Editor’s note: This article was written by luxury watch expert Anish Bhatt of Watch Anish. Looking for more on watches by Anish? Check out his article, “Timepieces To Start Your Collection.”
As hard as it is to believe, the retail revolution that we know as eBay was founded 25 years ago. Since then, an almost endless stream of cherished possessions have flowed from one owner to another.
If you’re old enough to recall a time before easily sourcing a long, sold out item with a quick search, then you don’t fully appreciate what the platform did for collectors, and in particular, watch collectors.
Suddenly the pre-loved watch market was a global one! That vintage Submariner that couldn’t be found in any of the auction houses in your city, nor in the jeweler’s window, was suddenly available thanks to an eBay seller in a far-flung location.
In honor of this milestone, we’ve put together a list of 25 watches that we consider “iconic” and which are currently available on this venerable marketplace at eBay.com/luxurywatches.
A product of the style-obsessed late 1960’s, the Rolex Submariner has become the foundation of any watch collection of note. Its magnified date window was the first of its kind upon its release in 1967.
The Rolex GMT Master, known fondly to everyone who takes even a passing interest in Rolex, as the Pepsi! Named quite obviously for its bezels more than passing resemblance to an original can of Pepsi-Cola. The blend of high culture and street culture is probably 50 years ahead of this combination beloved by every hypebeast with daddy’s credit card. Upon introduction, the notion that one could reliably track time in two geographically disparate locations — without any challenging arithmetic — was a godsend to those with a terrible dose of jetlag.
The Rolex Daytona is a classic coming-of-age gift from father to son. Some of them, however, like the “Sigma” edition with Daytona picked out in red lettering, have a worth beyond even the most touching of paternal gifts.
The Day-Date, as the Rolex reference number 1803 is known, is an incontestable piece of luxury history. Built to be an indulgence, with no nods toward ocean-going practicality or world traveling utilitarianism as per other classic Rolex releases, the Day-Date was always meant for the smartest of occasions. In a time when we no longer even put on trousers to (virtually) attend the office, there is a joy in something that was made simply to be seen.
A showcase for the science of the haute horology, the Patek Philippe perpetual is a marvel of ingenuity. The watch has a display back, allowing you to actively marvel at the genius of the person behind the loop. The watch-loving fraternity is not often besotted with complexity preferring esoteric, social historical references instead, but nobody could fail to be taken by this split second perpetual wonder.
Every time zone on this big blue planet is represented on the dial of this white gold offering from the brand every ambitious man aspires to own. With its north-down perspective of the globe represented on the dial, it’s so beautiful that you’d almost forget that the real splendor of this watch lies in the movement.
Contentious though it may be, the Nautilus is possibly the patriarch of the celebrated Gerald Genta family of watches. True, the Royal Oak from AP (spoiler alert, a watch that’s coming up soon) was the first Genta piece to make stainless steel a luxury item, but no piece does it better than the Nautilus. Something of massive worth created from what’s little more than a base metal, the Nautilus is alchemy.
With the Royal Oak, Gerald Genta literally invented the octagon (mathematicians attribute this feat of geometry to somebody else, but they probably don’t know anything about watches). It’s a shape that he used in watches for Patek, Girard Perregaux and the aforementioned Patek Nautilus, but its most striking application is arguably this effort from Audemars Piguet.
If watches are about the charting of time, then nothing does it better —or to such an extent — as the perpetual calendar. Rendered in gold in the shapely Royal Oak case, the Audemars Piguet 25829OR will measure the fourth dimension forever, or as long as there’s something to keep the watch’s rota spinning.
Named for Alberto Santos Dumont, the man that Brazilians believe to have made the first powered flight (sure, they’re pretty much the only ones that don’t acknowledge the Wright brothers, but hey, “Cartier Orville” has a little less élan). Since then, it’s been one of the mainstays of a storied house. Needless to say, if Cartier has been making them since 1904, the Santos, in all of its editions, is a piece to celebrate.
The Cartier Tank rather belies its name, and instead of earning style points through brute force and giant case, it does so through absolute elegance. This is pretty much the definition of aesthetic refinement. Nobody is designing watches like this anymore, and that is a shame. Luckily though, the Cartier Tank is still available to those with the good taste to go looking for it.
Gerald Genta Gifeca Bi Retro
If it’s got Gerald Genta’s name in the title, you know it’s a piece with pretty much unrivaled design pedigree. Four of the watches on this list are his work, but this one is a little different. The other three are a product of his earlier efforts, and this piece (from pre-Bulgari takeover of the brand) is a far later contribution. Mixing materials and aesthetics, added to a pretty idiosyncratic method of actually expressing the time, the Gerald Genta Gefica Bi Retro Safari is something truly different from a man who waxs himself an icon of horology.
Bulgari Octo Finissimo
Connoisseurs often find it quite childish to deal in superlatives. There is something a little schoolyard about fixating on the car with the fastest-ever top speed, or the longest superyacht in the world. They’d tell you it's crass to measure a renaissance masterpiece by its selling price. I can see their point of view, but sometimes, they ain’t right. The Bulgari Octimo Finnisimo was the thinnest automatic watch in the world when it was launched, and this range of watches from Bulgari have gone on to set six world records. This watch is paper thin. It’s not even a skeleton watch, and you can practically still see through it. It might make me less sophisticated, possibly even childish, but I think there’s room on this list for a superlative.
The Maximilian Busser and Friends Horological Machine Number 2, if you don’t care for abbreviations, is the kind of watch you get when you really don’t care what your competitors are producing, when you don’t look at trend forecasting, and you’ve never consulted a focus group in your life. I could try and describe it, but I think I’d just confuse the reader and myself. Just look at it. The joy of it.
The audacious combination between an art deco cigarette case and the dashboard on a Martian spacecraft, the UR-103 represents all that is fantastic about the crazed inventors at Urwerk. For them, it’s not simply enough to be wildly different, but also to uphold the highest standards of watchmaking. That combination makes this watch worthy of remembering — in fact, it’s a difficult watch to forget.
Richard Mille RM010
While Richard Mille is pretty much the unofficial watch of super yachting, the RM010 is the official watch of Le Mans Classic. The dial is a nod toward the race, and the Tonneau profile of the piece, the calling card of Richard Mille, marks the wearer out as a person of distinction to everybody in the know.
Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk Lumen
The only watch on this list that isn’t manufactured in Switzerland, the Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk Lumen in rose gold is just exquisite. Long the choice of men who find Patek just a little bit too obvious, a little too “on the nose,” Lange & Sohne was founded in the German town of Glashutte, in the East of the country in 1845. Nationalized by the communists in 1948 and resurrected by the great grandson of the original founder in 1990, it’s a brand with a fascinating history. One of their watches deserved to be on a list of iconic pieces, and out of pure personal preference, I chose this one. Truth be told though, I could’ve picked any number. These guys make beautiful pieces.
Panerai PAM 88 GMT
When it launched, or more accurately, relaunched, Panerai’s waiting list was long and distinguished. In part thanks to bold pieces like the generously sized Luminor GMT. The Luminor’s clear and strident dial is a product of the brand’s heritage as a provider of watches to Italian navy divers. Even those of us who don’t need to tell the time while being launched from a submarine still value its manifest clarity.
Vacheron Constantin Overseas
Although renowned for the elaborate enameling that so many of its watches are resplendent with, the Vacheron Overseas eschews ornamentation in favor of pared-down simplicity. I love a spot of artistic enameling as much as the next man, but it’s hard not to be captivated by the unadorned suaveness (if that’s a real word) of this piece. It’s the watch that we’d all like to own when we are a real adult.
Hublot Richard Orlinski
“Shy boys get nothin,’” as they say, and there ain't nothin’ shy about the limited edition Hublot Orlinski Fusion in ceramic blue. It’s a watch with barrels and barrels of unrestrained self-confidence, and it’s hard to think of an icon that isn’t pretty sure of itself.
Born of the apparently pressing problem of polo players having their watch broken (don’t you just hate it when that happens?!), the Reverso is quite probably the most elegant sporting accessory ever made. First designed over 90 years ago, the ingenuity of its reversible face has captured the admiration of many a discerning soul in the subsequent years.
Breguet La Tradition Tourbillon
There are few complications as visually obvious in their meticulous splendor as an exposed movement, and Breguet’s rendering of it is the pinnacle of craftsmanship. The Breguet La Tradition is a thing of beauty from its case to its dial and beyond.
Breitling Top Time Chrono
A swaggering piece of pure 1970’s machismo! A watch originally worn with aviators, sideburns and a totally non-hipster moustache. Iconic not in a timeless way, but because it is so unapologetically of its era. That isn’t to say you wouldn’t look good in it right now, but be warned, you may find yourself exposing a lot more chest hair than you used to.
De Bethune DB28 Kind of Blue
Some things are celebrated because of the breadth of ideas they encompass, and some for their attention to just one facet. The De Bethune DB 28 Kind of Blue is all about the color. The depth of blue on this avant-garde piece is totally eye-catching, and every time I spot one, it takes me back to the first time I saw it at Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. That instant recognizability makes it something special.
Christophe Claret Blackjack 21
Winner, winner, chicken dinner! The Christophe Claret Blackjack 21 combines the intricacy of haute horology and the thrill of placing a bet. There’s no doubt that a mechanical watch that offers you a game of blackjack, a roll of dice, a spin of roulette, and tells the time, is iconic. Besides the watchmaking savvy required to create it, just take a moment to consider who even came up with this. That’s some pretty original thinking, and the execution is exquisite.