The Classroom: Exploring the History of Watches

Today, we’re going to explore the fascinating history of watches and highlight the top 10 innovative models that have shaped the industry. From classical to modern innovations, we’ll cover a range of advancements, including case innovations, material innovations, and more. First, we’ll delve into some classical examples, such as Rolex’s ground-breaking Oyster case, which revolutionized water resistance in watches. We’ll also discuss the JLC Reverso, a reversible watch case that offers both protection and durability. Moving into the more modern era, we’ll examine Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, a steel sports watch that set the standard for its unique design and exceptional quality. Additionally, we’ll explore Omega’s Speedmaster Professional, the watch that accompanied astronauts to the moon, and Zenith’s El Primero movement, known for its high beat rate and accuracy. Finally, we’ll touch upon some quirky yet remarkable timepieces, such as the HYT H1, which uses liquid to tell the time, and the Van Cleef and Arpels Midnight Planetarium, a watch that showcases the rotation of planets. Join us as we navigate through the rich history of innovative watches and share your thoughts on these incredible timepieces in the comments below.

Classical Innovations

Rolex Oyster Case

The Rolex Oyster Case, introduced in 1926, was the first water-resistant or waterproof case in the watch industry. This innovation not only opened up the possibility for the creation of diving watches and equipment but also had a significant impact on the future of movement finishing. Prior to the Oyster Case, watch cases were only dust-resistant. The water resistance of the Oyster Case provided a practical benefit, but it also allowed for the decorative finishing of movements, enhancing the overall aesthetics of timepieces.

JLC Reverso

In 1931, Jaeger-LeCoultre (JLC) introduced the Reverso watch case, which featured a unique reversible design. The watch could be turned around on a hinge or pivot, protecting the watch crystal when not in use. This innovative case design significantly increased the durability of the watch, as the delicate crystal was shielded from potential damage. The Reverso became known for its sleek and elegant appearance, becoming a classic example of timeless design.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

Released in 1972, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was a game-changer that revolutionized the watch industry. Designed by Gérald Genta, the Royal Oak introduced the trend of steel sports watches. Prior to the Royal Oak, luxury watches were typically made of precious metals like gold or silver. The use of stainless steel in the Royal Oak not only made it more accessible to a wider audience but also brought a rugged and sporty aesthetic to the world of high-end timepieces. The distinctive octagonal design and integrated bracelet further set the Royal Oak apart and established a new standard for sports watches.

Omega Speedmaster Professional

The Omega Speedmaster Professional holds a significant place in history as the watch that accompanied astronauts to the moon. NASA selected the Speedmaster Professional as the official watch for their Apollo missions, subjecting it to rigorous testing under extreme conditions. The watch had to endure excessive heat, shock, and g-force, and it passed these tests with flying colors. The Speedmaster Professional’s reliability and accuracy in space solidified its reputation as a highly dependable timepiece.

Zenith El Primero Movement

In 1969, Zenith introduced the El Primero movement, a groundbreaking innovation ahead of its time. The most notable feature of the El Primero movement was its high beat rate of 36,000 beats per hour, or five Hertz. This high frequency allowed for exceptional accuracy, making the El Primero movement highly sought-after by watch enthusiasts. Rolex recognized the quality and reliability of the El Primero movement, ultimately deciding to modify and use it in their iconic Daytona model.

Modern Innovations


The HYT H1, released in 2012, showcases an innovative use of liquid to tell the time. Instead of traditional watch hands, the H1 utilizes a unique system of stepped and layered bellows, which pump a brightly colored, high-vis liquid through a thin tube to indicate the hours. This unconventional method of timekeeping creates a visually striking and captivating display on the wrist. The HYT H1 pushes the boundaries of watchmaking and showcases the creative possibilities of contemporary design.

Ressence Type 3

The Ressence Type 3 is a modern timepiece that challenges traditional watch conventions. It features an oil-filled design, eliminating the need for a traditional crown. The absence of a crown creates a sleek and clean aesthetic, while the use of oil ensures a bright and legible display of the hands from any angle. The Type 3’s unique combination of innovative design and practical functionality sets it apart as a truly distinctive modern watch.

Van Cleef and Arpels Midnight Planetarium

The Van Cleef and Arpels Midnight Planetarium watch is a mesmerizing timepiece that showcases the movement of planets in real time. The watch features a rotating dial with the Earth and five other planets—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—all of which are visible from Earth. The intricate mechanism behind this celestial display creates a sense of wonder and allows wearers to witness the beauty of the cosmos on their wrist. The Midnight Planetarium combines craftsmanship, aesthetics, and astronomical precision into a truly remarkable modern watch.

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic

The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic is a remarkable feat of watchmaking engineering. Released in 2018, it boasts the title of the world’s thinnest automatic tourbillon. With a case thickness of only 3.95 millimeters, this ultra-thin timepiece showcases Bulgari’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of mechanical watchmaking. The Octo Finissimo Automatic represents the pinnacle of horological craftsmanship, combining innovative design with exceptional functionality.

Greubel Forsey GMT Earth

The Greubel Forsey GMT Earth is a modern watch that features a captivating three-dimensional representation of the Earth on its dial. The dial is delightfully domed, showcasing the intricate details of the Earth’s surface. This watch also incorporates a GMT function, allowing wearers to keep track of time in multiple time zones. The complexity of the movement and the impeccable finishing of the GMT Earth exemplify the highest standards of watchmaking craftsmanship.

In conclusion, the watch industry has seen numerous innovations throughout its history, ranging from classical to modern advancements. Classical innovations like the Rolex Oyster Case and JLC Reverso introduced water resistance and reversible case designs, respectively, while the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Omega Speedmaster Professional set new standards for sports watches. The Zenith El Primero movement showcased a high beat rate for enhanced accuracy. Modern innovations like the HYT H1 and Ressence Type 3 pushed the boundaries of design and functionality, while watches like the Van Cleef and Arpels Midnight Planetarium and Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic combined craftsmanship with innovative features. The Greubel Forsey GMT Earth showcased a mesmerizing three-dimensional earth display, emphasizing the continued evolution and creativity in the watch industry.