Shaped Watches Stand the Test of Time

“The wheels on the bus go round and round” so goes the lyric to an old song. Circular shapes are everywhere. The Earth is, despite some uninformed opinions to the contrary, round. The sun and the moon are round, so far as we can tell. Doughnuts, Oreos, dinner plates, frisbees, Hula Hoops. All round. Wristwatches? Mostly round, but not always. What are "shaped watches"?

Shaped watches, or those that deviate from the classic round presentation, afford some of the most beautiful and striking designs in all horology. They can be square, rectangular, irregular, or even asymmetrical. These watches are always noticed, and the wearer is always awarded points for their good taste. Herewith, watches with shapes.

Cartier's Legendary Tank

This writer has always thought that the house of Cartier makes some of the most beautiful and distinctive timepieces to be seen. Gifted with the spirit and muse of design, Cartier has an aesthetic and history that stand alone.

Princess Diana with Cartier Tank Must
Tall and rectangular in this pantheon is the legendary Tank, shown to the left. According to Cartier archives, the Tank was created to mimic the shape of the American Pershing Tank, a key component in the Allied victory in World War I. Seen from the top view, the lugs extend beyond the case to create an impression of the tread of an actual tank. From its introduction through today, the Tank in its many different incarnations has been worn by ordinary citizens and many of the world’s most famous denizens—Fred Astaire, Jacqueline Kennedy, Princess Diana, Elton John (he even wrote a song about the storied brand!), and countless others. Available in many designs and metal combinations, the 18K gold model is the Classic. You can’t swim in it, mow the lawn, or play ball but rest assured when you wear the Tank you will never, ever be underdressed.

Jaeger-LeCoultre & Art Deco's Influence

The 1930s were a time of great advancement in watchmaking as technology and manufacturing capability improved. This was also a time of terrific design, as evidenced by the popularity of the Art Deco school, the Chrysler Building in New York, furniture, writing instruments, cars, and so much more were influenced by this movement.

In timepieces, this movement is embodied in the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso. With its bold rectangular shape, distinctive “godrons” or grooves at the top and bottom of the case, crisp numerals, and railroad track design on the dial, no timepiece has ever come close to the riveting look of the Reverso. We haven’t even mentioned the incredible ability to slide the case on its carriage, flip it over and reveal a solid back, perfect for personalized engraving and designed to protect polo players (or regular folks like us) from damaging the delicate crystals of the day. Today the Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre remains as true to its original design concept as ever. The Reverso is available in many sizes for men and women as well as numerous timekeeping complications. A watch to love forever and an absolute Heirloom as well.

The Square Monaco

Chronograph wristwatches were one of the great advances of 20th-century watchmaking. The ability to measure elapsed time had numerous applications from sport to manufacturing, and much more. Up until the late 1960s, chronographs were equipped with hand-wound movements only. A partnership and competition between the houses of Heuer, Breitling, and movement specialist Buren led to one of the most dramatic timepieces of all time—the Heuer Monaco.

There were round watches, elongated watches, elliptical shaped watches but nothing like the bold, square design of the Monaco had ever been seen. Outfitted with an automatic, self-winding movement, the result of the partnership between the three competitors, the Monaco broke new ground. It had a hefty size and look, a brilliant blue dial presentation with color highlights on the counters. The crystal, so elongated was made of hard acrylic as synthetic sapphire could not yet be made on that size or shape. Heuer (not yet known as TAG Heuer) had a formidable reputation as a watch enmeshed in car racing. It was about to get a turbocharged marketing boost. (Image right: Photo of Steve McQueen by Steve Avery)

In the making of the film Le Mans about the 24-hour auto race, Steve McQueen wore the Monaco in the film. The watch was also a personal favorite of several notable drivers. The “endorsement”, if you will, from the King of Cool, was so powerful that this model remains known as “The McQueen” still today. Technically improved with many models to choose from, when you shape up with a Monaco you are among the legends.

Barrel-Shaped Iterations

Finally, here’s a shape we have not seen yet, the tonneau, or barrel. Presented here by Tissot, many companies have used the tonneau for limited editions and special introductions. The Tissot Lady Porto, features this classic shape, “exploded” or exaggerated numerals, and a very vintage look. Modestly priced and available in several dial and case colors the Porto is a terrific addition to any woman’s wardrobe.

And there you have it for shaped watches. As you enter 2023 and shape yourself up from another holiday season, consider breaking away from the usual and including something different for your next wristwatch. Never out-of-style and always attention-getting, shaped watches will see you through years and years of watching the hours go by in a new and joyful way.

January 19, 2023