I combined the categories of "Tool" and "Dive" watch, which are usually separate, because of the fact these are essentially obsolete categories in our modern world.
So much so, that I even contemplated referring to this as the "Vintage" watch category.
In other words, gone are the days when any given military or air force division, etc., would call a luxury watch brand to make them a watch, fine tuning the hands or the dial for their specific needs, which led to some iconic watches like the Submariner, Mark IX, W10, etc.
Today, there's only one choice for any non-civilian use and thats a G-Shock. There are some rare exceptions, but not really.
A G-shock will make any Submariner seem fragile, and is so cost effective they're almost disposable.
But, what about Dive-only watches?
Well, G-shock pretty much has got you covered there too. But more than that, unless you are a true deep sea diver with very specific needs, I don't care who makes it, wearing a dive watch in everyday life is tantamount to wearing a wetsuit in every day life: stupid.
Hence, the "Tool/Dive" watch category being obsolete.
But this is where the idea of this category (almost) being a vintage watch category comes in:
Looking back at some of those iconic watches before the G-Shock (and the Quartz crisis, etc.), their dimensions, design, style, in many ways is a blueprint for a perfect contemporary watch regardless of category. in other words, they're still relevant and beautiful.
As an example, an old Rolex Submariner from the 1960's is not out of place in the office. A vintage Speedmaster is absolutely cutting edge with your favorite jeans, even a dive-only JLC Polaris would be more beautifully suited to everyday life than salt water, etc.
And because the new versions of these vintage watches (most of them anyway), either look almost exactly the same, or are so overpriced (especially if it's a Rolex), it makes no sense to buy the new versions.
So again, not only is the "Tool/Dive" watch category - as far as new watches is concerned - obsolete. But, its also *kind of* the default "Vintage" watch category.
Let's break it down further with my contenders:
Rolex Submariner ($4k+) -While it is true Rolex vintage watches have soared in price (in a way that is plain and simple idiotic), you can still get some non-military issued versions of a 5513 around the $4k mark. And unlike a new Submariner (closer to $8k and up), it won't be so friggin ubiquitous. Your vintage Sub is not only more beautiful (due to the aging process) and less expensive than a new one, it's also one-of-a-kind.
The Sea Dweller also offers some interesting vintage options without going (completely) broke. But again, something with a reference 5512, 5513, or 5517 is where I would look.
IWC Pilot (Vintage Doppel $6k, New Big Pilot $12k) - Another type of tool watch is the "Pilot" watch. If you're ever gonna buy a brand new pilot watch, an IWC is your best choice. Personally, there are few watches as bad-ass a their Big Pilot. But their Pilot watches are legendary in general, and to learn more, there is a pretty decent write up here.
The Big Pilot uses an in-house, 7-day power reserve movement, maintains classic IWC styling, is tough, and overall just a really great no-nonsense watch.
But, once again, it's hard to overlook vintage options. And in this case, I'd look for a pre-spitfire Doppelchronograph (German for Split Chronograph), which should cost no more than $6k.
The IWC Doppel's use a base Valjoux 7750 movement, which was heavily modified into a Doppelchronograph by Richard Habring (of Habring2). This watch became the first "affordable" Doppelchronograph (under $20k), and was considered so innovative, it earned IWC a 20 year patent.
Not to mention there are few complications as cool as a Split Chronograph.
After the patent expired, Habring went on to setup Habring2 with his wife, and further developed his movement into the Doppel 2.0, and most recently the Doppel 3.0.
Jaeger LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm or Polaris ($12k+) - These are among the most sought after Jaeger LeCoultre watches. And truthfully, JLC is the only exception in this group that buying new is perfectly fine. JLC is simply one of the best of the best, and their new watches are not overpriced. But the fact remains, that in the "Ultimate Watch Collection", I'd still take a vintage Polaris or Deepsea from the 1960's over anything else brand new.
Omega Speedmaster ($2k-25k+) - The Speedmaster with the 1861 lemania based movement is still being made today. And this is the main reason you can still get vintage ones for as low as $2k. And even though a new 3570.50 can be had under $4k with a solid discount (not bad, eh?), I'd still go vintage, because there are many of them out there in great condition, and saving $1000+ is nothing to sneeze at. $1000 buys a couple services, some straps, etc.
Of course, older references with the 321 version of the Lemania based movement will start at $4k+, and the very first ref. 2915 will fetch over $25k (some say they should be worth as much as $50k). But, the point is, vintage is the way to go.
And in this category, while all of the above mentioned watches belong in an 'Ultimate Watch Collection', if I could only have one, it would be the Speedmaster.
If I have a Speedmaster, I don't necessarily crave any of the others. But if I have any of the others, I will definitely still crave a Speedmaster.
Next week, the Ultimate Complication Watch.