Iconic Watch – What’s That?

Iconic watches?

The Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève is the watch industry’s Academy Awards. This year, 84 watches are vying for an award in 14 categories. We’ll have a look at some of the contenders in the days ahead. Meanwhile, clock the timepieces competing for the Iconic watch award. What exactly is an iconic watch?

Piaget Antiplano

The GPHG rules seem simple enough. “Men’s or ladies’ watches from an emblematic collection that has been exercising a lasting influence on watchmaking history and the watch market for more than 25 years.”

So the winning design must be at least 25-years-old. The watch can be a re-release (i.e. there’s no requirement for continuous production). Designs that have “evolved” are still eligible.

Bvgari iconic watch with that band?

Which is just as well for the Bvlgari aluminum chronograph.

The model is returning to stores after a twenty year hiatus. Bvlgari’s new old watch is larger (40mm), incorporates new materials (titanium), adds a date window and sits on a redesigned rubber strap. Here’s Bvlgari’s pitch to the judges:

By incorporating unconventional materials, Bvlgari was a pioneer in reinventing the idea of luxury, propelling it into the future with signature elegance and daring.

Bvlgari - iconic watch?

The new Bvlgari Aluminium Chronograph watch is smart and cool, immediately recognisable as part of the Bvlgari DNA while embodying sophisticated, sporty and modern expression: more than 20 years later, it remains a natural-born provocateur that stands out from current watchmaking codes.

The second part of that self-congratulatory text reads more like an ad for the current watch than historical context. Because it is. In fact, every iconic watch in contention for the GPHG accolade is in production.

Girrard-Perregaux iconic watch

All of them want the GPHG gong to make money moving the metal. Which is why the rules are written as they are. Yes but . . .

It would have been far more interesting if the GPHG’s members had a chance to vote on iconic watches that aren’t in production. Extinct timepieces that had “a lasting influence on watchmaking history.”

Universal Polerouter

Iconic watches like the Gerald Genta Universal de Geneve Polerouter.

The 1965 Golden Shadow and White Shadow Polerouters were powered by the world’s thinnest automatic watch movements (2.3mm), a record they held until 1978. The Polerouter had an enormous influence on the watch world, both mechanically and aesthetically.


And what of the 1948 Eterna Automatic?

Complete with its wear-and-tear reducing five ball bearing movement, it was one of the first affordable self-winding watches. As the illustration above indicates, it was a genuine game changer.

Hamilton Electrics

Speaking of revolutionary watches, surely the 1957 Hamilton Electric deserves GPHG recognition.

Collector Jarett Harkness rightly called the Electric “the first significant innovation in mechanical design since the 16th century.” It blazed the trail for the quartz revolution – and the quartz crisis.

Waltham Watch Company early pocket watch

As I don’t see anything in the rules barring pocket watches, the early Waltham watches are – or should be – considered icons. Not only do they mark the birth of mass production (with interchangeable parts), the timepieces were the first mass market watches, period.

You may notice that all of these suggestions for the GPHG Iconic watch prize are mass market products – whereas all the 2020 contenders are pricey pieces (with the exception of the Seiko, which won’t win because it’s not Swiss, the judges are mostly Swiss, and they [still] look down their noses at Japan).

Truth be told, it’s easy to pick an Iconic watch from a modern portfolio. Any design still in production – or returned to production – a quarter century after its debut is a solid contender.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak - Iconic watch 2019Last year – the first year the category was part of the competition – the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-thin was the GPHG’s Iconic watch. Talk about a safe choice . . .

I’m glad watchmakers are making/remaking pieces whose introduction changed the course of watchmaking history. But the watch industry stands on the shoulders of unacknowledged giants.

While the current GPHG rules ring registers, they should be changed to allow iconic watches whose influence outlasted their commercial success. So that they’re not forgotten.


  1. Shouldn’t an icon be recognizable? The IWC and Breitling are at least familiar forms. Obviously Rawlecks is the real icon, but how is Swatch not in here? I’d say the stupid Movado Museum Watch is iconic, but so is the Cartier Tank. Then I’d be naming things I own, the Timex Easy Reader, the Casio F-91W, etc. Obviously their definition varies from mine.

    I encourage all to look at last year’s ceremony images, especially the AP CEO in a turtleneck sweater under an oxblood leather bomber jacket with matching trainers.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you agreeing with me more. I was thinking Swatch, Movado and Timex too. And yes! Where’s Casio? The Swiss are snobs. That’s all there is to it. Well, that and money.

      1. Iconic
        1 : of, relating to, or having the characteristics of an icon. 2a : widely recognized and well-established an iconic brand name.

        So, which is more “iconic?” The Cartier Tank? Or the Casio “Square” (DW-5000 series).
        Which would more people recognize and be able to name without seeing the logo or brand name?

        1. @Racer88 I think within the watch enthusiast world the answer would be the Cartier Tank and the Casio would be dismissed as mass market. However mass market does not preclude iconic status, at least not if you ask Andy Warhol.

          To answer your question obliquely;

          in my humble opinion these are both iconic and one of them cannot be ‘more iconic‘ than the other one, despite personal preferences.

          To answer your question specifically;

          “Which would more people recognize and be able to name without seeing the logo or brand name?”

          – absolutely Casio.

          1. I’m just going by the definition of iconic – widely recognized.

            I’m sure the Cartier Tank is “widely” recognized in the VERY small demographic of horologists and WISes. Probably 0.00001% of the population.

            But, the rest of the world wouldn’t know a Tank from any other rectangular fancy-pants watch, and they certainly wouldn’t recognize it as a “Cartier Tank” or even a just a Cartier.

            But, show ANYONE a Casio G-Shock square while covering the logos… and most anyone you randomly selected in a crowd would say, “Casio!”

  2. The definition or really just the term ‘Iconic‘ was hijacked by marketing departments decades ago and has become mere self-praise which is no praise at all.

    Still, absolutely interested in the outcome of this award. Having been gifted what was a Bulgari Diagano in 1998 when it was a truly a breakout watch, I suspect that what is now called Bulgari Aluminum, with all that additional chronography, will be the winner of the Iconic award.

    Hmmm, I could write a story about that watch with 5 logos visible to the wearer, and how it felt and how I coped and whether I would right now buy an Octo or an Alum or jump to another brand.

  3. My concern for the Swiss watch industry. Ha, on it.

    I do though have concerns for this super-successful industry. Maybe I shouldn’t, as all the decades of commercial profits would surely buffer the current storm and the next one.

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