Any time you buy a watch, you want every dollar of your purchase to carry the weight of both tradition and innovation while also being a point of pride on your wrist. But when you reach the $50,000 range, you also become an investor. That adds a lot of extra pressure: to ensure you’re not wasting dollars on a flash in the pan, stylistically; to avoid falling for a watch that looks great but hides subpar mechanical quality; to make sure you’re buying a watch that you’ll still want to wear in 20 years, because that’s the bar for a watch that costs more than some people’s annual salary.
There are a lot of ways to screw it up. So here’s our guide to the rabbit hole: ten of our favorites that could be the crown jewel of any watch collection.
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Rolex Cosmograph Daytona
Rolex’s latest iteration of the Daytona is powered by the Swiss stalwarts’ calibre 4130, self-winding chronograph movement. Developed and manufactured entirely in-house, the 4130 employs a Parachrom hairspring, which is made from a combination of niobium, zirconium and oxygen alloys, to ensure accuracy and stability under all conditions. This movement also ensures that the Cosmograph Daytona is also a Superlative Chronometer, meaning its precision is guaranteed to within -2/+2 seconds per day.
Buy Now: $43,050 (white gold)
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked
While it’s not Audemars Piguet’s first “skeletonized” Royal Oak to go on display, the new Openworked was created to showcase the inner workings of AP’s exquisite new calibre 3132 movement — in particular, the unique double-sided balance-wheel structure that was developed to improve the accuracy of the flagship Royal Oak. Created with two balance wheels, each with their own weighting and fixed to a central pinion, the 3132 all but eliminates the natural tendency for the device’s performance to be altered based on positioning, temperature and the other, myriad variables that affect a timepiece’s precision.
Buy Now: $44,100
A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1
The iconic asymmetrical face of the Lange 1 traces its roots directly to the pocket watches that gave rise to Ferdinand Adolf Lange’s original endeavors, and to the wristwatch that put the Glashütte-based craftsman back on the horological map. Quietly reintroduced to the public in 2015, the new Lange 1 is powered by the L121.1 hand-wound movement. Employing 368 parts and 43 jewels, the L121.1 is the 50th new, in-house calibre to debut since the company’s rebirth in 1994 — a feat unheard of for such a small watchmaker. The Lange 1 measures just 38.5mm wide by 9.8mm thick, making it optimally sized for black-tie affairs.
Buy Now: $47,645 (platinum)
Angelus U40 Racing Tourbillon Skeleton
If you’re unfamiliar with Angelus watches, you’re not alone. The 125-year-old brand is one of the many that succumbed to the Quartz crisis of the ’70s and has only just recently been given a new lease on life. They’ve returned with a bang. The U40 Racing Tourbillon Skeleton’s 42mm titanium case houses an in-house A-300 movement with a flying tourbillon, yet it’s incredibly thin at 4.3mm.
Buy Now: ~$28,950
Vacheron Constantin Overseas World Time
A world time watch can be an extremely handy accessory for jet-setters. But what happens if you find yourself in Nepal? Or St. Johns? Or any of the other 11 destinations that run askew of delineated timezones? The Vacheron Constantin Overseas World Time remedies this situation with the inclusion of 37 different timezones on its 43.5mm dial. Its in-house, self-winding 2460WT calibre denotes times at destinations a mere half hour or 15 minutes from the nearest meridian. Your smartphone can undoubtedly do the same, but it doesn’t bear a satin-brushed map of the Northern Hemisphere.
Buy Now: $37,000
Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time
The Calatrava Pilot Travel Time is a unique timepiece in Patek’s current catalogue, inspired by their historic involvement in hour angle pilot watch development. To that end, the Calatrava features two hour hands that can be used to denote multiple time zones or, with a tap or two of the left-mounted pushers, can have the supplemental hand hidden beneath the main hour marker, if grounded for a spell. The Calatrava makes use of Patek’s 29-jewel, self-winding calibre 324 S C FUS movement to provide up to 45 hours of reserve power thanks largely to the strength and precision of Patek’s Spiromax balance spring.
Buy Now: $47,600
Piaget Altiplano 900P
Standing a mere 3.65mm high, the Piaget Altiplano 900P is the thinnest hand-wound mechanical watch in the world. That’s more impressive when you consider that its white gold case houses a 145-piece movement. To make that possible, Piaget utilized the case itself to serve as the calibre’s main plate, and had the caseback machine tooled to accommodate any mechanicals protruding into the Z-axis. The asymmetric placement of its timekeeping dial permits a skeletal display to show off its inner workings.
Buy Now: $26,500
Tag Heuer 02-T
The tourbillon is an extremely complicated device that was originally developed to quell the effects of the sedentary lifestyle that afflicted pocket watches in the late 1700s. Although fairly useless in the wristwatch world, the free-floating escapement remains captivating to watch. While prices typically start around $40k, Tag Heuer’s version sells for under $16,000. The 02-T is a COSC-certified chronograph that has been built off of the robust in-house CH-80 calibre to include a titanium and carbon flying tourbillon.
Buy Now: $15,950
IWC Portugeiser Annual Calendar
IWC’s Portuguese family of watches was always intended to be “pocket watches for the wrist,” and with the inclusion of the annual calendar, this 44mm iteration may be its most useful to date. An annual calendar complication means that, aside from February’s unique length, the date is mechanically accounted for without need for manual adjustment. This is thanks to IWC’s in-house, ornately decorated self-winding 52850 calibre. Appearing at 12:00, the month, date and day windows are flanked by two separate registers. The 9:00 sub-dial sweeps the seconds away while the one to its right displays the power reserve — up to seven days on a full wind.
Buy Now: $31,600 (red gold)
RGM Caliber 20
Hand built in RGM’s Pennsylvania workshop, the Caliber 20 is based on an American-devised movement originally constructed for use in pocket watches specialized for the precise demands of the railroad industry. The Caliber 20’s Motor Barrel system reduces wear and friction, leading to a more stable and precise timekeeper. It also includes a moonphase complication cut into its delicate, hand-engraved guilloche dial.
Buy Now: $29,500–$42,500