by Brynn Wallner, Bela Borsodi

Cape Cod. Available through Hermès.

The Massachusetts coastline may seem far from Hermès’s Parisian headquarters, but the Cape Cod effortlessly combines French elegance with a nautical transatlantic spirit — the watch’s form was inspired by the link of an anchor chain. Launched in 1991 to moderate success, the Cape Cod only began to enjoy cult-classic status when fashion renegade Martin Margiela took over Hermès’s creative direction in 1997. During his six-year stint, the elusive Belgian introduced the “double tour” strap, which wraps buttery Hermès leather not once but twice round the wrist. The Cape Cod’s popularity peaked during the Y2K era — worn by everyone from the late Stella Tennant to Ashton Kutcher — but its comeback is imminent. Never underestimate a classic!

Polo. Available through Piaget.

Released in 1979, when the quartz crisis was threatening the existence of high-end watches, Piaget's Polo made its proper debut in 1983, at the World Polo Cup in Palm Beach on the wrist of Ursula Andress, aka the first-ever Bond girl Honey Ryder. Featuring a fine, solid 18-karat-gold integrated bracelet with a recurring step motif that runs seamlessly through the dial and case, the original Polo was described by Yves Piaget as “a watch bracelet rather than a mere wristwatch.” A shamelessly chic statement, Polo was worn by icons such as Andy Warhol, Miles Davis, and Brooke Shields on their very public wrists (it also made a cameo appearance on Robert de Niro in Casino). Today the Polo name lives on in the Piaget universe, though its contemporary iteration looks quite different — we still ride for the striking original.

Serpenti Tubogas. Available through Bulgari.

Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, Bulgari’s spiral Serpenti is characterized by its inventive construction and reptilian charm. An ancient and complicated symbol, the snake is thought to represent power, wisdom, protection, and desire all at once, something Bulgari founder Sotirios Voulgaris and his heirs channeled into the brand’s DNA. In the 1940s, in the context of wartime shortages, jewelers began to turn to technology known as tubogas, which had originally been patented in 1881 for a flexible gas pipe; Bulgari followed suit, resulting in what is now the brand’s signature serpentine shape, used for jewelry and timepieces alike. With its elastic architecture, entirely assembled without soldering, the Serpenti is a prime example of tubogas — when it débuted in 1948, it was shown with long bands of gold skillfully wrapped around a steel core, achieving a sinuous flexibility. And while the stripped-down model shown here has none of the precious metal, gemstones, or enameling found on its sister models, all the Serpentis ooze a muscular sensuality that has long drawn bona-fide stars like Elizabeth Taylor or Zendaya.

Big Bang One Click Pink Sapphire Diamonds. Available through Hublot.

Founded in 1980, Hublot is recognizable even to those with limited watch knowledge. Perhaps you’re a soccer fan? Hublot is an official FIFA sponsor and has paid for prominent placement at the forefront of every World Cup since 2010. Or maybe you like fast cars? Hublot was at one point the official timekeeper for Formula 1 and sponsored the Ferrari team from 2011 to 2020. Besides its boldfaced tie to some of the world’s biggest sporting events, Hublot also made a name for itself by being the first watchmaker ever to pair gold with rubber, an ingenious and groundbreaking high/low marriage that only gained momentum as the brand’s leadership shifted in the early 2000s. When Hublot launched its first Big Bang in 2005 — of which this pretty pink sapphire version is a descendent — it checked all the boxes that characterized the decade: big, bold, and a little brash. To this day the Big Bang remains lusted over and riffed upon. If this is your cup of tea, go Big Bang or go home!

RM 65-01 Split Seconds Chronograph in Carbon TPT. Available through Richard Mille.

Richard Mille timepieces can be polarizing. To those not yet inducted into the arcana of haute horlogerie, their genre-bending designs often inspire confusion, while their sky-high price tags sometimes spark outrage. But to those in the know, Richard Mille and his eponymous watch brand are god-tier. Armed with decades of expertise in the worlds of jewelry and watchmaking, Mille established his firm in 1999 with the intention of challenging what makes a modern wristwatch. Significantly younger than its contemporaries — many of which were founded over a century ago — the brand didn’t début its first watch until 2001. Advertised as “a racing machine on the wrist,” the inaugural RM 001 Tourbillon was made with techniques and materials typically reserved for airplanes and Formula-1 vehicles. This itself would have been groundbreaking, but the asking price of 135,000 dollars — around twice what you would have paid for the next most comparable watch — took it right over the edge. With his bold approach, Mille definitively shook up the industry and continues to innovate with watches like the split-second chronograph shown here. Sometimes referred to as “the secret billionaire’s handshake,” endorsed by the likes of Frank Ocean and the Migos trio, Richard Mille is the epitome of “If you know, you know.”

Panthère. Available through Cartier.

Colloquially referred to as the “it-girl watch,” this lusted-after timepiece derives its slinky shape from Cartier’s resident icon, the panther. Introducing the brand’s concept of a “jewelry watch,” the feline Panthère was initially more favored by men on its 1983 release, appearing on the wrists of jet-set it-boys like Pierce Brosnan and Keith Richards. Through the years the Panthère has maintained its popularity, thanks in no small part to all the details that keep Cartier lovers flocking to the brand: the black Roman numerals set around a railroad minute track, the sword-shaped blued-steel hands, and the winding crown set with a sapphire. Gwyneth Paltrow has worn hers since the 1990s, and depending how much time you spend on social media, you may also have noticed this 18-karat-gold watch on the wrists of fashion-week front-row fixtures like Bella Hadid and Dua Lipa. Minimalist but not over-serious, the Panthère is buoyed by an intrinsically fun spirit — like the most popular girl at the party, you just can’t help but be drawn to it.

Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph. Available through Audemars Piguet.

Name-dropped by rappers and finance bros alike, Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak would have reached peak ubiquity were it not for its transcendent design. Brainchild of visionary Swiss watch master Gérald Genta, the Royal Oak débuted in 1972 at a time when mechanical watches appeared threatened by the advent of quartz. Rather than attempting to compete with the Casios of this world, Audemars Piguet doubled down in the opposite direction, presenting the Royal Oak as a luxury sports watch — something you don’t need but desperately want. Eschewing the round shape then traditional for sporty timepieces, Genta’s sharp-edged octagonal bezel (inspired by a deep-sea diver’s helmet), accented by eight visible octagonal screws, was fitted to an integrated bracelet that, contrary to its effortless look, is painstakingly difficult to construct. Advertised as “The costliest stainless-steel watch in the world,” the Royal Oak appealed to those yearning for irreverent, rule-breaking luxury, and remains covetable to this day.

Atlas. Available through Tiffany & Co.

Audrey Hepburn’s breakfast fantasy, engagement rings, and Elsa Peretti’s silver bone cuffs may be the first things that come to mind when thinking of the American brand Tiffany & Co. But the company, which maintains its famous flagship on Fifth Avenue, has significantly impacted the watch world over the years. Any luxury timepiece dial graced with Tiffany’s perfect shade of robin-egg blue wins over watch collectors and fetches insanely high prices on the secondary market — the Nautilus 5711 Tiffany released in a limited edition of 175 with Patek Philippe in 2021 is a perfect example, since just a week after it dropped Phillips New York auctioned one for an eye-watering 6.5 million dollars. From there the frenzy spread, with Rolex releasing an Oyster Perpetual in a similar shade, and other brands quickly jumping on the Tiffany-blue bandwagon. With Tiffany’s Atlas, you have the real thing, straight from the source.