Luxury sports watches might appear something of a contradiction in terms. Designed to be durable and hard-wearing, they are typically housed in a strong case – often with extra protection on the face to withstand any knocks and prevent scratching – and will include a number of sports-related features, including a stopwatch, a tachymeter and a notable degree of water resistance.
Whether you want to actually wear them for sport depends on the price point, of course.
A rugged, sturdy look, albeit combining the durability with a certain elegance, has become an enduring trend among luxury collectors.
And while they might be appropriate for certain non-contact sports such as golf, the sport aspect is often restricted to viewing rather than participating – or else to wear in the club bar afterward.
But, just as you don’t have to be a pilot or submariner or astronaut to wear a watch originally designed for those vocations, a sports watch is for life, not just for the locker room.
Here are our picks of the most collectible for 2023.
A truly iconic timepiece, the Submariner was originally designed as a dive tool watch, first showcased at the 1954 Basel Watch Fair.
With water resistance of up to 330 meters and a classic, timeless design available in a case diameter of 40 or 41 millimeters, it remains the archetype of the sports watch.
The Oystersteel M124060-001 is a good example. There have been many imitations over the years, but for many, only a Submariner will do.
With almost 70 years of history, there are countless collectable editions with prices to match. Popular among the discontinued models are the 6538 (worn by Sean Connery in his first four James Bond movies, switching to a NATO strap for 1964’s Goldfinger) and the 50th anniversary edition (16610LV), released in 2003.
Tudor affords a special place among Rolex aficionados. Registered in 1926 by Rolex founder Hans Wildorf, this sister company was originally conceived as a more affordable alternative, coupling Rolex cases and bracelets with off-the-shelf movements.
An example is the Tudor Submariner 79090. Tudor moved into the production of tool watches, becoming the official suppliers for both the US Navy Seals and French Marine Nationale from the 1960s.
They have earned a reputation for hard-wearing durability, originally aimed at military and professional divers, and have also been the official timepieces of countless polar expeditions.
The Tudor Submariner line has its own subset of collectibles, notably the big crown and snowflake hand editions, as well as the Heritage Black Bay, an update of the early Tudor Submariner unveiled in 2012.
Blancpain is the world’s oldest surviving wristwatch manufacturer, founded in 1735 and now a subsidiary of the Swatch Group since 1992.
Its Fifty Fathoms model is regarded as the first modern diving watch, first launched in 1953. With water resistance to 300 meters (50 fathoms is just over 90 meters), it is the epitome of minimal, stylish elegance.
The Bathyscaphe, available in ultra-lightweight, heat- and corrosion-resistant ceramic casing, is as classy as it is tough.
Released in 1976, the Patek Philippe Nautilus was conceived as the ultimate luxury sports watch, with its distinctive porthole steel case and integrated bracelet.
The original model (3700) was designed by legendary Swiss watchmaker Gérald Genta, who had previously created the Royal Oak collection for Audemars Piguet. This is the most collectible, but also highly popular are the 30th anniversary models – 5711 and 5712.
Tag Heuer has earned an enviable reputation for its racing and sports watches. The Carrera Chronograph, with its distinctive bezel, legible dial and combination of polished ceramic and steel, is notable for its minute numbering.
The dial features the numbers 05– 60 in five-minute intervals, as opposed to the typical 1–12-hour dial. Water-resistant to 100 meters and a case size of 44 millimeters, it is an affordable but classy option.
Named after the Japanese Seiko-sha, which translates as House of Precision, Seiko took on the hegemony of Swiss watch manufacturing with a series of technological innovations.
Typical of this was the pioneering spring drive movement, introduced to Grand Seiko in 1999 after 28 years of development.
This generates energy with a mainspring like a conventional mechanical watch, but combines this with an electronic regulator to deliver a superior level of precision, never requiring a battery change.
The Grand Seiko Spring Drive SBGA211, with its indestructible titanium casing, boasts technical sophistication with a simple, classic design.
This instantly recognizable ultra-flat design, launched in 2021, is the result of a collaboration between Ferrari and Richard Mille, who have a long tradition of working with sports brands and marques.
At just 1.75 millimeters thick, it required a complete rethinking of the traditional stacked watch mechanism, with baseplate and bridges made from grade-5 titanium for added protection. As a head-turning statement piece, it takes some beating.
As far as high performance under strenuous conditions goes, you don’t get more pressure than the moon landings. Which is why NASA’s official watch for the Apollo 11 crew, and every mission thereafter, takes the concept of the sports watch to another world (or at least atmosphere).
Plexiglass was used instead of sapphire crystal to withstand the pressures of space travel. While the 50-meter water resistance might not sound much, it has been guaranteed for a distance of 360,000 kilometers into the heavens.
Famously, Buzz Aldrin trusted the accuracy of his Speedmaster over the Lunar Module’s in-board electronic timer, which malfunctioned.
Prices start at a very affordable level, but the original 1969 moon model (105.012-66) is the most sought-after.