Legend has it that design wizard Gerald Genta conjured up the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak’s distinctive octagonal lines overnight, and those of the Patek Philippe Nautilus in just minutes on the back of a paper napkin while having lunch at Basel. These two, along with the Vacheron Constantin 222, marketed as sports watches within a span of five years between 1972 and 1977, went on to revolutionise the way timepieces were valued and their intrinsic worth was determined. While the most obvious common feature of these three watches was their integrated bracelets, what really set them apart from the rest of the watch world was the fact they were made of steel but with ambitiously grandiose price tags. This extravagant positioning was best exemplified by Patek Philippe’s famous advertisement that said, “One of the world’s costliest watches is made of steel.”
As the watch world increasingly bought into this extraordinary placement of steel as a luxury metal, these three Swiss brands cemented their position as the holy trinity of horology. But unfortunately for a lot of watch enthusiasts, this also meant they were priced out of the pleasure of owning a finely made steel sports watch from these brands. Worse still, even those who could afford their watches often have to add their names to years-long waiting lists. But the good news is that there are several other high-end Swiss brands that make steel watches with a rather high degree of complexity in design, finishing and overall craftsmanship. Here we look at three simple three-hand steel sports watches that are still accessibly priced, and more importantly, are readily available at dealerships.
Omega Seamaster Aqua-Terra
The Seamaster range is one of Omega’s oldest, and most varied. From the absolute beast of a dive watch that the Ploprof is at 1,200 meters depth rating, to the Seamaster 1948 with its modest water resistance of 60 metres and the graceful 38mm case, the range has something for every taste. The Seamaster Aqua-Terra, first introduced in 2002, straddles the line between a proper tool watch and an elegant dress watch. With 150 metres of water resistance, a sharp arrow-shaped minute hand, lavish lume, the Aqua-Terra is a genuine sports watch. And the fact that it’s available in different case sizes from 41mm to 34mm adds to its versatility. In 2022, the model was updated with several vibrant dial colour options such as Atlantic Blue, Bay Green, Sandstone, Saffron, Terracotta, Sea Blue, Lagoon Green, Sandstone, Shell Pink and Lavender.
Tudor has always had the tough task of living in the colossal shadows of its celebrated sibling, Rolex, and still trying to make a name for itself. Considering this, the Swiss brand has done exceedingly well. While the Black Bay series is the backbone of this success, the Ranger has had quite a large fan base. The Ranger is inspired by Tudor’s association with the British North Greenland Expedition from 1952-1954 and the Oyster Prince model used by the explorers. True to the concept of an expedition watch, the Ranger has one of the most easily readable dials in the business with large indices and numerals at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock positions, generous amounts of lume, and a dark contrasting base. The latest version, launched in 2022, is powered by the COSC-certified Calibre MT5402 movement that has an impressive 70 hours of power reserve. The 39mm steel case paired with a stainless-steel bracelet is the classic combo, although it is available with a hybrid rubber and leather strap or a fabric strap as options.
The current hierarchy within the Swatch Group does not do justice to Longines and its incredible history. But for those who are aware of the brand’s pedigree and its association with legendary aviation pioneers and other explorers, Longines stands tall among its contemporaries. The Spirit range of watches is the winged hourglass brand’s tribute to this spirit of adventure and storied heritage and draws inspiration from the past. While there are many variants such as the chronograph and the Zulu Time, the simple three-hand version available in 42mm, 40mm, and 37mm case sizes is our pick as an everyday steel sports watch. Available in blue, silver, and black dial options, the Spirit is powered by the L888.4 automatic movement that has been chronometer-certified by COSC and has a power reserve of 72 hours.