What Makes a Watch Design Timeless Over 70 Years

Rolex: first Datejust 1945

Wristwatches have gone through many changes over the past 70 years, but some designs have stayed popular through it all. What’s the secret to a watch that never goes out of style? It’s a blend of simplicity, versatility, quality craftsmanship, innovation, and a nod to history. Let’s dive into how brands like Rolex, Omega, Audemars Piguet, Casio, and Swatch have kept their designs timeless.

1950s: The Golden Age of Elegance

The 1950s were all about elegance. After the war, people craved refined accessories. Watches from this era were clean and simple. The Rolex Datejust, introduced in 1945, became notable in the 1950s with its straightforward dial and comfortable Jubilee bracelet. Its 36mm case size was just right—not too big, not too small.

Rolex: Datejust

Introduced in 1948, the Omega Seamaster quickly rose to prominence and became a favorite among watch enthusiasts and casual wearers alike. Its design, balancing robustness and elegance, ensured its suitability for various occasions. Whether for a casual outing or a formal event, the Seamaster proved to be a versatile accessory. Its case was crafted from durable stainless steel, enhancing the watch’s practicality for everyday wear. Additionally, the watch was equipped with waterproof features, emphasizing Omega’s commitment to functionality without compromising design. Its sleek and refined look made it both practical and stylish.

Another impressive timepiece from this era is the Patek Philippe Calatrava. This watch stands out because of its minimalist design, characterized by a clean and uncluttered dial with simple hour markers. Its slim case enhances its refined and subtle aesthetic. The craftsmanship that goes into this piece is top-notch, with every detail meticulously executed. The Calatrava, with its understated elegance, has set a high bar for future designs in the watchmaking industry.

1960s: The Rise of Versatility

The 1960s marked an era of change and acceleration in lifestyle, necessitating timepieces that could keep up with the pace. The Rolex Submariner emerged as a symbol of both adventure and style. Its easy-to-read dial, rotating bezel, and superior water resistance make it an attractive timepiece for adventurers. It was designed to perform optimally underwater and also held its own in formal settings, making it a versatile accessory.

This era also saw the rise of the Omega Speedmaster, famously known as the “Moonwatch,” after it was worn during the Apollo moon landings. The Omega Speedmaster was chosen for its functionality and precision. Its tachymeter bezel allowed for the accurate measurement of speed, a feature integral for both astronauts and car enthusiasts. Its chronograph functions made it a perfect blend of style and functionality.

OMEGA Speedmaster Moonwatch, 1965

The Rolex Daytona, first introduced in 1963, became synonymous with auto racing. Named after the famous Daytona International Speedway, the watch was designed to meet the needs of professional race car drivers. The Daytona’s chronograph function, coupled with a tachymeter bezel, allowed drivers to measure average speeds up to 400 kilometers or miles per hour. The watch featured a distinctive dial layout with three sub-dials and was initially available in both stainless steel and gold. Its robust design and high-performance movement made it a favorite among motorsport enthusiasts and collectors alike.

Paul Newman Daytona Ref. 6239
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s

Introduced in 1963, the Heuer Carrera appealed to race car drivers and professionals alike. The watch stood out for its chronograph function and bold, easy-to-read dial. These attributes allowed users to keep accurate time while adding a fashionable touch to their ensemble. The success of the Heuer Carrera underscored the idea that form and function can coexist in a well-designed timepiece.

1970s: Breaking the Mold

The 1970s was a transformative decade that shattered pre-existing norms. The quartz revolution introduced cutting-edge technology into watchmaking, leading to more audacious designs. The Seiko Astron, the world’s first quartz watch, offered remarkable accuracy and affordability, setting a new industry standard for precision.

Seiko Quartz-Astron 35SQ

During the same period, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak emerged in 1972, shaking up conventional luxury watch design with its distinct octagonal bezel and integrated bracelet. Designed by Gérald Genta, the Royal Oak’s stainless steel case and bold design were revolutionary at a time when luxury watches were typically crafted from precious metals. The Royal Oak’s bold design and unconventional material choice set a new standard in watchmaking.

Audemars Piguet 1972 Royal Oak 5402ST

Rolex introduced the Explorer II in 1971. With its 24-hour bezel and robust construction, it was also specifically crafted for adventurers. The Explorer II catered to the growing trend of sports and adventure watches, blending functionality with rugged good looks.

1980s: Digital and Classic Converge

The 1980s saw a blend of digital sophistication and traditional aesthetics in watch design. Casio introduced the G-Shock line, bringing tough, functional watches that appealed to active people. The G-Shock’s shock resistance and multifunctional digital displays set a new standard in watch design. These watches were designed to withstand extreme conditions, making them a favorite among athletes and outdoor enthusiasts.

At the same time, classic designs like the Patek Philippe Calatrava remained popular for their simple, elegant looks. The Calatrava’s timeless design continued to attract those who appreciated traditional watchmaking.

TAG Heuer made a splash with the Formula 1, introduced in 1986. This watch combined sporty looks with quartz technology, appealing to a younger audience and cementing TAG Heuer’s reputation in motorsports.

1990s: Return to Heritage

The 1990s marked a return to heritage within horology. Watchmakers began reissuing classic models with contemporary updates, blending the old with the new. One such model was the Omega Speedmaster Professional, linked to the Apollo moon landings. Its practical and functional design ensured its continued relevance.

Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso 18k 1990s

The 1990s also saw the resurgence of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, a model originally designed in the 1930s. Known for its unique reversible case, the Reverso became a symbol of timeless elegance and innovative design. The reissued models combined vintage charm with modern precision.

Another model that gained iconic status during this period was the Rolex GMT-Master II. Introduced in 1983, it came into its own in the ’90s. Its dual-time-zone function was a boon for frequent travelers. Moreover, its robust design meant it could withstand the rigors of international travel, making it a trusted travel companion.

The Rolex Daytona, first introduced in 1963, also saw renewed popularity in the 1990s. Its association with auto racing and robust chronograph function made it a standout model. Its design, featuring a tachymeter bezel and high-performance movement, appealed to both collectors and motorsport enthusiasts.

2000s: Embracing Boldness

In the early 21st century, the trend in watches shifted towards larger models. Brands like Panerai and Hublot embraced large cases for individuals who wanted their timepieces to stand out. Panerai’s designs, rooted in military diving, featured oversized dials and bold numerals, making them highly legible and stylish.

In 2005, Hublot launched its Big Bang series, marked by its large cases and innovative use of materials like rubber and ceramic. The Big Bang series offered a refreshing change from traditional watch designs, appealing to watch enthusiasts seeking something different.

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore first launched in 1993 but gained prominence in the 2000s. It expanded the original Royal Oak design with larger cases and more rugged features. This bold approach to watch design appealed to a new generation of watch lovers seeking a statement piece.

2010s: Balance and Innovation

The 2010s marked a shift towards balanced designs. Watch sizes typically ranged from 38mm to 42mm, catering to a broader audience. The Swatch Sistem51 won over watch enthusiasts with its unique approach to automatic watch production, featuring a construction of just 51 parts and a fully automated manufacturing process.

In 2012, the Tudor Black Bay reappeared, drawing on elements from Tudor’s iconic dive watches of the 1950s and 1960s. The Black Bay blended vintage design cues with modern materials and technology, resulting in a timepiece recognized as a classic.

In 2018, the Omega Seamaster Diver 300M was reintroduced with updates like ceramic materials and a modernized movement while preserving the iconic design elements.

2020s: Comfort, Versatility, and Sustainability

Today, the focus is on comfort, versatility, and sustainability. Watchmakers are incorporating recycled materials and adopting eco-friendly processes without compromising design. The Swatch x Omega MoonSwatch collaboration blends the iconic look of the Omega Speedmaster with Swatch’s innovative materials.

The Oris Aquis Date Upcycle features a dial made from recycled ocean plastic, emphasizing sustainability and giving each watch a unique look.

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual, refreshed in 2020 with vibrant dial colors, combines classic design with modern aesthetics. Its simplicity and robustness, enhanced with new color options, make it versatile and stylish.

ROLEX: TURQUOISE BLUE DIAL – Named ‘Celebration’


What makes a watch timeless? It’s a blend of simplicity, versatility, quality craftsmanship, innovation, and a touch of history. Watches like the Rolex Datejust, Omega Speedmaster, and Swatch Sistem51 show how these elements combine to withstand time. Versatility is vital, as a timeless watch should look good in both a boardroom and on a beach. The Rolex Submariner exemplifies this with its dual role as both a tool watch and a dress watch.

Quality craftsmanship is fundamental, with the use of premium materials and meticulous attention to detail elevating a watch. The Patek Philippe Calatrava and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak demonstrate that quality renders a watch truly timeless. Innovation also keeps the watch industry lively, from the quartz revolution to the integration of new materials and digital features. Staying ahead in technology without compromising the core design is crucial.

A connection to heritage endows a watch with historical significance, with vintage reissues and designs influenced by a brand’s archives reminding us of the traditions that have shaped watchmaking. These elements have characterized the most iconic watches for the past 70 years. While trends may change, these principles ensure a watch’s appeal to generations. Whether it’s a vintage reissue, a modern classic, or a bold new design, a timeless watch stands the test of time and trends.

OMEGA: Seamaster models of 1948

Thank you for joining me on this journey through the history of timeless watch designs. I truly appreciate your continued support and enthusiasm for Wristwatch Wednesday. If you’re new to this column, welcome!