Telling the time has been fundamental in the development of society for literally tens of thousands of years; from rocks on the top of a hill, right through to the click of a button on the side of an iPhone.
It’s mesmerising how every timepiece ever created seems to have a beauty in itself, whether the intricacy of tiny mechanical components, or the simplicity and accuracy of a sundial. Even the most modest of watches, a plastic Buzz Lightyear one perhaps, has the beauty of being suited perfectly to its wearer.
While researching for my previous watch-themed list, ‘Top Ten: Budget Watches to Make an Impression, ‘ (which I urge you to visit and comment) I came across a number of timepieces that make you stand mystically, with your jaw dropped, drooling over the jewellers window, at how captivatingly fit-for-purpose and beautiful they are.
It’s important to remember, also, that beauty doesn’t necessarily mean expensive… although I will have to concede that some expensive watches are indeed very, very nice.
1) Patek Philippe 1436 Split-Seconds Chronograph Steel – £2,284,000
Yes, you read the price right. Well, so much for my statement that beautiful watches don’t need to be expensive. This one is. Patek Philippe don’t do budget, they also rarely do novelty or quirky. Perhaps their motto sums up their attitude better than I can: ‘You never actually own a Patek Philippe watch, you merely look after it for the next generation’
This means they need to be timeless. And no, I don’t mean they shouldn’t tell the time. The 1436, therefore, is something really special. It’s the kind of watch you’ll only ever see in glossy magazines or of course, beautiful watch blog lists. While its original purpose was for budding horsey-types to time their finest stallions, it has now taken a new role. After recently being sold at auction, it’ll sit in a no doubt vast collection, taken out only for trips to the Palace or to show your plum-mouthed chums.
The beauty of this watch doesn’t just come from the price, as an object, it’s stunning. The clean white dial, bright steel case and delicate traditional hands truly give this an aura of timelessness, and the light tan strap makes it something one could wear every day casually. It’s just a shame we’ll never get to see it.
2) Van Cleefe and Arpels 44mm Midnight Planétarium – £170,000
OK, so we’re going in the right direction towards an ‘affordable’ beautiful watch, but really, the midnight planetarium is still a few notes over on the pricey side.
But just look at it. I can’t begin to imagine the intricacy and skill of the fine artisans who crafted it. To get an accurate representation of six planets and the current time (here on earth) is bloody impressive, and to be able to combine it all into a tiny and beautiful mechanical object is even more so.
Day to day, do you need to know where Jupiter is, in reference to Venus? No. but when was necessity ever exciting? Considering that a normal watch takes 12 hours to complete one full rotation, perhaps 31 days for the date wheel, but here we have something that will take 29 years before you see Saturn in the same place.
Van Cleefe and Arpels do like a whimsical display on their watches, and the Midnight Planetarium is possibly the magnum opus of this attitude. Perhaps it’s difficult to tell the time from the small shooting star around the edge of the display, but you’d be the talk of the town. Especially as people will think you’ve just returned from Hogwarts.
3) Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronograph 44 – £4,500
A much needed return to reality with Breitling now, a beautiful watch list wouldn’t be the same without a Breitling of some description, and my personal favourite is the Superocean heritage chronograph 44. Before you reach for your pitchforks, yes, a Navitimer is the epitome of Breitling-ness, but you must agree, it is overdone a little nowadays. The Superocean offers the same design DNA as the Navitimer, albeit diving as opposed to aviation inspired, but in a more unique and alternative way.
Next comes the strap and bezel choice. I like a leather strap, but there’s something utterly ‘bling’ and ‘swag’ about the steel mesh bracelet strap, and with the green-ish bezel, it makes it just on the right side of the eye-catching/eye-sore cliff.
There’s something inherently beautiful in a brand like Breitling, it’s managed to position itself as the ideal choice for the ‘real man,’ and the Superocean does do justice to their mould well. It’s an achievable goal for any 20-something year old, and that’s why it’s on my list.
4) Longines Master Collection Automatic Chronograph 44mm – £1,540
As we move ever closer to a potential Christmas present level of affordability, it’s time to look longingly towards Longines, and their master collection automatic chronograph. Put simply, it’s the most beautiful watch out there for under £2K (in my humble opinion) and I sit writing this, wanting it more than my next breath.
The utter brilliance and beauty of the machine turned chronographs, sitting amongst the lattice-work off-white face and contrasting dark tan croc-skin strap is eye-catching to say the least.
I can imagine this working with jeans as much as it would with a suit, and the versatility of it is possibly it’s greatest feature. No, it’s not got the magnetism of a Rolex logo, or the prestige of a Patek, but I find the slightly less mainstream way much more appealing.
Longines have recently began to create timepieces with a much more sporty look; divers watches, strong metal bracelets and uncompromising easy-to-read dials. The Master collection does none of these. Wonderfully delicate, electric blue hands and true classic late-nouveau numerals make this watch the one to wear every day.
What’s more, is its really quite reachable for us middle-earning young’uns.
5) Junghans Max Bill Chronoscope Automatic – £1,090
Here we have a real dilemma. one that’s not been matched since British MPs asked, ‘should be bomb Syria?’ The simple question of white dial or black dial?
Junghans has managed to create their Max Bill Chronoscope in a number of desirable guises, the best two of which, I have featured here. The simplest form of minimalism is ever present in the Danish/German style of these watches. The white face, with subtle squared numerals and elegantly thin hands, matched with the steel loop bracelet is the realization of an obsession with 1950’s and 60’s minimalism. The black face on the other hand, becomes a watch for more casual affairs, the brown strap harmonizing with the coloured numerals.
Everything on this watch, in true minimalist style, is there for a reason. It’s all about easily readable dials and chronographs, simple stopwatch-style side buttons and beautifully curved dome glass for optimal sight-lines.
It’s cheap, at least compared to the Patek earlier, so why not have both?
All a bit too much money?
Check out my other blog, Top Ten: Budget Watches to Make an Impression, for more reasonable options..