Switzerland is the legendary birthplace of Haute horologerie. The world’s greatest watchmakers founded their businesses in the magnificent surroundings of Switzerland’s hills and have a story of designing astonishingly authentic watches, as well as complex, gorgeous and expensive.
In this feature, we will show you the ten most iconic Swiss watch designs.
In the 1930s, two Portuguese businessmen knocked on Swiss IWC watch company’s door. They had a request: to commission a watch so accurate as to stand a comparison with a marine chronometer. Starting from these premises, at IWC the precision of the intricate mechanisms concealed in the watch’s case, rather than its design, was naturally prioritized; and the Portuguese, the model of timepieces born from the challenge set by those businessmen, has a long history of cutting-edge advancements in watchmaking.
Sometimes the simplest ideas are truly the best. One such idea lies at the core of Reverso’s history, a wristwatch first produced in 1931 by Jaeger-LeCoultre. The watch features a case which can be easily slid to the side and swiveled, thus actually hiding the display. For those wondering why anyone would need to do this, the story goes that during a polo game, Swiss businessman and watch collector César de Trey was challenged by one of his opponents to create a watch so resistant that a polo ball couldn’t break it – so Reverso (Latin for ‘I turn around’) was born.
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If there is a watch that more than others made the statement that less is more in the history of watch-making, that is Patek Philippe‘s Calatrava. Beautiful and incredibly refined, the Calatrava watches were first introduced in 1932 and were heavily inspired by the then-popular Bauhaus design school which put functionality before aesthetics (a theory effectively summarized in the mantra ‘form follows function’).
The Datejust is the most classic watch model ever created by top horologerie Rolex. Introduced in 1945, the Datejust, a self-winding, mechanical chronometer, belongs to the family of Rolex Oyster Perpetual models, the first-ever line of waterproof timepieces, and takes its name from yet another ground-breaking feature it sported: this was the first wristwatch to display the current date in a small window located within the dial.
In 1965, the NASA tested twelve different watches to measure their resistance to several stress conditions such as extreme temperature, humidity, corrosion, vibrations, noise, and other factors. They were looking for the perfect watch for the astronauts participating in Gemini, one of NASA’s early manned space programs. Where the watches of Rolex, Longines and TAG Heuer failed, Omega‘s Speedmaster Professional, a model first introduced in 1957, succeeded.
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Before 1969, watch lovers had never seen an automatic chronograph wristwatch with a square case. Then Jack Heuer, Swiss TAG Heuer horologerie’s chairman, came along and designed the iconic Monaco watch. When first put on the market, Monaco – the name is a tribute to the Monaco Grand Prix, the most prestigious Formula One race – was available in two different models: both had a domed crystal and white numbers and hands, but one had a metallic blue dial, and the other – a metallic gray one.
Royal OakRoyal Oak’s debut in 1972 marked a revolution in the watch market: for the first time, a luxury watch had been designed with the use of stainless steel rather than gold. But this was not the only thing that made Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak a classic. This timepiece is instantly recognizable for its octagonal bezel, screwed onto the case with eight hexagonal, well-visible screws which represent another distinctive feature of the Royal Oaks.
Can a watch be even simpler than the above-mentioned Patek Philippe’s Calatrava? Yes, it can, and it has been on the market since 1955. It’s Vacheron Constantin‘s Historiques Ultra-Fine, a truly stunning piece of Haute horologerie. Like Calatravas, the Historiques Ultra-Fine watches are extremely simple: the best-known model is characterized by a large, round dial set in a gold case, and a dark leather bracelet.
If Omega’s Speedmaster Professional was the first watch to land on the moon, the Rolex Submariner made history as the first watch to be water-resistant to 100 meters, positioning itself as the right watch for divers. The Rolex Submariner sports a rugged yet elegant design, with a large round case, a timing bezel, and the Mercedes hour hand, so called because toward the tip it features a three-pointed star that resembles the iconic Mercedes-Benz logo, although no connection exists with the car company.
Watch collectors might find it insulting for the Swatch timepieces to be mentioned along with the luxury, iconic watches profiled so far, but it can’t be denied that the Swatches changed the history of Swiss watchmaking with a bang. Born as a response to an invasion of cheap, plastic watches from Asia that hit the market in the late 1970s, Swatch’s name is an abbreviation of ‘second watch’: after the refined, status symbol, collectible timepiece conceived as a veritable treasure to pass on to future generations, a new watch – a second watch – came along which still came out of Switzerland but was affordable, colourful, and all about the fun.
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