You can thank Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe: when they launched their 1970s icons, respectively the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, the two companies re-wrote the rules for sport and diving watches. Although Rolex owners blithely wore their wholly functional, no-nonsense Submariners and GMTs with formal or business attire, an unspoken dress code called for something more sleek and discreet and, well, dressy. With the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, stainless steel was suddenly rendered cool.
It worked in both directions. Just as butch, all-steel, mandatorily-rugged timepieces found acceptance away from the swimming pool (as well as the polo ground and golf course), so did diving and sport watches appear in gold or platinum and – alas, of late – studded with gems. But underneath it all, sport watches had to do one thing above all else: withstand the ravages of an extreme lifestyle. After all, in some cases it could mean a matter of life or death.
Over the 60-plus years since the end of World War II, which intensified the evolution of watches as much as it did electronics, materials, airplane design and other disciplines, watches have become tougher, more accurate and more accomplished. This year, Rolex announced a new diving watch safe to 3000m, far in excess of anything a scuba diver would require. Pilot’s watches, models with compasses, a smattering of diving watches with built-in depth gauges, others with counters for football or golf matches: name a sport, and there’s a timepiece tailored to its needs.
Nowadays, no line-up is complete without a sports model or two. For some companies, that’s all they make. At this year’s watch fairs in Basel and Geneva, sport-related watches were present in abundance. For some, they may be the Range Rovers of the watch world; for the rest of us, they may be the only watches that make sense.
Based in Florence, Anonimo has links back to Panerai and an obsession with watches that will withstand the needs of professionals – especially rescue crews and divers. The Sailor Diver – clearly marking out its territory – embodies all that makes up a classic waterproof timepiece: robust case, patented waterproof strap and – above all – a highly legible dial so you’ll know how much time you have left for your dive. The 42mm sand-blasted and satin-finished stainless steel case houses an automatic movement with a 40 hour reserve, and there’s a date window at the 4 o’clock position. As for its water resistance, the Sailor Diver is secure to 30 ATM.
BLANCPAIN FIFTY FATHOMS SPEED COMMAND CHRONOGRAPH
Based on a watch born at the same time as Rolex’s Submariner, and designed firstly for military applications, the Fifty Fathoms has enjoyed a rebirth thanks to the release of faithful replica for its 50th anniversary in 2003. Now it is growing into a range of its own, the latest entrant an all-black, fly-back chronograph suitable not just for diving duties, but for timing any events undertaken against the clock. Fully automatic and water-resistant to 300m, the 45 mm brushed steel case is finished entirely in black DLC with a carbon fibre dial and choice of yellow or orange accents.
BREITLING SUPEROCEAN HERITAGE CHRONOGRAPH
Another masterpiece revived when it reached its half-century is Breitling’s stunning SuperOcean. One of the most cleanly styled of all the diving watches of the 1950s, it was re-born last year with a modern movement and oversized case, but with total respect for its original look, right down to the optional mesh bracelet – very Fifties. This year, the range has been expanded to feature the SuperOcean Heritage Chronograph, a certified chronometer water-resistant to 200m, with a large and clear rotating bezel which can indicate elapsed time. Also available with a rubber strap, the 46mmm diameter Superocean Heritage Chronograph is available with black, blue or bronze dials.
DE BETHUNE DB24V2
De Bethune takes its sport so seriously that the new DB24V2 is user-adjustable to match the watch’s behaviour to the intensity of the sport. With three settings, a normal position, another for ‘sedentary’ wear and a third for intense sport, this watch cannot be under- or overwound due to a lack or surfeit of activity. Beyond that, it also represents haute horlogerie at its peak: a unique, in-house movement made by De Bethune in small numbers, a handsome, extra-large 48mm titanium case, aesthetic details shared with no-one else – de Bethune even designed unique hands. This is the sort of timepiece that makes even hardened collectors swoon.
HERMES CLIPPER SPORT H1 GRANDE DATE
Sometimes, the most handsome sport watches come from unlikely sources. Although Hermes has a long history in equestrian, motoring and other sporting pursuits, its watches have tended toward the elegant. With the Clipper Sport H1 Grande Date, featuring a bespoke movement from Vaucher, Hermes has a sport watch with instant credibility. Superbly detailed, large steel case, rotating bezel, highly legible dial with ‘big date’ read-out, the sort of strap only the leatherworkers at Hermes could fashion, this watch oozes good looks that belie its rugged nature. And as a nod to Hermes tradition, it features an orange seconds hand.
Although ‘co-branding’ of watches and cars or boats is common, ordinarily it means flashing the association all over the dial. Not so Parmigiani, who have produced a superb sports chronograph honouring Pershing speedboats. In this instance, the name appears only on the back of the case, something for the watch’s owner to savour. Then again, the Parmigiani “One-One-Five” Chronograph, named for the length in feet of Pershing’s largest craft, is special in and of itself: automatic movement with hand-bevelled bridges, all the usual chronograph functions plus large date window, uni-directional rotary bezel, water resistance 200 metres, a choice of silver or tan dials and a case in 18 carat rose gold or 950 palladium.