Top 10 Living Legend Watches To Own

Top 10 Living Legend Watches To Own

Top-10-ten-watches-living-legends-reviews

If you look at many of the most popular watch brands, you'll notice that their collections usually contain a few (or many) classics whose names have been around for years. Brands like Rolex don't really release new models, but rather continue to improve on their core collection over time. Models like the Submariner and Datejust have been around for generations. Other brands also keep tradition alive by continuing to offer modern versions of designs that have proved successful for many years. To recognize and help suggest those watches which are "living legends" we've come up with a list of the top 10 worth owning. To be clear, to be a living legend, a watch must have historic roots and still be produced today. We know we couldn't include them all so mention your favorites in the comments below.

Rolex SUBMARINER No-DATE

1. Rolex Submariner

It was 1954 that Rolex originally released the Submariner, and the watch industry hasn't been the same since. The Submariner was never released as a luxury product, but rather a professional diver's watch that anyone could enjoy. It attained a cult status for being a damn good sports watch and later in the 1980s when the mechanical watch gained a more luxury status and Rolex began its long path to become the world's most desirable luxury timepiece brand. The Submariner is their most popular model for good reason. Durable and legible, its slick style remains timeless, and most importantly - suitable for most any man (and many women) regardless of look, style, or age. It goes without saying that the perennially good design of the Rolex Submariner is alive and well today in its newest renditions featuring 40mm wide cases available in steel, two-tone, or 18k white or yellow gold. Pricey with an average price of about $8,500, but sure to be timeless and retain value. rolex.com

 

Omega Speedmaster

2. Omega Speedmaster

Regardless of price, prestige, history or technology, the Omega Speedmaster is widely considered to be the quintessential sports chronograph. You want a handsome but not showy chronograph with a great history, distinctive look, and a long enough life to offer many different versions? That's a Speedmaster. Why? The Omega Speedmaster was good enough for NASA and one was strapped to Buzz Aldrin for his 1969 moonwalk. The Moonwatch is basically the Submariner of chronographs, there are lots of versions, plenty in the used market, they hold their value well and have evolved relatively slowly. Whether you fancy a manually wound 3570.50 or the updated co-axial automatic Speedmaster 9300, you really cannot go wrong and you'll own a piece of horological history Priced from about $4,500 - $8,700 for steel versions.. omegawatches.com

 

audemars-piguet-royal-oak-steel-automatic

3. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

Facing bankruptcy in the expanding wake of the quartz revolution, the Royal Oak is the watch that saved Audemars Piguet and made them the brand they are today. Knowing they needed revolution and not evolution, Audemars Piguet brought in none other than Gerald Genta to design a watch that could introduce the brand to a bigger market. Genta created the AP Royal Oak ref 5402ST which launched in 1972 with a price tag so aggressive that not only did it vastly exceed the price of any of its competition, it even out-priced most gold watches on the market. The world had no reference for a steel luxury sport watch, making the Royal Oak an all-in play by Audemars Piguet. While the Royal Oak may have been a polarizing idea from its inception, it created a new watch archetype, the luxury steel sport watch, and acceptance grew fast enough to keep Audemars Piguet in business and the distinctive Genta design is a now an integral part of their brand iconography Starting around $20,000. audemarspiguet.com

JLC reverso watch

4. Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

1931 saw the debut of the Reverso, which was one of the original partnerships between Jaeger and LeCoultre, which subsequently merged to form a singular brand. From the start the Reverso was destined to be a high-end watch being made for members of Britain's elite society as a timepiece to be worn while playing polo in then colonial India. While the flipping case concept seems simple by today's standards, it proved complex to initially industrialize. The rectangular case originally flipped to display a solid metal back to protect itself. The art deco styling and handsome mannerisms of the angular timepiece made it a quick hit among high-society folk especially in Europe. The middle of the 20th century saw a halt to Reverso production and it wasn't until the 1980s that the Reverso started to come back. This was especially the case in the last 20 years. Its handsome styling is of course classic, but also timeless and inherently masculine. Jaeger-LeCoultre has also offered a dizzying array of Reverso styles and sizes to appeal to most luxury watch customers. The Reverso case and movement are made totally in-house by Jaeger-LeCoultre. Prices average around $10,000. jaeger-lecoultre.com

 

Rolex-Datejust-II

5. Rolex Datejust

Easily Rolex's most fundamental watch, the Datejust has been around since 1945 when Rolex added a date feature to their Bubbleback watch.  The Datejust is evidence to what Rolex believes to be most essential in a watch. Rolex is a conservative brand and the Datejust is their most practical model, offering everything you need in an everyday piece and nothing more. While a 41mm version was launched in 2009, the Datejust was previously available only in smaller sizes including 36mm (mens), 31mm (mid size) and 26mm for the ladies. This enduring model has been worn by many famous individuals including President Dwight Eisenhower, literally countless actors, and even Tony Soprano. One of the quintessential Rolex models, the Datejust offers excellent versatility, working just as well with jeans and a t-shirt as it would with a suit and tie. Prices start around $9,000 (for the Datejust II), but the sky is the limit if you like yellow gold and pave diamonds. rolex.com

 

Tag-Heuer-Monaco

6. Tag Heuer Monaco

The Heuer Monaco was launched in 1969 as one of the first automatic chronographs in existence and one that Jack Heuer named in honor of the famous Monaco GP Formula One course. With its square case and now-famous Calibre 11 automatic movement, the Monaco was even seen on Steve McQueen's wrist in the 1971 film Le Mans. An absolute classic in the chronograph world, the Monaco was discontinued after only a few years but the design saw a McQueen reissue in 1998 and was later relaunched by Tag Heuer in 2003. Vintage and limited edition Monacos are extremely desirable and claim a considerable fee in the used market. Whether you're channeling Steve McQueen or Walter White, a Monaco will provide about as unique a wrist presence as can be found today From about $4,500. tagheuer.com

 

glasshuete_senator_navigator

7. Glashutte Original Senator Navigator

In addition to diver-style watches, the most popular sport watches are pilot-style timepieces - and there are tons of them. Pilot watches are some of the original "big watches" and it is hard to pinpoint exactly who created them first. People tend to agree that many of the early ones were German and Swiss from as early as the 1920s. This particular quintessential design is sometimes referred to by the "B-uhr" name and has been reproduced by dozens of brands. Because we like them, we chose the Original Senator Navigator by Glashutte Original to represent this iconic living legend watch as there is no clear "living parent" to the design. Glashutte Original makes a few pieces in their Original Senator Navigator pilot watch collection with an average price of about $7,000 and they are very high in quality even though they are rare to be found even where Glashutte Original watches are sold. Other brands who offer this design sell them at prices from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars. glashuette-original.com

 

breitling-navitimer

8. Breitling Navitimer

The early 1950s heralded in the era of another famous pilot watch - the Navitimer by Breitling. What made this piece famous was its combination of chronograph and slide-rule bezel. While not the first Breitling piece to offer these complications, the Navitimer was quickly adopted by military and professional pilots as a useful tool because in addition to telling time, it was able to offer a range of necessary inflight calculations. This was thanks to the slide-rule and chronograph combo. When cockpits went digital, the utility of the Navitimer subsided, but today many pilots are still trained using traditional analog calculation systems as a backup if electronics fail. The Breitling Navitimer is much more than a tool having attained the status as a high-end tool watch for the discriminating and intelligent active guy. Today, Breitling offers version of the Navitimer with their own in-house movements and it remains one of the brand's top sellers. Price is about $9,000. breitling.com

 

Cartier-Santos

9. Cartier Santos

The Cartier Santos is a surprisingly enduring design that is actually quite closely linked with the birth of manned flight. Alberto Santos-Dumont was the first man to achieve sustained flight in a fixed wing aircraft circa 1906. Dumont was close friends with a French jeweler named Louis Cartier and had shared with him the difficulty he experienced when trying to check his pocket watch while flying. Cartier set about to design a wrist-mounted watch that would allow Dumont to view the time without removing a hand from the flight controls. In helping Dumont with a practical problem, Cartier created the first pilot's watch and likely kick-started the trend of men wearing watches on their wrists, which was generally only done by women at the time. The original Santos design lives on today as the Santos 100 in which the distinctive square-style case and roman numeral dial have been updated to a modern 51 x 41.3 mm size. The Santos has endured because of both its origins and its functional sporting design which looks great despite being over 100 years old. Starting from about $6,700. cartier.com

 

IW371401 IWC Portuguese

10. IWC Portuguese

The story of the IWC Portuguese collection starts with its name. According to IWC, a group of Portuguese ship merchants traveled to their manufacture in Switzerland in the 1930s asking for a legible and highly precise watch able to be worn while onboard a ship. At the time it was necessary to have precise marine chronometer clocks while at sea because there was no way for the ship to update its clocks while far from land. The men from Portugal wanted precise wrist watches as opposed to having to rely on stationary clocks. While it is unknown how precise these original clocks ended up being, what is known is that the watches to come out of the relationship proved very popular. Their design is based on ship instrumentation and marine clocks, and they remain extremely popular sellers for IWC today. The Portuguese comes in a range of styles but each has that large-size dial look with applied Arabic numerals and properly proportioned hands. To many, it is watch design perfection, and by all accordingly a living legend. Average price is about $10,000. iwc.com

Notable Top 10 Living Legend Watch runner-ups: Breguet Classique, Bell & Ross BR 01, Junghans Max Bill, Patek Philippe 5270, Patek Philippe Nautilus, Panerai Marina Luminor, Hublot Big Bang, Rolex Daytona, and Movado Museum Dial.

 This article was jointly produced by Ariel Adams & James Stacey

72 comments
notech47
notech47

The Submariner, Speedmaster and the Navitimer are the watches that appeal to me. Cutting off the 12 and 6 on the IWC just seems wrong.

pgerrard36
pgerrard36

good list. 

of course there are many other great watches, but this sums it up nicely. 

glad the Portugese made list. it's my favorite watch. 

HughGreentree
HughGreentree

Another classic watch missing from the list: the Rolex Explorer 1. The revision 1016 was a very fine, classic model.


Sigh. There are so many fine watches. Maybe a top 10 list is too narrow. You may need a top 100 list...and separate lists for men's and women's watches.

Andrew10989
Andrew10989

@HughGreentree The explorer is truly a piece you can wear with anything. From dress to the field. Good pick.

MSKTexas
MSKTexas

What's notably missing is the iconic women's models from these watchmakers. Did I miss something? I don't think so. The search goes on....

marbstiu
marbstiu

the portuguese shouldnt be a chronograph version.


The more iconic face is the 7-day PR version w/ date



aworon
aworon

what a nice group of watches.  hopefully one of them will be my next

Ghisla1ne
Ghisla1ne

I am considering buying a rare Audemars Piguet ladies watch of which only 10 were made. What would be the key considerations I need to watch for? Thanks

smoothsweeper
smoothsweeper

I was under the impression that the VC Patrimony was *the* legendary thin watch but maybe I've been reading too much VC marketing ;)

Besides that, I'd put the "Swatch" design in there. I know there are many different ones but the basic plastic models still share common traits and the platform is anything if not iconic. I'd also throw the Seiko SKX007 in the mix (literally - it can handle it :)).

Oh, and probably the ALS Datograph. It's new, but most definitely a legend among the WIS crowd.

smoothsweeper
smoothsweeper

I was under the impression that the VC Patrimony was *the* legendary thin watch but maybe I've been reading too much VC marketing ;)

Besides that, I'd put the "Swatch" design in there. I know there are many different ones but the basic plastic models still share common traits and the platform is anything if not iconic. I'd also throw the Seiko SKX007 in the mix (literally - it can handle it :)).

abhimawa
abhimawa

The followings are more deserving: Patek Calatrava, Jaeger LeCoultre Memovox, Panerai Luminor 1950, Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, and Cartier Tank, rather than the Glashutte, IWC, Heuer, Breitling (??), and the Santos

Andrew10989
Andrew10989

@abhimawa I must disagree with the Panerai, but the Blancpain was spot on. I, too, was equally shocked at no mention of the king--Patek. 

abhimawa
abhimawa

The followings are more deserving: Patek Philippe Calatrava, Jaeger LeCoultre Memovox, Panerai Luminor 1950, Blancpain Fifty Fathom, or even Cartier Tank, rather than the Breitling, Glashutte, IWC, Heuer, and the Santos

JasonWard
JasonWard

I was surprised not to see an Omega Seamaster on the list or a Patek Philippe.  It will be interesting to see what this list would look like in 50 years time; would all the old masters still be there or would the likes of Bremont with their stunning Victory sneak in.


Superstition
Superstition

Aren't some of the prices a little off? Or are we factoring in some kind of tax?  

I was just at the AP dealer a few weeks ago with the Royal Oak coming in at 16k starting.

big poopin
big poopin

grand seiko???c'mon now really?? Glashutte is one of my favorite brands especially considering the price, but it has no business being on this list since it's not really a historic brand with an iconic watch,(the pano series is the "cheaper"version to the lange 1 style. and No Patek Calatrava?? That's just crazy. I also would switch out the boring old datejust for the daytona, and find a place for the Lange 1(personal preference). 

bichondaddy
bichondaddy

Well....I for one only have two watches on my list I would like to have in my collection...a Ulysse Nardin Maxi Marine...and a Hublot Big Bang.   Only the AP RO does anything for me on this list...but that's just me.   

r_s_g
r_s_g

I saw Grand Seiko mentioned in the comments, but I think Seiko's dive watches are more iconic and could be top 20, if not top 10, and I don't even really like Seiko, but I would still nominate either the SKX--- or the SBN---.

One note about your top 10 list--a lot of these watches can be recognized by people who are not watch enthusiasts. The Rolexes, Breitling, Cartier, Jaeger, and IWC are probably recognizable to anyone with just some passing familiarity with luxury watches. Perhaps that is what separates the top 10 from the next 10. 

loueichjr
loueichjr

Good list.  But incomplete without Omega Seamaster and Blancpain 50 Fathoms IMHO.

xderoque
xderoque

Excellent article, and exciting choice. Especially with the underlined idea that for many of these watches we can search for THE version we like most and will hopefully buy one day.

A significant weight given to sport watches. Interesting. Also interesting to see that the majority of the watches selected are equal to or below 10.000$.

Nearly no comments on the Zenith El Primero! I am surprised. Is it overshadowed by the Omega speedmaster? Is it laking historical roots or "narrative" to become iconic? any hint?

joeprez
joeprez

What a great article.... I like the high end pieces reviews... but this are the articles that I truly enjoy. I agree with your list... think I have 4 or 5 in my "watches to own before I die" list. I may have included the BP Fifty Fathoms, a Doxa and maybe a Daytona...although the Speedmaster is more iconic in my opinion. 

Scott A
Scott A

@Panagiotis 

You make really good points and I agree with you. The charm is to the wearer and most do not know or appreciate them.

You do have good taste in watches.

Cheers

Scott A
Scott A

@Panagiotis

You make a good point about the seiko. International success is important but the crieria that was outlined in the first paragraph,

 "... a watch must have historic roots and still be produced today." 

 This is a great list, nothing wrong with it. And as Ariel mentioned, "couldn't include them all so mention your favorites in the comments below." Ariel's point, was in his opinion these are the top ten but watches from other brands do have roots and are still made today. And that is why he said to his readers add your opinion below. That's why I mentioned Seiko because it has roots and is still made today, iconic or not.

Just adding to the discussion here and I do respect peoples opinions.

Panagiotis
Panagiotis

The thing with many of the brands NOT mentioned is, as Ariel pointed out, that they might not have an iconic piece per se, but rather an iconic status spread out over several models/movements/design principles. As such it's hard to select a single El-primero watch for example that both the "general watch buying public" and aficionados alike can instantly associate with Zenith.

Further, my beloved Grand Seiko might be iconic among a select "few" but it was never an international success the way that the datejust was and continues to be. Panerai is very well and good and with a solid design that never strays too far from home, but still feels too young to be branded iconic. Especially since it launched/coincided with the big watch craze, which remains to be seen how long it will last in its current state. Mind you i really like Panerai so this is nothing personal.

 Closing, i think that the Casio Calculator is as iconic in its own right as many of the above contenders :)

DG Cayse
DG Cayse

Tough job. Well done. Thank-you Mr. Stacy & Mr. Adams.

The comments by others reflect good choices. Too many to re-name. But I will give a + to the inclusion of the legendary Cartier Tank - preferably the Americaine.

And just to be the odd one out, I would further suggest the  Rolex Jubilee bracelet. IMO it qualifies as an 'iconic' bit of design.

Scott A
Scott A

List is just off the top of my head. Forgot to add Zenith. Again, I know it has been said. Just adding my 2 cents here.

Scott A
Scott A

Nothing from these brands? Not in alphabetical order or preference, some brands have already been mentioned.

Ulysse Nardin
Panerai
Seiko (especially grand seiko)
Breguet
Bvlgari
Blancpain
Bell & Ross
Baume & Mercier
Ball
Carl F.Bucherer
Girard-Perregaux
Graham
Hamilton
Nivrel
Swiss Army Victorinox 
Perelet
Tutima
Tudor
UTS
Vulcain
Eterna
Hublot
Longines
Montblanc
Raymond Weil


Higher end...
A. Lange & Sohne
Patek Philippe
F.P.Journe
Vacheron Constantin
Parmigiani
Piaget

Gee Z
Gee Z

Good list despite the tough task. Nevertheless I would exchange the Glashuette for a IWC Fliegeruhr, and the Cartier Santos definitely for a Cartier Tank.

Fraser Petrick
Fraser Petrick

I know I sound like a pathetic old Cuban Communist but Long Live the Revolution; the quartz revolution, that is. Quartz watches have no soul I've been told. However, aren't they, as a rule, more accurate than the old fashioned, highly complicated mechanical watches that command astronomical prices? Incidentally, I'm easy and can be bought. If there is an eccentric millionaire out there who wishes to convert me to the mechanical camp, I am quite willing to receive from them, as a conditional gift, an Omega Speedmaster; at which point I will change my tune, and sing the praises of gears, springs and things that go tick-tock in the night. The Speedmaster will go well with my Seamaster Quartz, apparently now discontinued thanks to mechanical reactionaries.

SuperStrapper
SuperStrapper

My list would include a faw altwrations, but this one is quite sound. The El Primero is of course notably absent, and I would argue that the Big Pilot is a more iconis pilot watch than the GO. I would also suggest that UN has more skin in the marine chronometer game than IWC, but that the Portugese still has a place for other reasons.

And with our generally high-browed crowd here it might be a tough sell, but G-Shock is certainly a living legend with its monsorous impact on pop culture and getting watches on the wrists of a younger generation. You're looking for a watch, and not a brand, so I would say a 5600 or 6900.

aBlogtoWatch
aBlogtoWatch moderator

@Kris C While the Zenith El Primero is an iconic movement, I just didn't feel any specific El Primero watch (from a visual standpoint) was popular enough to make it a living legend. Again, this is a Top 10 list, not "all the iconic watches."

Albi
Albi

I would have included a Zenith El Primero in the list: I think it definitely meets all the criteria

Maximilien
Maximilien

Agree with about 1/3 of list and some comments. Here's my list of modern (still in production) icons:

1) Rolex Submariner (steel, no date, ref. 114060, avoid other models); 2) Blancpain Fifty Phantom 5015 (skip chronograph models); 3) Patek Phillippe Calatrava 5107 (white, rose, yellow gold in that order); 4) JLC Reverso (any variations, day night rose gold if your budget allows); 5) AP Royal Oak steel 15202 or 15400 (avoid gold or two tones); 6) Cartier Santos 100 (any variations); 7) IWC Big Pilot steel 500901 or 500401 (skip ceramic Miramar models); 8) Omega Speedmaster "Man on the Moon" (vintage or modern with hand-wound Lemania movement; 9) Breitling Navitimer 01 (skip older models without in house movements); 10) Panerai Luminor 1950 (all models with in house P.900x movements)

tfeldstein
tfeldstein

Hold on a second. No Calatrava and no Lange 1 and no Daytona?  This list needs a lot of work.

Hennie
Hennie

Evening all. Sportiness and elegance together in one package?  Classic design - octagonal bezel on a circular base? Establsishing the world standard for quartz watches during it's first evolutionary cycle (frequency for quartz (32.768 Hertz) Girard Perregaux "Laureato" would be in my top 20 for sure. Make mine an Evo3

Zeitblom
Zeitblom

I'm extremely surprised at the criticism of the GO senator navigator. Superior in every way to the IWC stuff, and far cheaper. And I say that as an IWC owner.....

Biggest mistake in this article is however leaving out the Zenith El Primero. Clear out all that Rolex and Omega rubbish and put in a couple of those.

ZL
ZL

I was just thinking myself of researching the most iconic, trendsetting, and influential watch designs, you know, the prototypes that have inspired and spawned so many variations. And then this article comes along and gets pretty close to that. 

Nicely done reading my mind.

A couple of giants that leap to mind and didn't make the list here are Panerai, Bell & Ross, and definitely Patek. Maybe an IWC Pilot. Cartier Tank. Um... I'll probably think of more as soon as I try to fall asleep.

MarcAlberts
MarcAlberts

A Patek definitely needs to be on the list somewhere.  The nautilus is a great choice mentioned by Mark, but there are a number to consider.  After all, Patel is probably the brand every watch collector should own and they are considered the pinnacle brand.  I would include the nautilus over the GO

MarkCarson
MarkCarson

@MarcAlberts I'm guessing here, but maybe they thought that the Royal Oak and Nautilus are too similar. And while the AP did appear first, I prefer the Patek and I totally agree that not having a PP on the list seems like an omission at some level. I understand the desire to have a pilots watch on the list, and while the GO is typical of the genre, when I think of an iconic watch I think of an individual watch that you know to be a particular watch from specific brand. I don't get that vibe from the GO Navigator.


Kasra salehi
Kasra salehi

I still can not believe Tag Heuer Carrera is not in the list :O

SmOcKxY
SmOcKxY

I love that my Datejust II is in the list..Panerai should have been in the list as well though..but the difficulty in choosing just 10 watches is damn tough! Too many worthy watches

Frank Geelen
Frank Geelen

Excellent article, Ariel. Although I'd suggest to replace the GO Navigator for the Breguet Type XX, and change the Cartier Santos for the Tank... in general I can agree with the chosen models. 

foxandcat45
foxandcat45

Hey ! you forgot the rolex daytona !

frankwhite
frankwhite

I almost forgot Panerai. They all look the same to me so anything with their crown guard would work for this list, in fact even the ones without the crown guards would probably work too. I also think even though it was just re-released and hasn't been around all these years the Zenith striking tenth is the type of design that has the potential to live on for Zenith and become their answer to the speedy's and the subs of the world.

ExperimentJon
ExperimentJon

If there were more room, I'd add the Panerai Radiomir or Luminor to the list too.  So many watches, so little time!

frankwhite
frankwhite

I'd also have to add the Hamilton Ventura to the list. Although its not really to my taste, I still think it meets the criteria.

frankwhite
frankwhite

I agree the PP nautilus should be on here. For me I would have gone with the IWC ingenuer over the Portuguese but they are both iconic. I'd also venture to say the the IWC big pilot is a better choice than the GO senator to represent the pilot watches of that era. The Vacheron Constantine overseas(another genta creation) definitely fits the bill. The Blancpain fifty fathoms is another one that comes to mind.

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