The world of luxury watches is replete with so many different types of models, each suited for specific occasions or tasks. Remember, before we had access to computers, smartphones, and tablets, people relied on watches as indispensable tools. While it is perfectly okay to have one luxury watch to wear all day, every day, a well-curated timepiece collection typically has a range of different watch types to choose from. Here are the main watch types to be aware of when shopping for you next timepiece.
The workhorse of any personal timepiece collection is the everyday watch. This is the model that is worn the most because it is easy to wear, can withstand daily use, and matches pretty much any outfit and occasion. Of course, personal taste will dictate what constitutes an everyday watch. However, in general, these are stainless steel watches with either just the time on the dial or sometimes with the addition of a date window. They are characteristically minimalist in style and include case sizes in the 36 – 42 mm range for a comfortable fit. Despite their classification, everyday watches absolutely does not mean cheap watches. In fact, most top-tier timepiece brands focus on making high-quality everyday luxury watches.
Some popular everyday luxury watches: Rolex Datejust, Cartier Tank, Nomos Glashütte Tangente, Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra
As its name implies, the dress watch is typically worn for more formal events and with dressier attire. Dress watches are generally classic in design, are often are made of precious materials like gold or platinum, and more often than not, paired with elegant leather straps. Dress watches usually have very slim cases (sometimes called ultra-thin) to slide under shirt cuffs. It is common to find manual-hand movements in luxury dress watches because these are slimmer in profile compared to their automatic counterparts. Moreover, dress watches routinely house understated dials, featuring just a pair of hands at the center and sometimes with the addition of a seconds subsidiary dial. Today’s dress watches are remarkable similar to vintage dress watches in silhouette and style, but of course, are modernized to meet contemporary tastes and expectations.
Some popular luxury dress watches: Patek Philippe Calatrava, A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia, Vacheron Constantin Patrimony, Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso
While many other types of watches—such as chronographs, dive watches, and pilot watches, are often categorized as sports watches—there is also a category of sports watches that can be simple in functionality but bold in style. In fact, luxury sports watches are some of the most popular watch types in today’s market, cherished for their outwardly design more so than their mechanical capabilities. These types of watches are frequently bigger in size, offer considerable wrist presence, are constructed to keep up with an active lifestyle, and can be more avant-garde in terms of design, colorway, and materials.
Some popular luxury sports watches Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Patek Philippe Nautilus, Rolex Yacht-Master, Panerai Luminor
Calendar watches are those timepieces that offer a way to tell the date in addition to the time. They can range from simpler date watches to highly complex perpetual calendar watches. Date watches display the date of the month, day-date watches display the day of the week and the date of the month, and moonphase watches display the current phase of the moon. Annual calendar watches have a variety of calendar indications and automatically adjust to account for 30 or 31 days. However, annual calendar watches need one manual adjustment per year when February turns into March. On the other hand, perpetual calendar watches adjust automatically in perpetuity because not only can they differentiate between 28, 30, and 31 days of the month but also adapt to leap years.
Some popular luxury calendar watches: Rolex Day-Date, Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar, A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1, Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Calendar
In watchmaking terminology, a “complication” is any other function in addition to the watch’s timekeeping feature. This can include any calendar complications, chronograph complications, chiming and/or striking complications, multiple time zone complications, and alarm complications. While the tourbillon mechanism is not technically a complication (it only serves to offset the effects of gravity on precision and does not provide any additional function), due to its complex structure, it is often categorized as one. Other watch functions sometimes overlooked as complications include power reserve indicators, day/night indicators, and 24-hour display indicators.
When discussing luxury timepieces, complicated watches (sometimes called grand complications or ultra-complicated watches) generally include those that combine a handful of watch complications together and are a signature offering of some of the world’s best watchmakers.
Some popular luxury complicated watches: Breguet Classique Complications, Patek Philippe Grand Complication, A. Lange & Sohne Pour le Mérite, Jaeger-LeCoultre Hybris Mechanica
Time Zone Watches
Time zone watches feature a way to track an extra time zone in addition to the local time, and are particularly useful for frequent travelers. These can range from simpler dual time watches to ultra-complex world time watches. Dual time watches allow the wearer to read two time zones simultaneously and they are sometimes called GMT watches. Dual time/GMT watches come in many different flavors; some include a window or subsidiary dial to indicate the second time zone while others can include an extra hand on the dial to point to a 24-hour bezel. Especially complex to make are world time watches, which display all 24 time zones on the dial concurrently.
Some popular luxury dual time/world time watches: Rolex Sky-Dweller, Vacheron Constantin Overseas Dual Time, Patek Philippe World Timer, Breitling Unitime
Once built as tool watches for aviators to use during flight, pilot watches remain a highly popular watch type today. There is plenty of pilot watch styles available depending on the original type of pilot they were built for: hobby pilots, military pilots, or commercial pilots. Military style pilot watches advanced tremendously during World War II when different nations around the globe had to arm their air force pilots with wristwatches. Most military pilot watches have distinct design features such as large cases, legible dials, oversized winding crowns, and extra long straps. Some pilot watches offer ways for airmen to compute navigational calculations while others indicate additional time zones.
Some popular luxury pilot watches Cartier Santos, Rolex GMT-Master, IWC Pilot Watch, Breitling Navitimer
Perhaps the most popular type of tool watch category today, the dive watch was developed for scuba divers to use during their underwater expeditions. As such, dive watches have to include a number of features to suit the explicit needs of a diver. Dive watches include rotating timing bezels to keep track of immersion times, luminescent dials for legibility in dark conditions, and of course, water-resistant cases. Some professional dive watches even include a helium escape valve, which is a mechanism that releases the gases that can build up in a watch during saturation dive decompression periods.
Some popular luxury dive watches Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms, Omega Seamaster, Rolex Submariner, Panerai Submersible
A chronograph is a watch that includes a stopwatch function. While there is a wide range of chronograph styles and degrees of complexity, a typical chronograph watch includes a pair of pushers on the case that serves to stop, start, and reset the chronograph hand on the dial. Chronograph watches also often have subsidiary dials to record how many minutes and hours have passed since the chronograph was activated. Chronograph watches are normally associated with motorsports because they offer a way to clock race times—these motorsports-inspired chronographs have tachymeter scales to help calculate average speeds and/or distances.
However, chronograph watches can, of course, be used to time other elapsed events. Some common variations are those with pulsometer scales to calculate average heart rates, telemeter scales to measure distances, circular slide rules to perform mathematical computations, and regatta timers to use during sailing competitions. Furthermore, along with the standard chronograph function, there are other types of chronographs too. The monopusher chronograph features just a single pusher to control the chronograph hand. The flyback chronograph allows the chronograph hand to be reset while in motion (without the need to stop it first). The split-second chronograph (sometimes called “rattrapante”) can keep time two separate events.
Some popular luxury chronograph watches Rolex Daytona, Omega Speedmaster, Tag Heuer Carrera, Zenith El Primero
Magnetism can be detrimental to a watch’s timekeeping capabilities. When a watch is magnetized, its movement will run too fast or stop working entirely. Magnetic fields are all around us but certain professions—such as those in the science, medical, and engineering fields—are exposed to greater magnetic environments and for longer periods of time. With the boom of the scientific age during the middle of the 20th Century, there was a growing need for antimagnetic watches and top watchmakers obliged. Essentially, antimagnetic watches protect the watch movements inside the watch with a special shield (sometimes called a Faraday cage) crafted from ferromagnetic materials. Almost all modern watches have some antimagnetic properties but some are explicitly categorized as antimagnetic watches because they can withstand higher degrees of magnetic exposure.
Some popular luxury antimagnetic watches Rolex Milgauss, Omega Railmaster, IWC Ingenieur, Vacheron Constantin Overseas