10/08/2019
 9 minutes

If you could only own one watch, what would it be?

By Pascal Gehrlein
If you could only own one watch what would it be_2-1
Are you looking for a versatile Rolex, Omega, IWC, or TAG Heuer timepiece?

If you surf watch forums or follow popular social media accounts, you’ll undoubtedly come across discussions about the “one watch” or “daily wearer.” But is there really a single timepiece that’s so versatile you can wear it for any occasion to the exclusion of all other watches?

Of course, this concept raises the question: What do I consider versatile? What qualities must a watch possess in order for me to stop collecting and settle for a single all-rounder?

By definition, “versatile” means “able to adapt to many different functions or activities,” which can mean different things to different people. If I consider my own hobbies and lifestyle, my perfect watch would have to possess the following qualities:

Robustness

 I love to travel. For safety reasons, I prefer to travel with a single watch that I could potentially leave on for the entire trip. Thus, whatever watch I take with me should be water-resistant to at least 100 m (328 ft) in case I jump into a pool or take a cool shower. A metal bracelet would also be preferable to leather in these instances, though “softer” metals like yellow and white gold are not only heavier but also more prone to scratches. I also like to consider a watch’s internal mechanisms when talking about robustness. For example, Omega’s Co-Axial escapement requires much less maintenance because there is less friction, which translates to less wear and tear.

Modesty

There is certainly some debate about this topic on Facebook, but for me, it’s essential that a versatile watch doesn’t attract too much attention. For example, if you’re going to a business meeting, your timepiece of choice shouldn’t become the main topic of conversation. Moreover, the watch should be able to slide discreetly beneath my shirt cuff. Glittering diamonds, neon rubber straps, or solid gold cases don’t quite fit the bill here. As for the size, I think anything up to 41 mm is appropriate for a versatile timepiece. The watch’s image is also important. If the model is closely associated with a famous rapper, for example, it may be the perfect choice for casual outings, but less so for important business functions.

Leather Strap Compatibility

I typically find metal bracelets more practical for everyday situations, especially when they involve water. However, I find the ability to switch to a leather strap a very attractive option, even if it’s not the primary deciding factor. Sorry, Royal Oak. That means you and your integrated bracelet companions won’t quite make the cut.

Wardrobe Suitability

My rule of thumb is as follows: A versatile watch should look fantastic with 70 percent of my wardrobe, decent with 20 percent, and poor with no more than 10 percent. I would classify my style as business casual. I rarely don a suit. Instead, my closet is full of sneakers, slacks, shirts, and sport coats. I wouldn’t choose a watch with a colorful dial or bezel as the perfect versatile piece because I’d worry that the color would grow old in time. Thus, a watch with a black or white dial is much more appealing.

Enough of my personal criteria, let’s get to the watches. What watches do I think qualify as daily wearers? I’ve separated my selection by price: less than $1,700, less than $4,000, and less than $5,500 (based on Chrono24 prices).

Watches Under $1,700

Sinn 556
Sinn 556

The Sinn 556 is a well-known entity to many watch enthusiasts. This three-hand watch can be found on both a steel bracelet and various leather straps, and with water resistance to 20 bar (200 m, 656 ft), it is certainly robust. The 38.5-mm case is made of brushed stainless steel and fitted with sapphire glass. Despite some tool watch details, such as a crown guard and white luminous indices, this streamlined timepiece is still a fine choice for more formal occasions. The sporty-elegant Sinn 556 is powered by the automatic ETA 2824-2 movement, featuring a stop seconds and a date display between 4 and 5 o’clock. This Sinn currently sells for around $1,100, making it one of the more economical choices among the top versatile watches.

Robustness: 4/5

Modesty: 3/5

Leather Strap Compatibility: 4/5

Wardrobe Suitability: 4/5

Extras: Date, stop seconds

Seiko Presage

Another model that meets all of my criteria is the Seiko Presage. While many watch fans swoon over the Seiko SKX007 for its value for money, I find it a bit too sporty for daily use. The Presage, on the other hand, is available in a wide range of variations, one of which is the Presage Chronograph. I prefer the classic version on a leather strap with Roman numerals or the more casual version with a stainless steel bracelet, black dial, and no numerals. The SARX035 is particularly well suited as an all-around watch. Its 41-mm case is fitted with the automatic 6R15 movement, is water-resistant to 10 bar (100 m, 328 ft), and is protected against magnetic fields. Robust? Check. It also features sapphire glass and a transparent glass case back so you can view the movement at work from below. In my opinion, the design is especially versatile; it pairs well with a T-shirt, polo shirt, or suit, even if the polished indices and dial are somewhat elegant for casual wear. On that front, the Sinn 556 definitely wins out. Regardless, this Seiko Presage is a good choice for daily wear and will only set you back around $1,100.

Robustness: 4/5

Modesty: 5/5

Leather Strap Compatibility: 5/5

Wardrobe Suitability: 3/5

Extras: Date, anti-magnetic, stop seconds, glass case back

Watches for Less Than $4,000

Tag Heuer Autavia Isograph
Tag Heuer Autavia Isograph

TAG Heuer Autavia Isograph

At Baselworld 2019, TAG Heuer surprised journalists and watch fans alike with their completely redesigned Autavia. The watch was a surprise for me, too – in a hugely positive way. Despite its clear roots in aviation, the three-handed Autavia (shock, not a chronograph!) is remarkably diverse. So, is the watch available on a stainless steel bracelet and leather strap? Yes indeed! TAG offers a range of calf leather straps and even a NATO strap for this watch. To top it all off, TAG Heuer also equips the new Autavia with a system to easily change the bands without a spring bar tool. The new Autavia is powered by the automatic Calibre 5, which is based on the ETA 2824 (as seen in the Sinn 556). This movement features a new in-house carbon-composite hairspring that offers excellent protection against shocks and magnetic fields. Moreover, the watch is water-resistant to 10 bar (100 m, 328 ft). A retro design and date display at 6 o’clock are additional advantages of this model. Depending on the version, you could wear this 42-mm watch on a black leather strap or stainless steel bracelet with a sport coat or an Oxford shirt. The new Autavia Isograph is clearly a versatile companion that can be found for less than $4,000 on Chrono24 (depending on the version).

Robustness: 4/5

Modesty: 3/5

Leather Strap Compatibility: 5/5

Wardrobe Suitability: 3/5

Extras: Date, anti-magnetic, quick-change band

Grand Seiko SBGR309

Grand Seiko SBGR309
Grand Seiko SBGR309

Grand Seiko is known for their exceptional quality. This is a result of fine Japanese craftsmanship and their tendency toward “subtle luxury.” You could call these timepieces grand understatements. Wearing a Grand Seiko demonstrates good taste without showing off. One watch that I find particularly appealing is the SBGR309. This watch boasts dual-curved sapphire glass with an anti-reflective coating on its inner surface. Its movement, the 9S68, has a power reserve of 70 hours and is extremely precise, as is expected from a Grand Seiko. The transparent case back allows a clear view of the movement at work. The screw-down crown and case back ensure the timepiece is water-resistant to 100 m (328 ft). If you take a closer look at the 42-mm case, you’ll discover a finely brushed finish and clean-cut edges. These details are what make Grand Seiko stand out. Granted, they also make this robust watch nearly too good to be worn at the beach or poolside. Similar to the Presage, the design of the SBGR309 is on the more elegant end of the spectrum, but I still think it’s sporty enough to make it work. The rich black dial, prominent indices, and dauphine hands give the watch a distinctive look. This model is currently available for around $3,800.

Robustness: 3/5

Modesty: 5/5

Leather Strap Compatibility: 3/5

Wardrobe Suitability: 4/5

Extras: Date, anti-magnetic, stop seconds, glass case back

Watches up to $5,500

Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra
Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra, Image: Bert Buijsrogge

Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra

The Aqua Terra was one of the first watches that came to mind when I was thinking about this list. Although it often lives in the shadow of the beloved Speedmaster Moonwatch and Seamaster 300M, I personally feel the Seamaster Aqua Terra outperforms both in terms of versatility. While the Aqua Terra is available in a number of versions, including a gold edition and a stainless steel model with a blue dial, I’ll be focusing on the Seamaster Aqua Terra 150M with a black dial for the sake of comparison. The reference 220.10.38.20.01.001 joined the Seamaster family in 2003 and is clearly inspired by sporty models from the 1950s. Features include the typical Seamaster lugs as well as a dial that resembles teak wood, affirming this model’s connection to the sea. This reference measures in at a comfortable 38 mm and is water-resistant to 150 m (492 ft), as its name suggests. The domed sapphire glass features an anti-reflective coating on both sides. The full name of the timepiece also reveals that the watch is powered by the Co-Axial Master Chronometer caliber 8800, which is impervious to magnetic fields of up to 15,000 gauss. The movement is chronometer-certified, has a date display at 6 o’clock, and features a transparent case back. In purchasing the Aqua Terra, you’re getting a sporty-elegant three-handed watch that stands out from the crowd with its unique dial. It goes without saying that this watch is perfect for vacation, but it’s also classic and subtle enough to wear every day at the office. Prices for the Aqua Terra run around $4,400.

Robustness: 5/5

Modesty: 4/5

Leather Strap Compatibility: 2/5

Wardrobe Suitability: 3/5

Extras: Date, anti-magnetic, stop seconds, glass case back

Rolex Explorer 11470

I’d be willing to bet that a number of you have the Rolex Explorer at the top of your list of versatile timepieces. I’d like to focus specifically on the Explorer 114270, the model some experts are calling the new hidden gem of the industry. This watch is one of the more discreet Rolex watches, along with the Oyster Perpetual 39. The Explorer has close ties to Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary’s 1953 ascent of Mt. Everest. Rolex sponsored the trek by providing the mountaineers with an extremely robust timepiece that would later come to be known as the Explorer. The watch lacked a rotating bezel, chronograph, and date display. It was simple, practical, and stripped down to the basics. You may be wondering why I’ve selected the ref. 114270 over its predecessor, the ref. 14270. It’s quite simply because while the 114270 still looks very similar to the vintage ref. 1016, it’s also outfitted with more modern technology since it was in production between 2001 and 2010. The 3130 movement is housed in a 36-mm stainless steel case. The solid end links give the watch added durability, and Superluminova accents add improved readability. Among Rolex’s vast catalog, the Explorer has always ticked to the beat of its own drum. The watches are simple and discreet and not immediately recognizable as Rolexes. As a former Explorer wearer, I can genuinely say that this watch is perfect for any occasion. It pairs as well with swimming trunks as it does with a dark suit. If 36 mm is too small for your liking, take a look at the ref. 214270. This updated Explorer I model has a larger 39-mm case and is outfitted with the 3132 movement. Of course, these features come at a price; the newer version retails for upwards of $6,500 as opposed to around $5,400 for the 114270.

Robustness: 4/5

Modesty: 5/5 (for a Rolex)

Leather Strap Compatibility: 3/5

Wardrobe Suitability: 5/5

Summary:

 Looking at this list, I can safely say that robust and understated three-handed watches on stainless steel bracelets are what I consider the most versatile timepieces. As demonstrated, there are models that meet these specifications across several price ranges. If I were forced to choose a single watch, I would go for the Grand Seiko. I’ve already had many years with an Explorer I on my wrist, but I have yet to wear a Grand Seiko for any length of time. Of course, taste and personal experience played a large role in selecting these timepieces. The IWC Ingenieur IW357002, for example, is another fine option, and one that proves my list is by no means exhaustive.

Read more

Top Watches from Independent Brands Under $3,000 – Part 1

Top Watches from Independent Brands Under $3,000 – Part 2

Our Favorite Watches Under $6,000 from Baselworld 2019


About the Author

Pascal Gehrlein

Hi, I'm Pascal. After spending many hours searching for my first luxury watch on Chrono24, I ended up visiting their "Legal details" page and saw their headquarters …

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