The problem of longitude — where you are on the planet, east-west speaking — was the thorniest puzzle of the day, or really, of the 18th century. In 1714, the British government offered the huge prize of £20,000 (roughly £2 million today) to anyone who could solve the longitude problem once and for all. Enter a self-trained carpenter from Yorkshire, John Harrison.
Strapped for time
Whether or not you know exactly what a NATO strap is, you’ve definitely seen one. A trend item that has aggressively taken hold of the watch industry, NATOs can be found on just about any watch, from $35 Timex Weekenders to $7,000 Rolex Submariners to $50,000 Patek Philippes. While the straps have become fairly ubiquitous, their origin can be traced back to a single point in history — and it has nothing to do with NATO forces.
Arguably First, Undeniably Great
Imagine a time before quartz watches, when the technology of timekeeping was still springs and gears made in workshops in the Swiss mountains. While the Americans and Russians were racing to put men into space, a different sort of race was going on between watch companies sprinting toward the milestone of the first self-winding, or automatic, chronograph. No matter how you frame the discussion, the debate over who created the first automatic chronograph is a heated one. One path to clearing confusion is to say that Zenith produced the very first Swiss-made, fully integrated automatic chronograph — the El Primero.
Born of a desire to create a watch that never breaks, the Casio G-Shock is revered by many as “the toughest watch on the planet”. But it is much more than that. The G-Shock is universally respected, avidly collected, and loved by everyone from Navy SEALS to tree-hugging tech nerds, a watch that gives new meaning to the word “durable”. But where did it come from? Let’s go back to the beginning: Casio’s head of watch design Kikuo Ibe and his “Team Tough” designers.
Just Five Things
The Seiko 5 isn’t just one watch. Instead, hundreds of watches with numerous different designs, intended for different uses, have carried the emblematic shield logo with the 5 in the center. In fact, the watches have been signed several different ways — Seiko 5, Seiko 5 Sports, Seiko Sportsmatic 5, Seiko 5 Actus — with movements ranging from 17 to 25 jewels. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the original Sportsmatic 5, a watch that spawned affordable innovation and offspring galore.
From the deep, for the deep
As men were pioneering ways to explore and live in outer space in the 1960s, another groundbreaking initiative was taking place closer to home, in an equally hostile environment: the ocean. Parallel efforts by the U.S. Navy, the French commercial diving firm COMEX and diving legend Jacques Cousteau were developing a way for man to live on the ocean floor by breathing a gas mixture made up of a majority of inert helium combined with oxygen. “Saturation diving”, as the new method was called, greatly increased possibilities for living underwater by removing the need to frequently come to the surface to decompress.
But a problem was discovered: the crystals of divers’ watches were blowing off upon decompression at the end of their time on the seabed. A new dive watch was needed, and Rolex responded with the now-legendary Sea Dweller.
The Pilot's Pilot Watch
When he was asked about the prominent bit of bling (or “B’ling”) on his wrist, a former test pilot for the U.S. Air Force replied, “I need a Navitimer so I can do my calculations!” That brief anecdote may tell you something about how the Breitling Navitimer is viewed by the guys who fly jets for a living. The bit about calculations would be in reference to the Navitimer’s most recognizable feature, the “navigation computer” — a circular slide rule located on the rotating bezel that a pilot can use to handle all the calculations they need to make when planning a flight. We examine the pilot’s watch.
To refer to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak as a mere icon is to almost willfully ignore the importance of the watch, the line it inspired, or, indeed, the genre that it gave birth to. Few, if any, timepieces have so thoroughly altered the industry or impacted our conception of watchmaking as the Royal Oak, and for good reason. This timepiece didn’t just save a company. It single-handedly created an entirely new class of watch.
Over the years the Reverso — created in 1931 as a watch that could withstand the rigors of a polo game — has seen countless versions, alleged patent squabbles, clones and wannabes from both sides of the Atlantic, a brief suspension of production, and perhaps even a flirtation with quartz. We delve into the storied past of this absolute icon.
An enigma wrapped in a riddle inside of a mystery
Today, the Daytona is one of Rolex’s most popular models, and no one is surprised when a rare vintage model achieves a half-million dollar hammer price at auction. This is ironic, because not that long ago, Rolex dealers could hardly give these models away. It’s not too often that a watch goes from a sales dud to a piece for which people will wait years (just for the honor of paying full retail price), but that’s what makes the Daytona such a fascinating story.
Time to Drive
Wheels and gears, second hands and tach needles, power trains and power reserves. Men have always been fascinated by time, speed, accuracy and power — and the beautiful combination of high-end timepieces and exotic roadgoing automobiles captures these obsessions appropriately. And whether the watch of choice is used to measure lap splits or to simply echo the same kind of quality and heritage as his car, you can be assured that careful time was taken to select both. We match up some of the best in timekeeping and automobilia in Gear Patrol style.
The Heuer Carrera can be summed up in one word: legible. When Jack Heuer, the great-grandson of Heuer’s founder, decided to introduce a new line of chronograph watches in 1963, ease of reading was the foremost design goal. Taking inspiration from the dashboard dials of racing cars, Jack developed what is arguably one of the best-looking chronographs ever made. These were watches designed to be worn on the track and in the cockpit of the world’s fastest cars, and many of the best drivers of the 1960s and 1970s chose Heuers. This was a time before brand ambassador programs paid celebrities to wear their watches; drivers like Mario Andretti, Gilles Villeneuve, Clay Regazzoni, Jochen Rindt, Niki Lauda, and Jo Siffert wore Heuers just because they liked them.
From Here to the Moon
When the Mercury program started putting men in orbit, American astronauts largely chose their own watches to wear. John Glenn strapped a Heuer stopwatch to his wrist and Scott Carpenter wore a specially-modified Breitling known as the Cosmonaute. But by the 1960s, NASA saw a need to qualify every piece of vital equipment in the capsule, and the wristwatch was one of them. Wally Schirra had already worn his own OMEGA Speedmaster on his Mercury-Atlas 8 mission in 1962, and it was included in a quiver of chronographs selected by NASA for rigorous testing. Subjected to extreme temperature fluctuations, violent shocks, vibrations, vacuum and humidity, the Speedmaster outperformed watches from the likes of Rolex, Wittnauer and Longines to be named NASA’s approved timepiece. It was March 1st, 1965.
Two-timer from the jet age
Introduced at the dawn of the jet age, the Rolex GMT-Master has become an enduring symbol of a time when travel was both more glamorous and more adventurous. This most colorful of Rolexes, transcended its aviation beginnings and has been worn by astronauts, test pilots, a famous TV detective, a Bond girl and a sports…
A collectible in its own right
Seiko watches have a long and impressive history: the company produced their first watches in 1924 and have continuously produced wrist watches till this day. While often exempt from the conversation about fine timepieces that is typically reserved for German and Swiss pedigrees, Seiko takes quality very seriously. While they now produce some parts overseas…
Not just the "poor man's Rolex"
Everybody and his grandmother knows who Rolex is. They’ve done such a wonderful job marketing their brand that even folks who couldn’t care one whit about watches will swear up and down that Rolex is not just the best watch made, it’s the only watch worth considering. Period. Well, as connoisseurs of the craft, we…
Blessed by the God of the Sea
In the 1960s, scuba diving’s popularity was booming, thanks almost entirely to one man: Jacques-Yves Cousteau. It was Cousteau who, along with Emile Gagnan invented the Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) known as the Aqua-Lung. It was also Cousteau, whose French-accented voiceovers and globetrotting adventures on his TV series fascinated households worldwide. And as if…
This article is Volume 2 in our special Icons series for Timekeeping, written by our guru Jason Heaton. In case you missed it, be sure to catch our first Icons article, Volume 1: Super Compressor Dive Watch. 1970 was a year of great ups and downs for the mechanical chronograph. The vaunted Omega Speedmaster helped…
When most people think of a dive watch, the first thing that comes to mind is the prototypical ratcheting bezel, with its chunky flutings and bold markers. But there was another style of diver that emerged in the early days of recreational diving and found great popularity – the Super Compressor. To be clear, the…