“Created after the 1970s quartz crisis, luxury sports watches quickly became the most sought-after watch category.”
What is a Luxury Sports Watch?
Can you guess which category holds the current title for the most active and sought-after category of watches? Just think of all the watches that are nearly impossible to get and are reselling for twice or even more of their retail price. Think of the Rolex Submariner or the Patek Philippe Nautilus, what do they have in common? Exactly, they are both made from steel, are sportive and durable, and both are considered to be in the sports luxury sports watches category. Watches in this category are usually defined by their mix of luxurious appeal, relatively robust cases, and subtle look. Dominated for long by the pioneers of the genre – a style defined in 1972 by the Royal Oak, soon followed by the Nautilus, the VC Overseas, the Girard Perregaux Laureato, and others – the market has expanded drastically of late following the high demand of iconic models.
What to look for in a luxury sports watch
Before I can tell you what you should be on the lookout for when buying a luxury sports watch, we first have to take a look at was distinguishes sports watches from dive watches. Usually, those two categories get mixed up quite often and this for a good reason. Dive watches, while not necessarily luxurious, share a lot of the same DNA as the typical luxury sports watch. First, the robust and sporty case, which can be seen in a lot of dive watches and is actually required to ensure a maximum of water resistance. A second thing that they both have in common, is that usually their cases are made from stainless steel. And this has a good reason, since stainless steel is the best fitting material (besides titanium), due to its robustness and its easy maintenance. So, as you see, dive watches and sports watches have a lot in common, but the main difference is the water resistance. While dive watches only are considered as such, if they have a minimum of 100 meters of water resistance, a sports watch doesn’t have a guideline or a measurable value to determine if it is one or not. Something else to distinguish the both is, that luxury sports watch almost always have a solid metal bracelet, and most of the time, this bracelet is even integrated into the case, as you will see with most of the watches on this list.
So, what should you look out for when buying a luxury sports watch? Basically, it comes down to four things. The movement, the build quality, the brand, and overall looks. The first three points, movement, build quality, and brand, can be summarized into the following: The watch doesn’t get to call itself “luxury” if the movement, finishing quality and the brand aren’t living up to the current luxury standards of the watch industry. Take for example the Nautilus or the Rolex Submariner, those are real luxury pieces. You feel the quality and care that went into them, and usually, such watches come with the corresponding price tag. The last thing to look for is fairly obvious. Does it look sporty? If not, it’s not a luxury sports watch, doesn’t matter if the manufacturer sells it as one. So as you see, it’s fairly easy to spot a sports watch.
So, now that you know the basics about luxury sports watches, let’s look at five of the best ones that you can buy.
The first watch on this list needs no introduction. Even if you don’t really care about watches, you probably already heard of the Rolex Submariner. And that’s no surprise. Ever since its introduction in 1954, the Rolex Submariner is one of the most iconic and well-known watches in the whole history of watches. Being the first-ever dive watch to receive a water resistance certificate of 100 meters, Rolex quickly gained respect among enthusiasts and connoisseurs, which ultimately led to their present success. But the coolness factor wasn’t just due to the water resistance and the clean looks. The watch was also worn by countless iconic actors like Sean Connery or Steve McQueen. Both added tremendously to the popularity of the watch and strengthened the image of the cool sports watch with a luxurious twist.
Remember when I talked about the sports watch and the dive watch sharing a huge chunk of DNA? Well, the Rolex Submariner is the perfect example of that. And while the Submariner is considered to be a dive watch, it still ticks all the boxes of a sports watch. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the Submariner adheres perfectly to the typical diver aesthetic, as well as to the typical sporty aesthetic. The Oystersteel case is complemented by a unidirectional rotatable bezel which features a cerachrom insert in black ceramic. And believe me, this is one of the best parts of the watch. The whole bezel with the shiny black ceramic is absolutely stunning, which even gets better if you turn the unidirectional bezel, and hear the satisfying click sound it makes. The thing about the Submariner is, that every part of the watch just fits so well into the overall look and feel. And this is especially noticeable when you look at how the bezel and the case fit in with the highly legible chromalight dial.
Inside the Oyster case beats the automatic Manufacture 3230 caliber, which, of course, is made by Rolex in-house, and provides around 70 hours of power reserve.
For me personally, the Rolex Submariner is one of the greatest sports/dive watches of all time. It has a great history, looks great, and packs the Rolex typical punch. What would you want more from a watch?
Specifications: Price: $8,100, Case Size: 41mm, Thickness: 12.4mm, Lug-to-Lug: 47.6mm, Lug Width: 21mm, Water Resistance: 300m, Movement: Automatic Manufacture 3230 movement, Power Reserve: 70 Hours, Crystal: Sapphire
Czapek Geneve Antarctique Passage de Drake
Moving on from the iconic and well-known Rolex Submariner to the lesser-known, but equally exciting Czapek Geneve Antarctqiue Passage de Drake. Puuh, that took a while to say… let me catch my breath first…
Anyway, the brand behind the watch, Czapek Geneve, has quite an interesting history. It all started in 1832, when Franciszek Czapek, a Czech and Polish citizen, fled to Switzerland and founded his first watch manufacturing company, “Czapek & Moreau”. From 1832 to 1869, Franciszek and his partner, Antoine Norbert de Patek, went on to produce several timepieces and even were recognized as one of the greatest watchmakers of the 19th century. But then, in 1869, the brand and all of its history suddenly disappear.
143 years later, in 2012, the Czapek company name was re-established. The three entrepreneurs behind this revival created a library of original Czapek timepieces to understand his work and personality, and they worked on new designs as if he was seated with them having traveled through time. Then, in 2015, Czapek Geneve was reintroduced to the press and the public, which was the cornerstone in leading the company to win the coveted Public Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève and to open a new boutique in Geneva. Fun fact, the boutique is only a few steps away from Czapek’s original atelier, which was established in 1845.
Know that you know a little bit more about the history of the company, let’s take a look at the specs of the watch. The Antarctqiue Passage de Drake features a beautifully brushed, stainless steel case, which measures 40.5mm in diameter and 10.6mm in thickness. Speaking of which, the integrated bracelet with brushed and polished links fits in perfectly with the brushed case endings. But as nice as the case and the bracelet may be, the real eye-catcher of this watch is without any doubt its dial. The watch features a dark blue, stamped “flinqué” dial with the exclusive, officially registered “Stairway to Eternity” pattern. I once saw this watch in real life and I have to say, this dial is amazing. The way that the stamps on the dial play with the light and perspective are just spectacular.
Anyway, let’s see if the watch is just a pretty face or if there is actually something special behind the facade. And let me tell you, you won’t be disappointed. The Antarctqiue Passage de Drake features Czapek’s in-house self-winding mechanical movement, the caliber SXH5, which beats at 4Hz, has 28 jewels, and provides a cool 60 hours of power reserve.
Overall, I think, it’s safe to say, that Franciszek Czapek would be proud if he could see where his company is now, and the care and effort that goes into every Czapek timepiece.
Specifications: Price: $18,000, Case Size: 40.5mm, Thickness: 10.6mm Lug-to-Lug: n/a, Lug Width: n/a, Water Resistance: 120m, Movement: Automatic in-house Calibre SXH5 movement, Power Reserve: 60 hours, Crystal: Sapphire
Patek Philippe Nautilus
Next up is one of the most iconic watches ever produced. The Patek Philippe Nautilus. Introduced back in 1976, the Nautilus was the saving grace for a weakened Patek Philippe, who just went through the notorious Quartz Crisis of the 1970s. Following the release of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Girard Perregaux Laureato, which were the first watches that challenged the common belief of what a luxury watch should be, the Patek Philippe Nautilus released their own luxurious stainless-steel watch. And what a watch that was. Being priced even higher than the watches of the competition, Patek and their Nautilus Ref. 3700, turned a lot of heads. Mainly because of its price tag, the case shape, which resembles a ship’s porthole, and the, at the time, very large case proportions. Measuring 42mm in diameter, the Nautilus was way ahead of its time, with the average watch measuring somewhere around 39mm. Basically, Patek broke every rule of watchmaking with just one watch.
As most of you may have heard, Patek Philippe discontinued their iconic, blue dialed Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A-010 in January 2021, and made space for its predecessor, the new Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A with the green dial. Therefore, today, we are going to look at the new green-dialed version, just to make sure that you receive up-to-date content. But if you are interested in alternatives to the one with the blue dial, I wrote an article about this topic. You can check it out here.
Equipped with the self-winding caliber 26-330 S C, the updated version features a stainless-steel case, which measures 40mm in diameter and 8.3mm in height, making it wear more compact than most of its competitors. And in true Patek manner, the stainless-steel bracelet, with its brushed and polished links, flows effortlessly into the case, making it one of the best-integrated bracelets on the market. So forth, everything seems to be as before. But not exactly everything. Complementing the case and the bracelet perfectly is its new youthful muted green dial, which gives the watch a kick of freshness. And with the trend clearly going towards green dialed watches, Patek introduced it at the exact right time.
Specifications: Price: $34,890, Case Size: 40mm, Thickness: 8.3mm Lug-to-Lug: n/a, Lug Width: n/a, Water Resistance: 120m, Movement: Automatic caliber 26-330 S C movement, Power Reserve: 35-45 hours, Crystal: Sapphire
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
Moving on to the next watch on this list, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph about the PP Nautilus, the Royal Oak was actually the first watch to introduce the luxury sports watch concept, into the industry. After taking a huge hit in the Quartz Crisis, countless watch manufacturers had to close their doors forever, due to the decrease in demand for mechanical watches. But unlike the smaller manufacturers, the big players in the game like Audemars Piguet, had the means to adapt, and to develop new and innovative watches. And this is exactly what Audemars Piguet did when they released their Royal Oak back in 1972. For the first time, a luxury watch manufacturer launched a sports watch, made entirely from stainless steel. And for a brand like AP, which belonged to the Holy Trinity and was known for manufacturing thin, elegant, and refined dress watches, this was a huge novelty, which went on to influence the luxury watch market for decades to come and ultimately the reason I am writing this article right now. And you reading it, by the way.
The AP Royal Oak is the perfect combination of both robust and luxury, which makes it the ultimate luxury sports watch. This combination of both luxury and robustness can be clearly seen when taking a closer look at the case. Measuring 41mm in diameter, the stainless-steel case features the iconic porthole bezel with the exposed screws as well as a brushed integrated bracelet, which the Royal Oak is so famous for. Complementing the combination of brushed and polished surfaces perfectly is the dark blue dial with the “Grande Tapisserie” pattern, the white gold applied hour-markers, and the luminescent Royal Oak hands.
Powered by the automatic manufacture caliber 4302, the Royal Oak provides 70 hours of power reserve and a 4hz frequency.
I will be honest here, while the AP Royal Oak is an awesome watch and undoubtedly worth every penny of its $22,900 price tag, I personally still prefer the Nautilus from Patek. But this choice is based on my personal taste and preferences and isn’t because of the quality or the movement of the watch. I just like the looks of the Nautilus better.
Specifications: Price: $22,900, Case Size: 41mm, Thickness: 10.4mm Lug-to-Lug: 51mm, Lug Width: n/a, Water Resistance: 50m, Movement: Automatic manufacture caliber 4302 movement, Power Reserve: 70 hours, Crystal: Sapphire
Vacheron Constantin Overseas
As part of the Holy Trinity, Vacheron Constantin, alongside Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet, is one of the most prestigious and well-known watch manufacturers out there. Founded in 1755 by Jean-Marc Vacheron, the brand, also known as The Maison, is based in Geneva, Switzerland.
And alongside Patek’s Nautilus and AP’s Royal Oak, the Overseas from Vacheron was the third iconic watch that was developed during the Quartz Crisis of the 70s. After the release of the Royal Oak in 1972, the release of the Nautilus in 1976, Vacheron, in 1977, decided to launch their own sports watch. The watch was designed by Jorg Hysek and was given the name “222”. For those of you wondering why “222”, the watch was a celebration for the brand’s 222 years anniversary and was Vacheron’s way of breaking away from the traditional dress watch. And this watch was the cornerstone for the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Phase 1, which was released in 1996 and stayed in production until the year 2004. This watch was a direct descendant of the “222” and is what brought success to Vacheron’s sports watches. Like the 222, the Overseas was built around a tonneau-shaped case with a fluted bezel reminiscent of the Maltese cross. Its dynamic lines were extended by an integrated bracelet with geometric links. After 2004, Vacheron released the Overseas Phase 2, which was produced until 2016, when they introduced the latest Overseas line, the Overseas Phase 3.
The latest VC Overseas features a 41mm stainless steel case, a polished bezel, and an integrated bracelet, which, like the previous models, bears a subtle resemblance to the Maltese cross, a Vacheron Constantin icon. Complementing the bezel, is an eye-catching blue dial, which features applied indexes, an outer minute rail, VC hands, and a date window at 3 o’clock. Inside of the stainless-steel case, beats the automatic 5100 movement, which has a power reserve of about 60 hours.
Priced at $22,500, the Vacheron Constant Overseas with the reference 4500V/110A-B128 definitely earns itself a spot on this list and is a cool alternative to the Nautilus and the Royal Oak.
Specifications: Price: $22,500, Case Size: 41mm, Thickness: 11mm Lug-to-Lug: 48.7mm, Lug Width: n/a, Water Resistance: 150m, Movement: Automatic 5100 movement, Power Reserve: 60 hours, Crystal: Sapphire