It’s been a while, but it’s Three On Three time again. We’ve compared funky independent watches under $15,000, in-house, manually-wound dress watches under $20,000, and even some powerhouse chronographs from the biggest name manufactures around. But now it’s time to tackle one of the most popular categories of watches of the modern era: stainless steel luxury sport watches. Here we’ve got the watch that started it all, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the modern interpretation from an old-school manufacture, the cheap replica Vacheron Constantin Overseas, and a totally new budget-friendly addition to the category, the Piaget Polo S. Enjoy the video above, and read on for all the details.
The History Of The Stainless Steel, Integrated Bracelet, Luxury Sport Watch
The beginning of this story isn’t really all that long ago in the long timeline of horology. We can basically start in 1972 with the birth of the replica Audemars Piguet Royal Oak EU. At the time, Audemars Piguet was still making mostly small, complicated dress watches, and was having a hard time selling them. It’s hard to fathom today, but by the end of the 1960s, AP was truly teetering on the edge and needed a big idea to pull itself back from the brink. That idea was to create the first high-end, luxury sport watch entirely in stainless steel. This sounds matter-of-fact to us in 2017, but it was anything but at the time.
The resulting watch would be the Royal Oak, which (as Arthur will explain in further detail below) looked like nothing ever seen before when it was shown to the public in 1972. Designer Gerald Genta had cooked up a bold, geometric design with extremely intricate steel work, various finishes on the many components, an integrated bracelet that couldn’t be swapped for a strap, and, importantly, an astronomical price tag, even when compared with some gold watches of the era.
Genta would go on to design the next archetypical steel luxury sport watch too. In 1976, the Patek Philippe Nautilus was born. If the Royal Oak is all about hard lines, sharp bevels, and crisp geometry, the Nautilus is all about curves and soft power. It has a cushion-shaped dial, a flatter cushion-shaped bezel, and the central bracelet links are almost bubble-like in their round profiles. Those two little tabs or “ears” sticking out from the sides of the case add some personality and make it just wonky enough so as to not take itself too seriously.
Over the ensuing years, others would take Genta’s groundbreaking idea and make many successive luxury steel watches, many that also featured distinctive shapes and integrated bracelets. In particular, the other two that come to mind immediately – forming the Mount Rushmore of sorts for 1970s sport watch design – are the Vacheron Constantin 222 and the IWC Ingenieur SL. While the SL was designed Genta (though he did not design the original Ingenieur), the 222 has a different origin story, despite being wrongly attributed to Genta by many.
The Vacheron 222, in particular, is often lumped in with the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, but we now know that to be an oft-perpetuated inaccuracy (despite even Vacheron going with that story for years). It was actually Jorg Hysek who designed the 222 at the beginning of his career. The 222 wasn’t very commercially successful when it first launched, but the strange mix of curves and angles and relative rarity have made it a cult classic that’s highly collectable these days. It also served as the inspiration for the modern Overseas collection, which carries over much of the original look, but with some notable updates to the bracelet and bezel.
This brings us to a sort of funny moment in the story. At the time that all of this was happening, top fake Piaget watches didn’t make steel watches at all. None. Zero. In 1957, the Piaget brothers who were running the family manufacture decided to make a statement – they would henceforth only make watches in precious metals. The original Polo – the loose inspiration for the Polo S – was an all gold bracelet watch that debuted in 1979 and became sort of the de facto representation of the late disco lifestyle. It had some of the same funky charm as watches like the Royal Oak, but in a much more louche, overtly-luxurious way. The “S” in Polo S actually stands for steel, and this is the first stainless steel watch Piaget has made since the family committed itself to precious metal watches some 60 years ago.
Now that we’re up to date, let’s get into the watches themselves. There’s an awful lot to talk about.