Ever wonder how watches got their names? A few weeks ago we told you about the brand names and their origin. Today we’re going to look at the watch model names. With hundreds of past and present watches, what has been the inspiration for watchmakers and brands to call them certain names? Some are pretty straight forward, other more obscure. Finding a great name is not an easy task and is often essential to the success of a new watch. It needs to fit within the brand’s universe, while also telling its own story. It needs to be relevant, easily pronounceable, memorable and discoverable (in particular for internet search engines today). Ideally this shall be valid in different languages and for different cultures. Lastly, with the purpose of legally protecting the product’s name with a trademark application in class 14 (which includes jewellery and watches), brands need to make sure there is no infringement of an existing trademark. Monochrome looks at the back stories of some familiar watch names, often born before marketing was theorized.
Waterproof – The Oyster
The iconic Oyster was named as such because it was Rolex’s contribution to the lengthy process of creating waterproof watches; it is perfectly sealed against the outer environment like an Oyster. Beyond the technical innovations, the Oyster is among the first models to be marketed, with the ‘endorsement’ by Mercedes Gleitze who swam the Channel, supported by advertorial. This evolution was eased by the advent of the wristwatch in the first part of the 20th century and the evolution of publicity.
Rolex advertorial in the Daily Mail – 1927
War time – the Tank
To draw the brand’s signature model, Louis Cartier draw inspiration from the Renault Tank FT used by the French forces in the later stages of World War I, and a prototype (of the watch) was presented to General John Pershing. Although some Cartier watches with comparable designs were made before Louis Renault began working on the concept, the cult tank is indeed named upon the armored vehicle with its square face and perfectly integrated strap held in between two straight parallel brancards. For those troubled by this warlike inspiration, French designer, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s words will help: “If all tanks were made by Cartier, we would have time to live in peace!”
Materials – Radiomir
The first models of the cushion-shaped Panerai model were created, before World War II, for the Royal Italian Navy frogmen. To make the numerals glow in the dark underwater, the Florentine brand were using Radiomir, a special luminescent paint made with Radium bromide. A few years later, it is superseded by a Tritium based compound protected by a trademark, Luminor and Panerai draws again inspiration from the name of this newly patented substance for its new model with its crown-protecting bridge.
An early Panerai Radiomir from 1938 with its 47mm steel case
Geography – Monaco
Tag Heuer’s legendary chronograph was obviously named upon the principality of Monaco, home of the legendary Grand Prix. The Heuer square case chronograph was soon seen on the wrist of the iconic Steve McQueen, in the 1971 film Le Mans. Numerous watches are named after places. For instance, IWC has the Portofino, which is another destination for the rich and famous. Beyond the stories connected to a given place, the corresponding trademark interpretation (in short, no geographic term can be registered as a trademark) may influence such choices.
Clients – Portugieser
The origins of the name of one of the most iconic models from IWC date back to the 1930s when 2 Portuguese businessmen – Rodrigues and Teixeira – ordered wristwatches with the precision of chronometers from IWC. To meet this accuracy, watchmakers opted for a large pocket watch movement (the caliber 74 with a diameter of 38mm) housed in a case with a thin bezel that makes it look even bigger, specifically at a time when watches were much smaller. With a more directly and functional inspiration, the Rolex Explorer is designed for discovery/adventures and earned its name from the Himalayan expeditions supported by Rolex.
Tree – Royal Oak
The Royal Oak is the tree behind which King Charles II of England hid to escape from pursuers following the battle of Worcester in 1651. Several ships from the Royal Navy were christened after that very Royal Oak and Audemars Piguet’s iconic luxury sport watch is thought to have been named after these ship’s portholes. Yet, Gerald Genta was inspired for the design of its octagonal bezel by a diver with an old-fashioned diving suit and helmet emerging from the waters of Lake Geneva.
Numbers – Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe watches come by numbers. Connoisseurs call them with their 4 digit reference number, not names. Still the Calatravas, Nautilus or Star calibers have their own story. The name Calatrava (after the knights of Calatrava), for instance, was chosen after the cross chosen by Patek to bring protection and luck. MB&F labels its horological and legacy machines with numbers, so does Richard Mille with his creations. The Louis Vuitton 55 is named after the Roman numerals LV, the initials of the world’s largest luxury brand.
Blue blood – Prince
Without surprise for external signs of wealth, several watches bear aristocratic names like the Rolex Prince, the FP Journe Souveraine (sovereign in French) or the Hublot King Power. Noble names may also refer to famous clients of the brands. In the early 19th century, Breguet manufactured several watches for Caroline Murat, the Queen of Naples, including a watch to be worn on the wrist (the Reine de Naples is still in the collection). During the 1930s, Cartier designed a waterproof watch for the Pasha of Marrakesh, lord of the Atlas.
During the 1930s, Cartier designed a waterproof watch for the Pasha of Marrakesh, lord of the Atlas.
Performance – Speedmaster
In the late 1950s, the Speedmaster name was coined from the model’s tachymeter scale of the Omega sport and racing chronograph, before earning the additional name ‘moon watch’ ticking on the moon during Apollo 11 mission. The story of dive watches like the Fifty Fathoms (a depth of 300 feet or 91.4 meters) or the Ploprof (for Plongeur Professionel which means professional diver) is quite straight forward.
Function – Reverso
A great name often needs to tell its own story. The Artdeco inspired Jaeger-Lecoultre Reverso case was created in 1931 to protect the watch dial in response to the request of British army officers to withstand knocks during Polo matches. Jacquet-Droz with its elegant Grande Seconde or Grönefeld with their Remontoir to provide constant force to the escapement are examples of watches labeled directly after functions offered by their movement.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso with its case design to flip the case and reveal its metal back, in order to protect the dial-side
A new world – Big Bang
Jean-Claude Biver came up with the name Big Bang on the idea to combine objects and materials in a striking contrast, mixing materials in an unprecedented way. The perfect name to market a ‘big’ watch while matching the disruptive and super-active marketing of the brand.
Shape – the Bubble
Corum with the Bubble, Omega with the BullHead Cartier with the Tonneau (Barrel) or the Baignoire (bath tube), Franck Muller with the Cintrée Curvex are among the brands to have models named upon their shape. Still with Cartier, the Crash is said be born from a car accident after a Baignoire Allongée was melted and distorted beyond recognition, inspiring Cartier to create this Daliesque piece of horological design.
Cartier Crash 1967 and 2016
In tribute – Jules Audemars
Brands often name their watches in tribute to famous characters in their history. Jules Audemars was one of the two founding fathers of Audemars Piguet. L.U.C stand for Louis-Ulysse Chopard founder of the eponymous manufacture. Dates very often follow the same purpose. The number 1815 (A. Lange & Söhne 1815 collection) stands for the year of birth of Ferdinand A Lange, while 1911 is the date when the Ebel brand was created.