6 Watches that Changed Horology Forever

There are a number of watches that have become classics, but it’s only once in a while that a watch breaks new ground in technology or design; and changes the way watches are made.

While some of these watches have retired and made way for more modern designs, some of them have evolved with time and are still being produced today.

Here are living watches that played a pivotal role in the evolution of watchmaking:
Cartier Santos Dumont
Cartier Santos-Dumont (1904)
the first pilot’s wristwatch 

While there were wristwatches and pilot’s watches before the Santos-Dumont, it revolutionized the way pilots told time. By being readable and wearable enough, it allowed the pilot to measure time intervals while keeping both hands on the plane controls. The watch was born when Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont asked his friend, jeweler and watchmaker Louis Cartier, to make a watch that could be worn while flying.


JLC Reverso
Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso (1930)
the first sports watch 

The Reverso was the first watch to be made especially for sporting activities. Businessman César de Trey was watching a polo match when he was approached with the idea of creating a watch that can withstand the rigors of the said sport. He then worked with designer Jacques LeCoultre and French firm Jaeger S.A. to create a watch whose face can reverse, thereby protecting the watch face from breakage.


Rolex Submariner
Rolex Submariner (1953)
the quintessential diver’s watch

The Submariner is an offspring of the first waterproof watch, the 1926 Rolex Oyster. In the early ’50s, Rene P. Jeanneret, one of Rolex’s directors and a close friend of famed explorer Jacques Cousteau, convinced Rolex that it was time to create a watch especially for scuba diving. Combining technical developments (like a rotating bezel to keep track of air time) with a classic look made it the iconic watch that it is today.


Zenith El Primero
Zenith El Primero (1969)
the first automatic chronograph

In the early 1960s, chronographs were all the rage and watch companies raced one another in making the most precise one. Finally, in 1969, Zenith released El Primero (meaning “the first”) and became the first chronograph with a self-winding movement, capable of measuring time intervals as short as 1/10 of a second.


Seiko Astron (1969)
the first quartz wristwatch

The Seiko Astron, introduced in 1969, is the very first quartz wristwatch and the first to automatically recognize all time zones on Earth. At the time, Swiss mechanical watch manufacturers were already testing their own quartz prototypes as well, but it was the Astron that first made it to market and showed that it was indeed possible to go from prototype to production. It was the first salvo of the quartz watch revolution, which would cause an upheaval in the Swiss watchmaking industry in the 70’s.


Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (1972)
the first steel watch

Faced with competition from the new quartz watches, Audemars Piguet knew that they had to make a disruptive change. They asked renowned watch designer Gerald Genta to create an unprecedented timepiece, and in 24 hours, he came up with the design for the Royal Oak. It came in a unique, eight-sided case and was the first watch to use steel, rather than the usual gold or platinum.





Seiko Astron by Deutsches-uhrenmuseum licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons
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