Full Metal Jacket
Watchmaking is as much about style as it is about substance, there’s no doubt about it. Whether that style evolves from functionality, as with the Rolex Submariner, or leads the way from the off, like Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, it’s an inevitability that our favourite watches will be blessed with a bucketload of the stuff. That’s a fact all watch enthusiasts can agree on, but as for which watch is the most stylish of them all? Not so much. We have, however, after much passive-aggressive argument and subsequent sulking, managed to build a shortlist of watches we think are worthy of the title, ‘Most Stylish Watch Ever’. As for picking a winner, well—there will probably be blood . . .
This was probably the hardest group of the three, because there are so many amazing pieces that can be had for less than £1,000. Being at the more affordable end of the scale also offers the freedom to choose pieces that are a bit more fun, without leaving a vague feeling of dissatisfaction having spent so much on something so colourful. Our first entrant is Seiko’s Prospex, the lovechild of two great Seiko designs, the ‘Monster’ and the ‘Tuna’. Characterised by the deeply knurled bezel and black PVD protective shroud, the Prospex provides an extremely high level of functional watchmaking for very little money indeed, but not at the cost of superb design touches like the sculpted makers or multi-faceted dial.
It’s hard not to get sucked in by the appeal of retro-modern watches, partly because the design evolution was much purer back when there was no cheaper alternative, and partly because a modern watch offers a little more by way of reliability and ruggedness. The combination of both is a tough one to resist, especially when presented as well as Hamilton’s Pan-Europ and at a price of less than £900. The sunburst dial in the same rich royal blue as the bezel pops against the seventies cushion case design, with the red second hand adding further contrast still. As an added bonus, Hamilton provides two straps with the watch, one leather, one textile, a welcome addition that gives the Pan-Europ more flexibility.
If you’re after a do-it-all quartz watch that can take a few knocks, there’s little to rival Casio’s G-Shock, but it’s not very, well . . . stylish, is it? This alternative from Nixon, the Unit 40, packs a backlit LCD display in a well-proportioned 40mm polycarbonate case (the same stuff bulletproof glass is made from), a custom digital ‘module’ with calendar, thermometer, second time zone, chronograph and countdown timer, and a decent hundred metres’ water resistance. As a smaller brother to the larger 44mm Unit, the Unit 40 keeps the same bold style as its sibling without getting caught on a cuff. Who said you couldn’t have a bit of fun in the office?
The Swatch Sistem51 is the most unexpected technically interesting mechanical watch out there today. What’s so interesting about a plastic watch with an automatic movement, you might be wondering, and wonder you should, because the Sistem51 takes a little explaining. Thirty years prior to the launch of the Sistem51, Swatch almost single-handedly saved Swiss watchmaking by launching an affordable competitor to Japan’s budget quartz watches. The Sistem51 celebrates that achievement by instigating another: the creation of an affordable automatic movement built entirely on an automated assembly line. The Sistem51 keeps the spirit of Swatch alive for another generation, and the price certainly does, too.
As much as perhaps we wanted to, if only because it’s such an obvious choice, we couldn’t ignore Rolex in this lineup. Despite the fast-rising RRPs and the opinion-dividing stylistic choices, Rolex will always have a charm that echoes deeply among watch fans. The GMT-Master II is probably the most well-rounded piece in Rolex’s collection, with the blue-black bezelled version being the pick of the bunch. As nice as the new ‘Pepsi’ edition is on paper, the price and the murkiness of the colours go against it, the blue-black richer and more vivid. With a carefully judged blend of polished and brushed steel, plus the striking ceramic bezel, the GMT-Master II may be a little staid, but it’s still one of the best.
The Heuer Silverstone was originally launched as a Monaco Mark II, refining that ground-breaking design and continuing the legacy of the Calibre 11 chronograph movement. Unfortunately, the lovely fumé dial and concave bezel were not long for this world, thanks to the influx of cheap Japanese watches flooding the market. But all was not lost: to celebrate its 150th birthday in 2010, TAG Heuer re-released the Silverstone with a few choice tweaks, but much the same as it ever was. The fumé dial, our favourite of the bunch, was back, and how breathtakingly beautiful it is. Brown may have been a colour of the seventies, but it still works today, if done right.
It’s hard to talk about style without mentioning IWC’s Portuguese (you’ll see its chronograph cousin in our future classics feature), one of the simplest yet classiest watch designs around. And at 44mm in diameter, its vintage aesthetic isn’t marred by equally vintage proportions; it reflects the original oversized case of the very first Portuguese, built with a chronometer-rated pocket watch movement. It speaks of thoughtful design and a minimalist touch, the tricky practice of showcasing design without frippery to hide behind. In an industry where pretentiousness is just an over-accented French word away, the Portuguese is the complete antithesis, and all the better for it.
The cheapest here by quite some margin, the Speedmaster Mark II reissue is not lacking anything in build or finish over the others. It adds a chronograph, though, and a good one at that. But this is about style, something the Mark II does with ease. This racing dial edition picks out just enough colour to make the dial pop, the lurid orange an appropriate nod to the decade of the watch’s genesis. The addition of the luminescent tachymeter scale is a nice touch, bringing the design neatly into the twenty-first century. It’s a utilitarian piece, a concept that looked to refine the original Speedmaster’s with a view to its ongoing service in space.
Having more than £7,000 to spend on a watch is a very nice position to be in, however it doesn’t make the decision any easier. There’s a lot of nice metal out there for that kind of outlay (not to mention carbon, ceramics, exotic alloys, etc) and picking just four is harder than it should be. Our first choice is a safe one, Patek Philippe’s gorgeous Calatrava. Like the Portuguese, its beauty comes from its simplicity, and the way that simplicity is executed. The textures, colours and materials are all required to work harder because of it, and the ones chosen by Patek Philippe are all exquisite. Design perfection? It’s very, very close.
Perhaps known more for its incredible movements, having supplied greats like Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and even Patek Philippe, Jaeger-LeCoultre is often neglected when it comes to considerations of its own outright excellence. Here to right that wrong is the Deep Sea Chronograph, a watch based on—but not an imitation of—Jaeger-LeCoultre’s own 1950s Memovox Deep Sea. At first glance it may seem rather sedate a thing, but it’s on closer inspection that the mastery becomes apparent. The size, the shape, both supremely judged. The finer details, such as the knurling on the bezel, the size and feel of the pushers, the script for the word ‘Automatic’, all satisfyingly just so. It’s a watch that doesn’t shout, because it doesn’t have to.
This may be one of those ‘small wrists need not apply’ watches, but the Panerai Luminor Marina 1950 PAM00422 shouldn’t be punished for it. It’s a watch that needs to be big and bold; shrinking it would be a disservice to not only its heritage, but also its essence. Originally penned as a diving instrument for WWII special forces divers, the bulk serves a purpose, and the 422 honours that. With the latest iteration of the 1950s case—the most ‘vintage’ version yet—the 422 manages to inspire that same yearning brought about by actual vintage originals. Previous Luminor 1950s cases have been very crisp and modern, but this loses some of that crispness in favour of a classic feel that suits it to the ground.
By far the most modernist watch here, the Ressence Type 1 does away with traditional hands in favour of disk system that has to be seen to be believed. In operation it is mesmerising, a concept that manages to be simultaneously complicated and simple. The whole mechanism is incased in a sapphire sandwich, with a mirror-finished titanium sliver the meat in the middle. No matter what angle you choose to view the Type 1 from, it delivers an organic, futuristic view that is as yet unmatched by any other manufacturer, let alone watchmaker. It’s for that reason alone, for the inventiveness and the ability to make us completely rethink what we understand about watchmaking, that the Ressence Type 1 gets the accolade of TWM’s ‘Most Stylish Watch Ever’. Praise doesn’t come any higher than that.