Unequalled stars for several decades, they still exert the same fascination on a wide public, effortlessly winning over lovers of prestige timepieces the world over. These four mythical watches have become real icons, and major watchmaking references for the twentieth century.
In 1917, Louis Cartier, inspired by the form of the British army armoured vehicles code named tanks, created the famous Tank L.C. To appreciate just how timeless the genius of the original concept has remained, you need only visit the Cartier museum collections. Throughout almost thirty years of existence, the Tank has been redesigned in a wide range of versions, each new one meeting with immense success, but without in any way making previous models unfashionable. Whether the Cintrée, the Chinoise, the Allongée, the handless model, the Basculante, the Americaine, the Screwdown, the Obus, the Divan, the Asymétrique or the Française, the Tank still makes heads turn.
In 1908, HansWilsdorf revolutionized the world of watchmaking by making the bracelet watch a cult object. In 1926, he created the Rolex Oyster, the first water-resistant watch, but it was in 1927 that everything took on, when Mercedes Gleutze crossed the Channel wearing a Rolex Oyster, the Rolex Perpetual movement. In 1945, the Datejust, the first water-resistant bracelet chronometer with automatic rewind and date indicator; in 1953, the Submariner, a water-resistant diver’s watch; in 1954, the GMTMaster; then in 1956, the Day Date, with day display in letters in twenty-five languages. From the 60s onwards, starting with the mythical “Daytona”, Rolex references have become legion.
The Reverso, created in 1931, is a fine example of the elegance of the Art Deco movement, and still conveys a spirit of innovation. Initially designed to resist the shocks incurred during Indian Army polo matches, it fast became proof of refinement for aesthetes as well as more generally a symbol of social success. Though the case was originally designed as a sporting model, it was soon produced in more ornamental versions, in time serving as a bearer of many an intimate and romantic message. It is still the watch most frequently given as an engagement gift. This year sees the introduction of one of the most complicated pieces in the history of watchmaking, the Reverso Tryptique.
In 1972, Gérald Genta created three stainless steel bracelet watches, each with a very similar outlook : the Patek Philippe Nautilus, the Girard-Perregaux Laureato and the hugely famous Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. The Royal Oak (the oak tree under which Charles II of England hid during the English Civil War, also the name of three Royal Navy ships) was the first luxury sports watch with both case and bracelet entirely in stainless steel. It revolutionized the history of watch design, and became the most expensive steel watch in the world. For almost thirty-five years, the Royal Oak has graced the wrists of the most powerful, and with the dozens of limited editions created each year, its success continues to grow.