The Luxury Sports Watch - Six Iconic Models from AP to Rolex

The Luxury Sports Watch - Six Iconic Models from AP to Rolex

Sotheby's specialists regularly bring some of the world's finest luxury sports watches to market. In this guide we select six of the most iconic models from watchmaking titans Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Rolex.
Sotheby's specialists regularly bring some of the world's finest luxury sports watches to market. In this guide we select six of the most iconic models from watchmaking titans Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Rolex.

L uxury sports watches have become one of the most coveted categories in recent years, with the combination of sporting aesthetics and robust construction driving multi-generational appeal. Whilst the "sports" definition in watch collecting has always been broad, certain models such as the AP Royal Oak and Rolex Daytona have come to define the genre. In this guide our Sotheby's specialists call out six legendary watches with enduring appeal.

Bid on luxury sports watches at a Sotheby's Auction or purchase immediately via our handpicked Buy-Now offering

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

The Sotheby's Hong Kong team sold this classic AP Royal Oak in our April 2024 sale. The 2018 stainless steel model sold for HKD330,200.

The luxury sports watch genre owes a debt to legendary watchmaker Gérald Genta, whose 1972 Royal Oak design for Audemars Piguet remains in production over 50 years later. Huge waiting lists are a testament to its longstanding appeal. AP has made numerous variations, but the Royal Oak's enduring design remains its porthole bezel, hexagonal bolts, engine-turned tapisserie dial and integrated bracelet. The model's slim case also helps to explain its popularity among both men and women. The Royal Oak's diverse appeal is also linked to the range of metals (steel, gold and and platinum), dial colours and strap options (from the original integrated steel bracelet to leather and rubber variants). So whilst there's a format to suit all purposes and preferences, the AP Royal Oak remains instantly recognizable as a defining luxury sports watch.

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore

AP Royal Oak Offshore
The AP Royal Oak Offshore frequently pushes the boundaries within luxury sports watches, innovating across materials, aesthetics and technical complexity

Perhaps the most overtly sporty among these six icons, the AP Royal Oak Offshore made its debut in 1993. Coming 20 years after the original 1972 Royal Oak, the Offshore featured a chunkier case with distinct angles and lines. The Royal Oak Offshore usually features more complicated movements, such as chronographs, and typically bolder colour schemes.

The sporting credentials of the AP Royal Oak Offshore are confirmed by its adoption by a range of global sports starts. Past and present wearers include Rory McIlroy, Serena Williams and Shaquille O'Neal.

The Rolex Submariner

Rolex Submariners purchased through a Sotheby's auction can be a great value route into the luxury sports watch world. Sotheby's New York sold this 2015 Rolex Submariner, in excellent condition with box and papers, for $10,795 in March 2024

The Rolex Submariner is one of the most recognizable designs in watchmaking history. As the name suggests the genesis of the Submariner (or "Sub") in 1952 was for professional diving. Over its 7+ decades of production the Rolex Submariner has broadened its appeal to become a core model in the range of luxury sports watches. It remains a highly functional watch that's simpler than its cosmograph cousin the Rolex Daytona.

For those collectors looking for a bolder, sportier aesthetic, a range of coloured dials and bezels have been produced attracting the usual nicknames - Hulk, Kermit, Starbucks, the list goes on.

The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona

The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona was launched in 1963 and remains the most in-demand watch in the world, with long waiting lists for this luxury sports watch icon. The Daytona's sporting DNA is reflected in the title - it's named after the 24 Hours of Daytona race in Florida. The racing link explains the chronograph functionality, which is combined with a slimmer, smaller case than its stablemates the Submariner and GMT.

The Rolex Daytona Panda (Reference 116500LN) is loved worldwide for its distinctive design and impressive functionality. Sotheby's sold this model for €33,020 in our Paris sale in April 2024

Collectors considering investing in a Rolex Daytona have a wide range to choose from. Many luxury sports watch collectors simply revere the latest Daytona models, with the modern Rolex Daytona Panda for example hugely popular. This is reflected in the notorious waiting lists, mitigated however by purchasing one of our handpicked Daytonas at a Sotheby's auction or through our global marketplace.

Other interesting propositions include the excellent value Rolex Daytona Zenith model range produced from 1988-2000. With its distinctive steel bezel matching the wider case and bracelet, loyalists believe the Zenith honours the sporting DNA of the Rolex Daytona. At the other end of of the pricing spectrum, Paul Newman Rolex Daytonas typically account for the most expensive Rolex watches sold at auction. The legendary Hollywood star was famed for his love of both motorsport and Rolex Daytonas.

The Patek Philippe Nautilus

Alongside the aforementioned Rolex Daytona, the Patek Philippe Nautilus remains one of the most in-demand luxury sports watches globally. Indeed for many collectors it represents the definitive model of the category. The model was first introduced in 1976 and is - alongside the AP Royal Oak above - another seminal design of watchmaking icon Gérald Genta. The design is renowned for its distinctive rounded octagonal bezel with horizontally embossed patterns, creating a harmonious blend of sportiness and elegance. Collectors have a huge range of variations to choose from, from classic steel examples through to complex movements, precious metal offerings and rare anniversary editions produced in limited runs.

This stunning "Jumbo" Nautilus was first sold in 1982, being a rare example of the larger-cased 3700 reference produced from 1976 to 1998. Sotheby's sold this in our 2024 Paris auction for €139,700.

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The Patek Philippe Aquanaut

Sotheby's sold this superb Aquanaut in our April 2024 Hong Kong sale. This white gold example was retailed by Tiffany & Co, further enhancing its prestige and desirability

The Patek Philippe Aquanaut was launched in 1997, matching Patek Philippe innovation with a distinctly sportier aesthetic. The younger sibling of the Patek Philippe Nautilus, the Aquanaut is unmistakable with its “grenade” dial and rubber strap. Indeed it sits in contrast, yet somehow complementary to, the refined dress watches and haute complications often associated with the esteemed Patek Philippe.

The Aquanaut continues to see a loyal following in the luxury sports watch world, appealing to men and women across a range of steel and gold formats. Chronograph variants are also available for a more direct sporting link.

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