In 1972, Audemars Piguet launched its Royal Oak, which is considered the first luxury sports watch to have been made of steel. In 1976, Patek Philippe followed suit by introducing its first Nautilus. Over the years, the hype surrounding both models has led to a lack of availability at any official retailer, let alone the brands themselves. In particular, the versions with blue dials, date windows, and integrated steel bracelets have attracted men from far and wide. If you also an admirer, but don’t fancy continuing to wait in vain, let us guide you to these 20 less expensive – and moreover, available – alternatives.
Patek Philippe’s 1974 decision to commission the very same designer whose creation, the Royal Oak, had flopped two years earlier, was a daring move. The designer in question was Gerald Genta. His Nautilus design, while shocking back then, is now revered as the first luxury steel sports watch, featuring a blue dial, date and integrated bracelet. Initially derided, it is now one of the most sought-after watch models of all time. Patek Philippe’s bold decision was laudable; after all, the Nautilus, first introduced in 1976, is now the most coveted steel watch in the world.
The Role Models
Audemars Piguet’s 1972 Royal Oak, with the reference 5402, stunned the watch world. It was the first time that a luxury watch company had presented a steel watch – gold had been the standard material up until then. At the time, it was considered a ludicrous idea to put a sophisticated, extra-thin movement into a steel case.
Allegedly, it took Gerald Genta only one night to develop the design of the watch – with its octagonal bezel, round case, hexagonal screws whose slots were aligned exactly in a circle on the bezel, tapisserie dial, and integrated metal bracelet. Inside ticked Calibre 2121, originally developed by Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1967 as the Calibre 920. Incidentally, it is the same movement found in Patek Philippe’s first Nautilus in 1976. Currently, the model Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin Ref. 15202ST.OO.1240ST.01, has a price of 26,000 euros on a waiting list.
As mentioned, two years after Gerald Genta created the Royal Oak for AP, Patek hired the designer to develop its Nautilus. The first model, with the reference 3700/1A, was launched in 1976. The case had a striking porthole design with both polished and satin-finished components, and an integrated steel bracelet.
Like the Royal Oak, this model was initially met with very little enthusiasm. However, as both Patek and AP regulated their steel watch production to a greater extent, the demand for the watches also increased. The Nautilus was re-issued in 2006 as reference 5711/1A and has been breaking records ever since. Incidentally, neither the first Royal Oak nor the first Nautilus had a second hand, which is why the old models, in particular, are in such great demand amongst collectors. The current model, Ref. 5711-1A-010, has a list price of 27,550 euros.
The hype that surrounds these two watches (Royal Oak and Nautilus) is a problem. This is because their list prices are not only roughly 27,000 euros, but also because the watches are scarcely available. Anyone who is able to get hold of a second-hand model has to resign themselves to paying up to twice the listed price. However, fans of the models’ aesthetics need not despair; over the past 40 years, numerous alternatives have emerged on the basis of these two definitive models. While they may not necessarily attract collectors, they certainly offer an alternative for the average consumer – one that is not only less costly, but also far more attainable. With that in mind, here are a few recommendations.
- Stainless steel
- Blue dial
- (Optically) integrated steel bracelet
Up to 2,500 euros:
Tissot Gentleman Powermatic 80 Silicium
The Tissot Gentleman is the ideal entry-level model for this category. For just under 800 euros, you get the solid mechanical automatic calibre C07.811 (based on ETA C07.811) with a silicon hairspring and 80-hour power reserve. The 40 mm case is made of solid 316L stainless steel, while the sapphire crystal is scratch-resistant and anti-reflective. The hands are satin-finished and polished. Any more would hardly possible for such a good price (790 euros).
Hamilton American Classic Spirit of Liberty Auto
“Why Spirit of Liberty?”, you ask. Hamilton has its origins in Pennsylvania, US, where the company was founded in 1892. The model is very much in line with the American way of life – in particular, the spirit of freedom. However, the mechanics come from Switzerland; the automatic movement H-10 (based on ETA 2824) has a power reserve of 80 hours. The case measures 42 mm in diameter. Its price: 895 euros.
With the Conquest line, Longines showcases its sportiest models. The bracelet links are made of ceramic, making them particularly robust, as well as scratch-resistant. The blue dial has an elegant sunray pattern. The hands are silver-plated and polished. The automatic calibre L888 (base ETA A31.L01) offers a 64-hour power reserve. The case has a diameter of 43 mm. Price: 1,010 euros.
Maurice Lacroix AIKON Automatic 42mm
The dial of this sports watch features a “Clous de Paris” motif that reminds one of the Royal Oak tapisserie pattern. The hands and indices are rhodium-plated and coated with SuperLumiNova. The inside of the AIKON model is also exciting; the calibre ML115 (Sellita base SW300) is decorated with a vertical Geneva stripe pattern and a sunburst pattern on the rotor. It offers a power reserve of 38 hours, and the case diameter is 42 mm. Price: 1,690 euros.
Frederique Constant Highlife Automatic COSC
The Highlife collection by Frederique Constant was first launched in 1999. Even then, its design was characterised by an integrated steel bracelet. This year, it is celebrating a comeback, while still embodying the same sporty, elegant chic style as 20 years ago. Its 41 mm stainless-steel case houses the automatic calibre FC-303 (based on the Sellita SW200-1) with a 38-hour power reserve and COSC certification. If you are looking for a little variety, you can easily switch to a leather or rubber strap. It makes for a solid watch, for a solid price: 1,795 euros.
Wempe Iron Walker Automatik
Wempe is not only a renowned watch and jewellery retailer in Germany, but it also produces convincingly good watches. Its reliable and stylish timepieces are created in the watchmaking town of Glashütte. Recently, the company introduced the new Iron Walker collection, which is inspired by the daring steelworkers of New York’s skyscrapers back in the 1920s. On closer inspection, however, this masculine watch also reveals a few fine details – the date display at 3 o’clock is neatly framed, and the baton hands are coated with SuperLuminNova. The dimensions make it particularly compact, with a diameter of 40 mm and a height of only 9.75 mm. The automatic movement ETA 2892-A2 offers a power reserve of 50 hours. Price: 2,375 euros
From 2,500 to 5,000 euros:
TAG Heuer LINK
Once the watch of racing driver legend Ayrton Senna, it is now a true classic among modern sports watches. What makes the LINK so unmistakable is the daring aesthetics of its Double-S bracelet – it is designed to improve wearability and comfort. The date window at 3 o’clock was applied by hand. The 41 mm case houses the Calibre 5 automatic movement (based on the Sellita SW 200 / ETA 2824) with a 38-hour power reserve. Price: 2,800 euros.
Baume & Mercier Clifton Baumatic 10468
This stylish, long-distance runner can last for five whole days (120 hours) with the spring fully wound. In 2018, Baume & Mercier presented its first own movement: Calibre Baumatic BM12-1975A. Thanks to a ‘Magic Lever’, the oscillating weight supplies energy to the barrel in both directions of rotation. The mainspring is made of a patented material called “Elinflex”, which promises a better rate of running power, in comparison to conventional “Nivaflex”. This, alongside several other technical features, allows for the enormous power reserve. Furthermore, the resulting accuracy has been rewarded with COSC certification. It is housed in a 40 mm case with a satin-finished, stainless-steel bracelet. Price: 2,800 euros.
Breitling Aviator 8
To directly avoid potential confusion: this model was launched in 2018 as Navitimer 8, later changed to Aviator 8. The term ‘Navi-Timer’ likely caused misunderstandings; the term does not come from the sea or the navy, but rather from the navigation of aeroplanes. This is because the Aviator 8 line is reminiscent of Breitling pilot’s watches from the 1930s and 1940s. This cool timepiece features a COSC-certified Breitling Calibre 17 chronometer movement with bidirectional rotor winding and a power reserve of around 38 hours. The case has a size of 41 mm. Price: 3,800 euros.
Bell & Ross BR05A Blue Steel
The lines of the case combine both a circle and square shape – the basic characteristics of Bell & Ross timepieces. The bracelet of the BR05A is connected to the case in one piece. Bruno Belamich, co-founder of Bell & Ross, describes its aesthetic as the following: “This type of design is reminiscent of the seventies. Bell & Ross’ interpretation creates a graphic style that is both eye-catching and modern”. Indeed, the design and finish of this watch does attract attention. The 40 mm case is angular, and the satin-finished surfaces are perfectly smooth. The movement is a BR-CAL.321 calibre (Sellita SW300 base) with a 40-hour power reserve. Price: 4,500 euros.
From 5,000 to 10,000 euros:
OMEGA Seamaster Aqua Terra
OMEGA and the moon are inevitably linked, but the Swiss brand also has a maritime heritage. The blue sun-brushed dial with its teak décor is reminiscent of the wooden deck of luxury sailing yachts. The back of the 41 mm stainless-steel case is decorated with a wave pattern. Inside the watch ticks the Master Chronometer Calibre 8900, certified by the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS). It also has a Co-Axial escapement used exclusively by OMEGA. Although it doesn’t ensure even greater precision, it does ensure less wear and tear, and therefore longer maintenance intervals. The balance spring is made of silicon and the power reserve is 60 hours. Price: 5,300 euros.
IWC Pilots Watch Mark XVII Edition Le Petit Prince
An absolute classic among pilot’s watches. In this version “Le Petit Prince”, IWC takes up the theme of Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince. The writer himself was a passionate aviator. Poetry and technology come together in this model through its deep blue dial, in which, while simple, you can simply lose yourself. In addition, the watch has a beautiful stainless-steel link bracelet on a well-proportioned 40 mm case. Inside the watch is the automatic calibre 35111 (based on the Sellita SW300-1) with a 42-hour power reserve, Geneva stripes and perlage, which, however, remain hidden from the wearer – because an engraving of the little prince has been placed on the caseback. As Saint-Exupéry said, “The essential is invisible to the eyes”. Price: 5,650 euros.
Cartier Santos de Cartier
The story of the Santos de Cartier is, of course, legendary. In 1904, Louis Cartier fulfilled the wish of his friend and pilot Alberto Santos Dumont to be able to tell the time while flying. The Santos was one of the first wristwatches to do so, and has since become – it is safe to say – an icon. This version features a blue dial, sword-shaped hands in blued steel, and a stainless-steel bracelet with the SmartLink system for length adjustment. The automatic manufacture calibre 1847 MC has a power reserve of 42 hours and is protected against magnetic fields up to 1,200 Gauss. The square case has a diameter of 39,8 x 47,5 mm. Price: 6,800 euros.
Bulgari Octo Roma
The Octo Roma by Bulgari is inspired by the Roman Maxentius Basilica, built around 310 AD. It combines Italian creativity with the art of Swiss watchmaking. Furthermore, because for the Italians, everything embodies a certain style and lifestyle, even the movement has been given a sonorous name: “Solotempo Calibre BVL 191”, with Geneva stripes, angled and azuré. Despite the ‘Solotempo’, the calibre also displays the date. In light of its aesthetics and meaningful name, one should not forget to mention that this is a manufacture movement. For 6,850 euros, this is a luxury watch that is both attractively priced and sporty. The extraordinary case design measures 41 mm.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust 41
Anyone who has ever seen the watch live will not forget the strong blue of its dial. Radial grinding is a favoured method in watchmaking, used to apply colour while adding an intense metallic tone to the dial. In most cases, a galvanic silver plating serves as a base layer for the radial dial, to which another colour is then applied. Another feature of the watch is its 41 mm case and bracelet which are made of Oystersteel – a specially developed 904L stainless steel developed by Rolex, and an alloy that is commonly used in the aerospace industry as it promises greater resistance to corrosion. The 70-hour power reserve is provided by the manufacture calibre 3235. Price: 7,150 euros.
From 10,000 to 15,000 euros
Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Mariner Date
Jaeger-LeCoultre relaunched its Polaris collection back in 2018. The line pays homage to the first diver’s watch with an alarm function, the 1959 Memovox Deep Sea. It was followed in 1968 by the Memovox Polaris, characterised by its internal diving bezel. This year, Jaeger-LeCoultre is extending the collection with two new sporty models. One of them is the Polaris Mariner Date. While it is without a striking mechanism, it does feature a date display, and also fits perfectly with our category. Its blue dial has a sunburst pattern in the centre, and showcases an opaline finish on the inner unidirectional rotating bezel with orange markers. The stainless-steel case has a diameter of 42 mm and is water-resistant to 300 m. The new Polaris Mariner Date runs on the redesigned automatic manufacture Calibre 899 with a silicon escapement and a increased power reserve of 70 hours. Price: 10,600 euros.
Piaget Polo S
With the launch of the Polo collection in 1979, Piaget paved the way for a true sports watch. In 2016, a successive model was launched in the form of the Polo S. Nevertheless, the line still embodies typical Piaget features, such as the combination of cushion and circle shapes. The bracelet is made of polished and satin-finished steel, and is perfectly integrated into the curved 42 mm case. Inside is the Calibre 1110P (based on Cartier 1904-PS MC), a self-winding movement with a 50-hour power reserve. It has been lavishly decorated with Geneva stripes, a beaded plate and angled bridges. The decoration can be admired through the open caseback. The Piaget coat of arms has been engraved onto the anthracite grey rotor. The blue dial has a horizontal guilloché pattern, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Nautilus. The tip of the seconds hand is decorated with an openworked “P”, the initial of the Swiss manufacture. Price: 11,200 euros.
The Laureato collection was launched in 1975 and actually bears a striking resemblance to the Royal Oak of 1972 – however, it was not designed by Gerald Genta, but an internal designer of Girard-Perregaux from Milan. The original had a similar octagonal case (42 mm) – minus the screws on the bezel – and a dial with Clous de Paris decoration. The crucial difference: it had a quartz movement. It was reissued in 2017, and today it runs on the automatic manufacture calibre GB01800-0008, with a power reserve of 54 hours. The Laureato by Girard Perregaux offers a genuine Genta Design, at a comparatively affordable price (11,200 euros).
Chopard Alpine Eagle
The name of the Chopard sports watch line is a reference to the eagle of the Swiss Alps. The design of the watch is as razor-sharp as the eye of the bird of prey. The blue, galvanised brass dial is decorated with a sunray pattern inspired by the eagle’s iris. The 41 mm case is made of Lucent steel A223. This particular alloy is hypoallergenic, harder, and shinier than normal steel. The watch runs on the Chopard 01.01-C automatic movement with a power reserve of 60 hours, and is certified by COSC. Price: 12,500 euros.
From 15,000 euros:
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Self-Winding
This final suggestion is almost as expensive as the list price of the AP and Patek models, but without a waiting list – and it’s also pretty cool. Vacheron Constantin’s Overseas collection was redesigned in 2016 and now features a three-link metal bracelet with curved links in the shape of a Maltese cross (the brand’s logo). The stainless-steel case measures 41 mm with a height of 11 mm. The transparent caseback reveals the calibre 5100, developed entirely in-house, with a 60-hour power reserve. By the way – in 1977, Vacheron Constantin presented its first steel sports watch, the famous Reference 222. Its price: 20,500 euros.