Rectangular watches have long been revered for their timeless elegance and sophisticated design. Distinctive in shape, these watches were a departure from the conventional circular design of clocks and pocket watches common of their era. The attraction to rectangular watches captured the imagination among watchmakers and slowly became a symbol of both refined taste and sense of style.
When you think of a rectangular watch, the one that started it all is the Cartier Tank. An icon since 1917, the Tank has been on the wrist of some of the most famous people in history, from Fred Astaire, Yves Saint Lauren and Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
While we appreciate the legacy of Cartier, there is still a trove of great rectangular watches that don’t get nearly as much fanfare. These watches come from some of the world's most prestigious watch brands and carry their own stories of innovation, craftsmanship, and flair.
Let’s explore these under-the-radar watches and discover the remarkable qualities of these hidden gems.
There’s no question that Piaget has seen a resurgence in recent months and for good reason. During the early 1960s, Piaget produced some of the most unique and visually stunning watches on the market. Their dedication to creativity was admired by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, and Andy Warhol.
Cast in 18k gold, this Protocole model from the 80s has an intriguing textured case paired with a classic Roman numeral dial. Piaget’s motto was "always do better than necessary.” A discrete watch to most but for a seasoned watch collector, an understated work of art. At 28mm it’s reminiscent of a classic tank but at a fraction of the price.
As someone who dresses up everyday, there’s something special about this watch that draws you in. With its ultra-thin 9P hand-wound movement, this Piaget watch sits so flush on the wrist you’ll hardly notice it's there. It’s an amazing dress watch for someone looking for a bit of sophistication and elegance.
I’m never surprised to find out when a company like Omega has a watch reference that is nearly identical to other watch references we love. During The 60s and 70, Omega was a hive of different watch lines, dial configurations and case shapes. Known primarily for their Speedmaster, The De Ville was one of Omega's most popular dress models during this period.
Often overlooked, the Omega De Ville was a slim and more sophisticated watch with its delicate finishing but also very reliable. This unique looking model comes from our friends at Huntington Company.
At under 1k, this piece has a similar presence to the Cartier Tank but without the heavy price tag. You get a two-toned 26mm case with pinstriped gold inlay and hidden lugs. Also a one-of-a-kind houndstooth dial that's faded to a nice tropical brown color. The Gold stick hands and a gold crown top it all off and it's clear to see why a watch like this is the perfect companion with a tailored suit.
Reminiscent of a special watch worn by Robert F. Kennedy, this rectangular watch won’t help you become president but it will set you apart from the crowd. For a novice collector, watches like this one are a perfect place to start when you’re interested in rectangular watches.
While Audemars Piguet is mostly known for the success of the Royal Oak, there was a time when this horological giant would only produce a few new or unique pieces a year. Far from the large oversized watches you see today, AP was once focused on incredibly simple and well-produced dress watches.
As one of the holy-trinity of watchmakers, Audemars Piguet produced some of the world 's thinnest watches of the time and epitomized what an elegant dress watch should be. Some of their rectangular models are still among the most coveted vintage watches on the market but there are still a few that sit under-the-radar.
Gold was often a symbol of wealth during the 1970 and wearing it represented a particular status. This Audemars Piguet “Tank” was cast in 18k yellow gold and its 23mm rectangular case, though small, has an outstanding 'hobnail' finishing that isn’t seen much in modern watches. Along with its matching 'pencil' handset you get a sterile champagne dial, printed with the vintage Audemars Piguet logo.
Watches like this are few and far between. For someone who fawns over the path less taken, this is a classic and true dress watch in its purest form.
Another Piaget piece is on this list and for good reason. Piaget was a company pushing the boundaries between exquisite jewelry and watches. With a focus primarily on dress watches, Piaget experimented with various case shapes and exotic materials. Featuring their ultra-thin calibers, Piaget's use of precious stones like lapis lazuli, opal, malachite, jade and tiger’s eye for their dials, catapulted them into the spotlight as a young, vibrant company whose creativity was unbound.
These stone dial watches were absent of any hour markers or embellishments. At their release, they were considered the epitome of luxury. Cut within 1mm, the manufacturing of these stone dials was delicate and quite costly. It wasn’t just about the precious stones though, Piaget revolutionized the way that color was being used in watches at this time.
Piaget stone dials watches are really all about making a statement. This Ref 9154 from the 1980’s is simple and immaculate. The combination of 18k white gold, lapis dial and dauphine hands, puts these pieces high on the wishlist for many collectors.
The rarity of these watches hinges on the condition of the stone dial. A collectors grade or top quality example, like this one, won’t have any signs of wear or cracking. Each dial is unique and no two dials will look the same. If I were to have my pick of the litter, this would be the one.
While Patek Philippe has produced some of the world's most desirable watches, there was a time where they struggled to sell them. Affected by the aftermath of World War I, Patek looked for allies in the quest for market growth and expansion. Surprisingly it was a Brazilian retailer by the name of Gondolo & Labouriau that showcased the Maison’s products and were responsible for almost one-third of Patek sales during that time.
When looking at rectangular watches it’s hard to miss the nod that most of these watches have to the Art-Deco period. Sharp lines, minimalist dials, attractive indicators… The Gondolo as it was known, is exemplified by this timeless style and reminds us of its simplicity and elegance.
This Gondolo ref. 3799 speaks to one of Patek Philippe’s most prosperous periods. Sporting a stunning blue dial we’ve all grown to love, this unusual model doesn’t get as much fanfare as the lauded Ellipse.
With an oversized 28mm, 18k gold case and dauphine hands, this watch is a head turner. While the Cartier Tank might be more popular, this Gondolo deserves recognition for its classic proportions and attention to detail. This is a unique reference that’s seeing more deserved attention from collectors today as smaller dress and precious metal watches have been more in vogue.
While trends in watch design have evolved over the years, the enduring appeal of rectangular watches has remained unwavering. While it's clear that the Cartier tank is the standard when it comes to the genre, there is still an abundance of other under-appreciated models in the market today.
Over the years, rectangular watches have adapted to modern tastes and technological advancements, demonstrating resilience and versatility in a changing market. With their ability to seamlessly blend tradition with innovation, it seems likely that they’ll continue to captivate watch collectors for decades to come.