A lot of collectors use the term “grail” to describe any desired watch out of their price range. What they truly are, universally, are important and high-value models coveted by most, perhaps all. Even if you aren’t a treasure hunter, you’d do well to at least consider adding one of these grail watches to your collection.
Naturally, they’re cool and impressive, and they’ll last forever. Plus, adding a grail to your assembly is less like adding a pool to your house, and more like upgrading its insulation—it’ll up the value in returnable ways. If you think you picked the wrong grail, they’re so lusted after that it’s easy to cash them in. You won’t age into a dusty skeleton, a la Walter Donovan in The Last Crusade when he picked the wrong grail.
Rolex Submariner Ref. 6200 “Big Crown”
Not only was Ref. 6200 the first Rolex Submariner with the oversized eight-millimeter “Big Crown”, it was also a notable upgrade from the 6204 and 6205. The 6200 had 200 meters of water resistance, compared to the previous references, which had 100.
When it comes to the Big Crown family, many prefer the Bond 6538 watch, its indices shaped like circles and batons. Rarity aside, I think there’s something more remarkable about how the 6200 looks recognizably different from today’s Submariners, with its gilt-printed Explorer-style Arabic cardinals and its overall starkness. It represents a moment in time, while also encapsulating everything that makes the Submariner the icon that it is.
Rolex Daytona “Paul Newman” Ref. 6263
The market fluctuates constantly, but it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the Paul Newman Daytona is often at the top of the most desired vintage Rolex timepieces. Watch lovers know about the Newman that auctioned for 17.8 million in 2017, while most people just love the dynamic yet surprisingly uncrowded dial.
The subdials’ square lollipops and the red DAYTONA stamp, tonal with the outer dial markers, are chef’s kisses of functional visuals. Importantly, moving to a Daytona moniker from the previously-used Cosmograph stamps was perhaps a sign it conceded to the Speedy, who would go to the moon instead of it. Still, the Newman would go on to master the racetracks and, as we now know, auction records.
Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
If you love complications galore, trust Patek Philippe. The dial of this Ref. 1518 wears its brand’s horological chops on its sleeve, and you can too. Yes, that’s a date window next to a month window, on top of being a perpetual calendar and a chronograph. Famously, it somehow manages to be as gadgety as it is romantic looking, not least of which is thanks to that exquisite moonphase complication.
Associated with perpetual calendars in general, Patek’s history is steeped in that difficult-to-build complication, including the fact they created the first wristwatch with a perpetual calendar in 1925. Rightly, this watch is quintessentially Patek Philippe.
Rolex GMT Master Ref. 6542
Though being the first GMT watch, developed by Rolex and Pan Am, is more than enough to clinch the GMT Master’s legend status, there are layers of importance to it even beyond that. That’s why the inaugural Ref. 6542 is a real MVP in any collection.
It’s come to represent the golden age of travel, and was also worn by Honor Blackman in the Bond film, Goldfinger. This earned it the seductive nickname “Pussy Galore.” Finally, the original bakelite bezels were recalled because of a lawsuit regarding its radium coating, giving this watch a touch of infamy to go with its elusiveness.
Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711
The legitimate descendant to the Patek Philippe Nautilus from the ‘70s, Ref. 5711 is thus also the flagship sport watch for the brand. Patek being known for intricate complications and precious metal watches, the sturdy Nautilus wasn’t just new for the brand but for the watch industry.
Ref. 5711 features all of the important signatures, including the integrated bracelet for a cuff-like wear, the dial’s embossed lines, and the octagonal bezel inspired by a ship’s porthole. The rounded edges of the bezel are just one of many moments of softened elegance that doesn’t take away from the tactile aesthetic.
Rolex Explorer II Ref. 1655
Every legend has an origin story, and for the Rolex Explorer II, it’s the Ref. 1655. Built for the caves, the 1655 flaunts the still-surviving combination of a fixed bezel with a GMT that modern Explorer IIs are equipped with. It’s so you can tell whether it’s night or day even when you’re venturing deep in a cavern.
This ancestor model is brawnier than newer versions. Its dial is reminiscent of a radar panel, its body tough and blocky, with a durable automatic movement inside. Meaning, this erroneously-named Steve McQueen Watch can work as dependably as ever, and will continue to for years to come.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar
The Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar is a timepiece of contradictions, both dressed-up and a tool watch, a creature of science and otherworldliness. It achieves this eye-catching and versatile look by employing visually technical and industrial elements, but applying them in clean and refined ways.
Look at how the visible screws on the bezel are complemented by its impeccable surface brushing and high-gloss edges. The plethora of complications (and white gold indices) sit on the Grande Tapisserie dial, and are adorned with magic eye patterns. Its movement is equally as exquisite to look at, and even more, the only thing that separates you from it is a sapphire caseback.
Rolex Day-Date “President”
The flex of all flexes, the Rolex Day-Date, aka the President, is the kind of gaudy that even the most minimalist person would say, “heck, I would if I could too.” That’s because it’s not actually terribly gaudy from an aesthetic perspective. Okay, the fluted bezel, precious-metal construction, and ceremonial Roman indices are undeniably fancy, but its “loudness” comes mainly from its prestige and lore.
Lyndon Johnson, the first president to wear the crown, wore a Day-Date, which is partly where it gets its nickname. The other part comes from the brand’s President bracelet, which it’s meant to be partnered with. Between its always-reliable Rolex movements and always-impressive design, I’d say this watch is a prime candidate for a one or two-watch collection.
Omega Speedmaster Automatic Ref. 376.0822 ‘Holy Grail’
When it comes to the Ref. 376.0822, Omega conjured up the ultimate Holy Grail formula. First, they implemented a new development onto a familiar favorite. This was the first Moonwatch Speedmaster with an automatic movement, which was Calibre 1045—high-frequency, of course. Second, they only produced it for two years.
It’s so rare that even Omega has a hard time sourcing them from the ether. If you look closely, you can tell the 376.0822 apart because its case is a bit thicker and the crown and pushers are closer to the case creating a slightly cleaner silhouette.
Rolex Submariner 116610LV “Hulk”
Rolex loves to go green when it comes to commemorative models. It’s their brand color, after all. The Submariner Hulk has a green bezel and a green sunray dial, which makes it the greenest of the Lunette Verte trio. This collective also includes the Kermit and the Starbucks, both of which have black dials. Lunette Verte, by the way, is where the LV from Ref. 116610LV comes from.
The Hulk stands out because of its beefy overall build, due to its Rolex Super Case which has bigger lugs and a broader silhouette. It’s also outfitted with the Rolex Cerachrom bezel. Both of these were transitional features at the time of the Hulk’s release, which makes this watch a classic collectible.
In conclusion, grail watches hold a special place in the hearts of watch enthusiasts and collectors alike. These timepieces are often the pinnacle of design, innovation, and craftsmanship in the watchmaking industry. They are revered for their exceptional quality, unique features, and rarity, which make them highly sought after and coveted.
For many watch collectors, owning a grail watch is a lifelong dream, and the pursuit of finding and acquiring one can be a journey in itself. Whether it’s a vintage timepiece with a rich history or a modern marvel of engineering, the emotional attachment to these watches goes beyond their monetary value.
Grail watches also serve as a symbol of achievement and success for some individuals, representing the culmination of hard work and dedication. For others, they represent a connection to a particular brand or a shared passion with like-minded enthusiasts.
The term “grail watch” may mean different things to different people, but what unites them is the recognition of the special qualities and significance these watches hold. As the watch industry continues to evolve, new grail watches will undoubtedly emerge, captivating the hearts and minds of watch collectors for generations to come.
In summary, grail watches are more than just timepieces; they are symbols of excellence, achievement, and passion. Whether owned or admired from afar, these watches will continue to inspire and captivate watch enthusiasts around the world.
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