Classic watch designs to last a lifetime

When considering which watch design to invest in, disregard trends and consider classic pieces characterised by timeless design

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner
(Image credit: press)

Watchmakers have long known the value of lasting style over seasonality, and they continue to nurture collections that have endured for decades. These classic watch designs never go out of style – made to be worn, then handed down through the generations, they will look just as modern next century as they did the last.

Audemars Piguet

black watch

(Image credit: Neil Godwin at Future Studios for Wallpaper*)

For the first time and to mark the Offshore’s 30th anniversary, Audemars Piguet unveils the first Offshore watch in black ceramic, complete with matching bracelet and patterned dial. The sleek pitch black is broken up by bold white Arabic numerals and alternating polished and satin finishing, which adds depth while staying faithful to signature Audemars Piguet design codes.


paneria watch

(Image credit: Panerai)

Panerai is returning to its roots this year with the launch of new Radiomir collections at Watches and Wonders 2023, in a modern rethink of the military watch originally presented in 1935. ‘The leather straps of the watches exude that unmistakable vintage style,' says Panerai CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué. 'With the Brunito e-Steel case, every timepiece is hand-finished one by one to create a seasoned look, rendering each watch uniquely different.'


gold and silver bulgari watch

(Image credit: Bulgari)

Sensual snake-like silhouettes, first adopted by Bulgari in the 1940s, have quickly become a classic design pillar of the house. The Serpenti watch, interpreted in many ways from undulating coils to glistening scales,  will never go out of style when cast in yellow gold and stainless steel.


watch with blue face

(Image credit: Oris)

The  Oris Big Crown Calibre 473 heralds the arrival of a technically impressive new movement. Four years in the making, it boasts a five day power reserve and 120-hour power reserve indicator on the back offset by a vintage baby blue dial.


watch with white face

(Image credit: Junghans)

Classic design meets tweaked proportions in the Junghans Meister fein Kleine Automatic. A clean face and distinctive elongated markings bring a modern minimalist to the stainless steel case, now rethought in a smaller size.


copper watch

(Image credit: Girard-Perregaux)

Girard-Perregaux marry classic design codes with a bold new colour in the Laureato 38mm Copper, which imbues a textured dial decorated with the traditional Clous de Paris motif with a deep hue. A brilliant sunray copper dial makes a modern foil for the clean form of the watch, otherwise mostly unchanged since making its debut in 1975.

Seiko Watches

Seiko watches

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Seiko Watches builds on a rich heritage of traditonal Japanese design codes with the release of the new Presage 'Kabuki' limited edition timepieces. Imbuing the historical concept of Kabuki theatre - traditionally a heavily stylised art form - with a sharply modern technicality, the new watch links the past and present in typically understated style. The dial, featuring a pattern dating back to the Heian period of 794-1185 which was used in the Kabuki costumes, makes for a striking focal point, following the design of the earlier 'Takumi' models, pictured.


Black dial Tudor watch

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Tudor play on classic design codes with the Black Bay Pro, which marries a sporty new form with useful technical functions including a dual time zone. A slick aesthetic - satin-brushed and polished case, textured matte black dial and choice of three bracelet designs - add a modernity which promises to endure.


Nomos watch

(Image credit: press)

German watch brand Nomos imbue classic watch design with a coolly contemporary hue in two new Tangente neomatik models. Two new sizes of the perenially popular piece draw on the enduring codes of the watch, from the clean typography to the facets and flat sapphire crystal glass.


Zenith watch

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The Zenith Chronomaster Revival Lupin The Third – Final Edition builds on the 1969 relationship between Zenith and Japanese manga and anime series Lupin The Third, when a character sported a Zenith chronograph with a 'panda' dial which never actually existed. In 2019, it was finally brought to life, and now Zenith has unveiled this third and final limited edition from the partnership. Composed of asymmetrical halves, the semi-glossy black dial makes a slick foil for the juxtaposed creamy white.

Vacheron Constantin

Grey Vacheron Constantin watch

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The Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle complete calendar nods to the clean design codes which began to emerge in the Age of Enlightenment, with its simple face and gently rounded silhouette. It is a pure aesthetic which belies the complex technical heart of the watch, where a triple calendar - telling the day, date and month - takes centre stage. Rethought for a new era with a slate-grey dial, classic design ticks are interwoven with contemporary touches in this new piece, to brilliant and enduring effect.

Tag Heuer

Black tag watch with a white dial against a white background

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Tag Heuer have long mastered the art of producing sports watches which imbue a technical functionality with classic and enduring design codes. The new editions of the Tag Heuer Aquaracer Professional 300 subscribe to this ethos, combining a faceted 12-sided bezel and cleanly lined dial with a water resistance to 200 metres. Three new references are driven by the Calibre 5 automatic movement, perfect for underwater adventure when teamed with scratch-resistant crystal and a useful double safety clasp. 



Black IWC watch with gold case against a black background

(Image credit: press)

During its 150-year history, IWC has perfected the art of pared-back watch design in favour of a functional tehnicality. The brand's Pilot's Chronograph has been seen in one iteration or another for over two decades, its neat dial with useful functions beloved by those both in the air and on the ground. Now, they have collaborated with Mr Porter to mark their tenth anniversary with a rethink of a classic piece that promises to be just as enduring. The juxtaposition of a gleaming black dial against a retro bronze case adds a stylish update to this limited edition piece.

Audemars Piguet

Audemars Piguet watch

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In the 1970s, watch designer Gérald Genta’s timepieces transformed watchmaking, subverting traditional designs and breathing new life into an industry in flux. One of his most iconic pieces, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, is just as popular today as it was then; inspired by the eight screws with which a vintage diving helmet was attached to the suit, it was revolutionary in being made of steel long before this was considered a precious metal. Now available in many versions, its distinctive octagonal shape is instantly recognisable.

Patek Philippe

Patek Philippe watch

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The Bauhaus movement, with its focus on form following function, was the inspiration behind the Patek Philippe Calatrava watch, originally created in 1932. The simple ethos was translated into a watch with clean design principles, its gently curved form and integrated lugs making for a streamlined silhouette. Today’s versions, with the round face and understated hour markers, are just as graceful as their predecessors.


Jaeger Lecoultre watch

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Jaeger-LeCoultre is marking 90 years of the Reverso this year, a chic design that first appeared in 1931. While nodding to the art deco period in which it was created, it was originally intended for polo players who wished for a watch tough enough to withstand a match. The Reverso’s combination of elegance and practicality, with a dial that can flip, instantly made it a popular choice. The collection’s newest Duoface model, created in burgundy red to mark the anniversary, is a chic investment complete with two contrasting dials, a feature first introduced in 1994.


Rolex watch

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The generous silhouette and bold bezel of the Rolex Submariner create maximum impact. First introduced in 1953, its beginnings were as a diver’s wristwatch, meaning the emphasis is on legibility. The simple dials play with geometry, letting triangles, circles and rectangles mark the hours, quickly telling the time when visibility may be poor. This latest piece, with its slightly increased case size, is created from Oystersteel – Rolex’s particularly tough alloy – for a practical and timeless appeal.

Grand Seiko

Grand Seiko watch

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Japanese brand Grand Seiko is a favourite of watch connoisseurs for its unwavering commitment to accomplished technology and skilled design. This piece from the Heritage collection is a case in point – with a highly precise movement and a case crafted from titanium, it is light, easy to wear and reliable.

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.