The History of Sports Watches

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It’s summer 2019 and sports watches seem to be all the rage.  Classic Omegas, TAG Heuers, Breitlings, Rolexes and more modern makes are flying out of here as quickly as we can get them in.  The popularity of sports watches isn’t confined to this year though and part of the attraction of buying them is that they never seem to go out of fashion.  As such, we were curious as to how this trend got started and how it’s developed over the years.

The King at The Races

In 1821, King Louis XVIII of France wanted a device to allow him to time the length of horse races.  His royal watchmaker, Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec, responded by making him a chronograph (essentially a stop watch).  This was not the first chronograph ever made but it was the first made for sports purposes so was pretty much the first ever sports watch even if it was a big box rather than a wrist watch.  The first wrist watch chronograph wouldn’t emerge until Longines made one in 1913.

World War I

Despite the invention of the wrist watch, it didn’t gain popularity until after World War I where it was vital that soldiers knew the time to time their manoeuvres and pocket watches just weren’t practical.  Their wide use during the war caused them to become popular with civilians through extensive marketing pointing out that if they’re robust enough for the trenches, they’re robust enough for all kinds of strenuous applications back home.

Sponsorship and Endorsements

In the 1930s, Omega well and truly showed the world how these new super strong, war-tough watches could be associated with sport by sponsoring the Olympic Games with chronographs which became the official timing method for the games.  Rolex cemented the association with sport by creating a waterproof watch and using a sporting ambassador for the first time when Mercedes Gleitze swum the English Channel wearing one of their watches.

New Materials

Innovations carried on at a pace and watch makers brought out watches aimed at different sports and adventurous applications.  Therefore, watches needed to be smaller, stronger and more functional.  The introduction of new materials into watch making made much of this possible.  Soft metal gold wasn’t ideal for sports watches so they started to incorporate materials like titanium, 904L stainless steel, carbon, ceramic and rubber.  As the innovations in design and application advanced, so did the marketing.

Motor Racing and Movies

Heuer watches, during the 50s and 60s, got increasingly involved in motor racing by providing timekeeping equipment until they were officially placed on the props list for the 1971 iconic racing film Le Mans.  At the same time, Rolex were associating themselves with action and adventure by being on the props list for James Bond films.  These associations along with Omega sponsoring the Olympics didn’t just show how these sorts of watches were ideal for sport and adventure, they also made them incredibly cool.


It was this cool image which has persisted ever since with sports people and celebrities wearing the latest and most sophisticated sports watches on the market.  With sports superstars like Rafael Nadal having watches made for him, with his creative input, by Richard Mille with features such as a case made of an anthracite polymer injected with carbon nanotubes and a movement made of a light, rigid, shock-absorbent combo of titanium and a lithium alloy called Lithal, it’s no wonder that sports watches are seen as the must-have accessory for fashionable men.

Although sports watches are very popular and sell very quickly, we get them in all the time and can even source them for people who want something in particular.  As such, we also buy them second hand so if you have a sports watch you would like to sell or are looking for one to buy, we would love to hear from you on 01273 239763 or by email on

The History of Sports Watches was last modified: August 9th, 2019 by Admin