Decades of unaltered design features and a loyal following of enthusiasts truly make an icon. Here, we round up the most iconic 12 models of the watch world that you need to know
The watch manufacturers that are fortunate to feature an iconic watch, or even several in their line-up, appreciate the design integrity of the treasured products. While, subtle changes can be made to adapt and modernise the pieces – the iconic structure, silhouettes and details details remain consistent as time passes. From Cartier’s Tank to Omega’s Constellation Manhattan, these are the timepieces that have revolutionised the watch game.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1969, wearing the 1962 gold Tank that was a gift from her brother-in-law, Prince Stanislaw Radziwill. Photo: Getty
When the Tank was conceived by Parisian jeweller Louis Cartier in 1917, no-one would have thought of this timepiece as nothing but a somewhat square watch that took inspiration from the war machine. But the Tank today is one of the most important models in the Cartier line-up.
Take for instance, a Must de Cartier Tank from 1977 and put it next to the most recent Tank Solarbeat. You find no difference even though the watches are five decades apart. However, the most recent Tank features a solar-powered movement and a sustainable strap made from apple peels.
Tank Must Watch
The Reverso was originally designed to protect the watch from polo balls. Photo: Net-A-Porter
Originally designed to protect the watch crystal from renegade polo balls in 1931, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso does precisely what the name suggests: it turns. Even today, 90 years after the original launch, the Reverso still turns. Albeit, the turn is purely so your loved one can leave an engraved message that is only revealed when turning the watch from the side to rear.
Often fitted with a fine in-house movement, the Reverso can also feature a Swiss quartz movement, ensuring a stellar daily precision and slim profile.
Reverso Classic Small 21mm stainless steel and alligator watch
Via Net A Porter
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
Street styler spotted with a Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Photo: Getty
When watch designer Gerald Genta was tasked to design a watch for the younger audience in 1972, he took inspiration in the canon holes from an ancient warship, Royal Oak, and the hinged diver's helmet from yesteryears deep sea divers. But even if it was things from the past that inspired Genta to create the Royal Oak, he nonetheless created what soon became a youthful and modern icon.
Still celebrated for its illustrious faceted bezel, the women’s model was actually what ignited the success of the Royal Oak, as the men’s version was thought of as a large watch in 1972. So when the smaller 32 mm version was launched, the men turned to this version of the Royal Oak, making it an unheard success for the Swiss manufacturer.
Today, a 34 mm version is cherished by mainly the female audience. It still celebrates the original design language Genta so cleverly conceived.
Royal Oak selfwinding chronograph
Via Audemars Piguet
Patek Philippe Nautilus
A street style sporting the Patek Philippe Nautilus. Photo: Getty
Gerald Genta was a celebrated watch designer and is credited with many of the best-known timepieces from the 1650-1990s. The Patek Philippe Nautilus from 1976 is probably his most famous of them all, even though he's the father of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the Universal Geneve Polerouter, the Omega Seamaster Polaris and the IWC Ingenieur SL.
However, the Nautilus is highest on the wish list for ladies and gentlemen around the world, making it a statement watch more than just an outstanding Gerald Genta design. As waiting lists are longer than anyone dare to admit, it has a confident statement presence on the wrist. So do remember that if the Nautilus is gifted to you, see it as a token of love. Or, if you purchase your Nautilus yourself, you must have an excellent relationship with your authorised Patek Philippe retailer.
Price upon request .
Omega Constellation Manhattan
Nicole Kidman stars in the 2019 Constellation Manhattan campaign. Photo: Omega
The Omega Constellation Manhattan is not only a bestseller at the Swiss watch company. It is also a watch respected for its subtle updates since it first launched in 1982. Featuring the unmistakable 'claws' that were made to keep the watch's crystal, Omega launched what would become a modern icon.
Promoted by long-lasting Omega ambassadors Cindy Crawford and Nicole Kidman, the Omega Constellation Manhattan of today is offered in many iterations. Each featuring the illustrious claws, which initially were there to keep a slim profile of the watch. However, today, the claws reveal the presence of an iconic design that still manages to seduce wrists worldwide.
Constellation Co-Axial Master Chronometer 29 MM
Hermés Heure H watch
The Hermès Heure H watch, created in 1996 by Philippe Mouquet, stands out with its unique 'H' shaped case, which is a direct representation of the Hermès initial. Mouquet's vision was to transform the initial into a watch itself, creating not just a timepiece but a symbol of the brand's identity.
Maintaining its classic look over the years, the Heure H offers various strap options, allowing for personalization while staying true to the original vision. With its quartz movement and quality craftsmanship, the Heure H remains a beloved part of the Hermès watch collection, a modern classic that represents the brand's legacy in a simple yet profound way.
Heure H watch, small model, 25 mm
Chanel Première Édition Originale
The Chanel Première Édition Originale captures the essence of Chanel’s timeless elegance. Launched in 1987, this watch is inspired by the octagonal silhouette of Paris’s Place Vendôme and the iconic stopper of the Chanel N°5 perfume bottle. Its distinct octagonal face is a nod to the brand’s heritage, and a homage to the brand's timeless style. This watch remains a staple in Chanel's collection and is celebrated for its clean lines. It remains true to its original form, a testament to the enduring vision of Chanel's design. The Première Édition Originale's design has stood the test of time, remaining largely unchanged over the years and yet still feels contemporary.
Chanel continues to celebrate the Première, offering new variations that respect the essence of its original design. It remains a beloved piece for those who value the elegance and history it represents. The Première is not just a watch; it's a piece of Chanel's legacy worn on the wrist, as stylish now as it was at its debut.
Première édition orginale
Georg Jensen Vivianna
The Vivianna watch from Georg Jensen, designed by the renowned Swedish designer Vivianna Torun Bülow-Hübe in 1962, embodies a minimalist design that challenges traditional timepiece aesthetics. Its signature feature is the open bangle, a bold departure from standard watch straps. Vivianna with its elegant, mirrored dial, free from numbers, quickly became an iconic statement piece, synonymous with modern elegance and sophistication.
Maintaining its classic design, the Vivianna remains a prominent piece within the Georg Jensen collection, appealing to those who appreciate its blend of timeless beauty and contemporary style. As we look toward the future, Georg Jensen continues to honour Torun's legacy with the Vivianna, preserving the essence of her design and the watch continues to be a symbol of design purity with its essence preserved even as new variations emerge.
Via Georg Jensen
Bvlgari Serpenti Tubogas
The Bulgari Serpenti Tubogas watch wraps around the wrist with style. Introduced in the 1970s, it’s known for its unique bracelet that looks like a snake, a signature of Bulgari’s bold designs. With its spiralling band and snake-head face, the Serpenti Tubogas is a piece of jewellery as much as a watch. It's flexible, strong, and comes in many styles, keeping its classic look while staying fresh and modern. This watch combines beauty with the precise art of timekeeping.
Bulgari keeps making the Serpenti with new looks and materials, always keeping the famous snake design. It's a favourite for its daring look and the elegance it brings to any outfit. As Bulgari brings out new versions, the Serpenti remains a timeless choice for watch lovers.
Serpenti tubogas watch
Piaget Limelight Gala
The Piaget Limelight Gala watch, a masterpiece of design and craftsmanship, emerged in the 1970s, a time when watch design was undergoing a bold transformation. Piaget, already renowned for its watchmaking expertise and jewellery craftsmanship, created the Limelight Gala to capture the essence of luxury and femininity. The watch's unique design, characterised by its elegantly curving lines and dazzling diamonds, was a standout from the beginning. It was inspired by the glamorous fashion and liberated spirit of the 1970s, aiming to offer a timepiece that was both a functional watch and a stunning piece of jewellery. The asymmetrical curves and the way the diamonds are set along the bezel and case were revolutionary, showcasing Piaget's innovative approach to design.
Since its launch, the Limelight Gala has evolved, with Piaget introducing new models that feature different sizes, dial designs, and even more elaborate gem settings. Despite these changes, each watch remains true to the original concept of blending exquisite watchmaking with high-end jewellery design.
Price upon request.
The Rolex Day-Date, an icon of the Rolex collection, made its debut in 1956, setting a new standard for excellence. It was the first watch to display the date and the full day of the week in a window on the dial. With its precise 18-carat gold or platinum craftsmanship, the Day-Date became immediately recognizable as a symbol of unparalleled prestige and innovation. Beyond its aesthetic allure, the Day-Date was notable for its President bracelet, which added to its distinctiveness and comfort on the wrist. This bracelet, with its semi-circular three-piece links, was created especially for the launch of the Oyster Perpetual Day-Date and represents the epitome of refinement and exclusivity that the brand stands for. The modern Day-Date retains the recognizable President bracelet and the distinct dial that have become hallmarks of the brand's identity.
The Day-Date's reputation for accuracy and reliability, along with its timeless elegance, ensures it remains a coveted piece for collectors. With each iteration, Rolex reaffirms the Day-Date's legacy as a watch not just of its time, but for all time.
The Longines DolceVita, first released 1997, is the epitome of the brand's elegant DNA. The introduction of the design marked a significant moment in Longines' watchmaking and design journey, merging its traditional craftsmanship with a modern, stylish aesthetic. More than two decades later, the DolceVita model holds enduring appeal and – true to the name – adds a dose of joy to the everyday.