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Wristwatches: The 10 Most Legendary Watches

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The 10 Most Legendary Watches you can still buy today
© 2003-2007 Elegant-Lifestyle Ltd. All rights reserved.

There are the very best watches, the very rare watches and the most expensive watches, but what are the most legendary watches which one can still buy these days - this is the quest Elegant-Lifestyle is after in this Special Feature. We have asked many watch experts and have consulted literature such as the Wristwatch Annual. The watches included in this selection must have left a mark in the history of watchmaking but still be available in watch shops or at selected jewellers. 

The Elegant-Lifestyle list of the most legendary watches includes the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the Breitling Navitimer, the Cartier Tank, the IWC Portuguese, the Jaeger Le Coultre Reverso, the Lange und Soehne Lange 1, the Muller Masterbanker, the Omega Speedmaster, the Patek Philippe Calatrava and the Rolex Daytona.

(1) Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

Audemars Piguet was founded in 1875, when Jules-Louis Audemars (1851-1918), in order to cope with orders for luxury calibres emanating from the great watchmaking houses in Geneva, became officially associated with Edward-Auguste Piguet (1853-1919). Mr Audemars handled the technical management of the small company, while Mr Piguet took charge of sales and marketing. The company is the world's oldest Manufacture still in the hands of the founding families. The great-grandchildren of the two founders, Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet, ensure the continuity of a legacy based on age-old know-how and three fundamental values: tradition, excellence and innovation.

The Royal Oak watch became a legend right from its launch in 1972, as a watch that has made contradiction a style. It chooses the octagon to reinvent elegance; imposes steel to make it a luxury; and demonstrates watchmaking performances because it never deliberately takes the easy path. Having become a way of life, the Royal Oak continues to demonstrate a constant capacity for invention and daring. While asserting its flamboyant nature, it nonetheless remains loyal to the fundamental values of the Manufacture Audemars Piguet.

Price: starting from 3,500 pounds (5,000 euros or 7,000 US dollars RSP)

Contact Address:
Audemars Piguet, 6 avenue August Forel, CH-1110 Morgs, Switzerland, 
Telephone: +41-21-845 1400, e-mail: hq@audemarspiguet.com
Official Website: www.audemarspiguet.com
 

(2) Breitling Navitimer

In 1884, Léon Breitling opens a workshop specializing in making chronographs and precision counters in St- Imiez, in the Jura mountains of Switzerland. Breitling specialised in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the making of high quality stopwatches (chronographs), and was one of the first manufacturers to recognise the need of early aviators for wrist watches incorporating such devices. Indeed, Breitling produced the first wrist watch chronograph in 1915. Throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s Breitling continued to make chronographs with different scales to suit different uses, in 1942 it produced the first chronograph with a slide rule - the Chronomat. 

In 1952, the Navitimer watch was introduced, a chronograph which had a navigation computer for pilots. The chronograph, along with the calculator, enabled the pilot to carry out all necessary calculations during his flight. The Navitimer became a valuable on-board instrument at that time, and remains a valuable collectible today. The Navitimer was subsequently selected as the official timepiece of the Aircraft Owners' and Pilots' Association (AOPA), something which Breitling has traded on ever since. But with Princess Stephanie of Monaco being seen wearing a Navitimer, this watch has also become a popular fashion accessory for ladies. 

Price: starting from 2,000 pounds (3,000 euros or 4,000 US dollars RSP) with steel strap and platinum limited edition starting from 35,000 pounds (50,000 euros or 70,000 US dollars RSP)

Contact Address:
Breitling SA, P.O. Box 1132, CH-2540 Grenchen, Switzerland, 
Telephone: +41-32-654 5454, e-mail: info@breitling.com
Official Website: www.breitling.com
 

(3) Cartier Tank Americaine

In 1847, Louis-Francois Cartier takes over the jeweller workshop from his teacher Adolphe Picard in Paris. In 1904, with sons and grandsons joining the business as partners, Cartier becomes purveyor to King Edward VII of England and the first watch with a leather strap is produced.  Cartier is then at the forefront of the Art Deco movement, which reinvents the design of jewellery, including watches.

In 1917, Louis Cartier sketched the first Tank Americaine watch, which was inspired by the American tanks that came in aid of the French troops in World War I (1916-1918). And in 1919, a year after the allied victory, the first models were available for sale. The prototype of the model was given to General Pershing, commander of the American forces. After that, the watch was worn by many famous people, including the late Gianni Agnelli, playboy and heir of the Fiat empire. Also Jackie Kennedy-Onassis, who was a role model for many women in the 60s, wore the Tank Americaine. 

Price: starting from 4,000 pounds (6,000 euros or 8,000 US dollars RSP)

Contact Address:
Cartier, 13 rue de la Paix , F-75002 Paris, France, 
Telephone: +33-1-4926 1700, e-mail: info@cartier.com
Official Website: www.cartier.com
 

(4) IWC Portuguese

In 1868, Florentine Ariosto Jones, an American from Boston, founds the International Watch Co. in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, and starts producing pocket watches. In 1885, IWC produces its first watches with a digital display, based on the Pallweber system.  In 1935: Production of the first wristwatch specifically for pilots; tested under extreme conditions, it features a rotating bezel. In 1938, in response to a request from Portugal, IWC produces an oversize wristwatch equipped with an extremely precise and original pocket watch movement - fittingly, the watch is known as the Portuguese.

Two established Portuguese watch dealers had inquired about a wristwatch in a steel case with the qualities of an observer's watch. Since this type of watch had previously existed only in pocket watch format, IWC's designers and watchmakers checked their records. The slimmest movement available at that time, the 74 calibre found in hunter pocket watches, was thus incorporated in an extremely precise wristwatch. This was to be the foundation stone for a horological family saga. The Automatic 2000 is an ode to the new millennium. The calibre 5000, the largest automatic movement with a Pellaton winding mechanism, has real staying power. The new design of power reserve gives the movement enough power in hand for one week.

Price: starting from 3,000 pounds (4,500 euros or 6,000 US dollars RSP)

Contact Address:
IWC Schaffhausen, Baumgartenstrasse 15, Postfach 686, CH-8201 Schaffhausen, Switzerland, 
Telephone: +41-52-635 6565, e-mail: info@iwc.ch
Official Website: www.iwc.ch
 

(5) Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso

In 1833, Antoine LeCoultre establishes a watchmaking workshop in Le Sentier in Switzerland, which is close to Geneva. It is still a Manufacture today, where the components of the watch are made, hand-finished and assembled in a single complex of specialized workshops. It is an extremely time-consuming way of making watches, but without it, the watchmakers would be unable to finish and decorate each detail of the watch to perfection.

Less than 100 years later, Jacques-David LeCoultre and the Société Jaeger commissioned René-Alfred Chauvot, the best design engineer of that period, to create an original case able to protect the precious watchmaking mechanism in all circumstances. This was because British polo-playing officers serving in India at the end of the 1920s were faced with an apparently insoluble problem: that of finding a watch rugged enough to stand up to their chic leisure activity. On 4th March 1931, Chauvot filed patent No. 712.868, including a detailed description of guiding grooves, pivoting catches and clicks, all housed within a "stainless steel case able to slide within its support and turn over completely on its axis" – this was the birth of the Reverso watch.

Price: starting from 2,000 pounds (3,000 euros or 4,000 US dollars RSP)

Contact Address:
Jaeger-LeCoultre S.A., Rue de la Golisse 8, CH - 1347 Le Sentier, Switzerland, 
Telephone: +41-21-845 02 02, Fax : +41-21-845 05 50, e-mail: info@jaeger-lecoultre.com
Official Website: www.jaeger-lecoultre.ch
 
 

(6) Lange 1

In 1845, the watchmaking name of A. Lange & Söhne (can also be spelled A. Lange & Soehne and means Lange & Sons in English) was first established by Adolph Lange in the town of Glashuette, Saxony, in South-East Germany. The firm established itself as makers of distinctive timepieces, famous customers included the last German emperor Wilhelm II. After the end of World War II the factory was seized by the East German Government. It was only after the German reunification in 1990, that the founder's great grandson, Walter Lange, began work to revive the company. Lange found a partner in Guenter Bluemlein, at that time the boss of Switzerland's famous IWC. 

In 1994, one of the first watches A. Lange & Söhne released was the make-or-brake-it Lange 1 watch - it was a very successful comeback and the demand for it by far has outstripped supply. It stunned the watch world by its new outsized date, which features the tens and the units on different wheels and was inspired by the clock above the stage in the world famous Semper Opera in Dresden, a city of culture near Glashuette. The Lange 1 also has a twin barrel mainspring, giving it a power reserve of more than three days. The power reserve is also indicated on the dial. The hand-winding movement and the 3/4 plate can be seen through the sapphire glass back. The movement is manufactured in-house - another reason that this watch is well above the crowd and making it an easy choice to add it to our list despite its late entry. 

Price: starting from 10,000 pounds (15,000 euros or 20,000 US dollars RSP)

Contact Address:
Lange Uhren GmbH, Altenberger Straße 15, D-01768 Glashütte, Deutschland, 
Telephone:  +49-35053-44 0, Fax : +49-35053-44 100, e-mail: info@lange-soehne.com
Official Website: www.lange-soehne.com
 

(7) Franck Muller Masterbanker

In 1973, Franck Muller enrolled at the famous Ecole de Hologorie de Geneve at the age of 15, at a time when everyone else was convinced that this was not a good idea as the Swiss watch making industry was in demise. He finished as the best of his class and started his career repairing old watches, which gave him a good insight into old watch mechanics and a solid technical foundation for his future career. Famous for being the Master of Complications, Franck Muller and his watches are popular with watch collectors and celebrities such as Elton John. 22 world premiere pieces demonstrate Franck Muller's feats and include elements never seen before in the history of watchmaking. Franck Muller has established himself firmly in the history of watchmaking and is respected by all other established brands by now.

Sometimes a client's request spurs Franck Muller to create a world premiere, and such was the case with the Master Banker. The triple time zone watch was created in response to a special request from a banker in London. According to Franck Muller, it was a challenge to invent something that no one had done in all the years watchmaking has been in existence. The real genius of Franck Muller watches is in their movements, which are produced in-house. All the watch movements are mechanical, produced with either manual or self-winding mechanisms.

Price: starting from 4,500 pounds (6,000 euros or 9,000 US dollars RSP)

Contact Address:
Franck Muller S.A., 22 Route de Malagny, CH-1294 Genthod, Switzerland, 
Telephone: +41-22-959 8888, Fax : +41-22-959 8882, e-mail: info@franckmuller.ch
Official Website: www.franckmullerusa.com
 

(8) Omega Speedmaster

In 1848, the assembly workshop created by 23-year-old Louis Brandt in La Chaux-de-Fonds gradually gained renown. He travelled throughout Europe selling his watches from Italy to Scandinavia by way of England, his chief market. After Louis Brandt's death in 1879, his two sons Louis-Paul and Cesar, abandoned the unsatisfactory assembly workshop system in favour of in-house manufacturing and total production control. Two years later the company moved into a converted spinning-factory in the Gurzelen district of Bienne, where headquarters are still situated today. Their first series-produced calibres, Labrador and Gurzelen, as well as, the famous OMEGA calibre of 1894, ensured the brand's marketing success. 

The Omega Speedmaster watch line is made up of five types of chronographs and the Speedmaster Professional has the most impressive history in the Omega range. It is the official watch of the astronauts and cosmonauts and it is the only watch ever worn on the Moon. It was chosen by NASA as the official watch for the astronauts because of its reliability in all atmospheric conditions and because its manual-winding movement which functions in the weightlessness of space. This includes tachometric bezel for measuring speeds, shock resistant hesalite crystal and a manual-winding mechanical movement with chronograph function.

Price: starting from 1,500 pounds (2,500 euros or 3,500 US dollars RSP)

World-Wide Contact Address:
OMEGA, Rue Stämpfli 96, CH-2500 Bienne 4, Switzerland, 
Telephone: +41-32-343 92 11, Fax : +41-32-343 94 60, e-mail: info@omega.ch
Official Website: www.omega.ch
 

(9) Patek Philippe Calatrava

In 1830, Norbert de Patek founded Patek, Czapek & Co. with his then-partner Franciszek Czapek, who was a master watchmaker. In 1844, while visiting a trade exhibition in Paris, de Patek met Jean Adrien Philippe, a French watchmaker, who was presenting an extremely thin pocket watch that could be wound and set at the stem with a winding crown. The next year, Patek hired Philippe and split up with Czapek, and in 1851, Patek changed the firm's name to Patek Philippe & Co. As technical director and head watchmaker, Philippe was responsible for horological breakthroughs, such as the invention of the so-called "slipping" mainspring, which led to the development of the automatic winding system in wristwatches.  Patek's client list is as impressive as its watches: Queen Victoria, Pope Pius IX, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, J. P. Morgan, Clark Gable, Duke Ellington and Andy Warhol. 

Originally designed in 1932, the classic round Calatrava wristwatch is named after the ornate cross that is the Patek Philippe’s company symbol. The refinement and control of the Calatrava's classic design convey much of the discretion and understated power that keep Patek Philippe at the pinnacle of the watchmaker's art and the Calatrava is now the company's best-selling design. Seen by many as Patek Philippe's signature model, the elegance captured in its round dial finds expression through subtle variations across the range. As many as 30 different models with distinct dial markings, hands and numerals lend character and individuality to each piece. Each piece takes up to nine months to complete, necessarily limiting numbers but ensuring uniform excellence. Elegance is the natural preserve of the Calatrava and marks its wearers with distinct good taste in any setting in a subtle way.

Price: starting from 6,000 pounds (9,000 euros or 12,000 US dollars RSP)

Contact Address:
Patek Philippe, Chemin du Pont du Centenaire, CH-1228 Plan Les Outes, Geneva, Switzerland, 
Telephone: +41-22-884 2020, Fax : +41-22-884 2040, e-mail: info@patek.ch
Official Website: www.patek.ch
 

(10) Rolex Daytona

In 1908, Rolex was founded by Mr. Hans Wilsdorf, a Bavarian fro Germany, in London. Initially the company was named Wilsdorf & Davis as Wilsdorf had founded the company together with his brother in law. Wilsdorf was a perfectionist who improved the standards of watch making as he strove for smaller and more accurate movements that transformed style and fashion from larger pocket watches to smaller more practical wristwatches. Wilsdorf recognized two major requirements for watches: to keep accurate time and to be reliable. Wilsdorf developed a screw crown and casebook mechanism that revolutionized the watch industry with the first waterproof watch. In 1931 Rolex invented the "Rotor" - a semicircular plate of metal that with gravity, would move freely to wind the watch. Thus, the Rolex "Perpetual" (automatic) movement was born. Since then, Rolex has always produced its own movements, which separates it from a lot of other well-known mechanical brands. 

As the only chronograph in the Rolex line-up, the Rolex Daytona, or correctly Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona, was designed in 1976. The Rolex Daytona was named in honour of the racing drivers who competed on the famous race-track in Florida, USA, and who appreciated its easily readable dial. Rolex and Daytona have enjoyed a privileged relationship since the International Speedway opened in 1959, sharing a unique preoccupation with the finer points of split-second timing. Paul Newman had a special Daytona dedicated to him as he has helped to make the watch world-famous as a film actor. The movement is automatic, i.e, selfwinding, and the automatic movement has a power reserve of up to 72 hours and a frequency of 28,600 vibrations per hour. The Daytona is waterproof up to 330 feet / 100 meters of depth as the sapphire crystal is virtually unbreakable. The Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona is 13mm thick and has a diameter of 42mm with its crown. 

Price: starting from 2,500 pounds (3,500 euros or 5,000 US dollars RSP)

Contact Address:
Rolex, 3-6 rue Francois Dussaud, CH-1211 Geneva 24, Switzerland, 
Telephone: +41-22-308 2745, Fax: +41-22-308 2583
Official Website: www.rolex.com

© 2003-2007 Elegant-Lifestyle Ltd. All rights reserved.
Any reproduction, even partial and by any process, is prohibited without written prior consent by Elegant-Lifestyle.

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