Feature: 3 Luxury Sports Watches That Are Actually Available
If you’ve tried to get yourself a Rolex Daytona, Patek Philippe Nautilus or Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, you’ll have run into a bit of a problem: there are none. These ultra-limited watches are available only to a rare few people who’ve demonstrated their worth, and if your name’s not on the list, you’re not getting in. Forget those guys and take a look at these instead—three luxury sports watches that you can actually get your hands on.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris 9008471
Despite being an intrinsic part of both the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus—supplying movements for both back in the day and still supplying movements for the Royal Oak Jumbo 15202 now—Jaeger-LeCoultre watches are not generally subject to waiting lists.
Take this Polaris, for example. Launched last year, it’s a modern step forward for a model that’s been a part of Jaeger-LeCoultre history since 1968, and an evolution of a watch from as early as 1950. And if you think it looks a bit unusual, a bit different, that’s because it is. Jaeger-LeCoultre has always been about finding innovative solutions to interesting problems, often branching out in strange new ways in the pursuit of excellence.
Take the Reverso, for example. In creating a watch that could be protected against knocks, other manufacturers used flared bezels, recessed crystals and even cages over the front—but not Jaeger-LeCoultre. Ever the engineers, only an engineering solution would do, a mechanism of springs, bearings, tracks and hinges allowing the user to completely rotate their watch around one hundred and eighty degrees.
And the Atmos clock. Presumably sick of the mild inconvenience of winding a clock every week or so, Jaeger-LeCoultre developed a mantle-based timekeeper that used fluctuations in air temperature to expand and compress a very sensitive set of bellows, drawing a whopping two days’ power from a shift of just a single degree.
That’s who Jaeger-LeCoultre are, and this Polaris draws from an equally excessive engineering achievement, the 1968 Polaris Memovox. Dive watches were hot property back then, most of which used a rudimentary but effective rotating bezel as a timing tool. Of course, Jaeger-LeCoultre doesn’t do simple, and so the Polaris Memovox was a demonstration on how a dive watch could be done the Jaeger-LeCoultre way.
By utilising the alarm from the 1950 Memovox, the Polaris Memovox allowed divers to be reminded when a period of time had elapsed rather than having to remember to check for themselves. A clever and suitably overengineered idea, one of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s best. Sounds like a lot of juicy history, no? More so than the Royal Oak and the Nautilus for sure—yet the modern Polaris is a watch you don’t need to be Bill Gates to buy. In fact, you’ll pay less than a Submariner for one. Go figure!
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph 26470ST.OO.A801CR.01
We’ve already covered the difficulty in getting hold of Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak. It’s hotter than a Jalapeño in hell right now. You’re more likely to get hold of a greased eel than one of these. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular, being an iconic design from an iconic designer, and with all the Nautilus’ bought up, it was the only logical conclusion that it would be next.
Now, unless your local Audemars Piguet vendor owes you a life-debt, you’re not getting one. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have an Audemars Piguet, and it doesn’t mean you can’t have a Royal Oak … so long as it’s a Royal Oak Offshore. We consider the Offshore to be the new kid on the block in the Audemars Piguet collection, but really it’s over a quarter-century old now.
Can you imagine, back in 1993, seeing this? At 42mm in diameter and just under 15mm thick, it’s by no means the biggest watch on the market today, but in 1993 it was a beast. Richard Mille was six years off, Hublot’s Big Bang over a decade away. The 1993 Patek Philippe 5016A Grand Complication measured in at a diminutive 36.8mm. You’d never believe it now, but then-Jaeger-LeCoultre top bod Maximillian Büsser was rumoured to have called the Royal Oak Offshore a monster. He now runs MB&F. How times change.
And bow howdy have they changed. The Royal Oak Offshore is a mid-sized watch these days, offering a bit of heft for that all-important wrist presence. With Omega’s Planet Ocean tickling 5cm wide and 2cm thick these days, the Offshore feels like it’s mellowed a bit, especially on a leather strap. You don’t even have to be a rap person in order to wear one. Really, it’s the big-budget sequel to the 1972 original, bigger and badder and once again taking the watch industry in a new, scary direction.
It’s hardly what you’d call cheap, however, starting at around £18,000, but unlike its older brother, it is actually available to purchase. You get all the Audemars Piguet fit and finish, right the way down to the calibre AP 3126 / 3840, an amalgamation of the in-house calibre 3120 and a Dubois-Depraz chronograph module on top, all hand-finished by Audemars Piguet. You get the famous octagonal bezel, held down with the infamous, non-turning white gold screws, the tapisserie dial and integrated strap—just all inflated by a few millimetres.
Panerai Luminor Marina Logo PAM00632
The Panerai Luminor is a bit of a paradox. It’s somehow both the quintessential example of Italian, style-led fashion and function-first practicality. If you showed it to someone who’d never seen or heard of Officine Panerai before, they’d likely hazard a guess at the iconic case shape and locking crown guard being the result of the ruminations of a polo neck-wearing architect-type, and it certainly does look like that—and I mean it most sincerely. The Panerai Luminor is a good-looking, unique and individual watch. It’s somehow simple, yet distinct, something that is no easy feat to manage.
But the funny thing is that couldn’t be further from the truth. The case is that squashy cushion shape because that’s what Rolex had knocking about when Panerai commissioned them to build the Luminor’s predecessor, the Radiomir. This was the period of transition between pocket watches and wristwatches, and the cushion shape allowed manufacturers to use wider straps without the need for long, skinny lugs, which were at the time simply pieces of wire soldered on.
Then there’s the crown guard. Rolex was chosen to develop the Panerai watch because, firstly, Panerai didn’t know how to make a watch, and secondly because of Rolex’s pioneering work with water-resistance. Panerai was primarily a manufacturer of underwater instruments like compasses and depth gauges for the Italian Navy, its prized invention being the luminous paint that made these instruments readable at depth and at night.
But there was a problem, specifically with Rolex’s screw-down crown. You may think it was to do with the vulnerability of its exposed location on the case side, and that was a concern, but the biggest issue was occurring out of the water rather than in it. As a manually wound watch, the crown would have to be unscrewed, wound and screwed in again every day, and it was a constant point of failure, threads binding and stripping in the field where they couldn’t be repaired.
This came to a head in the 1950s when, presumably focussing on its own dive watch, the Submariner, the Rolex contract came to an end. Despite technology having moved on exponentially since the Radiomir, Panerai—as is common for military contractors—stuck with the outdated but tried-and-true option, the manually wound movement. Instead of fitting a newer automatic movement, Panerai chose to affect a workaround: the locking crown guard. As well as providing impact resistance, the compression lever gave the watch water resistance whilst also allowing winding.
As good as the Daytona, Nautilus and Royal Oak are, they’re not the only fish in the sea. Unless you’re willing to jump through a few—all right, a lot—of hoops, perhaps it’s worth turning your attention to some different but equally worthy alternatives. There’s history, there’s heritage and there’s a whole lot of watch available elsewhere if you do.
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