It’s hard to believe, but when the clock strikes midnight tomorrow night to usher in a new year, another decade will be behind us. But before we say goodbye to the 2010s, we’re looking back at the hottest luxury watches of the decade. Reflecting upon the list, it’s interesting to note that most of these watch designs are in no way new; in fact, most of them were born in the mid-20th Century or earlier!
Yet, top-tier timepiece brands know when they have a bonafide hit on their hands and therefore continue to give us modern versions of these watch classics. With that, let’s dive into the watches that were on everyone’s wish list in twenty-tens.
While Rolex certainly has a fleet of ultra-popular luxury watches to its name, from the Submariner to the GMT-Master II to the President, this was the decade of the Daytona.
Whether the latest (and almost impossible to obtain) stainless steel Daytona ref. 116500LN with a ceramic bezel launched in 2016 or the surprising success of the bejeweled Everose Daytona “Rainbow” ref. 116595RBOW from 2018, watch fans couldn’t get enough of this iconic chronograph.
But what propelled the Rolex Daytona beyond the watch collecting community into popular culture was the historic $18 million sale of Paul Newman’s own vintage Daytona ref. 6239 “Paul Newman” featuring the distinct dial design that was nicknamed after the famous actor.
The popularity of fresh Rolex Daytona models and headline-grabbing auction sales of vintage models also serves to drive up the value of discontinued references like the steel Daytona ref. 116520 or the yellow gold ref. 16528. Rolex Daytonas are undeniably one of the hottest luxury watches of the decade–regardless of production era.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
In 1972, Audemars Piguet debuted the Gerald Genta-designed Royal Oak watch, and with its release, established a whole new timepiece genre: the ultra-luxurious steel sports watch. The Royal Oak was simply unlike any other watch in the market at that time. It featured a very large-for-the-era octagonal case, an eight-sided bezel with exposed screws, a hobnail “tapisserie” and an innovative integrated bracelet design. And despite its stainless steel construction, AP priced the Royal Oak on par with (or above) gold watches.
The boldness of the Royal Oak’s design and the brashness of its price tag was first met with plenty of resistance. Particularly since the Quartz Crisis was well underway. However, over the years, the Royal Oak gained a huge following to become one of the most coveted luxury watches ever. While Audemars Piguet made its mark on horology in the early 20th Century by creating high complication pieces and classic designs, the Royal Oak has since taken over as the brand’s flagship watch.
In the 2010s, Royal Oak watches and the even bolder Royal Oak Offshore watches were frequently seen on the wrists of high-profile celebrities. Even mega athletes like basketball star Lebon James and soccer phenom Leo Messi had special-edition ROs made in their honor. A nod from the celeb-set, coupled with the approval of watch enthusiasts and collectors, has launched the Royal Oak into iconic territory.
Whether for men or women, in steel or gold, simple time and date format or as a chronograph or even as a high complication piece, the distinctive Royal Oak has proved to be one of the most sought-after high-end watches of the decade.
Patek Philippe Nautilus
Although Patek Philippe focuses its efforts mainly on producing elegant dress watches like the Calatrava and the Ellipse and high complication timepieces such as Perpetual Calendars and Annual Calendars, it is the brand’s sporty models, like the Aquanaut and more specifically, the more than 40-year-old Nautilus, that have exploded in popularity this past decade. Also born in the 1970s and designed by Gerald Genta, the Nautilus was Patek’s answer to the AP Royal Oak.
A favorite among celebrities and watch collectors alike today, the Nautilus, with its characteristic porthole-shaped case, eight-sided bezel, integrated bracelet, and horizontally grooved lines on the dial, is perhaps one of the hardest luxury watches to source today. In fact, it’s rumored that Patek Philippe boutiques have eight to ten-year waitlists for the time and date stainless steel Nautilus ref. 5711/1A! The 5711/1A made its debut in 2006 on the occasion of the Nautilus’ 30th anniversary and signaled the return of the steel “Jumbo” Nautilus (Patek stopped making its predecessor, the ref. 3700/11A, in 1990).
Since Patek only produces a limited amount of watches per year (estimated less than 80,000), has around 140 models in its catalog, and stainless steel models are few and far between, it’s understandable that the demand for steel Nautilus watches far outpaces supply. Remarking on the 5711 to the New York Times in March 2019, Patek Philippe President Thierry Stern said: “Today we are meeting maybe 10 percent of the demand, and it is going to stay that way.”
In addition to the time and date models in steel, the Nautilus collection also boasts a range of complication options and precious metal materials. There are Nautilius in different shades of gold, two-tone, and platinum, not to mention annual calendar, power reserve indicator, chronograph, and perpetual calendar versions. Regardless of the metal or functionality, the Nautilus was an exceedingly popular luxury watch of the 2010s.
The Speedmaster was originally conceived as a chronograph for motorsports when Omega released it in 1957 as the first chronograph watch with the tachymeter scale on the bezel rather than the dial. However, when Speedmaster chronographs accompanied astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon in July 1969, the Speedy quickly became known around the world as the Moonwatch.
Since 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, it comes as no surprise that Omega dedicated this year to the Speedmaster Moonwatch, releasing several commemorative watches and thus raising the profile of the watch model in general.
However, the Speedmaster was already gaining plenty of popularity during the years leading up to the anniversary and it was having a fruitful decade overall. The classic sporty style of the Speedmaster combined with its space exploration legacy, value-driven price point, and Omega’s topnotch quality has paved the way for its status as a must-have luxury chronograph.
Though the manual-wound Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch editions in stainless steel are the most authentic iterations of the Speedmasters that journeyed on Apollo 11, the Speedmaster collection is in fact a wildly varied collection. Along with a bevy of metal options, the Speedmaster also comes with different types of movements, complications, and colorways.
Despite the advent of today’s tech, the mechanical luxury watch is still going strong–not so much as an essential piece of technology but more so as an expression of personal style and taste. While we’ve highlighted the Rolex Daytona, Patek Philippe Nautilus, Royal Oak Offshore, and the Omega Speedmaster as some of the hottest watches of the decade, there have been so many other popular pieces too.
The Panerai Luminor, the Tudor Black Bay, the Breitling Navitimer, the Cartier Tank, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas, the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 are just a few of the luxury watches that have seen great success over the last ten years. We are looking forward to what the next decade brings us in the luxury watch space.
On behalf of everyone here at Gray & Sons, we would like to wish you a very happy, prosperous, and healy