It’s no secret that sport watches are driving the market worldwide. Of course, depending on the region, the numbers may slightly differ, but the current status quo is more than obvious. And there’re some serious reasons behind it.

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What’s a sport watch exactly?

TAG Heuer Monaco 1969-1979 Limited Edition – vintage-inspired racing classics
TAG Heuer Monaco 1969-1979 Limited Edition – vintage-inspired racing classics

Just like any centuries-old enterprise, the watch industry produces tons of item-types, in different styles and genres. To put it simple, sport watches are one of the two major categories in terms of design and purpose. The word ‘sport’ here basically means the opposite of the ‘dress watch’ – the other major category. Sport watches are meant to be paired with a casual and informal outfit and by default are expected to withstand the consequences of active lifestyle. The name ‘tool watches’ more or less is just a synonym. Historically, it’s more correct, but as long as we’re talking luxury mechanical timepieces in 2019 let’s face the obvious – nobody needs an expensive mechanical wristwatch to do the job, period. Now it has a lot more to do with the inspiration and traditions than purpose.

Why is this trend dominating the todays market?

Hublot Classic Fusion Ferrari GT Titanium – a modern take on a racing watch
Hublot Classic Fusion Ferrari GT Titanium – a modern take on a racing watch

The first and the most obvious reason of sport watches success is their versatility. Unlike their dressy counterparts meant for the black tie events or at least requiring a suit, they feel quite at home in almost any environment. With suits becoming less and less mandatory at the office, spending tons of money on something usable only on a special occasion may seem not the best idea. The other funny aspect comes to play with the slight transformation of the formal watch dress code. Though it’s still more appropriate to pair a suit with a relatively slim two- or three-hander, nowadays you can get away with a lot more wrist presence than, say, several decades ago. Come on, we’ve all seen James Bond rocking a bracelet Omega Seamaster with a tuxedo! In other words, if it’s not a 50mm orange monster with sculls, but a rather subtle diver, you are basically set for both general styles with just one watch. And you really can’t swap it the other way, just imagine pulling off a Patek Philippe Calatrava with a t-shirt. When practical reasons meet the fashion trends, it usually affects the market. And unsurprisingly, when naming some of the biggest names in the business like Rolex, Omega, Ulysse Nardin, Audemars Piguet, Breitling, you’d likely first think of their sporty offerings.

Sport watches: the origin of species

Sport watches can be loosely divided into three traditional categories: diving watches, racing chronographs, and pilot watches. There are also hundreds of great timepieces landing somewhere in-between, – again, all this so-called categories have a lot more to do with aesthetics than with adventuring professions they are named after. Identify the first ones is rather easy. Look for the unidirectional bezel, huge hour indices, contrasting dials with lots of lume, and, of course, serious water resistance. The latter may involve a screwed-down crown and the solid caseback. And yes, there are precise numbers: according to ISO standards, a diving watch needs at least 200 meters of water resistance.

Pilot watches have several traditional design cues, but in general, we’re talking huge cases (the aviators of the long past strapped them on top of the leather jacket), black or white dials and big contrasting Arabic numerals, – legibility is everything here. The ‘racing’ category is the hardest one for classification, but in general it’s have to be a chronograph. Style-wise, they can be anything from watches heavily inspired by the so-called motorsport golden age (1960-s – 1970-s) to crazy futuristic skeletonized pieces, bearing the colors of a particular race-team. The essential DNA of the ‘everything in-between’ category is also tricky thing to point out, however when looking at the Rolex Explorer or Ulysse Nardin Marine, you’d hardly hesitate to call it the sport watches. To keep it simple, it’s almost any non-dressy watch of a 40+ mm diameter.

Steel is still hottest, but others are catching up

Big Bang Unico Golf – a true ‘sport’ watch

Sport watches can come in various case materials, from precious metals or two-tone versions, to ceramic, carbon, or titanium. Everything gets their share of collectors’ love, but thinking of the most popular case material for a modern luxury sport watch, you’d sooner or later end up with steel. And again, the main reason is versatility. Its understated and neutral charisma naturally keeps the things relaxed and casual, avoiding unnecessary style clashing and over-the-top presence. Last but not least, it’s the most durable for the everyday wear. However, as the fashion evolves with the pop culture, some extra bling seems to slowly crawl into the mainstream. Think countless rappers rocking gold and gem-set massive pieces with anything from a white polo to tuxedo. The Earth still keeps turning. At the end of the day, it’s only a matter of personal taste and style.

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