We hear it all the time in watch collecting: You must have some classic timepieces in your line-up. But for many watch enthusiasts, that begs the question of “What exactly is a classic watch?”. Generally speaking, a classic wristwatch is one whose simplicity and elegance speaks volumes about it.
Often, the classic watch is an icon in time, one that was introduced years ago and is still made (albeit in newly updated renditions) today. Sometimes, a classic watch is more than just a three-hands and date timepiece; it can sport a chronograph or other function, but it shouldn’t be too busy. A classic watch, sometimes also referred to as a dress watch, is stylish and chic without being “in your face.”
So, what are some of the must-have classic watches? Here we take a look at some of the best classic watches that will enhance anyone’s compendium. The list includes women’s pieces, too, because, let’s face it guys, women are enjoying watch collecting as well. And, recognizing this fact, many of the top brands are creating classic watches for women with some updated accents.
A Lange & Söhne 1815 Rattrapante Honey Gold Homage – Price USD 134,100
Somewhat newer on the market than some of the centuries-old brands, A. Lange & Söhne was reborn after the reunification of Germany, but it has original roots dating back to the mid-19th century. Its most iconic watches recall its rich past in the Saxony region of Germany before it was expropriated. Perhaps the most sophisticated looking of them all is the 1815. This new A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Rattrapante Honey Gold Hommage watch is a split-seconds chronograph, but it is still remarkably clean and sophisticated. The 41.2mm classic watch is crafted in A. Lange & Söhne’s proprietary Honey Gold and houses a 365-part movement specially finished for the brand’s Homage series.
Cartier Santos – Price USD 7,250 – USD 18,700
It was about 120 years ago, in 1904, that Louis Cartier created a wristwatch for his friend, Alberto Santos-Dumont, who was regularly seen flying his dirigibles around Paris. He had complained that it was difficult to take his pocket watch out while flying to check the time – an important thing when one is in the air. Cartier created a square watch with screws on the bezel for his friend to wear on the wrist. It didn’t go into serial production for several years but is considered one of the most iconic – and classic – watches in Cartier history. Today, the brand makes many Santos collections, including the Large edition that retails for $18,700 in platinum, $14,300 in yellow gold, and $7,250 in two-tone.
Patek Philippe Calatrava – Price USD 24,600
First unveiled to the world in 1932, the Patek Philippe Calatrava is the quintessence of classic elegance. The mechanical watch is an absolute must-have classic watch for any collector thanks to its iconic status, pure lines, and status-symbol level. Today’s versions for men and women remain true to the chic attitude that defines this watch. It is offered in white gold and rose gold with different dial colors and any model is a sure-fire winner. This 5196R Calatrava is equipped with a manual wind movement.
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony – Price USD 27,700
From the world’s oldest, continually operating watch brand, Vacheron Constantin’s Patrimony may be among the most classic timepieces available today. Inspired by a watch from the 1950’s, the Patrimony is one of the most pure and clean designs from this venerable brand. With a deliberate minimalist look, the Patrimony collection houses some of the brand’s most coveted complications, including minute repeater or moon phase and does so with grace. This Patrimony Self-winding watch is crafted in 18-karat 5N rose gold.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Frosted Gold – Price USD 49,600
Easily one of the most coveted Grail watches is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. While this particular watch has witnessed many evolutions since its unveiling in 1970, including the offshoot Royal Oak Offshore series, it still remains a tried-and-true classic for men and women. This particular model – the Royal Oak Frosted Gold watch – boasts a striking old-world jewelry technique that gives the watch its shimmering frosted effect. The watch is powered by a self-winding movement.
Bvlgari Serpenti – Price USD 7,900
This iconic Italian jewelry brand also knows how to produce Swiss watches with grace and style. Easily one of the most classic, and immediately identifiable watches, is the Serpenti. The collection was first unveiled to the world in the 1940s in the form of jewelry and a coiled bracelet watch that hugged the wrist with seductive elegance. Today, the Bvlgari Serpenti watch has enjoyed many renditions, and even enjoys Haute Horology and Haute Joaillerie versions. This Bvlgari Serpenti Twist Your Time watch is classic in looks yet updated with an easily interchangeable strap system.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso – Price USD 8,650
One of the most legendary watches of all time is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, which was born in the early 1930s in response to a request from British Army Officers in India who enjoyed the sport of polo. They wanted a watch that players could wear during play. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s master watchmakers developed a rectangular watch whose dial could be concealed within the outer case by reversing it. The Reverso has since enjoyed many iterations, including versions for men and women with two dial sides with different styles and functions. This stainless steel Reverso Duetto is one of the most classic watches to date.
The history of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch is almost a century old and since its inception, this has been one of the most sought-after classic watches of all time. This year, Rolex moved forward with a strong unveiling of Oyster Perpetual watches, including Submariners and Datejusts. But it is the highly colorful Oyster Perpetual that is stealing hearts thanks to the lacquer dials that are offered in a painter’s palette of colors from coral, to pink, turquoise, lemon yellow, and green.
About the Author
Roberta Naas is a veteran watch and jewelry journalist who began her career in the early 1980’s, and was the first female watch journalist in the United States. She is the editor and founder of the authoritative watch blog, ATimelyPerspective, has written six books on watches, writes for numerous consumer publications (including Forbes and Elite Traveler) – and always brings forth in her work the essence of what makes watches tick. She tirelessly travels the world in search of watch news and stories that she turns into compelling and enlightening articles.