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Does the do-it-all watch exist?

Is there one watch that is versatile enough to be worn with any situation? Well, it's complicated

The Tudor Black Bay 36 is a great example of a watch that can accompany you in any situation. 
The Tudor Black Bay 36 is a great example of a watch that can accompany you in any situation.  (Courtesy Aaron Stanley on Instagram)

Can there be such a thing as a “one watch collection”? Well, if you are a watch enthusiast, the answer will likely be a resounding “no”. Personally, I wouldn’t settle for just one watch either. But it’s also true that people have usually always owned just one or two wristwatches at a time—before, that is, collecting watches became a thing, and before watch brands, whether they be Swiss, Japanese or German, began churning out new releases every year.

These days, most watch collections (of enthusiasts at least) are made up of at least three timepieces, the so-called “three watch collection”. And given the sheer number and styles of timepieces available, most collections are made of these: one dress watch for the formal event, an everyday/sports watch for daily bashing about, and a dive watch for more extreme aquatic or other rough and tumble adventures. Now, as much as we’d like to, most of us don’t really go for rough and tumble adventures, so owning a dive watch is usually more of an aesthetic choice. More often than not, someone’s sports watch is also their dive watch.

Also Read: Taking the Seiko Alpinist on a Himalayan trek

So for anyone looking to keep a collection minimal, that leaves just two categories to fill. But what if you really don’t care about the ritualistic wearing of a thin—preferably gold—wristwatch for a black tie event? What if all you want is a watch that is elegant enough to wear to a wedding, but sturdy enough to wear in the pool? Does such a watch even exist?

Well, the answer is yes. Over the years, as the craze for obnoxiously large watches the size of a dinner plate has waned, watchmakers have been careful to always have at least one model in their stable that ticks the do-it-all box. Take, for example, Jaeger LeCoultre (JLC). No matter how many gorgeous Reversos and complicated perpetual calendars the manufacture creates, it will always also have a Polaris, a tough, no-nonsense 100m water resistant steel sports watch that will look good and do the job in any situation. 

Also Read: Dive watches are so cool that even James Bond wears one

At a slightly lower price point, so will a Tudor. Rolex’s sister company is basically built on two outstanding models that have been wowing enthusiasts for a while now: the diver Black Bay 58, and its smaller sports watch sibling, the Black Bay 36, with a fixed steel bezel. The latter, too, would look as striking in a boardroom as it would while you’re gardening during the weekend. For Rolex, this role is fulfilled by the legendary Explorer, which this column has rhapsodised about quite a few times. In my opinion though, if you want the best luxury option, I’d just say get yourself an Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra 38. Go running wearing it (like countless Olympic athletes have done this year) or go to an opera (don’t ask me where you can go watch the opera in India, I don’t know), the Aqua Terra will look equally at home.

So choices in this category do exist. But hang on, it’s not as straightforward as that. These choices have sub-choices. 

Also Read: The watches that athletes wore at the Tokyo Olympics

For your one watch to rule them all, you could either go for one that leans on the sporty side or the one that leans on the dressy side. If, say, you need to wear a suit once in a blue moon, then you should go for a watch that’s mostly casual, which would mean one on a steel bracelet. However, you could even go for a watch like the excellent NOMOS Club Campus Neomatik, a gorgeous bit of Bauhaus-inspired design with a solid 100m of water resistance, and a look (with its California dial and small seconds) that’s very versatile. 

Sticking with Bauhaus design, if you lean more towards classic dress watches, why not a handwound Junghans Max Bill? I mean, it’s such a classic from a designer whose works hang in the MoMA. If you want to rock a more sporty 70s look, look no further than the Tissot PRX, with its quartz movement, and an integrated steel bracelet giving off a distinct Gérald Genta vibe. Then again, if you have the money and don’t mind a 10-year waiting list, you could even plump for OGs like a Patek Philippe Nautilus or an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Heck, Paul McCartney wears a Patek Philippe Aquanaut everywhere, from his wedding to a concert. 

Also Read: A Cartier, a Junghans and what makes a watch a design icon

Two of my watches fill this category, albeit in two different ways. Both are Seikos, both share the same DNA, but they couldn’t be more different. The first, leaning more towards the dressy spectrum, is the SARB035. This JDM (Japanese Domestic Model) legend is one of the most value-laden watches ever made, with its gorgeous, creamy off-white dial and sharp faceted indices and dauphine hands sparkling in a way that makes the watch appear a 100 times more expensive than its modest price. Since it was discontinued by Seiko in 2018, it’s become something of a collectible, with mint condition SARBs going at double the price these days. It’s a fantastic dress watch, but with its sapphire crystal, 100m of water resistance, and on a metal bracelet, it transforms seamlessly into a sports watch. 

My other watch that does a similar job is the blue sunburst dial Seiko5 SRPE53. It’s a watch that leans more towards the sporty side of the spectrum, with its 40mm case size (the SARB is 38mm) and lume-filled markers that trace their lineage to heavy-duty Seiko divers. But take the SRPE’s bracelet off and put it on a brown leather strap and it immediately lives up to the “dresskx” moniker given to it by enthusiasts.

Also Read: A Rolex, a Seiko and watches as a value proposition

The Seiko SARB035 looking fantastic on a leather strap.
The Seiko SARB035 looking fantastic on a leather strap. (Bibek Bhattacharya)

Just look at what I've done! I started out trying to write about a minimalist watch collection, but have ended up making things more complicated. Sod this, just get yourself a Casio F-91W. Be happy. 

Handwound is a fortnightly column on watches and watchmaking.

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