HYPE AROUND steel sports watches is real, folks. Dominating global watch sales year in and year out, the rugged, easy-wearing, low-maintenance steel sports watch is a mainstay for good reason. For starters, they look great. They’re also not precious and can often take a beating (or two). Your father most likely owned a steel sports watch, and his father before him. They can be dressed up or dressed down—it’s almost a rite of passage to own this style of watch in your life.
But getting one—especially those in demand—doesn’t come easy.
The hoopla over steel sports models in recent years has reached a point that it’s virtually impossible to walk into an authorised dealer and come away with the watch of your choice. The secondary market for the category is no better, with certain watches reaching stratospheric prices thanks to that little old supply and demand issue. The association with collectible pieces like the Patek Philippe Nautilus, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and basically any professional model by Rolex, but especially the Submariner and Daytona, has certainly fuelled the current state of watch buying.
But while it all might sound like doom and gloom for prospective buyers wanting to own a coveted sports watch, we’re not saying it’s impossible to get one. With a bit of patience, a little know-how and some luck, you’ll be well on your way to owning your dream steel piece. In the interim, Esquire has come up with a list of the best modern-day steel sports watches that we all know and love, but perhaps can’t buy just right now.
ROLEX Submariner, No Date
Perhaps the most googled watch on the planet, the Rolex Submariner quite simply is the quintessential steel sports watch. This workhorse of the Swiss watch industry remains largely faithful to its original model first launched in 1953, which set the standard for divers’ watches to come. But putting its native tool functionality aside, the Submariner quickly became a fashionable timepiece to be seen wearing. It was Bond’s first watch, as worn by Sean Connery in the 1962 Dr. No, and a piece that most watch collectors would have in their repertoire. We’re particularly partial to the “no-date” iteration, which presents a clean dial with perfect proportions.
OMEGA Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional
As you might have guessed, the Omega Speedmaster was the watch that the crew of Apollo 11 took to the moon. The Moonwatch was also part of all six moon landings thereafter. As a result, it is one of the most historic and important watches ever designed. A legendary chronograph that should be on the list of every serious watch collector, but more so, a great alternative—and by no means a ‘settling’ option—for those that can’t get their hands on other coveted sports chronographs.
AUDEMARS PIGUET Royal Oak
One of the most coveted watches in the world—alongside the Rolex Daytona and Patek Philippe Nautilus—Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, with its iconic octagonal bezel, “Tapisserie” dial and integrated steel bracelet, is an enduring masterpiece that designer and watchmaker Gérald Genta first designed in 1972. The Royal Oak holds the record for being the first true sports luxury watch created in the world; an accolade it proudly holds today. It not only changed the landscape of modern horology, but its design has been a springboard for other sports watches to come.
PIAGET Polo Date
Considered the “watchmaker’s watchmaker”, Piaget has been instrumental in the success of the Swiss watch industry for over 130 years. And one of its most significant releases to date is, of course, the Piaget Polo. Rivalling watches produced by the ‘big three’—Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin—the Piaget Polo is an incredibly affordable watch when you consider how it’s made. Immaculately crafted in-house, the Polo boasts its own in-house movement that is accompanied by beautiful craftsmanship and the best finishings available in watchmaking.
BULGARI Octo Finissimo Automatic
Since its debut in 2014, Bulgari’s Octo Finissimo has proven to be a leader in ultra-thin watchmaking, setting records year on year for its thoughtful dedication to this niche craft. But more than anything, it has established itself as a true icon of the 21st century, balancing the fine line between being an edgy Italian watch design and a Swiss engineering masterpiece.
It’s the watch that paved the way for contemporary Haute Horlogerie to exist, pushing the boundaries of watchmaking technicality and presenting it as a true icon of the 21st century. A true icon of the 21st century, the Octo Finissimo Automatic watch channels the rare fusion of edgy Italian design and Swiss engineering with its innovative satin-polished finishes. With its ultra-appealing look and uncompromisingly forward-thinking mechanics, the groundbreaking timepiece is emblematic of Bulgari’s integral bond between jewellery savoir-faire and watchmaking art.
CHOPARD Alpine Eagle
Chopard’s Alpine Eagle is the perfect example of how to revive an iconic watch in the 21st century. Taking inspiration from the original St. Moritz, the first watch created in 1980 by Chopard Co-President Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, the Alpine Eagle today represents one of the best sports watch offerings. Developed, produced and assembled entirely in-house by Chopard watchmakers, this contemporary sport-chic timepiece, with its in-house calibre movement, an exclusive, ultra-resistant and eco-friendly ‘Lucent Steel’ design (which is comprised of 70% recycled materials) and beautifully-brushed finishings, makes its a knockout watch for daily wear and beyond.
IWC Ingenieur Automatic 40
When IWC unveiled its new Ingenieur at this year’s Watches & Wonders trade show, the proverbial mic was dropped leaving watch pundits a gasp. Why? For one, this release will undoubtedly be one of the most significant of the year. It not only brings back watchmaker/visionary Gérald Genta’s original design back to the fold—Genta first designed the Ingenieur SL for IWC in 1976—but perhaps one of the greatest sport watches ever designed. IWC have re-engineered the new Ingenieur perfectly, keeping its proportions in-line with the wants and needs of today’s consumer, and modernising it enough but without stripping away its core DNA. A stunning watch that comes in a few variants, such as with a black, white and aqua dial, or in a full titanium design.
TUDOR Black Bay 58
We’re going to say it: the TUDOR Black Bay 58 has got to be one of the greatest watch releases of the decade. Presenting as exceptional value considering its 6K price tag and in-house calibre movement and expert finishings, the Black Bay 58 is the quintessential modern dive watch. Offering the perfect proportions for those looking for a sporty, rugged, take-anywhere dive watch, the BB58 balances its smaller case size (39mm compared to the 41mm of the original Black Bay) and vintage-inspired dial with a new Manufacture movement and a build quality that feels modern.
PATEK PHILIPPE Nautilus 5811/1G
Another of Gérald Genta’s masterpiece designs, the Patek Philippe Nautilus was born just two years after the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, in 1974. The 5811/1G, which was released in 2022 to replace the famed 5711, features all the hallmarks of a traditional Nautilus (octagonal bezel, framed “ears” and two-part construction), along with a new 41mm size, blue dial with a black-gradient rim and the self-winding calibre 26-330 S C which is visible through the sapphire-crystal case back.
ZENITH Chronomaster Sport
Ask anyone serious about watches and they’ll reference the importance Zenith, and in particular its El Primero calibre, played in the birth of the first mechanical chronograph. That’s why the Chronomaster Sport is so revered today. Not only presenting as a modern-day chronograph, but Chronomaster Sport does a fantastic job at combining elements of Zenith’s past chronograph references (1969 and thereafter)—like its tri-colour sub dials, pump-style pushers and sporty steel bracelet—with touches of modernity, like a 41mm case, ceramic bezel and the newest El Primero movement. On the El Primero, the Chrono Sport is, of course, backed by this workhorse, high-tech mechanical movement.