How do you define an iconic watch for a collector? Fashions change so quickly and in the modern digital age tastes are fickle, but perhaps it’s the designs and brands that appeal across the generations that should be noted.
When starting out collecting I always believe that the watches that resonate should be wearable every day, quirky to keep long term interest and appealing to your collecting peers. That’s not to say the watch should show off any form of status, but simply can be appreciated for its condition or rarity.
Collecting should also have stages, from perhaps the quest to put a number of watches together to the refining phase. And that is where collectors find real satisfaction; when you understand exactly what you like, you understand the reference and have the experience to navigate a good example from a bad one.
This suggestion of watches is not a definitive guide, but a broad approach taking into account all budgets and styles.
Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5980/1A
With the release of the reference 3700 in 1976, Patek Philippe created one of the best stainless steel luxury wristwatches available on the market and in the ensuing 40 years, it became an icon.
At the time of launch, Patek Philippe completely revolutionised the concept of a "sports watch" with its water resistant Nautilus case designed by famed Gerald Genta.
The watch was rugged, masculine and sporty in nature and could be worn in both casual settings as well as formal affairs.
Presented in 2006, reference 5980/1 was launched alongside its time-only sibling reference 5711.
At the time of launch, it was a completely novel design as the Nautilus model had never incorporated a chronograph function before.
Now discontinued in steel these early “blue dial” iterations are both discreet, but appealing to those who recognise the classic characteristics of a Patek complication and we see appreciation growing steadily amongst collectors.
Rolex Sea Dweller 16600
The Rolex Sea-Dweller initially debuted in 1967 as an effort from Rolex and COMEX to develop the ultimate professional dive watch.
With a successful interpretation, a gas escape valve was patented and fitted on the case band of the watch, allowing gas to escape in one direction hence achieving a much deeper depth rating than the Submariner ref. 5513.
The ref. 16600 was launched in 1989 replacing the former ref. 16660.
The new reference featured essentially the same depth rating as its previous model at 4,000ft, however upgraded with a new cal. 3135, the model was officially discontinued in 2008.
The clean yet functional look of the watch without the cyclops glass over the date that fits perfectly under a shirt and yet has significant case proportions to be worn with a polo has meant that these references have begun to appeal to those who appreciate an under the radar sports watch with that classic Rolex twist.
We have been fortunate to handle a number of these watches in new old stock condition, sourced in Japan with the original Rolex case back sticker and they remain a firm favourite with collectors.
FP Journe Zodiac
With the Octa Zodiac, FP Journe found an incredibly innovative method of creating a timepiece that indicates the date and the month, the former indicated via an aperture between 11 and 12 o’clock whereas the month, alongside the sign of the zodiac are printed on a disc that jumps one increment at each 24-hour period.
The Octa Zodiac was made between 2003 and 2005 in a limited edition of only 150 pieces in platinum. It was also FP Journe’s first gentleman’s wristwatch to feature central hands.
Interestingly, the watch is one of the extremely rare models to feature a 40mm case with a brass movement (instead of pink gold movement).
As with all Journe timepieces, the complexity of the movement is offset by the ease of use as all functions are set via the crown and yet unlike many of Journe’s limited edition pieces the Octa Zodiac never existed in a different metal in a non-limited edition series underlying its ultimate rarity.
With Journe focusing again on the Zodiac complication with his new ultimate grand complications we see this reference becoming a firm favourite with collectors especially when its brass movement heart is considered with a contemporary case size.
Rolex 6241 Paul Newman Daytona
No iconic watch discussion cannot include the Rolex Daytona and in particular the Paul Newman.
Phillips had the pleasure of bringing to market the watch owned by Paul Newman selling after frantic bidding at $17.8m, a world record for a wrist watch at the time.
In the pantheon of watch collecting, probably no other model is as recognizable, cherished, and discussed as the “Paul Newman” Rolex Daytona chronograph.
With its history from relative obscurity in the 1960s and 1970s, to the early 21st-century as being the number one most sought after collectors’ watch, it is an iconic timepiece, which few will own, but all will appreciate.
Prices range from £100,000 to £1,000,000.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
Gerald Genta left an indelible mark on the watch industry with timeless designs for both sports and dress watches and values for his halo pieces have dramatically risen over the last few years.
As such only the biggest of budgets are taking the plunge on Patek Nautilus. However, value can be sought in other references such as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and it is the 1st generation Perpetual Calendar reference 256545SA that catches my eye.
The Perpetual Calendar is widely acknowledged as one of the most practical Grand Complications and it was in this reference that we saw the first “sports” iteration.
To keep the jet set vibe of the time we would recommend sourcing a great, freshly serviced example in steel and gold or those with limited dial production.
The pictured example sold at Philipps Perpetual for £25,000.
Rolex 116610 LV “Kermit”
At Baselworld 2003, Rolex decide to take the unprecedented step of launching their very first Anniversary model to celebrate 50 years of the Submariner.
The reference 16610LV proudly sported a bright green bezel and special Maxi-Dial with larger lume plots, however in typical Rolex fashion, the model underwent several incremental changes throughout its short seven-year production run that make it incredibly attractive in the eyes of Rolex collectors.
Buyers should expect to pay between £15-30,000 for a full set example in excellent condition.
Patek Philippe World Time
World time (or what many would know as multiple time zone) watches have long been associated with record prices for both wristwatches and the brand and even modern examples are beginning to find healthy interest.
The reference 5110 launched in 2000 bridges the gap between vintage and modern day practicality and is fitted with the highly regarded 240 HU calibre.
Produced in various case materials and dial configurations, the production span ceased in 2006 and was replaced by reference 5130.
Prices vary depending on the rarity of dial and condition but good examples can be found from £30,000 in Platinum.
For those looking for something unique I would even suggest looking at the recently discontinued 5131 with its fabulous Cloisonne dial.
For more on vintage watches, go to phillips.com/perpetual