When it comes to stainless steel luxury sports watches, a few classics immediately stand out. While not all of these timepieces seem truly sporty, the fact that they are made in stainless steel places them in the sports category. Some of the steel watches of this list date back to the 1970s, though a few of the designs are even older than that.
While it would be easy to only look at iconic designs that have been around for half a century or longer, we also want to recognize some newer models that we think will become classics in their own right. Future classics are hard to predict, but one thing’s for sure: These watches are made to last. So without further ado, let’s take a look at our top-5 stainless steel luxury sports watches, presented in alphabetical order.
A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus
This stainless steel watch is the new kid on the block, having only been presented to the public in fall 2019. Even though it has received mixed reviews, this is definitely a watch to keep an eye on. It ticks all the boxes, and Lange has done a great job with their first sports watch. Even so, Lange and steel is – or was – an odd combination. In fact, the brand had never really produced a sports watch series until now, so it will just take some getting used to.
The new A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus is a stunning watch crafted at the level we’ve come to expect from the German company. The typical Lange DNA is instantly recognizable thanks to the large day and date displays on the outside of the dial. Not only is this watch Lange’s first production model in steel, but it is also the first model to come on their brand new stainless steel bracelet with a micro-adjustment clasp for maximum comfort.
Every Odysseus watch is powered by the brand new automatic caliber L155.1. The movement has 312 components and a power reserve of 50 hours. The rotor reads ‘PLATIN’, as it is made of platinum, and “DATOMATIC”, a reference to the automatic date function. This watch is water-resistant to 120 m (394 ft), which is quite an odd value in the watch world.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
This watch requires no introduction. It has been considered an iconic classic ever since its debut back in 1972. It’s hard to imagine that this model has been around longer than I have! Designed by Gérald Genta, this watch has an impressive history. The fact that current models remain so close to the original design says a lot about Genta’s original work. However, his brilliance wasn’t solely reserved for the Royal Oak: He also created the Nautilus, which is also featured in this top 5 list.
Like most of the watches on this list, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak stands out with its stunning design. You can see this timepiece coming from a mile away. The distinctive double-link bracelet is unique and comfortable at the same time. The combination of brushed and polished finishes gives the Royal Oak its own signature look, and wear and tear over time gives each watch a personal touch. I’ve discussed this point with one of the AP designers; some see scratches as damage, while others merely think they add character.
Bvlgari Octo Finissimo
While the Bvlgari Octo line has been around a bit longer than Lange’s Odysseus, this watch still falls into the future classic category. Clearly inspired by Genta’s designs, the Bvlgari Octo collection was launched in 2012. It’s not easy to design something completely new today, but Bvlgari certainly did a great job with the Octo collection.
The Bvlgari Octo Finissimo’s shape makes it unlike anything else out there. That said, it still manages to be well balanced and extra-slim. If you are a fan of thin watches, the Octo is one to keep in mind.
Some models are just 5.15 mm thick, making them some of the slimmest watches on the market. Depending on your personal preference, you can buy one on a metal bracelet or leather strap. I personally prefer the Octo on a metal bracelet.
Patek Philippe Nautilus
This is another watch that hardly warrants an introduction. Today, it’s advertised as an heirloom to hand down from generation to generation. However, back in the day, it was (shamelessly) advertised as one of the world’s costliest stainless steel watches. Nevertheless, the Patek Philippe Nautilus remains one of the most iconic steel sports watches to date.
When comparing at the original Nautilus (ref. 3700) to today’s version (ref. 5711), you’ll notice that the changes are minimal. The addition of a seconds hand is probably the most obvious difference. Apart from that, not much has changed over the years, making the watch a desirable classic. The biggest downside to this watch is its lack of availability. If you are able to find one, the price is also a bit daunting.
Last but not least is the Rolex Submariner. As it approaches its 70th birthday, this sports watch is hard to ignore. It dates back to 1953 and still retains much of its original design. That being said, it has received a few more tweaks than the AP and Patek. However, it only became a better version of itself. If you were considering reducing your collection down to one watch, this would be a strong contender. The Submariner is one of the few watches that I can keep on my wrist 24/7. This is especially true of the current version, the ref. 116610LN, with its micro-adjustment bracelet.
This watch is built to last – and it does just that. I’ve accidentally banged my Submariner into things several times over the years. Despite the loud sound and instant panic, it’s never been damaged. This watch is perfect for everyday use, whether you choose one from the 1970s, a current model, or some time in between.
It is a comfortable 40 mm in diameter and comes on one of the best stainless steel bracelets ever made: the Oyster. Again, the only bad thing about this watch is its availability – or lack thereof. It’s frustrating when the watch you want isn’t available (at retail), yet this frequently seems to be the case with certain brands nowadays.
There are so many worthy brands and models around, and this list hardly does them justice. It’s never easy to make a shortlist, and of course, a lot comes down to personal taste and budget. I personally always suggest buying the watch that will make you smile in the long run – whether it’s a cheap plastic watch or a mechanical timepiece. For some of these models, you have to consider whether you’re willing to spend more than the list price on a watch.