Watches are far too subjective to rank, you say? We did it anyway. For this list of the 50 Greatest Watches of All Time, we identified timepieces with a combination of compelling features, influence and lasting popularity, as well as a few overlooked but exceptional models. Deriving from all watch categories and from the past hundred or so years, this ultimate tally culminates in the single greatest, most perfect watch ever created.
While nearly any Cosmograph Daytona with an exotic dial is more valuable than its standard-dial brethren, the 6239, which Paul Newman himself wore, blows them all out of the water. Newman's personal watch hammered for more than $17M in 2017, but even non-Newman owned variants are worth hundreds of thousands, and it's not hard to see why — they're some of the most beautiful watches ever made.
Movement: Valjoux 72 handwound
Restrained and classic in style, the Portugieser is a dress watch staple. Introduced in 1939, the reference 325 was unusually large at 41.5mm at at time when much smaller watches were the norm, but it set the tone for a collection that today includes a range of watches, from three-hand models to chronographs and more.
Movement: IWC in-house calibers
The understated Patek Philippe Calatrava debuted in 1932 with reference 96 and established the blueprint for a collection that continues to this day. Though it stems from a brand known for highly complicated watchmaking, many consider the Calatrava to be the ultimate dress watch.
Movement: Various in-house Patek Philippe
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Ressence is one of the most unique and innovative watch brands in the world, presenting traditional mechanical horology in a strikingly novel way. The Type 3 represents the brand's vision best, with a dial that revolves to display the time and an oil-filled case that does wonders for legibility.
Movement: Modified ETA 2824-2 automatic
Produced for the French air force following WWII, the Type XX is one of the most notable pilot's watches available. It featured a flyback chronograph, which allows the stopwatch function to be restarted without stopping it. While several companies made watches to the government's specifications, Breguet is the most notable and maintains a modern collection.
Movement: Breguet 582 automatic
A symbol of luxury and status, the Day-Date is only produced in precious metals and is instantly recognizable as a Rolex. Building upon the design and date window of the Datejust, the Day-Date was released in 1956, adding the day of the week spelled out in full at the top of the dial. It's at its most iconic on its "President"-style bracelet.
Movement: Rolex 1555 automatic
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Grand Seiko is one of the few companies offering the somewhat exotic feature of a "hi-beat" (5Hz) movement. The SBGJ235, with a hi-beat movement, handy GMT feature and impressive balance of colors, design and features, makes for a grail-worthy watch.
Movement: Grand Seiko 9S86 automatic
The complicated case design of the Octo watch was conceived by Gerald Genta, and today it's one of the edgiest luxury sport watches on the market. The busy case is offset by a simple dial and thin profile for a dramatic, luxurious look that immediately grabs your attention.
Movement: BVL 138 automatic
In the 1930s, watch companies IWC, A. Lange & Söhne, Wempe, Laco and Stowa made incredibly durable, accurate, and legible watches for the German air force. Known as B-Uhr, many of the same brands still produce modern versions, most of which are smaller than the originals' 55mm cases.
Movement: Various handwound
The first Hour Angle watch was produced by Longines and developed with the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh in 1931 for navigational use in his aeronautic adventures. The brand today produces a modern interpretation with an automatic movement.
Movement: ETA A07.111 automatic
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