Are you a serious luxury watch collector? Chances are, the answer is no. Not due to lack of desire or interest, of course, but simply because collecting high-end watches is a really, really expensive hobby. Instead, most of us mere mortals are limited to owning one, possibly two, nice watches at any given point in time – and you better believe we are going to wear that watch every day, no matter the occasion or dress code. Of course, everyone’s tastes are different and we’re not all going to agree on what the ideal “everyday” watch should look like. The good news is, we don’t have to! With so many great models on the market, watch lovers are literally spoiled for choice.
For the sake of this article, though, let’s lay down some broad selection criteria. First of all, we’re looking for a design that is both versatile and ageless; a watch that will pair well with just about any outfit and will stand (or possibly has already stood) the test of time. Secondly, we want a robust and reliable caliber inside. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an in-house movement, although advances in technology and increased investment by brands are making these a more regular occurrence across a range of price points. Lastly, it should be reasonably priced. “Reasonable” is obviously very subjective and depends on what you can afford and what you feel comfortable spending. Something worth keeping in mind, however, is that if this is the only watch you’re going to wear, it’s probably best not to cut corners if you can avoid it.
There are many other factors you may want to consider such as brand recognition, technical specifications (e.g., water resistance), case material, and so on. The goal here is not to give you an exhaustive list, but rather a reasonable starting point. So, with that in mind, here are three classic choices you can’t go wrong with.
The Omega Speedmaster is a watch that needs no introduction. It made its debut back in 1957 as part of Omega’s trilogy “Professional” collection and is far and away one of the Swiss brand’s most successful models. Just under a decade later – in 1965 – NASA qualified the Speedmaster for use on its piloted missions. NASA astronauts had one strapped to their wrists for all six lunar landings, which is why the Speedmaster is better known today as the “Moonwatch.” The Speedmaster isn’t just a strong performer technically, however. It also looks great. The case measures a modern 42.5 mm in diameter and wears equally well on a bracelet or leather or NATO strap. There are many different variations to choose from, but we recommend the classic black-on-black look that has defined the model for decades. It makes the watch suitable for dressing up or down and emphasizes the perfectly balanced dial – not an easy feat to achieve with chronographs, which often look too busy to be suitable for everyday use. For historical accuracy, go for one with a manual-winding movement, which is usually visible through a sapphire glass case back.
When it comes to clean, legible watches that are absolutely fit for the purpose they were designed for, it doesn’t get much better than the Rolex Explorer. Despite what you may have heard, the Explorer was not the watch worn on the first successful summit of Mount Everest in 1953. The expedition was actually supplied with modified Rolex Oyster Perpetuals, and Tenzing Norgay was reported to have been wearing his when he, alongside Sir Edmund Hillary, successfully reached the peak. The Explorer made its debut later that same year in celebration of this incredible triumph and Rolex’s enduring love affair with the spirit of adventure. Nearly 70 years on, the design remains largely unchanged. Yes, the case is a bit bigger at 39 mm – a source of contention for some, a welcome update for others – but the classic 3-6-9 dial continues to deliver unrivaled legibility. In fact, it’s become so iconic that all dials with this configuration, even those on other Rolex models, are known as “Explorer” dials. Its smaller size, classic yet sporty good looks, and robust construction make the Rolex Explorer an ideal choice for an everyday watch.
Revamped a few years ago, the Santos continues to be one of Cartier’s best-selling watches for men – and for good reason. Like the two models above, the Santos is steeped in history. Despite being better known as a jewelry brand, Cartier has played a pretty significant role in watchmaking over the years, and the Santos was one of its very first success stories. After hearing his friend, famous aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, complain about the impracticality of using a pocket watch during his flying experiments, Louis Cartier designed a flat watch with a distinctive square bezel. He attached the case to a leather strap so it could be worn on the wrist. Just like that, in 1904, the first pilot’s watch was born. Today, the Santos remains the only watch in the Cartier collection to carry the original wearer’s name. Immediately recognizable with its sculpted, tonneau case and polished square bezel plate with eight screws, it has become the stuff of design legend. The time (and sometimes the date) is shown on a trademark Cartier Roman numeral dial, usually complete with blued hands. Available in a range of sizes and metals, the Santos is an unconventional classic that looks good in every setting.