Sports Legends


As vintage watch sales surge, watch designers are scouring the archives to channel the retro vibe in new models. Among the trendy revivals, a handful of midcentury sport watches— Breitling’s Navitimer, Omega’s Speedmaster, Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak—have cultivated enduring legacies that endow them with icon status.

The 1950s was a golden era for sport watches as technical advances allowed for more rugged and reliable movements with enhanced shock-resistance, water-resistance, and antimagnetic properties. Designed to perform practical functions for pilots, divers, and drivers, “tool watches” became essential gear for go-getters and fashionable accessories for armchair sportsmen.

Breitling debuted its Navitimer in 1952, featuring technical functions—most notably a circular slide rule that pilots used for mathematical conversions and other calculations before calculators. This year, Breitling expanded that legacy with the Navitimer 8 collection, which draws inspiration from cockpit instruments made by the brand’s Eight Aviation Department in the 1930s. The new collection, which offers watches from $3,850 to $8,350, is less technical and more modern, with five models: the B01 chronograph, powered by the in-house automatic Caliber Breitling 01; the Navitimer 8 Chronograph, with a workhorseValjoux 7750 movement; the Navitimer 8 Unitime world time model, a Day&Date; and an entry-level three-hand Automatic.

Left to right: the Omega Speedmaster, Audemars Piguet's Royal Oak, and Rolex's Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller.
the Omega Speedmaster, Audemars Piguet's Royal Oak, and Rolex's Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller

In 1957, Omega launched the Speedmaster, the first chronograph wristwatch fitted within a tachymeter scale on the bezel for calculating speed, a feature designed with race-car drivers in mind. The model earned the moniker “Moon Watch” when Buzz Aldrin wore his during the first manned lunar landing in 1969. Last year’s Speedmaster Automatic ($8,450) channeled the original’s motor-sport spirit with a distinctive minute track on a matte black dial with orange accents, and a perforated rubber strap.

Last year, Rolex marked the 50th anniversary of its premier dive watch, the Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller ($11,350). The latest incarnation was enlarged to 43 millimeters and equipped with the new caliber 3235 movement, endowed with cutting-edge technology and the brand’s Superlative Chronometer certification, ensuring precision. Rolex also fitted the new Sea-Dweller with its trademark Cyclops lens over the date for the first time and printed the name in red on the dial, a nod to the original.

When Audemars Piguet tapped renowned watch designer Gerald Genta to design a groundbreaking sport watch in 1972, Swiss mechanical watchmaking faced an existential crisis with the advent of quartz technology. Genta’s Royal Oak ($34,800) defied convention by combining a brawny steel sport watch with a finely finished automatic movement. Dubbed “Jumbo,” the Royal Oak was instantly recognizable. This year, the brand unveiled a 39-mm Jumbo Extra-Thin with a titanium case, combined with a polished platinum bezel and connecting bracelet links.

Once regarded as an iconoclast, Royal Oak's staying power and popularity transformed it into an icon.

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