Escape Special: the best nautical watches

Nick Foulkes on the timepieces that bring out the sunbed sailor in us all

Paul Newman on a fishing boat in Florida, 1967
Paul Newman on a fishing boat in Florida, 1967 | Image: Getty Images

“The Rolex Submariner is a salty watch,” explains one of my favourite vintage advertisements from the early 1960s. “You’ll find it in the cockpits of most ocean racers as hard-driving skippers beat down to Bermuda, Hobart and the Fastnet Rock… How come it’s [also] seen so much where the wettest thing is a dry Martini? Who knows. Maybe it’s because the black dial goes so well with a black tie.”

Rolex Submariner Date, £7,450Rolex Submariner Date, £7,450
Rolex Submariner Date, £7,450Rolex Submariner Date, £7,450
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I think I am safe in saying that these days there are more people who wear a Sub with a dinner jacket than compete in the (Rolex-sponsored) Fastnet Race, and given that these days dress watches and complications are routinely water-resistant to 30m, many of the arguments that brought the Submariner into being – viz the fragility and leakiness of other sorts of watches – no longer apply… Nevertheless, the market is awash with wave upon wave of timepieces designed for the inky ocean depths, yet more often worn with midnight‑blue barathea.

Oris x Momotaro Sixty-Five Diver, £1,700
Oris x Momotaro Sixty-Five Diver, £1,700
 TAG Heuer Aquaracer, £2,195
TAG Heuer Aquaracer, £2,195

Of course, the merest whiff of saltwater brings out the sunbed sailor in all of us and, as beachwear has more relaxed attitudes towards colour than black tie, recent years have seen the rise and rise of a particular type of timepiece: the colourful nautical watch. Typical is the Submariner with green dial, which can trace its lineage back almost 20 years to the green bezel insert on the 50th anniversary Rolex Submariner. Green is, of course, closely associated with Rolex but it is also popular at Tag Heuer, where bright emerald has been chosen for the dial and bezel of the Aquaracer. Then, if you like green but prefer retro styling, there’s the green-dialled Oris Sixty-Five Diver developed with Japanese jean-maker Momotaro: for beach use I would probably swap the denim strap for a bracelet – unless, of course, you go swimming in cut-off jeans.

Omega Seamaster 36th America’s Cup, £5,650
Omega Seamaster 36th America’s Cup, £5,650
Hublot Classic Fusion Capri, £11,200
Hublot Classic Fusion Capri, £11,200

Even a watch that sounds as monochromatic as Omega’s Ocean ETNZ Deep Black, developed a couple of years ago for Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup, is brightened with much in the way of blue and red (hands, 24-hour indicator, bezel, stitching and strap) in reference to the New Zealand flag. As the winner of the 2017 Cup, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron will defend its title next year, but you don’t have to wait until 2021 to wear the official timepiece of the 36th race. It was announced in May that Omega will be the official timer and it has already issued a yachting watch, complete with America’s Cup signed dial and trophy-shaped counterweight on the second hand. And for further abundance of blue (light to dark) and 24 timezones, including sunny Bienne, there’s the Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Worldtimer.

Richard Mille Carbon TPT and turquoise quartz RM 11-03, about £222,000
Richard Mille Carbon TPT and turquoise quartz RM 11-03, about £222,000
Breitling Rainbow Superocean, from £3,590
Breitling Rainbow Superocean, from £3,590

Some blues are geographically targeted to the point that they become resort-specific. For instance, if you make it to Capri this summer, be sure to swing by the island’s Hublot boutique and pick up the Classic Fusion Capri, with cerulean bezel, subdials and strap. As well as ensuring that you are correctly equipped for the required selfie in front of Dolce & Gabbana (the island’s two famous rocks formerly known as the Faraglioni), this watch functions like an old-fashioned luggage label plastered on a suitcase, proclaiming that the wearer has been to Capri without having to say a word.

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Blue is also the colour to use if you need to say that your gigayacht is too big to berth in the marina and that you know someone very important at Richard Mille; this summer sees a special, but highly restricted, edition of the RM 11-03, the brand’s chrono with big date, in carbon TPT mixed with turquoise quartz.

But if the current climate means that you are still unsure as to which resorts you will be permitted to visit, you will want to keep your colour-coded options open. Which is probably why Breitling’s Rainbow Superocean, launched in April, has proved so sought after… Indeed, such was demand that, in late May, a second Rainbow limited edition of 1,000 pieces was announced and, given the new significance of the rainbow, proceeds will support frontline healthcare charities.

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