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The Edit

The Best Sports Watches For 2017

Ready, set, go: whatever your activity, we’ve got a timepiece to suit

Striving for neat definitions in watchmaking can be a mug’s game. Take a tourbillon. Is it a complication? Some say yes, because it’s not a device that shows the time. Others say no, because it’s no more than a fancy regulating device. Such are the themes of watch-forum debate.

Still, there’s no harm in asking for a definition of a sports watch, an accepted term. That said, it does start to blur at the edges on closer inspection. Consider that a sports watch can be a pilot’s watch. Or a driver’s watch. Or a diver’s watch. But also that not every diver’s, driver’s and pilot’s watch is a sports watch – at least, not in the truest sense.

A sports watch is like a classic white cotton shirt in that it can be dressed up for the boardroom and down for the beach. It has a louche, timeless masculinity. It’s almost always steel, and often on a bracelet. Crucially, it has qualities you will rarely need, yet may want at a moment’s notice, say when you feel obliged to jump into a swimming pool at a party. See perennial reference points such as Mr Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona and Mr Steve McQueen’s Rolex Submariner, respectively a driver’s watch and a diver’s watch, and both just as comfortable with jeans and a T-shirt or a three-piece suit.

So that’s settled, then? Well, not quite. What does our definition mean for the new generation of activity-tracking devices? All sports watches, no? Maybe we’ll leave that one to the forums.

IWC Ingenieur Automatic

The era of luxury steel sports watches really only arrived in the 1970s with the emergence of Mr Gérald Genta, the most visionary watch designer of his generation. Audemars Piguet was the first to turn to him, and in 1972 released the Royal Oak, a piece he famously designed overnight. IWC Schaffhausen later called on him to reimagine its round-cased Ingenieur. The result came in 1976, the Ingenieur SL. It was both muscular and angular, and yet with its round bezel and integrated steel bracelet, it was somehow fluid, too. The closest of today’s Ingenieurs to Mr Genta’s brilliant original is the 40mm Ingenieur Automatic, a steel-cased piece with an anti-magnetic soft-iron inner cage, protection that’s worth considering in our electronic age. On the wrist, it has an unmistakable rakish 1970s lustre about it – good for cocktail hour.


Bremont America’s Cup Regatta

Those familiar with British brand Bremont will know it’s closely allied with the world of aviation and makes a number of high-performance pilot’s watches. Of late, it’s also dipped its toe into sailing, chiefly as official timing partner of the America’s Cup, the current edition of which concludes this summer. One of the watches brought on by the link is this America’s Cup Regatta model, a chronograph with a race countdown function, which is useful whether you’re a captain looking to cross the start line at a regatta at the right time or boiling an egg. To qualify as a crossover watch, it employs a deft trick. Its polished steel case sits on a blue rubber strap, which looks smart while still coping admirably with salty water.


Oris Divers Sixty-Five

Oris’ reputation has soared these past few years, spurred on by the launch of pieces such as the Divers Sixty-Five in 2015. Part of the consumer appeal is in getting a Swiss-made automatic mechanical watch for a more-than-reasonable sum, but as this latest edition proves, there’s more to it than that. This, after all, is a fine-looking watch, with a design plucked from the depths of Oris’s own archive (from 1965, no less) and given an extra kick by that sumptuous gradient blue dial. While very much a diver’s watch, thanks to its uni-directional rotating bezel (for timing dives), thick SuperLuminova-filled hands and indices and 100m water resistance, it’s also relatively slim and very wearable. Much of the secret to this particular model’s success is its blue and black Nato-style textile strap, which comes with a beautifully engineered folding clasp – the kind of quality signifier you’d expect in a far pricier Swiss watch.


Luminox Navy Seal Colormark 3051

Sometimes a sports watch has to be practical first and foremost and, in those cases, form tends to follow function rigidly. Few watch brands live by that mantra so honestly as Luminox, whose watches are universally tool-like. That approach creates a powerful aesthetic, of course – one that, on an athletic wrist, can just about translate into the sartorial world. But that’s not strictly the point of a piece such as the Colormark 3051, a 44mm behemoth with a lightweight, black, carbon-reinforced polycarbonate case and uni-directional rotating bezel, a stealthy black dial and water resistance to 200m. Luminox, as the name suggests, prides itself on the luminosity of its watches, claiming they provide a constant glow, day or night, for 25 years. If proof of this watch’s qualities were needed, the US’s elite Navy Seals division has lent its name to it.


Zenith El Primero Chronomaster 1969

In the 1960s, the middle of three decades that form the golden era of great sports-watch design, Switzerland was rocked by the arrival of highly precise quartz-powered watches from the US and the Far East. Threatened, a number of brands turned their brightest minds to creating high-frequency mechanical chronographs that would be more precise than the standard quarter of a second, and therefore competitive with quartz. Zenith’s came in 1969 after seven years of development, and was called El Primero. It beat at 36,000 vibrations per hour, or 10 times a second, and became part of watchmaking history. Today, it lives on as the most precise series-produced mechanical chronograph and in watches such as this 42mm piece, above, which is styled in the spirit of the 1969 original.


Suunto Spartan Ultra

Smartwatches are two a penny these days, but when it comes to devices designed specifically for tracking activity, the cognoscenti recognise that few rival Finnish specialist Suunto, an 80-year-old company that made its name making compasses. At the north end of its collection of GPS-enabled watches is this Spartan Ultra. Inside its Grade 5 titanium and steel case is a computer that can track activity in more than 80 sports, monitor heart rate, calculate altitude and offer GPS route navigation. All this is controlled via a colour touch screen (with iPhone and Android app back-up) and a battery that lasts up to 26 hours in training mode. For the record, not one to be worn with your suit. But you knew that.