9 timepieces that show the changing face of watches

The watch has been a staple of men's fashion for well over a century. Since the first self-winding timepiece was invented in 1770 by Abraham-Louis Perrelet, it has been an indispensable part of every man's wardrobe.

To mark the launch of The Watch: A Twentieth-Century Style History, a new book by Alex Barter, co-founder of online lifestyle store Black Bough which provides a snapshot of more than a century of horological developments,  the Sharp Guy team has picked out some of the pieces that best highlight the changing faces of watches. There is also a sale at world famous auctioneers, Sotheby's for those of you that feel like making a purchase or two.

Swiss, Gold Double-Dialled Keyless Calendar Watch

Estimate £1,800–2,800

Greenwich’s establishment as the Prime Meridian at the 1884 International Meridian Conference led to the formation of 24 time zones to be used around the world. Watches with indications for multiple time zones appeared soon afterwards and this is a typical example – the front dial is marked for ‘Greenwich Time’ whilst the back dial is divided into 7 subsidiary dials showing the time in various world locations. It’s interesting to speculate how such an object altered the owner’s perception of the world.

Jaeger-LeCoultre, Memovox, Reference 3151 Yellow Gold Wristwatch

Estimate £2,500–4,500


The history of the alarm watch stretches back to the 16th century, but it was not until the middle of the 20th century that successful commercial production was achieved within the confined space of the wristwatch case. Jaeger-LeCoultre named their first alarm model, launched in 1950, the Memovox – literally, the ‘Voice of Memory’. Early examples were often aimed at the businessperson, to act as a reminder for a meeting or other event.

Hamilton, Ventura, Reference 500 Yellow Gold Asymmetrical Wristwatch

Estimate £1,000–1,500


In New York on 3 January 1957, a press conference was held by the Hamilton Watch Company to announce the release of the first series-produced electric wristwatch. Hamilton commissioned the industrial designer Richard Arbib to create one of the launch models, the Ventura. The Ventura was a futuristic looking wristwatch that had an asymmetrically shaped case that boldly represented the beginning of a new era. This new era would threaten the very existence of the traditional mechanical watchmaking industry.

Rolex, Submariner Small Crown, Reference 6536 Stainless Steel Wristwatch

Estimate £45,000–70,000


At the beginning of the 1950s, the increasing interest in scuba diving, both for civilian and military purposes, led to the development of specialist diving watches. These were rugged, waterproof watches that had utilitarian designs and were clearly influenced by the military watches of the previous decade. Rolex displayed their first Submariner models at the Basel Watch Fair of 1954 and these watches would become part of a new generation of so-called ‘tool’ watches.

Piaget, Beta 21, Reference 15101 C 10 Yellow Gold Cushion-Shaped Wristwatch

Estimate £4,500–6,000



The Beta 21 quartz movement, produced by a consortium of Swiss watchmakers (including IWC, Omega, Piaget, Rolex and Patek Philippe), was commercially released at the Basel Watch Fair of 1970. An extremely large movement, the models that incorporated it were necessarily over-sized and a far cry from the increasingly slim mechanical watches of the 1960s. Yet these were fiercely modern watches using the latest technology and their designs were unapologetically assertive - a true statement piece for their owners.

Audemars Piguet, Yellow Gold Skeletonised Wristwatch

Estimate £3,500–5,500


 The ‘skeletonised’ watch was one design that allowed the finest mechanical watchmakers the ability to emphasize the quality and exclusivity of their work. By exposing their highly finished movements, the traditional watchmaker’s art was placed in stark contrast to the mass-market circuitry of the electronic watch.

Movado, Andy Warhol Times 5 Limited Edition Blackened Stainless Steel Rectangular Bracelet Watch

Estimate £3,500–5,500


Following an approach by Movado to design a special ‘Art’ watch, Andy Warhol developed the idea of joining several watch cases together to form a bracelet. Rather than produce ‘painted’ scenes for the dials – which Warhol feared would give the watch ‘a department store fashion watch feeling’ – he instead settled on black-and-white photographic scenes of New York. The Warhol ‘Times/5’ wristwatch would be the first of a series of Artists’ watches produced by Movado.

Audemars Piguet, Royal Oak Offshore Alinghi Team, Reference 26062OR.OO.A002CA.01 Limited Edition Pink Gold And Forged Carbon Flyback Chronograph Wristwatch

Estimate £12,000–18,000


This new Royal Oak scaled up the original format (designed by Emmanuel Gueit in 1989) dramatically and gave it a decidedly rugged look, helped by the fact that it was a chronograph model. First released at the Basel Watch Fair of 1993, the Offshore was a vast model by the standards of the period and was nicknamed ‘The Beast’.

A. Lange & Söhne, Grosse Lange 1 Mondphase Lumen, Reference Lsls1392ai Limited Edition Platinum Wristwatch

Estimate £50,000–70,000


Following the reunification of Germany, the historical watchmaking firm of A. Lange & Söhne was re-established in 1990. Among the first models released was the Lange 1, and this immediately became an iconic watch in its own right. The design of the dial was highly original, with separate sections for time, seconds, power reserve and oversized date. The case backs were glazed with a sapphire crystal to display the exceptional finishing of the movements for which the firm would become so admired.


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