuguiser watch, originally made by IWC for two Portuguese businessmen, is surprisingly still relevant today. Still, in the 1930s the standard size of men’s wristwatches was about 30–32 mm, and for these watches, as a rule, a 42-mm case was made. The attractiveness of those rare samples of the “Portuguese” of the first half of the 20th century that nowadays get to auctions is explained by the fact that at that time they put calm classic dials of pocket models, strict and technically sophisticated, in wristwatches. It is no coincidence that the 1993 relaunch of the Portuguiser collection, when IWC celebrated its 125th anniversary, was inspired by the 1939 models.

Model 1939

Jubilee model  for the 75th anniversary of the collection

Quite recently, already for the 75th anniversary of the collection itself, two models were released, equipped with modern in-house movements with manual winding and a seven-day movement, this time the Portugeiser models from the 1940s, made in the “military” style, were taken as a prototype.

Blancpain, Fifty Fathoms


Watch sample 1953

The brightest pages of the history of the Blancpain watch company are associated with the Fifty Fathoms diving watch. Jean-Jacques Fichter, CEO of the firm from 1950 to 1980, was friends with Jacques-Yves Cousteau and became so interested in scuba diving that he enthusiastically took up the development of a professional water-resistant watch. His passion for making superior diving watches was matched by the technical meticulousness of Swiss designers and watchmakers to create the Fifty Fathoms. Today they are regarded as the standard for diving watches and a must-have item in any serious collection of military and technical watches. Initially, the Fifty Fathoms were produced in two versions – militaristic and civil, both of which were produced by Blancpain until the 1970s, and in 1997 the Fifty Fathoms collection was re-released as a luxury diver’s watch.

Since 2013, the Bathyscaphe watches, the most technical in spirit of the Fifty Fathoms, have been produced on the basis of the latest generation movements.

Omega, Speedmaster


In 1957, Omega launched the now famous trio of technical watches – the Speedmaster, Seamaster and Railmaster. The idea was to develop precision-engineered technical models for racers, divers and engineers, respectively. History played a good joke with the Speedmaster watch: it so happened that this watch was first unofficially, and then after testing, it was quite officially chosen by NASA to equip spacecraft crews. So watches for motorists turned into watches for astronauts, and then, since 1975, into astronauts’ watches. NASA chose the “speedmasters” for a reason – the watch of the 1957 model is really considered one of the best representatives of this kind of products in the entire XX century. So it’s not in vain that a reissue of the famous 1957 model was released this year,

Watch sample 1957

Modern Omega Watches

Piaget, Altiplano


The history of the Piaget company began with the production of mechanisms. By the 1950s, the factory had become an expert in the design and production of compact and thin calibers, so when this brand’s watches appeared in those years, it was quite natural to decide to specialize in thin and ultra-thin models. In general, the technical idea was supported by the design – the watches of those years are distinguished by their classic laconic appearance, which determined the development of the brand’s watch collection for a long time. The quintessential Piaget style is the ultra-thin self-winding watch released in 1960 – the movement was a record 2.3 mm thick. At the end of 2010, already with the use of modern technologies, the production of an equally thin (the difference is a twentieth of a millimeter) successor mechanism was launched,

Watch sample 1957

Cartier, Crash


For this watch, produced by the London division of Cartier, which in the 1960s was headed by Jean-Jacques Cartier, the great-grandson of the founder of the brand, a beautiful legend was invented, they say, this is what a watch that survived a car accident looks like. It would seem that it is a completely far-fetched thing, and a place for such a watch is in a freak show of watch incidents, but no, this model, along with the Santos, Tank and Pasha watches, was included in the list of classic Cartier design samples, without which the history of this brand is no longer represented at least to some extent. comprehensive. Moreover, this model has spawned a number of other “broken” designs, and the Crash Skeleton watch presented this year makes one think that this is the real apotheosis of the idea. A skeletonized mechanism with a broken structure, an unprecedented undertaking in the history of watchmaking, was specially developed for this watch with the already familiar “broken” case. Very few watches were released – the series is limited to 67 pieces (platinum case). Obviously, from the very beginning, they were conceived as a great rarity.

TAG Heuer, Monaco


Now the 1969 Monaco watch would be perceived as quite conceptual. Still, one of the world’s first automatic chronographs, the second, and perhaps the first hot topic of that year for the watch industry, along with the release of the first commercial wrist quartz watches, which, by the way, almost ruined the same Heuer company a decade later …

At Monaco, everything was “wrong”: the innovative movement, the square water-resistant case, the striking contemporary design, and the crown on the left opposite the chronograph pushers, an impressive design detail that emerged simply from the desire to make the movement as cheap as possible. And then there was the film “Le Mans” with Steve McQueen in the title role, who starred with this chronograph on his wrist. In general, this was enough for the birth of the legend. After 35 years, the history of Monaco watches seems to have begun anew: TAG Heuer presented the Monaco V4 project with a movement based not on a wheel, but on a belt drive (of course, on a mini-scale). And the chronograph owned by McQueen was sold at Antiquorum for $ 87.6 thousand.

Audemars Piguet, Royal Oak


“We’re out of our minds to offer a steel watch for the price of a gold one” – that is what one could hear in 1972 about the Royal Oak watch presented at that time. And this is not why the company Audemars Piguet decided to release these watches in order to be known as cool – the fact is that the meticulously finished steel case and bracelet cost more than gold in production, so at the Basel exhibition in 1972 the public was shown a prototype made instead of steel from white gold. Contrary to skeptical expectations, a series of one thousand pieces was quickly sold out, and now it is not easy for a collector to catch a real copy of the Royal Oak Jumbo (as this watch was nicknamed because of the 39-mm case, which was quite large at that time) from the very first series “A”. This model is unique, as it is still produced almost unchanged: design, dimensions, stainless steel, dial,

Patek Philippe, Nautilus


For this watch, designer Gerald Zhenta came up with an unusual case design, the bezel of which closes like a window sash and is hinged to the case. The idea had not only a design, but also a technical background: it was assumed that the sealing of such a case would be more reliable than that of a case of a traditional design, and therefore the owners of watches with water resistance would not have problems, even if the case was not round. The technical side of the Nautilus design has long faded into the background, but its exotic appearance has turned this watch into one of the most recognizable models in the Patek Philippe collection. This watch was conceived as uncomplicated in terms of the functionality of the mechanism (two hands plus a date window),

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