Wristwatches can be categorized in several styles and as fashion accessories, when combining them with your outfit, it is essential to be aware of the category they will fall into. Some might argue that these days, this is less important as anything goes and what really counts is to feel good and not to worry about the rest. I have no problem with this approach, as long as the person is in full knowledge of his choices.
Audemars Piguet has a slogan: “to break the rules, you must first master them” and the same is true for matching your watch to your outfit, or vice-versa. We did an interview with FormulaTime, an avid collector, who would buy his suits and shirts based on his timepiece collection.
For the sake of briefness, we’re going to look at three main categories: dress watches, tool watches and sport watches, which we’re going to break down into a few sub-categories. Every category and subcategory will be illustrated with representative models and while certain brands fall more often into a certain group, please keep in mind that a brand might have important pieces in other categories too.
1. Dress watches
In general a dress watch is all about discretion, usually thin so that can slip easily under the cuff. On the high end, it will be made of precious metals, such as gold or platinum, while entry level is mainly stainless steel, sometimes with gold coating. Its main function is to tell the time in hours, minutes, seconds and in some case with a date window.
If on the front, it’s all about simplicity, on the back, the movement will receive a particular attention from the watchmaker. Decorations such as perlage, blued screws, Côtes de Genève, etc. will bring more joy to the owner of the watch.
Let’s take a look at some outstanding dress watches.
I would immediately start with Patek Phillipe Calatrava, a paramount in dress watches, a benchmark in design and quality that many other brands try to reach.
If we think thin, than Piaget Altiplano is unavoidable, the Altiplano 38 mm 900P, at 3.65 mm is the world thinest hand-wound watch. I won’t go into all the details, but if you want to find out more about how Paiget managed to make such a thin timepiece, you might want to check out the full story here.
If you look for beauty in simplicity, Jaquet Droz is the brand you might want to explore. Don’t be fooled by the classic looks, the Grande Second Quantième Ivory Enamel is powered by a modern movement. Using a silicon balance spring, the watch is resistant to shock and variations in temperature and pressure, and its properties allow it to remain unaffected by magnetic fields.
For the more budget conscious collector, among others, Frederique Constant and Raymond Weil are brands that make great dress watches at an affordable price.
A few months ago, TimeCaptain did a fantastic intro to watch complications, where he defines a complication as any function on a mechanical timepiece over and above the display of seconds, minutes and hours. If I would have been following this definition by the letter, even the pieces with a date function should have been in this subcategory. To better illustrate the concept of complications, I’m going to bring more extreme examples.
Unlike a typical dress watch, timepieces with many complications will be more on the larger side, but considering all their functionalities, they remain jaw-dropping examples of miniaturization.
Let’s start with the Greubel Forsey GMT. GMT watches usually have a second timezone indicator, but on the Greubel Forsey GMT, things are not that “simple”. They have incorporated into the timepiece a terrestrial globe completing each anti-clockwise rotation in 24h – the same direction in which our planet spins. This planisphere presents all the global time zones in real time from the perspective of the North Pole where they converge. All the information can be viewed at a single glance. It is midday in the United Kingdom, and the beginning of the afternoon in Rome or Geneva. The eastern coast of the United States will soon be awakened by the early sunlight, while the Orient is still immersed in darkness… They call it a portable time map.
Apart the rotating globe, the list of complications is quite impressive: second time zone indicator, summer time indicator, day and night indicator, power reserve indicator, small second indicator. Plus the 24 second tourbillon, which is not considered a complication, yet as a hallmark of horological excellence, it has to be mentioned — we’ll look into tourbillons a bit later.
Among watch connaisseurs, the perpetual calendar is probably the most sought after complication. A perpetual calendar mechanism will correctly display the date, taking into account the different lengths of the months and leap years.
A beautiful example is A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar, which will show the date correctly till 2100. The “Rattrapante” in the name, refers to chronograph functionality of the watch also known as “split second chronograph” or “flyback chronograph”, where unlike on a standard chronograph, there are two second hands, allowing the timing of multiple events, or laps. One of the hands can be blocked, while the other continues to run. When released, the “rattrapante” hand jumps ahead to the position of the other second hand.
I’m not a watchmaker, but if I want to imagine how it should feel to be a master watchmaker who wants to have fun, then Cristopher Claret comes to my mind. This enfant terrible of horology really likes to impress with unimaginable complications, such as the Poker watch. In one sentence, four people can play Texas Hold’em with this watch, for more details, check out the full story here.
Patented by the legendary watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet on June 26, 1801, a tourbillon is an addition to the mechanics of a watch escapement, that counters the effect of gravity, by mounting the escapement and the balance wheel in a cage that is rotated completely on its axis over a regular period of time. As the tourbillon is a proof of watchmaking excellence, it usually exposed on the face of the watch. Will a tourbillon watch be more accurate, probably not, but they are still absolutely mesmerizing to observe. The price of a tourbillon watch usually runs in the tens of thousands and they can easily fetch six figures too.
Since we’re looking at tourbillons, let’s start with the brand that was founded by the inventor of tourbillon, Breguet. The caliber of the Classique Tourbillon extra-thin automatic 5377 is only 3 mm thick and once it’s placed in the case, the whole watch is 7 mm thick. Considering that this piece has also a power reserve indicator, these dimensions are record breaking. The full story is here.
These days, slim watches are becoming more and more popular and Breguet is not the only brand to try to make their tourbillons thinner than ever. The Arnold & Son UTTE Asprey Special Edition, at only 2.97 mm, it is another example of ultra-thin tourbillon escapements. The watch itself measures 8.34 mm, making it one of the thinnest tourbillons ever produced. UK watch magazine “WatchPro”, declared this piece “Luxury Watch of the Year 2013”.
The Montblanc ExoTourbillon Rattrapante is another exceptional timepiece equipped with a unique tourbillon escapement. First of all, the rotating cage and the escapement are positioned outside the movement’s plate per se and are located, so to speak, alongside the movement. Second, the balance is installed outside the rotating cage and oscillates on a different plane. Timepieces in the Montblanc Collection Villeret 1858 reap significant benefits from this novel repositioning.
Another exclusive feature of the ExoTourbillon is the speed of its rotations, each of which requires four minutes. Conventional tourbillons typically complete one rotation per minute. Slowing the speed of the rotations enhances the observer’s pleasure and requires less energy from the barrel, but produces the same compensating effect as a speedier tourbillon.
1.3 Métiers d’art
I borrowed the name for this subcategory from Vacheron Constantin’s Métiers d’art collection, timepieces made as proof of mastery of traditional decorative crafts, such as engraving, enamelling, precious stone setting (scroll down for more details about haute joaillerie), maki-e, etc. Techniques mastered only by a handful of craftsmen working for the finest watch companies. Owning such a timepiece denotes appreciation for these crafts and sophistication in the enjoyment of beauty.
Inspired by the work of Dutch artist Cornelis Escher, Vacheron Constantin’s Métiers d’Art: Les Univers Infinis, a tribute to the art of tessellation, the perfect tiling of geometric shapes with no overlaps or gaps. The three models feature a combination of several decorative techniques: engraving, guilloché, Grand Feu enamel, gem setting and marquetry.
The Zenith Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane Grand Voyage is not just a fine example of métiers d’art, it is also masterpiece of horology. This model features a micro-painted “gravity control” system, keeping the regulating organ in a horizontal position, that can be admired under a domed sapphire crystal. Enamelling, micro-painting, micro-engraving are just few of the techniques that go into the production of this outstanding piece. For more details, take a look at our story about the decoration of the Zenith Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane Grand Voyage.
Ulysse Nardin has a long-time collaboration agreement with with dial-enameller manufacturer Donzé Cadrans. One of their latest creation is the Classico Horse, a timepiece celebrating the Chinese Year of the Horse.
For the Classico Horse, Ulysse Nardin employs the intricate champlevé method where cells are carved with a chisel directly on the dial and filled with enamel. Its earth-tone palette of black, white, tan, gray and green is created from different metallic oxides, perfectly depicting the natural landscape and its small band of beautiful creatures. The piece is then fired until the enamel melts and is polished when the surface cools.
1.4 Haute Joaillerie
When it coms to timepieces, the term “haute joaillerie” (roughly translated as fine jewelry) refers to the use of precious stones to decorate a watch. We’re in the realm of extravagant luxury, where only the most exclusive materials will be used, timekeeping is eclipsed by the number of carats. There are also sport watches that are covered with diamonds, such as some of Hublot’s Haute Joaillerie editions of their Big Bang collection, but personally I have a hard time not to consider them a dress watch.
The design of the Backes & Strauss: Victoria Princess is based on a 19th century brooch. With a pink mother of pearl dial, the 18 carats white gold watch is set with 604 Ideal Cut Hearts & Arrows diamonds totalling 5.5 carats.
Haute joaillerie is not used exclusively for ladies’ watches, take for example the Dubey & Schaldenbrand Coeur Blanc, a 22.55 carat tourbillon.
2. Tool watches
Tool watches as their name indicates, apart from being timekeeping devices, they have to respond to professional standards because they were made to be used as tools. If today, the tool function of these pieces are replaced by digital equipments, not so long ago, people’s life depended on the precision of these instruments.
2.1 Aviator watches
Aviator watches, also known as aviation watches or pilot watches, played an essential role as navigation instruments for pilots. Readability is the most important criteria for an aviator watch, the pilot should be able to read the time at a glance, no matter the lightning condition; the hands and the large numbers on the dial are treated with luminous paint. Other characteristics typical of a pilot watch are the size of the crown, which is bigger than on other watches, so that pilots could adjust them even while wearing gloves and the movement has to be protected from magnetic fields.
The IWC Schaffhausen Big Pilot is many aviator watch collectors’ grail piece. It has all the characteristics of a typical pilot piece, 46 mm case, a high contrast dial, visible hands and please note the white triangle with two dots at 12 o’clock, a symbol that you will find on many other pilot pieces too. This highly illuminated spot would help the pilot quickly find the 12 o’clock position.
The calibre 5111, powering this piece is protected from the effect of magnetic fields by a specially conceived soft-iron cage that would conduct the magnetic flux lines around the movement.
TESTAF is a technical standard for pilot watches developed by the faculty of Aerospace Technology at the Aachen University of Applied Sciences in collaboration with Sinn Specialuhren. For a pilot’s watch to be TESTAF certified, it must satisfy a whole list of stringent requirements: readability in daylight and in darkness, accuracy and power reserve, operability, resistance to shock sudden temperature changes, water and magnetic fields, secure strap fastening, etc.
The limited edition 857 LH Cargo is one of many pilot watches in the collection of the Frankfurt based Sinn Spezialuhren.
The Heritage line of Longines is dedicated to the revival of their successful models from the past, with an updated aesthetics and a modern mechanism. A fine example is the Avigation GMT based on a model dating from 1949. The black dial of the Avigation GMT features large white numerals as well as a 24-hour scale in red, all of them coated with Super-LumiNova as well as the “broad arrow” sign under the logo. The “broad arrow” is a distinctive sign, used in the UK to denote government property, including military equipment.
2.2 Diver watches
Diver pieces are designed according to ISO 6425 Divers’ watches international standard. They should withstand water pressure of at least 10 atm (100 m or 330 ft), but often they will exceed this limit, most of the diver pieces are water resistant to 200 to 300 m (660 to 980 ft). Other requirements imposed by this standard are readability under water, presence of a unidirectional bezel with minute markings, magnetic resistance, sock resistance, etc.
As with other tool watches, these days the interest for diver watches exceed by large the tiny group of professional divers. We will find them more often facing sharks in board rooms than the monsters of the deep.
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Deep Sea Vintage Chronograph is inspired by the 1959 Memovox Deep Sea model and it is one of the coolest vintage inspired timepieces on the market. Please notice the color of the superlominova coating on the hands and the hour-markers, it is similar to that of the original model.
The 42 mm case of the Tudor Pelagos is made from titanium and it’s waterproof to a depth of 500 m. It is equipped with a with a helium release valve, a small, spring-loaded one-way valve integrated in the watch case that is activated when the differential between the inner and the outside pressure reaches a critical level.
Historically, Officine Panerai was a the official supplier to the Regia Marina (the Royal Italian Navy). Between 1938 and 1993, Panerai has produced wrist worn diving instruments and about 300 watches, all for the Italian Marina Militare. Among the many models, I’ve chosen the PAM00507, for its bronze case. Bronze is a material that is often used for diving pieces and bronze watches are much appreciated by collectors for their unique way of aging, by developing a thin layer of patina, which is unique for every watch.
2.3 Other tool watches
Apart from pilots and divers, there were other professions relying on the precision of timekeeping devices. A good example are railroad engineers, for them, being on time, it was a life or death question. To these days many brands pay their homage to railroad engineer pocket watches, the Hamilton RailRoad Small Second is a good example.
Ball Watch co. too has the Trainmaster collection, but as a curiosity, I picked their Fireman Storm Chaser Pro, a timepiece they have developed in collaboration with the president of the Center for Severe Weather Research (CSWR), Dr. Joshua Wurman, a leading specialist in the study of tornadoes.
The watch is equipped with a telemeter, which makes it possible to easily determine the approximate distance of phenomena that can be seen and heard. Telemetric watches were historically used by military to ascertain the position of enemy artillery. They have since found a more peaceful role in meteorology, where they are used to establish the distance between an observer and a point of lightning impact, for example. It is simply a question of setting off the chronograph the moment lightening is seen and stopping it when thunder is heard. The position of the seconds hand on the telemeter scale shows the distance in kilometers. It’s a function that can turn out to be a valuable tool for both amateur and professional storm chasers alike.
3. Sport watches
The reason why I’m making a difference between tool watches and sport watches, lays in the origin of the activity. A sport, even if it can be a dangerous venture, or for some it can become a profession — for example, racing — at its origin, it is a pastime.
The chronograph function is an essential requirement for a watch to be considered a sport watch. A chronograph is after all a stopwatch combined with a display watch. A basic chronograph has an independent sweep second hand; it can be started, stopped, and returned to zero by successive pressure on the stem.
Many watch brands sponsor sport events to reach their target market. Hublot was the official timekeeper of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and they are also official timekeepers for French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain. The King Power Paris Saint-Germain is equipped with a chronograph movement featuring two chronograph hands positioned in the centre, in addition to the hour and minute hands. This makes for better readability – quicker and more efficient. The wearer can keep track of both hands at a glance; the first indicates the seconds, and the other hand, specially developed for football, indicates the time elapsed out of the 45 mins in each half.
Jaermann & Stübi is producing small series of timepieces specially designed for golfers. The Trans Atlantic TA3 has a mechanical counter for the number of strokes at the hole to be played, a totalizer for the overall score after 18 holes played and a retrograde display for the hole being currently played. The rotary bezel allows players to compare their scores after a round of golf with their handicaps.
Ever since 1932 Los Angeles Games, OMEGA has been involved in almost every Olympic games. They are the official timekeepers of the upcoming 2016 Rio games and to mark this occasion, they have recently announced the Speedmaster Mark II “Rio 2016”. The sub-dials are decorated with a bronze ring, 18K yellow gold ring and 925 silver ring respectively – a design that recalls the medals awarded to Olympic champions.
3.1 Racing watches
When horsepower meets timekeeping, we’re in the thrilling domain of racing watches. The chronograph will have a tachymeter, a scale usually engraved on the bezel, which can be used to calculate speed based on the travel time, or it can be used to measure distance based on the speed.
Ever since 1963, when Rolex introduced the Cosmograph Daytona it stands out as the ultimate chronograph. By moving the tachymeter scale on the bezel, Rolex gave more space for the chronograph counters on the dial.
The first TAG Heuer Carrera was introduced in 1963. Designed by Jack Heuer, the watch got its name from the legendary Carrera Panamericana, a Mexican racing event from the fifties, considered to be the most dangerous race in the world.
Chopard Mille Miglia Chrono 2013, celebrates “la corsa più bella del mondo”, a legendary racing event which took place Italy twenty-four times from 1927 to 1957. The design of the Chopard Mille Miglia Chrono 2013 is inspired by the shape of vintage cars.
There you have it! Broadly speaking, these are the major categories for watch styles. There are many pieces that would fit in more than one category and my intention is not to impose taboos and limits, you’re free to wear your favourite timepiece whenever you want. What is really important, is that before you “break the rules, you must first master them”.