Collector’s Guides • 21 Feb 2017
The Rebirth Of The Retro Luxury Sports Watch
Today, almost every luxury watch brand has some form of a high-end sports watch in its collection, but not so long ago the very notion of a luxury sports watch was unfathomable.
One could say that the luxury sports watch category was born out of necessity more than anything. It’s no coincidence that they first began to appear shortly after the introduction of accurate and affordable quartz watches from Japan in the early 1970s, which marked a pivotal point for traditional Swiss high-end mechanical watch manufacturers, which went from being in-demand to obsolescent in no time. Something radical had to be done, lest they perish.
One centuries-old watchmaker was able see the impact of the Quartz Crisis as a moment of opportunity to reposition not just itself, but high-end watches as a whole: Audemars Piguet. With the introduction of the now iconic Royal Oak in 1972, Audemars Piguet took the watch world by storm, offering a bold, integrated silhouette that brought forth a new dialect in watch design language. Thanks to its presence, finish and of course exuberant price even at the time of its introduction, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak designed by Gerald Genta single-handedly made stainless steel sports watches a thing.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (1972) Ref. 5402ST
Even ultra-classical Patek Philippe decided to create a luxury sports watch in steel in the wake of the Royal Oak. In 1976 it unveiled the Nautilus, a typically Gerald Genta design featuring an unusual porthole-inspired case with an integrated steel bracelet. While inherently sporty, the Nautilus retained the sober elegance the brand had built its reputation on. Having celebrated its 40th anniversary just a few months ago, the Nautilus has been heralded by many as the ultimate refined luxury sports watch; the kind of watch you can wear in every situation and never look out of place.
Patek Philippe Nautilus 1976
Other brands however approached the Quartz Crisis rather differently. Girard-Perregaux for instance embraced the technology and even went on to create its own quartz movement, which set the standard for other Swiss quartz manufacturers. But that didn’t stop them from producing the Laureato in 1975, a sports watch with a distinct case and bezel design, fitted with an integrated bracelet. Four decades on and the Laureato has just returned as a staple offering in Girard-Perregaux’s lineup, preserving much of the sporty-chic charm of the original models.
The final brand worth mentioning is a sort of exception to the group for a few reasons, and that’s Hublot. Firstly, Hublot isn’t a historical brand that introduced a sports watch at some point, but rather a brand that was founded around the theme of sporty luxury, a consequence of the watches that were introduced the decade before. Their very first watch, the MDM Classic, was introduced in the early 1980s and was originally presented in a gold case (though steel didn’t take long to follow). And while it didn’t feature an integrated metal bracelet like the aforementioned 1970s icons, what it did bring to the table was the first rubber strap to be used on a luxury sports watch. That doesn’t sound like much nowadays, but at the time associating noble metals or anything luxurious with rubber was simply unfathomable. Today, the look of the original Hublot lives on in the brand’s Classic Fusion line.
Hublot MDM Classic
And there you have it, four iconic luxury sports watches that remain relevant decades since they were introduced!
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