We don’t generally think of rugged watches as being particularly luxurious, but that doesn’t stop some decidedly upmarket brands from producing them anyway. The trend has roots in watches like the Submariner and the Fifty Fathoms, both purpose-built dive watches developed by high-end brands, and their prices reflected that fact even in the ‘50s. In 1972, the concept was cemented thanks to Audemars Piguet requesting a steel sport watch design from Gerald Genta, resulting in the famed Royal Oak. These days a Royal Oak may not be considered rugged, but it’s laid the path for plenty of capable, over-engineered tool watches from luxury brands that, for some reason, have gotten under our skin in the best ways possible.
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Tudor Pelagos Ref. 25600TB
The Tudor Pelagos was introduced alongside the Black Bay in 2012, and while the Black Bay receives most of the attention, the Pelagos takes a far more rugged approach to the dive watch. The case is titanium, the clasp has a trick “floating” mechanism to ensure proper fit (even over a dive suit), and the depth rating has you covered to 500 meters, complete with a built in HEV. The latest models even get Tudor’s very own in-house automatic movement.
Oris Aquis Source of Life Limited Edition
Oris has been making a lot of the right moves in recent years, with original designs, in-house movements, and honest pricing. Who says luxury has to be expensive? This limited edition Aquis Source of Life celebrates the role of water in creating and sustaining life. We love it for its rich blue dial, novel date display, and all around robust design. The integrated rubber strap and 300-meter depth rating make this a formidable tool watch all around.
IWC Pilot XVIII Tribute to XI
This IWC Pilot watch pays tribute to the famous Mk XI military pilot’s watch from the late ‘40s that became the first in a long line of watches that we know today as the Mk XVIII. Those credentials alone earn it a spot on this list, and IWC backs it up with a 40-millimeter brushed steel case, a simple date window, a supremely legible dial and hand design, and a soft iron cage to protect against magnetic fields. This is a versatile everyday watch, and what are rugged watches if not practical.
Panerai PAM 562 8 Days Acciaio
The rise of Panerai may be a relatively recent phenomena, but their history of providing watches to Frogmen of the Royal Italian Navy grounds the brand in some very real and very rugged history. The PAM 562 8 Days Acciaio bears much of that provenance in its unmistakable design. The 44-millimeter case is constructed of titanium, and the dial is a simple and legible “sandwich” design with plenty of lume working underneath. Inside beats a Panerai-built hand-wound movement with a whopping eight days of power reserve.
Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref. 126600
There can’t exist a list of rugged luxury watches without a Sea-Dweller. This is a watch that’s become the archetype of over-engineered luxury tool watches, and the latest example from Rolex continues the tradition with a nod to the past. As always, the latest Ref. 126600 features a depth rating of an obscene 1,220 meters. There’s one feature here entirely new to the Sea-Dweller, however, and that’s a cyclops over the date window. Also making a return is a single line of red text for the model designation on the dial, a callback to the exceedingly rare single red Sea-Dwellers used for the SEALAB program in the ‘60s. That’s a lot of street cred as far as ruggedness goes.