Luxury watches from brands like Rolex, Patek, and Omega aren’t just beloved objects of beauty; they are high-performance pieces of technology. Discover seven record-breaking models that have made their mark in the history books.
No. 7: Vacheron Constantin – The Most Complicated Watch in the World
The more complicated, the better – at least that’s what many watch enthusiasts tend to think. Major brands have made it their business to outdo one another by adding more and more functions to their timepieces, but none have managed to top Swiss manufacturer Vacheron Constantin. This luxury watchmaker crafted an 18-karat white gold pocket watch that boasts an astonishing 57 functions. The ref. 57260 features, among many other things, a leap year display, sunrise and sunset display, and perpetual Gregorian and Hebrew calendars. Another highlight is the tourbillon, which rotates around its three axes once every minute and flashes the Maltese cross – Vacheron Constantin’s logo – every 15 seconds. The lucky owner of this exquisite piece of watchmaking genius likely had to invest upwards of $10 million.
No. 6: Piaget – The World’s Flattest Mechanical Watch
Is it a coin or a watch? That’s a valid question when you have the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept in your hands. Standing just 2 mm high, this record-breaking watch is absurdly thin. The movement itself makes up part of the case, as does the specially designed crown. These features give the Altiplano Ultimate Concept a striking look that is sure to attract attention. The same can be said for the slightly thicker Piaget Altiplano Ultra Thin.
No. 5: Patek Philippe – The Most Expensive Luxury Watch Ever Sold
The Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime ref. 6300A-010 takes the cake when it comes to record-setting prices. This timepiece was sold to an anonymous bidder for 31 million Swiss francs (approx. $33.9 million) at a Christie’s auction in 2019. Figures like that make Paul Newman’s legendary Daytona seem like a bargain. In 2017, the latter was auctioned by Philipps in New York for a “mere” $17.5 million.
No. 4: Rolex – The First Watch to Top Mount Everest
You were probably wondering when Rolex would show up on this list. The brand with the crown has been equipping athletes and explorers with fine timepieces for decades. In 1953, the brand made history on the summit of Mount Everest, or at least very close to it. Explorer Sir Edmund Hillary made advertisements for rival brand Smiths after the expedition, claiming he carried one of their timepieces to the summit. So, which brand was actually behind the watches Sir Edmund and his partner Tenzing Norgay wore on their journey? No one but the mountaineers themselves knows that. Whatever the case, reaching the “top of the world” earned the Rolex Oyster Perpetual and its successor, the Explorer, their places in watchmaking history. Smiths, on the other hand, soon disappeared from the watch scene. The unveiling of the new Explorer at Watches and Wonders 2021 raised this same question anew. But it doesn’t really matter whether Sir Edmund Hillary was a die-hard Rolex fan or not, does it?
No. 3: Breitling – Around the World in a Hot Air Balloon
Traditional Swiss watchmaker Breitling knows a thing or two about aiming high. In 1999, they partnered with psychologist Bertrand Piccard and his co-pilot Brian Jones to break the record for the longest flight and, more importantly, the first circumnavigation of the world in a balloon. The Breitling Orbiter 3, a hybrid kerosene and hot air-powered balloon, traveled an impressive 25,361 miles (40,814 km) and spent almost 20 full days in flight. The pilots made the trip with a trusty tool watch by their sides: the Breitling Navitimer, which allowed them to see exactly which time zone they were flying over at any given time, even some 180 ft in the air. In 2019, Breitling launched a special edition Cockpit B50 to mark the 20th anniversary of the record-breaking journey. The modern watch reminds today’s adventurers of one of the greatest voyages of the 20th century.
No. 2: Rolex vs. Omega – Exploring Earth’s Greatest Depths
The major Swiss watch brands haven’t just excelled at reaching record-breaking heights; they’ve also made it to the depths of the sea. Rolex and Omega have gone head to head to achieve the deepest dive. Rolex was first to climb in the ring, or in this case, the submarine. In January 1960, the Trieste bathyscaphe reached a depth of 35,797 ft (10,916 m) in the Marina Trench with US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard on board. This record remained unbroken for almost 60 years. A Rolex Deep Sea Special was attached to the outside of the submarine. The diving watch and its characteristic Plexiglass survived the dive unscathed. It didn’t take long for other Rolex divers like the Sea-Dweller and Submariner to take the watch world by storm after that.
Rival Omega finally managed to beat the Deep Sea Special’s record in 2019. Using state-of-the-art technology, American adventurer Victor Vescovo and his team reached the deepest point in the Mariana Trench at 35,853 ft (10,928 m). The expedition to the depths of the Pacific was accompanied by an Omega Seamaster built for deep-sea diving. The timepiece survived the dive, proving that both of the world’s most iconic mechanical diving watches know a thing or two about the deep sea.
However, the true winner when it comes to deep-sea diving is the H2O Watch Kalmar 2 OceanicTime. This small manufacturer from northern Germany has created an extremely robust watch that has withstood laboratory tests exerting the same pressure found at 82,000 ft (25,000 m) beneath the ocean’s surface. Unfortunately for the manufacturer, the Earth’s oceans aren’t that deep, so laboratory tests have to suffice.
No. 1: Omega – The First Watch on the Moon
The first Moon landing in 1969 was an iconic moment in world – and watch – history. Even though Neil Armstrong left his Omega Speedmaster in the Eagle lander when he became the first man to step foot on the lunar surface, Buzz Aldrin wasn’t far behind with the now-famous Moonwatch on his wrist. Omega references this momentous event in its marketing campaigns to this day. After all, what other brand can claim to produce the timepieces NASA selected for their manned space missions? The Speedmaster wasn’t just the first watch on the Moon; it is also the most tested watch to date.
Other watch brands have also made their mark in space, but none come close to Omega’s legacy. The Sinn 140A LE made a trip on the wrist of German physicist Reinhard Furrer. The Seiko “Pogue“ ref. 6139 was the watch of choice for Seiko fan and American astronaut William Reid Pogue. Other famous space watches include the Fortis B-42 Cosmonaut and the Bulova Moon Watch. However, none can hold a flame to the success of the Moonwatch, which, by the way, has recently been outfitted with a new caliber.