For all the variety that characterizes the Swiss watch industry, a single, mighty niche dominates sales (and headlines): steel sport watches.
The hoopla over sport models housed in the humble, workaday metal stems, no doubt, from the stratospheric secondary market prices associated with category killers like the Patek Philippe Nautilus and practically any professional model by Rolex (but especially the Submariner and Daytona). A fair degree of nostalgia is also at play: Today’s most sought-after steel sport watches trace their roots to the late 1960s and ’70s, and often feature retro detailing, such as integrated bracelets, that make collectors go wild.
The style is so popular that even haute horlogerie brands have dipped their toes in the arena (here’s looking at you, Lange). In other words, the universe of steel sport wristwatches is expanding by the day. Below, we present a highly subjective, eminently debatable list of the year’s top five steel sport watch introductions. Caveat: We can’t promise they’re available.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner Date Ref. 126610LV “Kermit”
Rolex didn’t invent the luxury steel sport watch (that distinction belongs to Audemars Piguet), but it pretty much owns the category today, as made clear by the frenzy of news coverage that followed the brand’s release of 2020 novelties on the last day of August. Included in the slew of incremental dial updates and bracelet changes was the new Submariner Date, in a slightly enlarged 41 mm steel case housing, for the first time in 32 years, a new movement, caliber 3235 (which first appeared on the Pearlmaster 39 in 2015). In keeping with the watch world’s embrace of all things green, the “Kermit” with a green Cerachrom bezel and black dial, has emerged as a collector favorite. The watch’s retail price is $9,550, but don’t get excited — it’s virtually unavailable through primary channels, so you’ll need to take your chances (and up your budget) on the secondary market.
Chopard Alpine Eagle XL Chronograph
Time-only watches are nice, but if you’re looking for a true sports watch, it has to be a chronograph. Chopard acknowledged as much this fall when it updated its 1-year-old Alpine Eagle collection to include a 44 mm XL Flyback Chronograph. Encased in the brand’s proprietary Lucent Steel A223, the $19,200 timepiece comes on an integrated bracelet, evoking the retro styling of the 1980 St. Moritz watch that inspired it. The model’s chronometer-certified automatic 03.05-C movement has a flyback feature, and operates on an entirely integrated column-wheel system, aka the gold standard for chronographs.
Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 Rainbow
At the height of the year’s first lockdown, in mid-April, Breitling jazzed up an otherwise gloomy spring with a boutique-only limited edition of its new Superocean Heritage ’57 model in a just-right-for-the-times rainbow execution. The model, which was unveiled at the company’s first-ever webcast, retails for $4,520 on a leather strap and $5,025 on a steel bracelet. Its bidirectional concave stainless steel bezel, black ceramic bezel ring and black dial are the perfect complements to its festive dial, which features Super-LumiNova luminescent hour markers, hour and minute hands in a kaleidoscopic range of hues.
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic
Bulgari finally gave watchmaking fans what they’d long been clamoring for in January, when it debuted its 2020 collection in Dubai: a steel version of its sought-after Octo Finissimo model, widely considered to be one of the finest creations in contemporary watchmaking history. Known for its ultra-slender styling (the watch comes in a 40 mm extra-thin satin-polished stainless steel case that measures just 6.40 mm thick), the $11,900 automatic model is, without question, a modern heirloom in the making.
Piaget Polo S Limited Edition
Known as the luxury watch of the 1980s, the Polo by Piaget doesn’t always get the respect it deserves. But with the introduction earlier this year of the Polo S limited edition, the watchmaker has reminded watch lovers of its authentic claims to sport watch history. The model’s 42 mm steel case frames a green guilloche PVD dial with luminescent hour-markers in rose gold. Combined with the Manufacture Piaget 1110P automatic mechanical movement that powers the timepiece, this chic wristwatch, which retails for $12,200, promises to make both men and women green with envy.