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Sports Legends

THESE FOUR ICONIC WATCHES HAVE STOOD THE TEST OF TIME

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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