Every brand has its ‘halo’ piece, the same applies to watchmaking, of course – as documented by these iconic timepieces, distilling Switzerland’s profligate permutations of heritage and ingenuity on to just four centimetres of your wrist
Tudor Pelagos Blue
Hans Wilsdorf founded Tudor in 1946, a full 40 years after launching an even more familiar outfit called Rolex. He promised “a watch that our agents could sell at a more modest price”, which basically meant kitting-out watertight Rolex Oyster cases with outsourced mechanics. Today, it’s a little different: Tudor has its own movement-making facility for a start. But away from the more popular Black Bay throwbacks, its new Pelagos stands in its own right as the very quintessence of a modern diving watch. Lightweight (thanks to titanium), crisply contemporary and still affordable. It’s as if Tudor has been building to this since 1946.
Cartier Tank Louis Cartier
The clue is in the title. While brothers Pierre and Jacques built their father’s Parisian jewellery empire in Paris, Louis’s passion for watches drove Cartier’s other craft, whose dainty but far-out shapes were fuelled by its affinity for design and gold, plus gentlemen’s growing interest in wristwatches over pocket. The latter stemmed from the trenches of the First World War, when men started strapping on their pocket watches for convenience, and appropriately Louis’s first true icon was Tank, inspired by British Army tanks and the mark left by their caterpillar tracks.
Patek Philippe Calatrava ref. 5227J
Geneva’s watchmaker nonpareil may be best known for auction-record-smashing ‘high-complications’, such as perpetual calendars (flick back to the Porter for more), but this particular Calatrava is arguably Patek Philippe at its finest. Coined around the time the Stern family took over the business in the ’30s, it’s difficult to imagine a more pure and perfectly balanced watch. From the Dauphine blade hands to the pared-back numeral batons and gently merged lugs, the Calatrava’s unbroken production since 1932 is down to timeless, understated elegance.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust 41
If you were barking “Buy!” and “Sell!” into a massive carphone while pounding Wall Street’s sidewalk back in the ’80s, chances are this watch would have been peeping from your two-tone French cuff. Bicolour bling – such as steel and yellow gold – is most definitely back, red braces and all. And Rolex is embracing its reputation as the go-to boardroom watch brand with this subtle but effective reboot of its classic Datejust, in its Rolesor metal combo, smelted on-site in Rolex’s very own Geneva foundry. Up to 41-millimetre diameter to suit contemporary tastes, it also features every recent innovation from Rolex’s constant fine-tuning. Most definitely, “Buy!”
Vacheron Constantin Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942
Switzerland’s longest-running watchmaker can always be forgiven for raiding its formidable archive of natty dress watches. But, with its brace of gorgeous Triple Calendriers, Vacheron is being refreshingly honest about its Now That’s What I Call…greatest-hits approach. “A deliberately vintage look (…) reinterpreting the creativity and the aesthetic of the iconic timepieces born in the 1940s,” reads the press release – and long may it continue. Our favourite has to be this steel 1942 model, boasting Arabic numerals worthy of an old Manhattan cocktail menu, voluptuous claw-type lugs and circumferential date calibration picked out in a burgundy luscious enough to pair with cheese.
Audemars Piguet Code 11:59 Selfwinding Chronograph
Now the vapours have dispersed, the controversy of last January’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie launch feels nowhere near as divisive. Audemars Piguet’s most significant new collection since the octagonal Royal Oak sports watch of 1972 is a borderline classic already – the round hero it always needed, still imbued with enough reassuring oakiness thanks to an eight-sided caseband, but with everything else defiantly future-forward (just like back in ’72, come to think of it). The messy acronym still needs to change (challenge, own, dare, evolve, since you ask), but in chronograph form you have Audemars ‘The Disruptor’ Piguet at its technical best.
Rado True Thinline Les Couleurs Le Corbusier
Ceramic may be super comfy and super tough, but it’s the flawless, unfading colour that makes it particularly desirable – if you can colour it in the first place. With monochrome and primaries commonplace today, the watchmaker that pioneered ceramic back in the ’80s almost nonchalantly remained ahead of the game last year by teaming with Les Couleurs Suisse, which holds the licence for Le Corbusier’s Architectural Polychromy. From the palette comprising 63 shades that complement any interior in any combination, the nine examples Rado chose to reproduce in watch form match the swatch precisely.
Panerai Luminor 47mm
Back in 1915 Florentine naval supplier Guido Panerai patented a super-luminous substance made by combining radium with zinc sulphide. Radiomir was so bright that, allegedly, when Panerai modified cushion-shaped Rolex pocket watches for Italy’s commando frogmen, they had to cover the dials with cloths to stay incognito. Originally painted on the dials, by 1942 Panerai had developed the ‘sandwich’ – a disc pasted with as much radium as possible, glowing through stencilled-out dial numerals. Seven years later, the radium was replaced by the decidedly less-lethal Luminor, glowing just as bright.
Chanel J12 Classic Black
The brainchild of Chanel’s late, great creative director, Jacques Helleu, J12 – androgynous, monochrome, revolutionary, just like Coco herself – was named after Helleu’s favourite yachting class. Over 20 years on, it’s breezier and splashier than ever, thanks to subtle tweaks from the fashion giant’s resident watch boss, Arnaud Chastaingt. Beneath the streamlined ceramic case (still fashioned in-house at Chanel’s Swiss atelier), J12’s precision mechanics adapt that of Tudor and its Kenissi workshops – 20 per cent of which Chanel acquired last January. Monsieur Helleu would surely have approved.
Hublot Big Bang Unico Blue Magic
Modern-day horological iconoclast Hublot celebrates its 40th birthday this year – four decades after Carlo Crocco earned enfant terrible status for being so crass as to mount a luxurious gold watch (designed after the eponymous porthole style) on a rubber strap. Since LVMH’s takeover and marketing drive, the steroid-injected Big Bang is now synonymous with football, hip-hop and Middle Eastern glitz. But that’s to overlook Hublot’s formidable technical expertise, developed in parallel: high-tech ceramic, for example – blue being a particularly tricky colour to bake, to the sort of minute tolerances demanded by a water-resistant watch case.
Photography William Bunce