Have you ever looked at the watch market and wondered why the most popular shape is a circle? Yeah, we aren't sure either, although it probably stems from the fact that watches without straight edges are comfy on the wrist and conform more easily to our natural shape. That, or perhaps the makers of watch cases had plenty of round moulds left over from their days making pocket watches. Maybe it's both.
As the market for wristwatches is predominantly round, square and rectangular watches present an oddity that some collectors adore purely because they're utterly different. We love these watches for the same reason, so we've selected some that we want to highlight.
The Monaco by (TAG) Heuer
The Monaco range is probably TAG Heuer's most iconic range of wristwatches, and it's undoubtedly the easiest to identify from a distance. These square watches just scream of the seventies, although they were actually released in 1969. You're most likely to have seen them on the wrists of seventies celebrities, movie stars and athletes. Undoubtedly, the most popular wearer of the Monaco is Steve McQueen, who wore a Monaco in Le Mans (1971). Although Heuer discontinued the Monaco range in the mid-seventies due to waning popularity, a resurgence in interest in the nineties and early noughties forced the hand of TAG Heuer to bring the watch back to life, and it's now one of their most sought-after collections.
The version we've used as an example is the Monaco reference 73633 which we expect to have originally been purchased in the early 70s, this was before Heuer was purchased by TAG hence the markings on the dial. The 73633 reference used a manually-wound Valjoux 7736 movement inside, as Heuer offered both a manual and automatic version at the time. We should note that the Monaco is most renowned for its automatic Calibre 11, which was the first automatically-wound chronograph movement to be used in a wristwatch, which makes these manually-wound ones a rarity. The 7736 went out of production in 1973 after difficulty competing with cheaper and more accurate quartz movements.
The Santos by Cartier
One watch which didn't suffer so much from the quartz crisis was Cartier's legendary Santos de Cartier. The watch originates from 1906, but re-designs kept it relevant throughout the later decades of the 20th century. Here in the 21st century, the Santos is still the icon to beat, an example of a perfect fusion between fashion and horology. The square case with rounded corners is the most attractive part of this model, although it's not the most controversial part. For a time, that was the exposed pins and screws. In a time when wristwatches were conservatively styled and sized, Cartier flew in the face of that trend with the Santos and succeeded fantastically.
Returning to the controversial exposed components of the Santos, part of the reason these caught the attention of so many was that these were very popular in a two-tone steel and gold configuration. As you'd expect for a brand as "out there" as Cartier, the gold went to the bezel and exposed screwheads, making the Santos stand out even further. Our choice doesn't have the two-tone bracelet, although it stands out for other reasons. The 100XL has a leather strap with a butterfly folding clasp and a two-tone case with a gold bezel and Cartier's signature cabochon-tipped crown. The stretched Roman numerals on the dial are also a Cartier hallmark. The automatic movement inside is robust and reliable, and the 38mm case is surprisingly restrained, making it a great daily piece with a square case.
The Reverso by Jaeger-LeCoultre
The Reverso is, arguably, the most iconic watch that isn't round (if only just when next to the Cartier). As you'll undoubtedly know, the Reverso's party piece is its ability to flip over on the wrist. The reason for this was down to English gentlemen in India in the late 1920s who complained to a dealer for their local watchmaker that their wristwatches were being damaged when they played polo. That dealer returned to Switzerland to their supplier, Le-Coultre, and asked if they could do anything. Traditionally, pocket watches came with a folding case that covered the dial, although for wristwatches this isn't so practical when reading the time at a glance. Le-Coultre instead created a watch that could be flipped over on the wrist, exposing the solid metal caseback during play and thereby protecting the delicate crystal over the dial.
The watch we have for our example, the Reverso Grand Date ref 240.8.15, is a more recent version of the Reverso. You can still buy the Reverso in its more traditional form factor; these watches are known as the Tribute to 1931 or Tribute watches. However, the one we've chosen highlights a factor of the Reverso's party piece reversing system that watch fans and collectors alike just love: they allow us to see the movement easily. Jaeger-LeCoultre is well aware of this love of complexity on display, and has made its most complicated watches Reversos so that we can appreciate their, well, complexity, from many angles. Just check out their Reverso Hybris Mechanica 185 Quadriptyque as an example of the model's capability. It seems unlikely that most Reverso owners are also polo players these days. So, while the Reverso may have lost some of its sporting capability with a sapphire caseback instead of a closed steel one, it has gained more interest and appeal. We should know, the one used in this article sold very quickly.
So, there you have it. Here are three examples of wristwatches that are super interesting but don't have a round case or dial. If you're interested in these types of watches, we recommend you research Patek Philippe's Gondolo, A.Lange & Söhne's Cabaret and the extremely rare Rolex Cellini Prince. Don't forget to check out our shop where we have a fantastic collection of watches for sale right now.