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Ever since the Rolex Datejust debuted at the end of World War Two, it seems to have become ubiquitous in luxury watches. You'll find it at 3, 4:30 or 6 o'clock on most dials today, although there's plenty of examples of innovation. We are of course talking about the date complication, one of horology's most important achievements.
A date display is taken for granted by many watch collectors, though it seems undeniable that it is among the most necessary and most useful watch complications a dial can have after the time. Some would even prioritise it above a seconds hand. The date display has become a core part of the design of almost all luxury watches, featuring in the schematics for specialist movement makers such as ETA and Sellita, as well as the famous manufactures that make their calibres in-house. Watches with date and time are easily the most common type on the market.
While their simple and practical nature might seem to make date complications a no-brainer, there are many enthusiasts who disagree. Not all dates are equal. Some feel that watchmakers have become sloppy with the design of the date window, failing to incorporate it elegantly with the watch's aesthetic. Some feel they are too small to read. Others lament the functionality of some date complications, which take hours to shift from one day to the next. By the same token – some date complications have been praised for their innovative or graceful design or their superlative operation.
For this reason, we believe collectors should not let themselves fall into the trap of taking a date display for granted. It's worth considering whether a watch has “got it right” when it comes to this important part of the design. Below we present a short list of our top watches with a date complication.
The Datejust is rightly considered the originator and pioneer of date watches. First released in 1945, it came before date complications had ever been seen on widely retailed wristwatches, and the idea soon proved so popular that it spread not just to other Rolex watch families but also to more or less every major watchmaking firm. A large part of its success, no doubt, comes from the Datejust's other appealing characteristics: from its simple, classic and flawlessly elegant design to its superb engineering and craftsmanship. Its understated luxury stylings and mastery of traditional forms meant that the date complication won an immediate prestige – a reputation that the Datejust still maintains.
The popularity of Rolex's Submariner caused Omega to turn the Seamaster into a competitor: and so was born the powerful and stylish diving tool that we know and love today. But the Seamaster was originally intended as something less sporty and more elegant – and Omega did eventually reimagine it as such. This was the origin of the Aqua Terra, a Seamaster designed to sit under the sleeve rather than above it. This is a gorgeous collection and it tends to feature perfectly integrated date complications that match the colour of the dial rather than standing out as an unwanted eye-sore.SHOP THE OMEGA SEAMASTER AQUA TERRA
Long considered by some to be “just” Rolex's junior partner with a lower price point, Tudor electrified the watch world with its recreations of classic models from about 2010. Its new dive watches are perhaps the most exciting: vintage-inspired and incredibly stylish, as well as equipped with the stunning technical specs of a true tool watch. The Pelagos has already won legions of admirers, with its magnificent titanium case and delightful black-and-white (or blue-and-white) dial complete with iconic snowflake hour hand. The date window fits unbelievably perfectly into this design scheme. Since 2015, the Pelagos has even been fitted with Tudor's new in-house movement.
One of the most desirable and popular forms of the date complication is the so-called “big date” - a larger window typically placed at 12 o'clock with separate number wheels for first and second digit. The big date is most associated with high-end German watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne, but Breitling made a terrific version for its very special Blackbird watches. The king of aviation horology, Breitling was inspired by the legendary SR-71 Blackbird US spy planes, creating a limited edition sleek, stealthy, black-cased version of its acclaimed Chronomat in their honour. The first Blackbird watches were released in 1996, making this an early version of the stunning big date.SHOP THE BREITLING BLACKBIRD
In the 1980s, at the same time as being acquired by T.A.G., Heuer branched out into dive watches. Called the 2000 series, they were designed by Jack Heuer himself and proved a huge success. Showcasing many different forms over the years, by 2004 they had evolved into the modern Aquaracer collection. This received another significant design update in 2009. Notable for their clean, uncluttered dials and their exuberant, sporty aesthetic, the Aquaracer Caliber 5 watches boast the technical specs to match. Usually magnified by a cyclops lens, the date window is the perfect addition.
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