Watches

Seven sporty chronographs with the heritage to match

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These chronographs represent the best of modern watchmaking, but each has retro looks informed by the golden era of watch design

What makes a watch ‘iconic’? Is it an association with a style icon of old, a Steve McQueen or Michael Caine? Is it a watch’s motorsport or aviation pedigree? Or its design quirks? Perhaps it’s just good old fashioned precision engineering?

The answer, really, is a combination of all the above. There are many handsome timepieces in the world, but the stars align for only a few – certain pieces that mix remarkable backstories with design values that haven’t dated, and technical specs that have also stood the test of time.

When it comes to the ever-popular chronograph, these icons are well known; the Paul Newman Daytona, the Speedmaster, the Carrera, and so on. The trouble is, they’re rarely-spotted vintage gems now – few and far between, and with price tags to match.

So, what’s a man to do if he wants to sport a touch of understated retro elegance on his wrist? Choose a modern chronograph which references these historic models; something that mixes watchmaking heritage with day-to-day wearability.

Well, these six designs offer modern spins of iconic models from the golden era of watch design, and each has quite the backstory. Choose one of these for an investment that’ll stand the test of time.

Tag Heuer Monaco Gulf 20181. Tag Heuer Monaco 2018 Gulf Special Edition

The Tag Heuer Monaco’s reputation as a motorsports thoroughbred precedes itself; Steve McQueen was a fan, and wore a Monaco in the ‘70s, as proven by famous picture of him wearing racing overalls of the set of Le Mans in 1971. Curiously, in the self same photograph, he’s wearing overalls that bear joint sponsorship branding from Tag Heuer and Gulf Oil – one of the most prolific motorsports’ sponsors. The ‘Gulf’ special edition made perfect sense then when it was unveiled at this year’s Geneva Car Show. In deference to the original model, Tag’s unmistakeable 39mm square-shaped case houses the Calibre 11 movement and the bold striped face mixes Heuer’s signature looks with Gulf’s racing stripes. This piece also features the crown at nine o’clock and the date window at six o’clock, as with the 1969 original, that Steve himself fell in love with. That’s quite the endorsement. 

£4,750, tagheuer.com

Rolex Daytona rolesor chronographs2. Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Rolesor

Resurrected at Baselworld in 2016, today’s Cosmograph Daytona collection references what is perhaps one of the most famous chronographs in history. The Daytona takes its name from the Florida beach of the same moniker, which was used throughout the 20th century as the place to attempt to break land speed records. Unveiled in 1963, the Daytona was a racing focused evolution of the Rolex Oyster, as worn by Sir Malcolm Campbell on his record-breaking run in Bluebird, and it’s long been a go-to for motorsport royalty. Sir Jackie Stewart is Daytona man, and so famously was Paul Newman. Like many of Rolex’s most coveted watches, the Cosmograph Daytona collection transforms a watch with functional roots into a thing of beauty. The oystersteel models look sleek, but our vote goes to Rolex’s signature yellow gold and oystersteel bi-coloured Rolesor models. The Rolesor is made with either a champagne or black dial, but the black helps to ground the watch’s dressy looks.

£12,400, rolex.com

Zenith el primero cp-23. Zenith Cronometro Tipo CP-2

When the Cronometro Tipo CP-2 emerged earlier this year, it was met with universal applause from vintage watch aficionados, chiefly because it’s a faithful homage to a vintage model that’s often overlooked in chronograph history. Specifically, its looks are a close copy of Zenith’s 1960s Cairelli model, made for the Italian military, but more to the point it houses the manufacture’s Automatic El Primero column-wheel chronograph. The movement’s different to the original, which was powered by a manually-wound caliber 146 DP, but who are we to quibble over watchmaking progress? The El Primero’s status as one of the world’s finest chronograph movements is well documented, and packaged in this suitably retro design it makes for a watch that’s both technically impressive and handsome to wear.

£6,400, uk.bucherer.com

Breitling Navitimer 8 chronographs4. Breitling Navitimer 8 BO1 Chronograph

Breitling’s chronographs, whether the Navitimer, Superocean or Chronomat, have always held a certain cachet, and when the Navitimer 8 was unveiled in February as the first watch under CEO Georges Kearn’s new tenure, it went down a storm. A well-balanced 43mm design, with design references that hark back to the original Huit Aviation Department’s early 20th century onboard clocks (made by Breitling), as well as Breitling’s 768 pilot’s watch (see the bi-directional bezel, railway track second markers and Arabic numerals in an archival font) it feels authentic and looks suitably understated. It’s powered by Breitling’s in-house B01 movement, and in steel with a navy dial , it has a chic edge. This is a go-anywhere, do-anything watch – easily dressed up or down – and a design that intelligently references Breitling’s heritage.

£5,900, breitling.com

Vacheron Constantin Overseas Chronograph5. Vacheron Constantin Overseas Chronograph

The Vacheron Constantin Overseas collection was launched in 1996 and reinvented in 2016, but its watches nod subtly to a 1970s cult favourite, Vacheron’s quirky 222, a sports watch which at the time was strikingly different to its compatriots; with its thin barrel shaped case and notched bezel. This Chronograph is a relatively new addition to the Overseas collection, and much like the clean looks of the 222 before it, its reverse panda dial is a sharp looking thing – true to motorsports watches as it is. The 42.5mm case is robust and seems a little larger than it is on the wrist, but it’s beautifully proportioned and its polished steel case pops beautifully against the bi-colour dial. It comes with some clever quick-change straps too, so you can wear it with the bracelet, rubber or alligator strap.

£25,300, vacheron-constantin.com

IWC Portugeiser yacht club6. IWC Yacht Club Portugieser Chronograph

IWC’s sportiest Portugieser, the manufacture’s current Yacht Club Chronograph models have their origins in the 1967 Baselworld watch fair, where IWC presented this watch’s predecessor, the Yacht Club Automatic, for the first time. Today, the Yacht Club Chronograph forms a part of IWC’s Portugieser family, another pillar of the manufacture’s collection, which takes its name from the large marine chronometers that IWC developed for two Portuguese businessmen in the late 1930s, so this piece has quite the narrative behind it. Powered by IWC’s 89361-calibre and water-resistant to 6 bar, the chronograph mixes these sporty functions with a smart design; the slate-coloured sun-ray dial compliments its stainless steel case a treat, for a watch that feels cool and clean.

£10,450, iwc.com

Omega Speedmaster chronographs7. Omega Speedmaster CK 2998 limited edition

Omega’s ‘Speedy’ needs no introduction. A hit with modern Omega fans and vintage collectors alike, it’s one of the world’s great chronos. Moreover, this 2018 limited edition takes the model back to its roots. The original CK 2998 was the first Speedmaster, introduced in 1957, and it’s nigh-on impossible to get your mitts on today. This newly-released take on the CK 2998 is faithful to the original; designed with its signature late ‘50s looks; alpha hands, panda-subdials and polished black ceramic bezel with a white enamel pulsometer scale (used to measure the wearer’s heartbeat). This particular model is famed for its journey to the moon. In 1962, astronaut Walter ‘Wally’ Schirra made history when he wore his own personal Speedmaster CK 2998 during the ‘Sigma 7’ mission of the Mercury program. References to the original are maintained in the watch’s mechanics, too. It’s powered by Omega’s Calibre 1861, a movement that features in a number of iconic ‘Moonwatches’. As for this edition, only 2,998 have been produced and they’re going fast – so if you’re smitten, don’t hang about.

£4,320, shop now at omega.com