Feature: 10 Watches That Are Just Too Good
There are many famous watches out there that could be considered the coolest, but that misses out so many great choices that I think are even cooler. So here they are, the ten low-key coolest watches in the world. See if you agree!
Grand Seiko SBGY007
Any watch named “Path of the Gods” or Omiwatari in Japanese is instantly cool. A high-end, luxury offshoot of Seiko, Grand Seiko has been knocking it out the park with its recent nature-themed designs that take hand craftsmanship to the very extreme. At 38.5mm in steel, this SBGY007 isn’t big or flashy, but when you look closer you realise what all the fuss is about.
You see, the Path of the Gods is the name of the winter ice that forms on Lake Suwa outside the Grand Seiko Shinshu watch studio where the watches are crafted. Japan is already a beautiful place, so you know when they start dishing out names like that, it’s got to be impressive.
I’ve never seen the ice, but if it looks anything like the dial of the Omiwatari, which was inspired by a wintery Lake Suwa, it has to be impressive. Sharp waves cut from the dial give the impression of shifting ice flows, and a changing colour from silver to powder blue makes it feel just as chilly. It also has the rather pretty manually wound spring drive calibre 9R31. At £7,700, it’s cool in more ways than one.
Breitling Premier B25 Datora 42 AB2510201K1P1
If you thought Breitlings were busy watches for aging movie stars, the Premier B25 Datora is here to set the record straight. Think of it as an apology for decades of watches that just didn’t quite hit the mark. At 42mm, it’s every bit as big as a Breitling should be, but instead of screwheads and eye tests, it gets the Breitling look the brand was originally famous for.
The Premier collection, in fact, was introduced by Willy Breitling back in 1943 to prove the brand’s watchmaking ability, and here it is again doing the same job. The calibre B25 packs in not just the time and chronograph we’ve come to expect of Breitling, but a calendar too, complete with moon phase.
It’s hard to pinpoint what makes this Datora 42 so cool. Maybe it’s the salmon dial. Maybe it’s the elegant displays. Maybe it’s the fact people keep thinking it’s a Patek Philippe. Whatever the reason, at £10,200, it’s certainly a lot less than a Patek Philippe.
Rolex Datejust 126200-0020 Green Palm
Everybody’s heard of Rolex, so that makes the Datejust the least low-key choice available, but bear with me here. This is the 36mm variant in steel with no less than the laser-etched palm motif dial in green. In this size and configuration, it’s a combo that you’ll see a lot less of than any other Rolex, so if you simply must have a watch from the famous brand but don’t want to blend in amongst a sea of Submariners, this could be the choice for you.
The smaller case is very in keeping with the growing trend for discreet watches and harks back to the original Rolex tickers of the early 20th century, many of which were this small or even smaller. It’s great for hiding under a cuff when you just don’t want to be that guy flashing his fancy watch.
But when it does come out to play, there’s an unexpected surprise. A Rolex dial is usually solid black, sometimes white, and maybe a single colour if you’re lucky. Here it’s sunburst green, which goes from deep olive in some lights and almost gold in others. The laser-etched palm trees add even more light play to the dial, meaning no two parts ever look the same. The fact that, at £6,100, it’s also one of Rolex’s cheapest watches, is also a bonus.
Tudor Black Bay Pro M79470-0001
From a Rolex to a Rolex alternative, we arrive at Tudor’s Black Bay Pro. Now, this watch generated a lot of buzz at launch amongst the community, but I still think it’s a relative unknown in the wider world. So rather than splash out for a hugely expensive vintage Rolex Explorer, upon which this watch is based, you can pay just £3,170 for one of these instead.
Sounds like a complete copycat watch until you realise that Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf himself created Tudor to make cheaper alternatives to his Rolex watches, which this continues the trend of today. Except instead of making alternatives to Rolex’s current line-up, it’s all based on watches Rolex used to make that are hideously expensive now.
Think of Tudor as the Rolex brand for enthusiasts, making high-quality, well-priced watches that look like Rolex in its prime. The brushed bezel and faded orange GMT hand are all straight from the vintage Rolex playbook, creating what is perhaps the most attractive watch to be made by a Rolex company today.
Patek Philippe In-line Perpetual Calendar 5236P
The perpetual calendar watch has long since been the pinnacle for watchmaking excellence, demanding enormous skill and expertise to fashion a working movement to power the complication. Most of the time, however, the watchmakers are only thinking of the back, leaving what goes on up front—the stuff you and I have to decipher—in the hands of the gods. The result is normally an incoherent mess of leap years, days, months and everything else that goes on to keep the date on track.
Not so with the Patek Philippe In-line Perpetual Calendar 5236P. Based on a Patek Philippe pocket watch, the 5236P uses a clever arrangement of wheels behind the dial to give—as the name suggests—a single line of information about the present date. This doesn’t need adjustment until the year 2100, so long as the watch is kept wound.
It’s a complication that belies its complexity by appearing so simple. A traditional, messy perpetual calendar appears more impressive because it is so busy, but really the reverse is true. This understated, ultimate cool is cased in 41mm of platinum, and will set you back £109,520.
CIGA Design Blue Planet
From a massively expensive watch to a surprisingly cheap one, we have the CIGA Design Blue Planet. The people at CIGA wanted to draw attention to the plight of our home without being preachy about it, and so they created a watch that uses the blue marble as its main time indicator.
The compass icon is where the time is read, aligning with the outer hour and minute tracks to tell the time. The globe itself shoes the landmasses in relief, a subtle detail that’s really apparent in person. It’s an award-winning design, but thanks to clever thinking, it may look like it, but it doesn’t actually cost the Earth.
Starting at $899 in steel, the Blue Planet uses a standard movement to create a unique time-telling display, set in a pebble-like case capped with a domed crystal that represents the fragility of our atmosphere.
Richard Mille Tourbillon Bubba Watson RM 038
I’ll start with the craziest thing about the Richard Mille Tourbillon Bubba Watson RM 038. If you want one, it’ll cost you $1,000,000. That’s because this limited run watch, created by Richard Mille to withstand the powerful swing of golf legend Bubba Watson, is no ordinary watch.
Richard Mille has been furnishing the most extreme athletes with watches for years, surviving Grand Slams, PGA Tours and high-g F1 crashes without putting a foot wrong. With Bubba Watson’s near-200mph swing, a watch should be obliterated, but not the RM 038.
A lightweight magnesium alloy plus a strengthened architecture for the movement means that not only can the watch keep on running, it can do so with a tourbillon in place, one of the more delicate functions a watch can have.
Casio G-Shock Octagon Series GA-2100-1A1ER
There are a lot of reasons why the Casio G-Shock Octagon Series is one of the coolest around. First, it’s available for less than £100, which is a complete anomaly in amongst all these other watches. Secondly, the shape echoes the great designs of the 1970s, whilst still honouring the original Casio G-Shock eight-sided shape.
Not only that, but this is a watch you can do practically anything in. It’s water-resistant to 200m, it’s packed with features like 5 daily alarms and an automatic calendar, it’s shock proof and it can tell you the time in two different time zones at once. And that’s just for starters.
It’s not only the ideal watch for taking on an expedition, it also looks incredibly good in a watch collection too. There aren’t many sub-£100 watches that can do that.
H. Moser & Cie. Swiss Alp Watch 5324-0101
The most popular watch in the world right now is the Apple Watch. Instantly recognisable and effortlessly stylish in a way only Apple can muster, it’s also the coolest watch in the world. Almost. The title for coolest has to go to the $25,000 H. Moser Swiss Alp watch, which as you can see looks very much like an Apple Watch indeed—except with one big difference.
In celebrating the Swiss-ness of Swiss watches, H. Moser chose to make this particular Apple Watch with a mechanical movement in place of the computer. You won’t get emails on this thing, or Instagram notifications—all you get is the steady ticking of a high-end, Swiss-made movement.
The calibre HMC 324 is a uniquely rectangular engine that perfectly fills the back of this watch. It’s a little-known fact that making a rectangular movement is very rare, particularly because there are so few rectangular watches. That means most manufacturers don’t bother and just stick a small, round one in the back. Not here. Instead, you get to enjoy the best of watchmaking in the most modern setting.
Zenith Academy Georges Favre-Jacot 18.2210.4810/01.C713
Perhaps the coolest low-key watch you’ll find in the world is one made by Zenith. This is the $40,000 Academy George Favre-Jacot, named after Zenith’s founder. At first glance it might seem like a very traditional watch, but upon closer inspection you’ll see something else going on. Inside is what looks like a very small chain—and it looks like a very small chain because it is a very small chain.
Believe it or not, many older pocket watches were fitted with these tiny chains wrapped around spiral gears in order to fix a problem. Springs exert less torque as they wind down, and that causes a watch to run poorly. So, the chain and gear—called a fusée—would change the torque needed to drive the watch, a bit like changing down gears on a bicycle to make it easier to pedal.
Those pocket watches were a lot bigger than this 45mm Zenith, which makes the tiny chain in this watch even more impressive. Modern materials and designs mean the issue isn’t anywhere near as bad as it used to be in a pocket watch, so this mechanism is more a demonstration of ability—but nevertheless, it’s a very cool one.