Let’s talk classic watches. Between watch brands like Patek Philippe, Omega, and Rolex, there is a vast range of vintage collectible watches that are up for grabs. But the question is, which model should you be gunning for today? The answer to that lies with this article right here.
If you’re looking to make a serious first-time investment or adding one more to your impressive line-up, having the right luxury timepiece is really crucial, especially the ones that come with ground-breaking features made with high-end engineering. Whether you’re looking for an affordable piece or the priciest option, we are certain that you’ll find something that catches your eye with these classic watches.
What Are Collectible Classic Watches?
Before we get into the list proper, let’s talk about what collectible classic watches actually are. The meaning of this term is definitely something that varies from person to person in the watchmaking world. While there is an unofficial criteria, set by watch collectors, that has been developed over time, what classic watches you choose to collect depends entirely on your personal preferences and what you prioritize in a timekeeper. Regardless, there are elements that make certain timepieces a lot more appealing than others.
A lot of watch collectors refer to each other when deciding which classic watches are worth collecting. This causes information to spread, slowly but surely, to the rest of the community, which leads to the hype of certain models. Widespread recognition among those in the watchmaking world and globally are key indicators that a timepiece is worth a spot in one’s collection.
Heritage, in this sense, refers to both the specific watch model and the brand. Some of the oldest Swiss manufacturers out there are known for offering truly classic watches, backed up by the brands’ centuries of experience and milestones. On the other hand, the history and impact of certain vintage models during their time make these timepieces fascinating even to this day.
Again, while this is not something true for everyone, a lot of collectors take the resale value of the watch into consideration before purchasing it. This is because collections are not permanent. 5 years from now, you might find yourself wanting to let go of one of your classic watches and investing in another piece. Owning something with good resale value allows the collector to change things up without losing thousands of dollars along the way.
20 Classic Watches That Are Collectible Pieces
1. Omega Speedmaster
First up on our list is the Omega Speedmaster. It was originally a sports and racing chronograph that got its name from the model’s brand-new tachymeter scale bezel. Since their inception, however, these watches have also gained the honor of being worn by astronauts in space. US government officials have also been seen sporting this watch.
And ever since then, the Speedmaster has had several forms and variations to it that showcase the model’s aesthetics and versatility. The Omega Speedmaster is an affordable classic timepiece that has maintained its value throughout the years.
2. Rolex Submariner
The Rolex Submariner is another one of those most legendary, pioneering classic watches that you’ll ever find today. We call it pioneering because it revolutionized the diving watch industry, and the Submariner collection still contains some of the best design-builds you will ever see on the market. Some of the most recognizable names that have worn these beautiful classic watches include Steve McQueen, Ralph Lauren, and Robert Bedford.
No open-minded watch collector would ever go on without one of these. The Rolex Submariner includes state-of-the-art features and materials that can only be found in aeronautics. It also boasts some of the most unmatched works of high-quality engineering you will ever see.
3. TAG Heuer Autavia
Originally introduced in 1933, the TAG Heuer Autavia was a dashboard instrument for cars and planes. Later in 1962, the watch was used as a racing chronograph before it was discontinued in the mid-1980s. However, the Autavia series was brought back in 2019, completely redesigned to appeal to a new breed of adventurers.
Its retro-esque crown, built for optimal ease of use, pays homage to the first line of vintage Autavia watches released between 1933 to 1957. Those watches were made specifically for airplane and race car dashboards. The new collection was launched with seven suave retro-style references. Two of them come in bronze and the rest in stainless steel.
4. Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
Besides the Rolex Submariner, another famous dive watch pioneer is the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Introduced in 1953, the Fifty Fathoms was built to withstand deep water depths that many were not able to do at the time. Because of this, this slick-looking Swiss timepiece helped the lineup stand out in the diving community.
More than 65 years later, and there are hardly any noticeable changes that have been made to the Fifty Fathoms’ design. This makes the watch one of the most timeless quality watches that true watch aficionados can get a hold of. In addition, another reason why this historic timepiece stands out is due to its rugged military build which allows the watch to withstand even the roughest of terrains.
5. Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso
If you want a square watch that delivers a wholesome package of features and aesthetics, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso is for you. It can usually be pretty tough to design square or rectangular watches that appeal to watch owners and enthusiasts for many years. However, not only does Jaeger-LeCoultre deliver in terms of providing top-notch movements for their Reverso watches, but they also manage to promise stylish, timeless cases and components with the Reverso.
This watch came into existence because of a challenge made at the beginning of the 1930s. The watch was built with the intention of being carried to polo matches of the British Army officers in India. The dial was concealed quite smoothly by reversing its case. This reveals another back, completely protecting the face from any stroke from a mallet. In a world completely populated by circular watches, the Reverso’s unusually appealing square design is what helps it stand out.
6. Breitling Premier 01
In 2018, the Breitling reissued the Premier B01 watch. This newer model is an update of the classic Breitling dress watches. The presence of vintage dress watches in Breitling continued until the end of the last century, after which the brand moved to sportier designs.
The Premier B01 features a 42 mm stainless steel case along with an army green dial. Those counters showcase the manufactured mechanical movement inside. It also happens to be one of the most versatile watches that you will ever come across. So, if you are in the market for classic watches with a modern twist, that you can bring to just about any occasion, start looking around to include this as part of your collection.
7. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is one of the most recognizable classic watches to ever come into existence. It was created by renowned Swiss designer Gerald Genta, who is known for collaborating with many of the big brands in the industry. Back in the 1970s, Audemars Piguet asked Gerald Genta to create a unique watch for the Italian market. The morning after their conversation, Genta had the first design draft of the Royal Oak in his hands, and the rest, as they say, was history.
Many other brands have released their own adaptations of the Royal Oak since then, but nothing will ever come close to topping the original. The Royal Oak is now a steady presence in the selection of timepieces offered by Audemars Piguet. Ultimately, the story behind this iconic timepiece is what makes it one of the most sought-after watches today.
8. Breitling Navitimer
The Breitling Navitimer is another model with a very interesting heritage. This watch has been a favorite among those in the aviation industry since its release back in the 1950s. During its launch, Breitling was already the known supplier of time-telling instruments to many airline companies. As such, the release of the Navitimer garnered a lot of attention from pilots, watch enthusiasts, and the general public alike, which in turn boosted the reputation of the timepiece.
In order to keep the hype going, Breitling has continued to experiment with the Navitimer by consistently adding new innovations as the years go on. Now, it is one of their most well-acclaimed collections, with over 40 models in its catalogue. Overall, Breitling did such an amazing job in promoting this iconic piece that it remains a must-have for many collectors and pilot watch enthusiasts today.
9. A.Lange & Söhne 1815 Annual Calendar
Those familiar with luxury timepieces and haute horology have definitely heard of A. Lange & Söhne before. They are a German watch manufacturer known for creating some of the finest pieces in the watchmaking world. They also have an extremely detailed manufacturing process that puts their watches on a whole new tier, even above more popular luxury brands.
For many, A.Lange & Söhne’s 1815 collection is a go-to source of vintage-inspired classic watches that display the highest level of craftsmanship. It offers a selection of intricate watches that serve as a tribute to the founder of the company. Aside from showcasing excellent feats of engineering, each and every piece in this lineup is a reflection of the brand’s heritage and values, which makes them a great addition to any collection.
10. Patek Philippe Nautilus
Patek Philippe is a go-to brand for many watch collectors out there. The pieces they offer have everything one could possibly ask for: good investment value, timeless design, unparalleled craftsmanship, a hint of exclusivity, and brand recognition. There is something about rare and widely coveted timepieces that make for excellent collectible pieces, and Patek Philippe knows all about that. The Patek Philippe Nautilus is regarded by many as the most sought-after model from the brand, and in existence.
This icon, released in 1976, was actually designed by Gerald Genta and was marketed as one of the first luxury sports watches in steel. Since steel models were not a big thing back then, it caught the attention of many people, and this served as the beginning of a lifetime of recognition for the Nautilus. Today, it is every collector’s dream to own this Patek Philippe watch.
11. Cartier Santos-Dumont
The Cartier Santos-Dumont is classic collectible with a great origin story. Its very first model was created by Louis Cartier when aviator Alberto Santos Dumont asked him for a timepiece that could be used while on a plane. What started out as a simple request from a friend eventually became a huge milestone for the brand. The Santos de Cartier is regarded as one of the first wristwatches to ever be made.
Aside from its heritage and being a milestone timepiece, another factor why the Santos-Dumont makes for a good addition to one’s collection is because of its timelessness. For collectors who actually use their timepieces, it is a good idea to invest in a versatile and classic model that will remain stylish even 10 years down the road.
12. Zenith Chronomaster Original
In comparison to other big names, Zenith is a brand that is relatively underrated. Those who enjoy quiet and subtle luxury would love to have one of their watches. However, that is not the only reason why the Zenith Chronomaster Original makes for such a good collectible timepiece. A good chunk of the brand’s catalogue caters to those who value and factor in quality movements when looking for classic watches to invest in.
Zenith, known to be a pioneer in watch technology, is home to the legendary El Primero movement. It was launched over 50 years ago, back in 1969, as an integrated chronograph caliber with unmatched accuracy. The El Primero, which served as a culmination of the brand’s century-worth of experience, is still being used in a lot of their watches today. An example of this would be the Chronomaster Original which is a modern-day piece equipped with the aforementioned movement.
13. IWC Special Pilot’s Watch Ref. IW436
IWC Schaffhausen is a watch company that is deeply entangled with the aviation industry. The brand made a huge impact on the way aviator timepieces are designed when they came up with a model that was inspired by a plane’s dashboard instrument. Since then, other brands have also started coming out with their own interpretations of IWC’s iconic pilot watch.
What makes this IWC Pilot’s Watch a true collectible piece is the influence, which has lasted from its launch to the present day. Aside from making an impact on those in the aviation business, it gave watch enthusiasts and collectors a new look to enjoy as well. Ultimately, this is the perfect addition to someone’s collection if they enjoy aviation-inspired watches or pieces with good lore behind them.
14. Rolex GMT-Master Pepsi Bezel
The Rolex GMT-Master, featuring the signature red and blue bezel, is one of the most popular timepieces in the watchmaking world. It was released by Rolex back in the 1950s when the Pan American World Airways asked them to create a watch that would allow their pilots to check two time zones. Aside from being a design icon, the pepsi bezel was also an impressive innovative feat during its time.
Decades have passed since its initial release, but the Pepsi bezel remains a distinguished and highly desired design. In fact, many other brands have also developed their own versions of it, but there is nothing on par with the original in terms of sheer recognition and heritage. Getting your hands on a Rolex GMT-Master Pepsi Bezel will surely add some flare and sophistication to your watch collection.
15. Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921
Vacheron Constantin is one of the oldest luxury watch manufacturers in the world. They have been an established presence for centuries and have witnessed the evolution of the watchmaking industry over time. Their resilience and commitment to the finest forms of craftsmanship are some of the reasons why they have a pristine reputation amongst the watch community. In fact, they are even widely regarded as a part of the “Holy Trinity” of watches.
After reading all that about Vacheron Constantin, it is probably a no-brainer as to why their timepieces make for great collectibles. They are a renowned and respected brand that offers only the finest timepieces imaginable. Moreover, they have contributed greatly in shaping horology through their iconic watches. In fact, Vacheron Constantin’s Historiques series includes reinterpretations of their own historic, classic watches from decades ago, making it a great addition to anyone’s vintage collection.
16. Girard-Perregaux Laureato
Much like Vacheron Constantin, Girard-Perregaux is also a very well-established watch company that has been around for ages, since 1781. They are a pioneer in terms of both design and engineering, which has cemented their high status in the watchmaking ladder. Being a renowned manufacturer that offers timepieces with excellent craftsmanship has also made them a go-to brand for many luxury watch collectors.
The Girard-Perregaux Laureato is a fan-favorite among those in the watch community and the public, with its sporty and elegant aesthetics. It has a very distinct yet versatile design which makes it even more appealing than it already is. This is definitely one to check out if you want a slightly avant-garde, classic, and refined sports watch in your collection.
17. TAG Heuer Aquaracer
The TAG Heuer Aquaracer is one of the most renowned divers watches ever made. In fact, many timepiece collectors out there probably have one or two of these since it is perceived as a great investment for those in the beginning or middle phases of their collection journey. It was officially released back in 2004 but has become a staple in the diving community in a short amount of time. Over the years, multiple versions of the Aquaracer have come to life through Tag Heuer’s consistent design and technological innovations.
Besides coming from an acclaimed brand, what makes the Aquaracer such a great collectible piece is the fact that it is one of the popular classic watches that truly transcends the boundaries of time. Even though it does not have the same value as a Rolex or a Patek Philippe timepiece, the Aquaracer has a relatively stable reputation that will last for many years.
18. Hamilton Ventura Elvis80
Hamilton is dubbed the ultimate source of cinematic watches. Their timepieces have appeared in over 500 movies, which makes them even more appealing to both collectors and film fanatics. Aside from that, this watch company also has a colorful history involving the military, which is clearly reflected in some of their collections. Whether you collect movie or military watches, Hamilton has got your back.
In addition, even celebrities are known to be patrons of Hamilton, such as Elvis Presley, who owns a couple of Hamilton models in his personal collection. The brand even released the Ventura Elvis80 as a tribute to the King of Rock n Roll, which serves as a testament to Presley’s love for the brand. Ultimately, the fact that Hamilton is a brand with a rich heritage and is the go-to for many film crews already shows why their classic watches are worth collecting.
19. Tudor Black Bay
Tudor is commonly referred to as the sister brand of Rolex. With that in mind, you are probably thinking that all the watches from these two brands share the same or a similar value, but that is not actually the case. Unfortunately, while some Tudor pieces are great at retaining their value, they do not offer the same investment opportunities as a Rolex timepiece. However, this does not mean that Tudor watches aren’t great for watch collecting.
In fact, the Tudor Black Bay would make a lovely addition to anyone’s timepiece collection. These watches take inspiration from vintage Submariners, which means that it features suave, retro-ish aesthetics paired with modern-day technology. If you want a starter piece that adds a vintage touch while still holding its value well, then the Tudor Black Bay is the one to check out!
20. Rolex Daytona
Here, we have another model from Rolex called the Daytona, which is widely perceived as one of their most iconic and deeply coveted watches. It was introduced to the world back in the 1960s and was specifically designed for racing professionals. This meant that it featured a rather impressive chronograph movement that has only been improved upon since then.
Besides having great appreciation value, which makes it an appealing investment for many collectors, the Rolex Daytona is also an excellent collectible piece for those who have chronograph or automotive-inspired watch collections.
As mentioned earlier, what you choose to invest in as a collectible piece entirely depends on you and your preferences. The timepieces above simply serve as some of the most classic watches that are worth collecting. There are still countless other models out there that have the potential of being lovely additions to one’s personal collection.
If this article has gotten you interested in collecting timepieces, make sure to check out our article on the 15 Best Luxury Watches for the Financially Independent Gentlemen!
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