The following time pieces are iconic because they are recognized as quality watches and admired by those in the know. Many introduced significant milestones that changed how watches are made. This list serves as a great reference to learn about the history and milestones of watch making.
The iconic watches are not ranked in any particular order:
- Omega Speedmaster Professional - watch that went to the moon
- Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso - first sports watch
- Zenith El Primero Chronograph - first chronograph ever
- Cartier Tank - first commercial wristwatch
- Audemars Piguet Royal Oak - original steel watch
- Piaget Altiplano Chronograph
- Harwood 1928 FIRST Automatic Winding Watch
- Rolex Datejust - first self‑winding wrist chronometer to indicate the date in a window on the dial
- Vacheron Constantin Historiques Ultra Fine
- Cartier Santos Dumas - first pilot’s watch
- Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
- Glashutte Original Senator Navigator
- Breguet La Tradition Fusee Tourbillon
- A. Lange & Sohne Tourbograph "Pour le Mérite"
- Panerai Luminor - watch that changed fashion
- L'impermeable by the West End Watch Co. - first attested waterproof (pocket) watch developed in 1864
- Rolex Oyster + Perpetual - world's first waterproof and dustproof wristwatch (1926), world's first self-winding mechanism with a Perpetual rotor (1931)
- First State Watch Factory (Poljot) - Sturmanskie - the first watch in space worn by Yuri Gagarin
- Corum Golden Bridge - world's first baguette movement with linear gear trains mounted in a totally transparent case (1980)
- Leroy 01 - most complicated watch in the world 1901
- Patek Philippe - Henry Graves Supercomplication (1933) was the world’s most complicated mechanical timepiece for more than 50 years, with a total of 24 different functions
- Patek Philippe - Caliber 89 Grand Complication (1989) - 24 hands with 1,728 components in total, including a thermometer, and a star chart, weighs 1.1 kg
- Casio G-Shock - Early 1980's line designed to resist mechanical stress, shock and vibration primarily for sports, military and outdoors-oriented activities. G-Shock is an abbreviation for Gravitational Shock
- Seiko Quartz-Astron 35SQ - the world's first "quartz clock" wristwatch
- Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260 - the most complicated mechanical pocket watch ever created, 57 complications (2015)
- Haldimann H8 - the Tourbillon watch that doesn't tell time (2010)
- Roger Dubuis Excalibur Quatuor - 4 balance wheels (2014)
- Jaquet Droz Charming Bird - world’s first singing bird automation in a wristwatch (2015)
- A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater - world's first watch with a mechanical jumping numerals display and a decimal minute repeater (2015)
- Apple Watch - smart watch (2015)
- Zenith Defy Lab with Caliber ZO 342 - New and Disruptive monolithic silicon oscillator replacing classic swiss anchor, hairspring and balance wheel (2017)
- Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional - New deepest dive world record at a depth of 10,928m / 35,853ft (2019)
29 thoughts on “Most Iconic Watches”
As a 50+ year pro pilot, I own both an original Omega Speedmaster Professional AND a Bulova Lunar Pilot. The Bulova does not belong on a list of the 20 most iconic watches, let alone this list. It was a prototype, maybe a handful made, and effectively died out after the Apollo 15 mission. Not until Cmdr. Scott’s watch sold for 1.625 million in 2015 was it reissued. A cool watch with history… Yes! Not a top 10 icon.
IMHO, you missed the number one most iconic wrist watch of all time, The Cartier Santos Dumont… 1904 the first men’s wrist watch, the first pilot’s watch and arguably the first sports watch. And of course the modern version is true to the oriignal albeit now a dress watch. This should replace the Tag Heuer Carrara.
I second this.
Literally took the words from my mind…. First comment I saw 🙂
Either they forgot about it, or didn’t care there was another watch that went to the moon, the Bulova lunar pilot.
I would add the Hamilton Ventura, the world’s first electric watch and iconic in design. It was pre-quartz, with no transistors, and therefore in a different category than the Casio G-Shock and Seiko Quartz-Astron 35SQ selections.
I’ll also add the Synchronar. It was the world’s first solar powered digital watch.
(The first solar powered watch of any kind was likely a pocket sundial.)
Swatch. Swatch. Swatch.
No Rolex Explorer?
As a watch enthusiast for 55 years, I feel that two Rolex watches deserve a listing on the top 10, the Submariner of course, which is arguably number one! After that, it’s the Rolex Datejust as it encompasses the Oyster case, perpetual rotor and date function, all classic features of the Rolex line.
As far as the Daytona (especially the Paul Newman)… Please! At that time (1963) Rolex could barely give this watch away. Most likely Joanne Woodward got it for next to nothing for another purchase she made. Paul Newman loved it so much (NOT) that he gave it away to his daughter’s boyfriend!
While it’s now extremely popular, it falls just short of top 10 icon status. However, it makes my top 20 along with the GMT Master.
Absolutely no Rolex Explorer!
The watches that went on the Everest expedition were the Smiths (the 1953 British expedition was officially supplied by Smiths – Deluxe model A409) and a modified Rolex Oyster Perpetual (Rolex also provide watches). It was Rolex marketing that created the “Explorer” after the fact, and even then there were several dial configurations initially and the ref. 6298 was the only one of three that included the “3, 6 and 9” associated with the watch today.
This is why I include the Rolex Datejust as the second iconic Rolex in the top 10 along with the Submariner. FWIW, the GMT Master has a better story, real history and is more iconic than the somewhat “made up” Explorer.
Zenith El Primero was not the first Chronograph but among the first Automatic Chronograph movements
As much as we love the mechanical watches, this list is completely wrong if you don’t have CASIO F-91W or G-Shock DW5600, or both!
The Casio G-Shock was added as well as the Seiko Quartz-Astron 35SQ in an attempt to cover the valid point of quartz watches. Thanks for the suggestion.