Owning a so-called grail or exit watch is the dream of every watch collector. But what exactly constitutes a grail watch? And which models have what it takes to become the next holy grail of the watch world? Here is our list of 10 extraordinary watches that could be the cornerstone of any collection.
What makes a grail watch?
Are you building up your watch collection and keep stumbling across the term “grail watch” in online forums? Not sure what it means? Let us shed some light on the subject. We’ll start by looking at the term “grail.” The original Holy Grail, i.e., the cup that Jesus supposedly drank from at the Last Supper, shares a few qualities that one might ascribe to their own personal dream watch: an absolute rarity with an inestimable value, and – not to be forgotten – imbued with divine powers.
Even if your grail watch can’t turn water into wine, it is undoubtedly a rarity and may even seem sacred. It likely comes from a traditional and respected Swiss manufacturer, often from the so-called holy trinity of watchmaking, i.e., three brands considered the absolute epitome of elite horology: Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, and Audemars Piguet. It is not uncommon for collectors to spend multiple years or even decades searching for their grail watch. Just think of King Arthur: His desperate search for the Holy Grail was the stuff of legends.
That being said, there is no such thing as a single, objective grail watch. It’s up to you to choose whether you embark on your own long – and probably very expensive – journey for a modern limited edition or a rare vintage reference. In any case, let’s hope that the search for your grail watch with be more fruitful than King Arthur’s for the Holy Grail.
Is an exit watch the same as a grail watch?
While the term “exit watch” may sound a little less holy, it could actually be the same timepiece as your grail watch. In fact, ideally, the two should be the same watch. While “grail watch” refers to the watch you have been pinning for your whole watch collecting life, your exit watch is the timepiece that you will never let go of. This is the watch that you will likely pass down to your children as an heirloom.
Chances are you had to work quite hard for your exit watch, selling this or that to ensure you could afford the perfect example. Exit watches tend to be exceptionally rare and, thus, expensive – along the lines of a Rolex Daytona Paul Newman, for example. Again, you alone decide which watch in your collection earns the title. If you view your Tudor Black Bay as the heart of your collection and the watch you would never part ways with, you already own your exit watch – and you didn’t even have to sell your home, become a millionaire, or conjure up six figures to afford it!
So, what’s your grail watch? To get your creative juices flowing, Chrono24 author Isaac Wingold is sharing his personal top-10 list of grail watches.
Patek Philippe Ref. 5270 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
To start, let’s take a closer look at a very impressive timepiece from Patek Philippe. This watch features a perpetual calendar and a chronograph and is known to collectors and enthusiasts simply as the ref. 5270. The model is one of the most well-known watches in the legendary Grand Complications series. The ref. 5270 was the first watch to use the caliber 29-535 PS, a movement developed entirely in-house by Patek Philippe.
Previous Patek perpetual calendar chronographs got their power from a heavily modified version of a famous Lemania caliber. Thus, the introduction of the ref. 5270 marked quite a milestone in Patek’s history.
A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk
The A. Lange & Söhne ZEITWERK stands out as one of the most impressive wristwatches of the 21st century, and with good reason. The hallmark of this timepiece is its digital time display featuring Lange’s signature typeface, giving it an avant-garde yet still traditional look. Moreover, it’s highly legible, which means you can quickly take note of the time on the go.
However, as is the case with every A. Lange & Söhne watch, the true highlight of this timepiece is its reverse side. Here, you have a clear view of the caliber L043.1 at work through the sapphire crystal case back. Comprised of 416 perfectly finished components, the L043.1 is a world-class caliber both mechanically and aesthetically and has played a significant role in cultivating collectors’ interest in the brand.
Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle 14-Day Tourbillon
While you could argue the practicality of a tourbillon in this day and age, there is no denying the allure of this visually stimulating complication. Originally developed toward the end of the 18th century, the tourbillon was designed to counteract the effects of gravity on the accuracy of pocket watches. The Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle 14-Day Tourbillon is a particularly popular choice among collectors, who love the beauty of the caliber 2260 and its exquisitely finished components.
The movement boasts four barrels, giving the watch an impressive power reserve of 14 days. This makes the Traditionnelle Tourbillion not only prestigious but also convenient to wear – if you can afford the hefty price tag, that is.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar
Gérald Genta is, without question, one of the most influential watch designers of all time. Through his legendary designs of the Patek Philippe Nautilus and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Genta essentially established the entire genre of luxury sports watches and popularized the use of stainless steel cases and bracelets in high-end watchmaking.
While the Royal Oak is a fantastic watch in and of itself, the version with a perpetual calendar goes one step further, earning it the status of a grail watch. It is also one of the few perpetual calendar variants to retain all the magic of the classic two-hand model. Of course, this also speaks to the strength of the original Royal Oak’s design.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Duométre Chronograph
The word “undervalued” might be overused when speaking about luxury watches as investment pieces. Still, in the case of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre, it couldn’t be more accurate. This watch stands out with its mono-pusher chronograph, jumping seconds, two independent barrels, and dual power-reserve indicators.
While this isn’t an affordable watch by any means, it is difficult to find a similarly complicated timepiece from a manufacturer of this caliber at this price point. Thus, the Duomètre Chronograph is an appealing option for those who are interested in stepping into the world of haute horology.
Rolex Daytona Ref. 116506
Chances are you’ve already heard of the Rolex Daytona and may even know everything there is to know about this model. It is a force to be reckoned with in the field of sports chronographs, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a watch with a more iconic design. With this in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that exclusive Daytona references are held in very high regard. The ref. 115606, a platinum 50th-anniversary edition from 2013, is no exception.
Chocolate brown and ice blue may not sound like the most obvious color combination, but it works incredibly well in tandem with the platinum case. Collectors of both modern and vintage Rolexes agree that this Daytona will stand the test of time. The value of this timepiece will almost certainly increase in years to come.
IWC Schaffhausen Ref. 5033 Portuguese Perpetual Calendar
Measuring over 44 mm across, the IWC Portugieser Perpetual Calendar certainly isn’t your grandfather’s wristwatch, but rather a stylish, modern interpretation of classic models with the complication. From a mechanical perspective, this watch is state-of-the-art. Traditionally, you had to rely on recessed push-pieces to configure perpetual calendars, but on this watch, every display can be adjusted and set via the crown.
This Portugieser is also one of the more affordable (mechanical) watches with a perpetual calendar and the perfect place to start for someone looking to venture into the world of more complicated timepieces.
F.P. Journe Chronomètre à Résonance
Despite having only been in business since 1999, F.P. Journe has already released several revolutionary watches that have challenged the status quo of today’s watch industry. One such watch is the Chronomètre à Résonance, which debuted in 2000 as Journe’s second production model.
This Journe watch sets itself apart with its innovative system of two balance wheels that beat in perfect unison (or resonance). This construction ensures an extremely high level of accuracy. The manufacturer achieves this by placing the two balance wheels beside each other and coupling them with a shared arbor. Thus, they oscillate at exactly the same rate.
MB&F Legacy Machine LM1
When MB&F announced the launch of the Legacy Machine line in 2011, it marked a shift in the brand’s strategy. This series has a much more traditional look than any of its previous models. That being said, the design is still miles apart from most other timepieces on the market.
It is not uncommon for this type of timepiece to receive a lot of praise in the watch media; however, the attention is more than justified for the Legacy Machine LM1. Prior to its release, no one was making anything remotely like the LM1, earning it its place as an instant, modern classic among independent watch brands.
Some six years on, the LM1 is still as beautiful as ever and continues to inspire many watchmakers both aesthetically and technically. By refining the established design language, MB&F helped attract new interest in their brand and this exciting market segment.
Patek Philippe Ref. 5370 Split-Seconds Chronograph
One of the rarest and most interesting Patek Philippe timepieces to date is a member of a relatively obscure category of watches: the rattrapante or split-seconds chronograph. This watch may look quite inconspicuous at first glance, but it represents the art of watchmaking in its highest form.
Split-seconds chronographs are very complex to make and, therefore, very expensive to purchase. As a result, few manufacturers even delve into this niche market, and Patek Philippe only produces a handful of these complex masterpieces each year.
In addition to its unique mechanical abilities, this particular model delights enthusiasts with its beautiful black enamel dial featuring traditional Breguet numerals. Given the complexity of their production, enamel dials only on the most exclusive watches from very few brands. This is just one more reason why the ref. 5370 assumes a very special place in the Patek Philippe line-up.