02/15/2024
 6 minutes

Five Details That Perfect a Watch

By Kristian Haagen
Five Details That Perfect a Watch

Five Details That Perfect a Watch

When asked to write about five things I love about a specific watch brand, or five complications I like, it got me thinking in a different direction. Why not talk about five details that make a watch perfect?

In over three decades of collecting watches, I’ve come across many exceptional timepieces. Some of them really stood out because they met certain criteria that elevated them to a higher level.

Join me as I share my long-standing love for five specific watches that offer ideal size, impeccable readability, iconic status, timeless design, and robust movements. In no particular order, let’s explore the appeal of these favorite timepieces.

Rolex Submariner

One of the watches that deserves a mention in this article is the illustrious Rolex Submariner. First introduced in 1953, the Submariner acknowledged that not only navies around the world, but also Jacques Cousteau-types and underwater explorers were into deep diving. We, mere mortals, also wanted a watch that could be worn in the shower, when we jumped out of the canoe into the lake, or when we jumped feet first off the diving board into the pool.

Rolex Submariner 5512 from 1968.
Rolex Submariner 5512 from 1968.

The Submariner, a timepiece that has embraced the spirit of an active lifestyle since its launch and graced the wrists of iconic figures like James Bond, Steve McQueen, and Jeff Bridges has earned its place in horological history.

My favorites from the Submariner collection are the refs. 5513 and 5512, introduced in 1959 and 1962, respectively. These two references offer a great diameter of 40 mm and a dial layout so perfect that reading time is easy even for the weakest of eyes, thanks to their large-plot contrast indices on a black dial, and thick central hands.

In layman’s terms, the no-date Submariner has mostly stayed the same since the 40-mm iteration was introduced in 1959. In 1985, the matte dial of the ref. 5513 changed to glossy, and the indices were set in white gold. The ref. 14060 took over from there in 1989, and it wasn’t until 2020, with the introduction of the ref. 124060, that the no-date Submariner changed its diameter from 40 to 41 mm.

Instead of 40, we have a 41 mm case diameter.
From a 40-mm to a 41-mm case diameter.

Regardless of the slight change in size, the no-date Rolex Submariner still offers the perfect alchemy of form and function, aesthetics, and technology, backed up by a rock-solid automatic movement, the caliber 3230.

Rolex Explorer

Continuing our journey with “The Crown,” the 36-mm Explorer closely follows its water-resistant counterpart. Introduced in 1960, the Explorer ref. 1016 was, and still is, a cherished favorite of many a National Geographic fan and Rolex collector.

The model’s name is believed to have most likely been inspired by the model taken along during the British Mount Everest expedition in 1953, and introduced two years later as the Explorer ref. 6610. This expedition was the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest – a moment that remains etched in many people’s minds when they think of watches.

The Explorer ref. 1016 offers a comfortable diameter of 36 mm, a size that is now appreciated by all sexes, and a black dial with Arabic numerals 3, 6 and 9, creating a perfect dial layout for optimum legibility. This is something that Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary would undoubtedly have embraced had they worn the Explorer on their wrists in 1953.

Vintage Rolex Explorer with rusty brown dial and steel case.
Arabic numerals provide better legibility for the adventurous wearers of the Rolex Explorer.

The Rolex Explorer ref. 1016 has earned a reputation for legibility and understated elegance. It proudly holds the title of “The One-Watch Collection Watch” thanks to its utilitarian roots and timeless aesthetic.

On a personal note, I am still hunting for the perfect Explorer ref. 1016 with a glossy dial and gilt lettering, produced from 1960-66.

Omega Speedmaster

Everybody knows the Omega Speedmaster, the racing-inspired watch introduced in 1957 alongside the Seamaster 300 and Railmaster. The Speedmaster ultimately didn’t end up on the wrists of car enthusiasts; it went to the Moon instead. In 1967, it was chosen as the official watch for flight-certified NASA personnel, and officially certified by NASA to be worn by all astronauts.

The Speedmaster was on Buzz Aldrin’s wrist when he set foot on the Moon in July 1969. Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon, had left his Omega Speedmaster inside the “Eagle” lunar module.

The Omega Speedmaster performs its timekeeping duty.
The Omega Speedmaster impeccably performs its timekeeping duty.

The 42-mm Speedmaster Pro, or Speedmaster Moonwatch, is one of the best-designed watches in the world. Fitted with a manual-wind chronograph movement from the first 1957 model, and flight-qualified for all manned space missions (as the case back on the Speedmaster Pro version indicates), any wearer is going to feel more than secure wearing this watch when it comes to precision. Hey, if it works in space, it works for me as well.

The Speedmaster’s black step-dial with white indices, recessed subdials, and white hands create great legibility. And the dial layout of the Speedmaster Pro is fantastic. This watch clearly deserves a top spot in this article thanks to its ideal size, impeccable legibility, iconic status, timeless design, and robust movement.

Heuer Carrera

Another watch that’s all about speed is the Heuer Carrera (yes, the one without the “TAG”). The Heuer Carrera was born under the helm of Jack Heuer, and named after the legendary Carrera Panamericana in Mexico (“carrera” means “race” in Spanish).

Launched in 1963, the original diameter of the Carrera was 36 mm, a perfect size back then, and a perfect size now. Although the Carrera has been released in various sizes over the years, one thing it’s never been is oversized. Imagine if TAG Heuer had dared to introduce a 48-mm Carrera some time ago, when oversized watches were the rage. It would have killed the elegance of Jack Heuer’s original idea for this watch.

Vintage watch from TAG Heuer. Carrera chronograph with white dial.
Timeless elegance: a Carrera from 1965

The first generation of the Heuer Carrera was equipped with a manual-wind Valjoux caliber 72, the same movement found in the four-digit Rolex Daytonas. If you look at the two watches side by side long enough, you will see how similar they are. If you ask me, I think the Carrera was more elegant in the early 60s and 70s than its crowned counterpart.

The most recent, very elegant Carrera was launched under the company leadership of Frédéric Arnault, who was recently appointed CEO of the LVMH watch division. The 2023 version of this legendary watch offers a highly legible dial layout, with a boxed sapphire crystal that is an homage to the first generations of this illustrious timepiece.

The new Carrera has an updated diameter of 39 mm, a perfect size for today’s wrists, and an automatic TH20-00 movement.

Modern Carrera Chronograph from TAG Heuer. Black dial with silver totalizers.
The new Carrera has the ideal size and a robust movement.

I confess my admiration for the new Carrera. While the first generation offered impeccable readability, perfected by the non-intrusive date window, iconic status and timeless design, the new generation offers the additional criteria for this article’s perfection: ideal size and a robust movement.

IWC Portugieser Chronograph

Although the IWC Portugieser dates back to 1939, it was not until 1998 with the launch of the 41-mm Portugieser Chronograph that this model was able to work its way into an article like this one. However, when I first bought a reference 3714 with a silver dial and a great-looking combination of gold-plated hour and minutes hands, and blued chronograph hands, I was in awe. Rarely had I seen such a perfect, incredibly well-created dial layout with a crisp minute track on the outer dial to boot.

You could argue that the rattrapante version of the Portugieser Chronograph from 1995, the reference 3712, created by movement wizard Richard Habring, was as perfect as the 1998 automatic reference 3716 version.

You must admit - the IWC Portuguese Chronograph is a handsome watch! The IWC Portugieser Chronograph is inarguably a handsome watch. Its automatic movement is also a game changer now that you don’t have to hand-wind your watch every two days or so thanks to its automatic winding.

With a diameter of 41 mm, the Portugieser Chronograph ref. 3716 offers perfect wrist presence. Its thickness of only 13 mm adds to the comfort of wearing it as well. The current iteration is admittedly a little better than the original, as it is now offered with a transparent sapphire crystal case back that reveals the impressive in-house caliber 69355 inside.


About the Author

Kristian Haagen

I've been collecting watches since I was about 20 years old. I like vintage watches most; they often come with a fascinating history or a cool provenance. Provenance makes a watch far more interesting than any brand-new watch.

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