Jorg’s Top 5 Modern Luxury Sports Watches
Compiling a list of the best modern luxury sports watches is like walking into a death trap. Can you actually come out alive? This is one of those lists that pretty much every watch enthusiast has an opinion on. But we like a good challenge here at Fratello. So I put on my armor and walked straight in. The mission? To come out on the other side, having found my Top-5 of modern luxury sports watches. A Top-5 that is irrefutably inspired by Gérald Genta’s design legacy. But instead by the spirit of his designs rather than a variation on his designs. So without further ado, let’s get out the swords and daggers!
Modern luxury sports watches are as relevant as ever. And by that I mean, alternatives for the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus. With limited availability of a new steel Royal Oak or Nautilus and prices for both new and pre-owned pieces sky-rocketing, we want alternatives. And ever since the introduction of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak in 1972, there have been many brands that have tried to design a watch that can also ride that massive wave of mainstream success that the Gérald Genta designed Royal Oak and Nautilus have created. But, as it turns out, it’s not that simple.
Gérald Genta’s brilliance was not just coming up with three iconic designs that the world of watches had not seen before. If you put the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the Patek Philippe Nautilus, and the IWC Ingenieur together and you will see the intelligent exploration of basic shapes that Genta executed. Octagonal for the Royal Oak, square for the Nautilus and round for the Ingenieur. By doing so, he practically locked the door and threw away the key for every designer trying to be original when it comes to rudimentary shapes for a modern luxury sports watch.
Next to that, we have to credit Genta for the integrated bracelet, and the slim profile of the modern luxury sports watch — made possible by ultra-thin movements. Although the slim profile nowadays doesn’t seem to be pivotal in creating a successful modern luxury sports watch.
Unfortunately, IWC struggled to keep the legacy of Genta’s Ingenieur alive
The result of Genta’s brilliance is that we compare every new design that comes out in this category with one of his creations, which makes total sense. The man created two of the most iconic timepieces that, to this day, look almost identical to the originals from the 1970s. Unfortunately, IWC struggled to keep the legacy of Genta’s Ingenieur alive and resorted back to a lackluster pre-Genta Ingenieur with its latest generation of the watch.
But Genta’s Ingenieur is very much part of Genta’s holy trinity of modern sports watches. The three of them have become the benchmark for watch enthusiasts and the Mt. Everest for every watch designer.
The perfect modern luxury sports watch
And not too many designers have succeeded in conquering Everest, in my opinion. What we regularly see from other brands is a watch that uses precisely the same ingredients that Genta used, only slightly different. Even if they have been around for a long time, every so often, I find modern luxury sports watches trying to be something they are not — the original. And what they become as a result is a halfhearted version of it.
That’s why I prefer watches that are designed in the same spirit but have their own identity. Like so many of us, I am not searching for a copy or a cheaper alternative for the original. I want to find the same joy and amazement in a watch design as I did with Genta’s Royal Oak, Nautilus, and Ingenieur. Although that’s about as tough as it gets, these five watches stand out for me as the best in class when it comes to modern luxury sports watches.
1. Bvlgari Octo Finissimo
Back in 2017, when the Octo Finissimo with the sandblasted titanium case and bracelet was introduced, I had this genuine feeling of excitement for a watch I hadn’t had in a long time. The Octo collection has been around since 2012, but I never gave it too much attention. But when the full titanium Automatic version was released in that understated color configuration with the sandblasted look…jackpot!
What do I love about the Octo Finissimo? Pretty much everything. Its unique case design, the characteristic but straightforward dial layout with the instantly recognizable typeface, the amazingly designed and very comfortable integrated bracelet, and its ultra-thin profile made possible by the record-breaking BVL 138 movement. It’s a package that is very hard to beat.
To be clear, it’s a full metal bracelet or nothing for me with the Octo Finissimo. The incredibly well designed integrated bracelet adds so much more to the watch I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. And as Robert-Jan rightfully stated in his article about the steel version earlier this year, considering its unique design, just over 12k price, and availability, it is currently a better option than the Royal Oak 15202ST.
2. Czapek Antarctique Terre Adélie
When the press images of the Czapek Antarctique were released, my first reaction was: “This looks very much like a 1970s German design. Change the Czapek logo with the Braun logo, and we’re good to go”. All jokes aside, I am very serious about the first part of that reaction. But very much in a good way. From the get-go, the retro-inspired design of the Czapek Antarctique impressed me a lot.
What I adore about it above all else is that is doesn’t take specific design cues from any of the heavy hitters that defined the category. It’s absolutely in the same category of watches, but it has its own unique identity. Add the spectacular in-house developed automatic SXH5.01 movement on top of that with its eye-catching gold micro-rotor and skeletonized bridges, and this Czapek Antarctique is a winner.
In his review of the Antarctique Terre Adélie Secret Alloy, Rob was not just impressed. He was ready to remortgage his house to cough up the necessary 19k Euros. And that makes two of us. That is if they brush the center links of that stunning bracelet. But it’s easy for us to say that now as all the different versions sold out within 18 days,
3. Zenith DEFY Classic 41mm
The Zenith Defy Classic had to grow on me. But like so many times before, it was seeing the watch “in the metal” that made it click with me. Speaking of metal, you might have noticed how I did not make this Top-5 about luxury steel sports watches. The reduced weight of titanium perfectly adds to the “sports” part of the category. It’s why this Zenith DEFY Classic in titanium is on this list. But it took me a while to warm up to the watch. The case design seemed okay but not great, the blue dials looked way too shiny, and I wasn’t a fan of the white date disc.
My initial doubts changed when I saw Gerard’s DEFY Classic 41mm from up close. Gerard perfectly explained it in his review of the watch — this is a great total package. The overall design of the DEFY Classic 41mm is executed well. The layered feel of the dial is stunning. The base is the blue metallic dial that turned out to be less shiny than expected.
Above the dial, the hour markers seem to float and the great handset that floats on top of both the dial and the markers. The titanium bracelet of the DEFY Classic looks great and is very comfortable. Add the in-house Zenith Elite 670 movement and its 6.5k list price, and this not only a great looking watch, but it is also a very affordable one. And that seems to be a rarity within this category of watches.
4. Linde Werdelin 3-Timer
The Linde Werdelin 3-Timer is very much a choice made by the heart and not the head. Yes, it’s big and rather chunky with its 44mm diameter and 15mm thickness — but that was never a problem for me. Sure, the ETA 2983 movements that the brand uses have raised an eyebrow or two. Especially when you consider a list price topping 6k. And on top of that, it’s not your classical three-hander that we are used to seeing in this category. And to make things even “worse”, I much prefer the 3-Timer on a strap instead of its bold and very industrial bracelet.
The first time I put the 3-Timer on my wrist was back in 2009. It was love at first sight. I was intrigued by the overall shape and the intricate details of the 3-Timer’s case design. And while the case was full of different shapes and angles, the dial brought the perfect contrast. The dial design is handsomely modest and doesn’t use any prominent elements. To me, it was the perfect modern design.
After a period in the 2010s where the brand wandered off into the land of bling, I was delighted to see the return of the 3-Timer in 2017. The re-introductions made it clear that the 3-Timer is one of those designs that hasn’t lost its iconic power. For me, the 3-Timer embodies the modern luxury sports watch with an initial real sports purpose and a unique design that is not inspired by the past or a rip-off like so many modern sports watches.
5. IWC Ingenieur
Finding the fifth watch for this list was hard. And I can hear some of you think, what about the Girard-Perregaux Laureato? To me, its current design screams Royal Oak a bit too much. And I’m not too fond of the GP logo at 12 o’clock and the font type the brand uses. Although I must say the recently introduced Infinity edition with the black onyx dial certainly does have its charm.
What about the Vacheron Constantin Overseas? I like the Overseas, but for over 20k, you have to love every detail, and I do not love the bracelet. And that’s not even a detail. And we could go on for a bit with the Polo S, the Alpine Eagle, and so on. Although not a particularly original design I do have a soft spot for the Hublot Classic Fusion. But my OCD can’t handle the random direction of the bolts in the bezel.
So I’ll end this list part wish, part past. As mentioned earlier, IWC unfortunately, wasn’t able to uphold the legacy of its Genta-designed Ingenieur. Robert-Jan was right in mentioning them in his Top-5 of watches that never really made it. And it’s not that they haven’t tried with the great Ingenieur ref. 3227 that was introduced in 2005. The follow-up model Ingenieur ref. 3239 (pictured above) also captured that Genta spirit quite well. But for now, we’re stuck with the current uninspiring Ingenieur.
With the iconic Royal Oak and the Nautilus still available today, a new Genta inspired Ingenieur would be the perfect addition. And that would mean the holy trinity would be given its rightful place in the watch industry. The original designs defined by their shapes: octagonal, square, and round. It sounds like something that should happen. In the meantime, it’s all about trying to get your hands on a pre-owned Ingenieur. Good luck!