Just because a watch is quirky, doesn’t mean it can’t add value to a collection. In fact, sometimes it’s the quirkiness in and of itself that makes a watch a worthwhile addition. I’m highlighting three watches that may seem a bit strange at first glance, but are actually really special timepieces. They are three completely different picks from three completely different luxury watchmakers: one is already a coveted collector’s item, another hints at a brand’s little-known history, and the third has managed to save some lives.
The Omega Speedmaster Alaska Project: An Unusual Collectible
The first watch on our list manages to pull off a pretty crazy balancing act: It is both the most ordinary of the watches on this list, but also the most bizarre. At first glance, the Omega Speedmaster Alaska Project looks just like the normal Speedy that fans have come to know and love: 42-mm case, hesalite crystal, and bezel complete with a tachymeter scale. However, upon closer inspection, Omega lovers will notice the slightly strange-looking subdial hands, red chronograph seconds counter, and the snow-white dial. Now, you might be thinking that a panda-esque version of the Omega Speedmaster wouldn’t be the weirdest addition to a watch collection, but as soon as the watch’s thermal shield is unveiled, you’ll soon realize how quirky this watch really is.
So, what’s the story with the thermal shield? The Speedmaster Alaska Project represents Omega’s innovation dreams coming true. The watch was released in 2008 in a limited run of 1,970 pieces. It is based on the Alaska II, a modified Speedmaster with a white dial. However, the Alaska Project features not only a modified dial, subdial hands, and seconds hand, but also a special protective shield that attaches to the case exterior. This red, anodized aluminum shield enables the watch to withstand extreme temperatures ranging from -234 to 500 °F – conditions that only exist on the Moon or in space! The Omega Speedmaster Alaska Project comes with a generous package, including a matching white Velcro strap and steel bracelet that fans will recognize from the standard Speedmaster. All this, and the protective shield of course, is included in a well-presented collector’s box. The Omega Speedmaster Alaska Project is already a coveted collector’s item that sells for around 25,000 USD, well above its 2008 list price. I can understand why this is, however, because this watch represents a great piece of watchmaking history. Best of all, despite its strangeness, it can be worn like any other ordinary watch; it’s only the addition of the thermal shield that makes the Alaska Project look a bit out of this world. That being said, you’ll probably never have reason to utilize the feature to its full capacity.
The Tudor Black Bay P01: The Prototype
Today, we know Tudor as a cool, independent watch brand. For a long time, however, the Rolex sister company was just considered a cheaper alternative to Rolex. Between these two eras, Tudor was responsible for creating some really quirky watches. If you take a look at models like the Tudor Monarch or Classic, you’ll start to get a sense of what I mean. However, the strangest watch Tudor has ever built is, without question, 2019’s Tudor Black Bay P01. Behind this unusual timepiece lies a previously unknown chapter in Tudor’s history. The name P01 stands for “Prototype 1,” a reference to a late-1960s project for the US military codenamed “Commando.” Tudor supposedly designed a prototype watch that met a number of requirements set out by the American government and contained a patent for a previously unknown function. Although Tudor had been supplying the US Navy with diving watches since the 1950s, the Commando project never saw the light of day and, thus, the watch ended up in the Tudor vault.
Some 50 years later, the Tudor P01 was finally realized. The mix of diving and marine watch makes this model a tool watch through and through. It’s really not that surprising that the case looks a bit odd; this watch was designed with function in mind, after all. The 42-mm watch features a crown at 4 o’clock and a fully satinized finish. The mysterious patented feature from the 1968 prototype is also on board: a locking system for the bi-directional bezel that’s clasped in place by the moveable end link at 12 o’clock. The watch offers 200 m (656 ft) of water resistance, a sapphire crystal, and an in-house movement with a date function. The brown leather strap is the perfect addition to complete the functional yet quirky tool watch vibe. Prices for the P01 are currently below $4,000, but it will be interesting to see how this model fares going forward. I personally don’t expect large numbers to be produced, nor do I expect a long production run. Who knows, the P01 could well become a coveted collector’s item in the future. In any case, the Black Bay P01 is an extremely quirky watch, and one that is chock-full of Tudor brand history.
The Breitling Emergency: A Literal Lifesaver
The Breitling Emergency is an extremely odd-looking watch, both because of its general appearance and its whopping 51-mm diameter. The model is so overloaded with different functions that it almost looks like a toy! Still, this is the watch I would want with me if I were on any sort of excursion; even if it was on the riskier side, I would feel safer with this watch on my wrist.
The Breitling is, of course, a far cry from a toy. This watch can actually save lives – and has done so several times already. In 2003, when pilots Steve Brooks and Hugh Quentin Smith crashed their helicopter in Antarctica, they got into their lifeboat and activated a Breitling Emergency watch. This enabled both men to be located and brought to safety. The Emergency is equipped with a dual-frequency distress beacon in the lower part of its case. Deploying the antenna automatically activates the transmitter, which sends a signal for at least 24 hours, regardless of whether you’re in freezing cold temperatures or blistering heat, and no matter if you’re on land, at sea, or in the air. The signal helps rescue teams determine your current or last-known location. The watch is powered by a COSC-certified SuperQuartz caliber that boasts a number of functions including a perpetual calendar, chronograph, countdown timer, second time zone, and an alarm. The most unique feature, of course, is the emergency distress beacon, which is truly unique in the world of watches. The latest Emergency will set you back around $10,000, while older versions are available for less than $5,000. While the older, 43-mm version is the watch that saved the pilots’ lives back in 2003, the technology is slightly outdated today. The older version may still be interesting from a collector’s point of view, however, as it is undoubtedly more wearable and essentially offers everything the current model has to offer (in a slightly reduced form). We can only hope that no one actually needs to use this watch’s iconic feature. Whichever version you choose, the Breitling Emergency is a very special watch that is, without a doubt, one-of-a-kind.