Some watches have earned a spot in history for changing the way we keep track of time. Many of these watches do more than measure time. They also help pilots, astronauts, and professionals make other precise calculations.
A good watch should be reliable, durable, and sleek. But some timepieces are instantly recognizable and coveted by collectors and enthusiasts alike.
These nine iconic watches went above and beyond, becoming the first of their kind and changing history in the process.
1. Rolex Cosmograph Daytona
Also called the Rolex Daytona, the Cosmograph is a watch designed for racecar drivers. What makes the Cosmograph so special? It was the first to have a tachymetric bezel to track speed and a chronograph to measure laps and elapsed time.
Rolex has long been a favorite brand of racecar drivers. The Cosmograph first appeared in 1963 and still remains synonymous with motor racing. In 2013, Rolex became a Global Partner and the Official Timepiece of Formula 1 (F1).
2. Omega Speedmaster
Also known as “Moonwatch”, the Speedmaster is a watch brand forever linked to space travel. In fact, in 1962, the Speedmaster was the first Omega in space. NASA astronaut Wally Schirra wore the Omega on his six-orbit mission.
Other famous astronauts, that wore Speedmaster watches? Ed White and Buzz Aldrin. The Speedmaster underwent serious testing by NASA and in 1965, it became the official timepiece for space missions.
The Speedmaster became one of the world’s most iconic watches after it saved the lives of the Apollo 13 astronauts. When their onboard clock malfunctioned, they relied on the Omega to time their re-entry to Earth. It’s no wonder this watch earned the nickname “Moonwatch”.
3. Rolex Submariner
While the Speedmaster is the defining timepiece of space travel, the Rolex Submariner is the watch of choice for underwater exploration.
Released in 1953, The Submariner was the first watch for professional divers. This watch underwent rigorous testing by Rolex before its introduction to the public. Featuring a waterproof capability up to 100 meters, the Submariner was one of the ultimate diving accessories.
Even if you’re not a diver, the sleek style and durability make these popular watches for both men and women. Rolex is also a great first-time luxury watch since the brand increases in value over time.
4. Cartier Santos
The year was 1906 and Alberto Santos-Dumont achieved sustained flight with the No. 14-bis, the first fixed-winged aircraft. However, he experienced a problem checking his pocket watch while flying. It was dangerous to fumble for his watch in the air when his attention should be on the controls.
Dumont was friends with the jeweler Louis Cartier. After hearing his problems, Cartier created the first pilot’s watch for the wrist. Before this, wristwatches were often called bracelet watches and primarily worn by women.
But the Cartier Santos wristwatch resulted in a safer experience for aviators. Not only was this watch monumental for pilots, but it also made the wristwatch an accessory for men.
5. Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso
In 1931, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso was first introduced. The intended audience for the Reverso was British polo players that wanted a more durable timepiece. The concept behind the design was to create a watch that could withstand smacks and dings during play.
The watch could swivel around to protect the crystal and dial during play. The original design featured an Art Deco style that still appeals to collectors today. In fact, modern designs of the Reverso feature two dials and still mimic that classic Art Deco style.
6. Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
Perpetual calendar chronographs are intricate and mechanically sophisticated timepieces. Models often show the time, date, day, month, and the phases of the moon. Perpetual chronographs even factor in leap years.
The Ref. 1518 was the first perpetual calendar chronograph, created by Patek Philippe in 1941. The Ref. 1518 could keep track of the date for up to 200 years!
Modern versions of these chronographs remain popular among watch collectors today.
7. Breitling Navitimer
First released in 1952, the Breitling Navitimer remains a favorite of pilots and aviation enthusiasts.
It features a slide rule bezel that calculates speed, distance, and fuel consumption. The ability to make in-flight calculations also made this popular with military pilots.
Not only is the Navitimer practical, but its sleek design appeals to aviators and professional collectors alike.
8. Zenith El Primero
To become the world’s most accurate chronograph, the Zenith El Primero needed to beat at an exceptionally high frequency. It took seven years for watchmakers to figure out how to execute the plans and pull off the design.
The Zenith El Primero beats at 36,000 vibrations each hour. This means that you can accurately measure time to 1/10th of a second. Even today, the El Primero is still the most precise chronograph.
The name El Primero means “the first” in Esperanto. It reflects the fact that this watch as the first automatic chronograph.
9. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
During the quartz crisis, Audemars Piguet struggled with financial troubles and faced bankruptcy. The company wanted to create a watch that would appeal to a new market so they turned to designer Gerald Genta.
In 1972, Genta introduced the Royal Oak. The price of the watch was so staggering that it was more expensive than any of the competition, including most gold watches at the time. The watch was the first of its kind, a steel sport luxury watch.
The name Royal Oak was inspired by the tree that King Charles II used to hide from Cromwell’s army. The tree and the name became an English symbol, with many naval ships afterward bearing the name “Royal Oak”. These naval ships became the inspiration for the unique octagonal shape, reminiscent of a porthole.
Even today, models still feature exposed screws and the octagon shape of the original.
These Iconic Watches Stand the Test of Time
Any serious watch collector should recognize these famous watches that changed the world. Modern versions from these brands are still worn today, years after the originals came out.
Did this look into the history of these iconic watches inspire you? If so, you might be thinking about buying your first high-end timepiece. Even in the age of smartphones, watches remain a stylish way to make a statement. Check out our article on how watches transcend time as the ultimate accessory.