25 most iconic watches ever

Stuff picks the 25 most iconic watches in the world ever. Just in time.

We love our watches at Stuff. There's a wealth of horological variety out there, but only a handful of true classics. And, in no particular order, here they are...

Rolex Submariner 1953

Probably the most recognisable watch in the world. Originally built for professional divers, the Sub's place in history was sealed by Sean Connery wearing one in the early Bond films. The design has recently been updated with a ceramic bezel insert and chunkier strap lugs. Which is nice.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore 1993

The original Royal Oak from 1972 was an octagonal revelation, but the Offshore pushed it past the present and into the future – it's still as fresh today as it was almost 20 years ago. Arnold Schwarzenegger's watch of choice.

Casio G-Shock 1983

The first G-Shock, the DW-5000C, exploded into the watch market, leaving speechless traditionalists pointing at their swan-neck regulators and tourbillons and crying just a little. The chunky plastic styling and digital clarity still make it the perfect choice for everyday ruggedness.

Omega Speedmaster Professional 1957

Known affectionately as the "Speedy Moon", this is the watch chosen by NASA in the '60s for use by astronauts. Lots of limited editions and variations have been made over the years, but the original hand-winding version with the Hesalite crystal is the one to have – and it's still made today.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms 1953

Famously worn by dive legend Jacques Cousteau, the Fifty Fathoms may well be the most beautiful tool watch ever made. Sadly, the new versions don't feature the scary No Radiation sign on the dial.

Urwerk UR-103 2003

The original UR-103 from 2003 was a head-turner, but the 2005 redesign dropped jaws. The big change was a crystal that properly showed off the intriguing mechanism for displaying the hour – four rotating cones on a rotating spider. Watches rarely get more bonkers than this, although Urwerk's UR-202 and UR-CC1 come pretty close.

Breitling Navitimer 1952

Looking more a mathematical tool than a timepiece, the Navitimer has a circular sliderule built into the bezel, to help pilots make important calculations. Thankfully for the rest of us, it resulted in a cool-looking watch.

Zenith El Primero 1969

In the 1969 race to create the first automatic chronograph, only Zenith succeeded in designing a fully integrated movement. The El Primero internals are still some of the finest around, and have found their way into such classics as the Rolex Daytona. A 40th-anniversary edition of the original Zenith El Primero watch was released in 2009.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso 1931

Having a watch case that's hinged to flip round seems bonkers now, never mind 80 years ago. The idea is that you can protect the Reverso's glass when you don't need to see the time, although later variants had different coloured dials on each side, so you could change the look depending on your mood or to suit your clothing.

Swatch Watch 1983

There was a time in the '80s where you either had multiple Swatches or you just gave up being cool and wrote "I love Bros" on your forehead.

Omega Seamaster Professional 600m "PloProf" 1970

Love it or hate it, the PloProf (a truncation of "plongeur professionnel", French for pro diver) is bloomin' distinctive. It was designed in conjunction with Jacques Cousteau for diving professionals, particularly in the oil industry, and their demands led to the unique button for locking the bezel in place. Due to popular demand, Omega re-released the PloProf in 2009, uprated to 1200m water resistance.

Bell & Ross BR01 2005

The instrument-case styling of the BR01 is as striking as its massive size – 46mm across. The Phantom limited edition, with its black lume, is probably the best and most respected of the lot.

Patek Philippe Nautilus 1976

The legendary Patek Philippe was still doing very nicely with its minimalist Calatrava model when the Nautilus was unveiled. Drawing inspiration from ships' portholes, the Nautilus became an instant sporty classic. The design is unmistakably '70s, but there's nowt wrong with that – just grow a porn-star moustache and let your chest hair hang out to complete the look.

Cartier Tank 1917

At the time of its conception, the square case on the Tank was revolutionary, and inspired by the Renault tanks being used in World War One. The moment Rudolph Valentino wore a Tank in 1924's Son of the Sheik, it became a 20th-century icon and is still made after more than 90 years.

Panerai Luminor Base PAM 112 2002

It's tough to pick a single Panerai – and tempting to go for the 1930s Radiomir – but this basic hand-winding model epitomises the modern Panerai design, with patented crown protector and supremely legible dial on a hefty 44mm case. A whole industry has sprung up around aftermarket straps to keep tweaking Panny owners chirpy.

Tissot T-Touch 1999

A touch-sensitive crystal means you can tap the front of this super-clever watch and get it to show a compass, the temperature, your altitude and other useful info. The ultimate gadget freak's wristwear.

Tag Heuer Monaco 1969

An absolute classic, as worn by Steve McQueen in Le Mans. The modern version has updated styling, but retains the square case and combo of blue dial and white sub-dials. In 2009 a 40th-anniversary special edition was released that was more faithful to the original, with the crown on the left and some unusual indices – the limited run of 1000 sold out almost instantly.

LIP Mach 2000 1973

If you're not into globular '70s design, this Roger Tallon design may be causing your eyeballs to bleed and form themselves into cubes in protest. There's no denying it's funky, though. There's a version with a red LED display for real time rebels.

Doxa SUB 300T 1967

It's easy to get caught up in the Doxa's orange dial. Yes, it was a big deal at the time, but there are plenty of other cool design cues – box-style second hand, crosshair dial, dwarf hour hand, "rice bead" bracelet, cushion case… Little wonder the design has been resurrected and reproduced ad infinitum.

Casio Databank 1984

If you were a kid in the '80s, you wanted a Databank. Never mind actually using the calculator – you couldn't press those ridiculous little buttons unless you put your fingers through a pencil sharpener. Nope, it was about gadgety cool, pure and simple. The latest Databanks haven't changed much; they're just less square and clunky. Which is a shame.

Hamilton Electric 500 Ventura 1957

As well as being the first electric watch, this adorned the wrist of Elvis in Blue Hawaii. The asymmetrical case is instantly recognisable, and has an unmistakable '50s future-gazing feel that's even still evident in this modern XXL model.

BLU Tourbillon MT3 2007

One of the most striking designs of recent years, the MT3 features three tourbillons – one each for minutes, hours and seconds. The inner hand indicates minutes, while the outer indicator is for hours. Except everything is revolving. Er, for a decent explanation, check out this Bernhard Lederer Universe doc.

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona 1961

The Submariner may be the Rolex of choice for most affluent execs, but that's partly because it's cheaper than a Daytona. Paul Newman was a big fan of this lovely chronograph, and there's still a waiting list for new ones.

IWC Big Pilot's Watch 2002

IWC was one of the original manufacturers of pilots' watches for the Luftwaffe in WWII, and this massive (46.2mm) model is inspired by that original design. Hence the super-clear dial and huge onion crown – y'know, for adjusting it while wearing flying gloves.

A Lange & Sohne Lange Zeitwerk 2009

When A Lange & Sohne relaunched in 1994, its line-up was founded on clean lines and elegance. Those traits have amazingly been retained in the Lange Zeitwerk mechanical-digital model, which is already a horological icon despite being fresh out of the block.

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