The Most Iconic Watches of the Last 100 Years

Admin Uncategorized

Classic watches are what we’re all about here at James Ross Jewellers.  We’ve sold and sourced all kinds of vintage watches from famous makes like Rolex, Omega, Cartier, Breitling, Tag Heuer and Longines as well as many others.  But which ones are the most iconic?  Which brands and which models are the ones which have made the biggest impact over the years?  We all have our own opinions on this but, to spare us getting into a row about it, we thought we’d share the BBC’s views on the most iconic watches over the last 100 years.

Cartier Santos Dumont

Even though the first wristwatch was created in 1868, they didn’t really catch on with the general public until they were used widely during World War I.  One of the wristwatches made before this time, however, was the Cartier Santos Dumont which was the first pilot’s watch.  It was created in 1904 by Louis Cartier for Alberto Santos-Dumont who was the first aviator to demonstrate that controlled flight was possible.

Cartier’s Tank

The BBC highlight another Cartier watch, the Tank, as a classic of the last 100 years because it was the first commercial wristwatch, released in 1919, which was created with style in mind as well as function.  Up until that point, wristwatches had essentially been pocket watches strapped to the wrist but this one had a bracelet which was styled to perfectly integrate with the watch.  It is so iconic it was worn by Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Princess Diana, Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly and Andy Warhol.

Rolex Oyster

Rolex created the first waterproof watch in 1926 and it gained iconic status in 1927 when it was worn by Mercedes Gleitze during her 10 hour swim across the English Channel and reached the other side in perfect working order.  Read more about Rolex watches through the years here.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

The BBC calls this watch the first sports watch but we think Rolex and Omega might have something to say about that.  Either way, created in 1931, its square face made it an Art Deco favourite and the way its face could be turned around to protect the glass made it ideal for sports like polo where watches could easily be smashed.

Panerai Luminor

Is this the watch that made bulky watches all the rage?  The BBC think so.  It was originally created as a diver’s watch for the Italian army but it quickly became a popular style worn by both men and women.

Omega Speedmaster Professional

Of course this watch is included here.  It’s the one that first went to the moon.  You can read all about how that happened here.  Not only that though, it is also credited with saving the astronauts of the notorious Apollo 13 mission as they used it to time the rotations that allowed them to navigate home.

Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, IWC’s Ingenieur and Patek Philippe’s Nautilus

The 1970s saw the arrival of the luxury steel watch and the first ones were designed by Gérald Genta.  Previous to this, luxury watches had all been gold but these steel ones were every bit as expensive and just as desirable.

Hewlett-Packard HP-01

1977 saw the precursor to the smart watch in this, rather ugly, multifunctional watch.  It was the first quartz wristwatch with an LED display and incorporated a calculator.


Where would 80s pop culture be without the Swiss made Swatch watch?  Affordable, fun and available in all kinds of fashionable colours, the Swatch watch made wristwatches cool again.  They also made watches more of a thing for younger people and these kinds of cheaper colourful watches were popular for years after.

Are there more iconic watches you think should have been included in this list?  Our extensive experience in dealing with classic watches makes us think so.  We’d like to think we’ve sold a few.  If you love vintage watches, you will love our selection in stock and we can also source your dream classic watch for you.  To talk about vintage watches (but not to argue about this list, please) give us a call on 01273 239763  or email

The Most Iconic Watches of the Last 100 Years was last modified: October 9th, 2019 by Admin