The Peculiar World of Niche Sports Watches


Looking beyond the sports watch as a general term, I find it interesting to see how many watches were created with a specific sporting activity in mind. On one hand it makes sense, as it is one of those last bastions of “over-engineering with a purpose”. The level of stress, vibration, impact, and other testing conditions put on a watch during any sporting event can be significant giving modern-day luxury watchmakers a new set of specific challenges to overcome.

Anything but Average Watches

Depending on the sporting event in question, there’s even the matter of lightness and wearing comfort. Adding mass to the wrist of a pro golfer (for example) could throw someone off their game quite easily. Realistically the target “end user” for these kinds of watches is the amateur public, and with these watches often being released in small batches, it’s not that hard to see how brands wouldn’t have that much trouble finding a buying audience for any of the watches we’ve looked at below.

Panerai Luminor 1950 Regatta 3-Days Flyback Chronograph

Regatta timers/yachting timers are an interesting offshoot of the conventional chronograph, and over the years we’ve seen some interesting executions including this cleverly executed Panerai. Aside from featuring a central seconds and minutes chronograph complication (with hours counted on its subdial at 3 o’clock), it also has a feature that we’re pretty sure is unique to this piece specifically.

Boating Watch Panerai Luminor Flyback

You’ll notice that the last 5 minute increments before 12 o’clock are orange with the word “Start” above them, as well as an additional pusher at the 4 o’clock mark (which happens to be capped in orange). Using this pusher, you can set the chronograph start point to count down up to 5 minutes. If you aren’t familiar with sailing races, the “start flag” begins a countdown where boats have to kill 5 minutes before they can cross their starting gate, making this countdown setup the ideal wristwear in a regatta. Granted there are digital timers/watches/etc that could also take on the task, but we love the fact that Panerai thought to take it on as a mechanical complication.

TAG Heuer Connected Golf Edition

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum (and not remotely mechanical), the new Golf Edition of the TAG Heuer Connected watch is incredibly thoughtful and clever in its execution, and a perfect companion for the avid recreational golfer. The watch puts a ton of useful data from the course onto your wrist, including 3D renderings of the course, hazard distances, score and shot tracking, and comprehensive data logging so you can monitor your performance over time.

Through its app you can also keep score for up to four players as you’re out on the course, and as more data is collected, the app will begin predicting/suggesting which club you should be using based on your current position and distance from the hole. All told, 39,000 of the world’s golf courses are currently in its database, and we were told by TAG staff that requests for new courses can be submitted by users, with an anticipated turn-around time of a couple of weeks to get your favorite local course set up in the app.

Richard Mille RM 70-01 Tourbillon Alain Prost

When this watch first launched, many of us had to take a pause, then ask “wait, it does what?” The Tourbillon Alain Prost was created for the famed F1 driver, yet has absolutely nothing to do with motorsports. Instead, Richard Mille tapped into Alain’s other personal passion–cycling. Alongside its time indication, the digital display on the upper part of the dial is referred to by the brand as a digital odometer, though in reality it is more of a mechanical counter where each digit can be adjusted manually. It was initially created for Alain’s multi-day distance cycling adventures, though its wearer could technically use the counter for any number of things.

Watch for Cycling: Richard Mille RM 70

One detail that is more cycling specific is the design of its case (as well as the choice of lightweight materials). The concave curve to the one side of its case is designed to keep the watch from digging into the wrist while riding, while its carbon TPT case keeps its overall weight trimmed down far lower than would be if manufactured from steel or even titanium.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

For those that don’t know the history lesson here already, seeing a Reverso on the list is likely confusing. Surprisingly, the original steel-backed Reverso was designed for polo players all the way back in 1931. At the time, long before the use of sapphire crystals or even plexiglass, actual glass was used as a watch crystal, and in high-impact games like polo, damage proved inevitable.

Rather than cooking up a new material, the Reverso mechanism was developed, allowing the watch to be flipped over and protected by a steel backing during the polo match, and flipped back when it was “safe” to check the time. Clever, right? Though it didn’t really catch on right away to the level of mainstream popularity desired, it now holds firm position as the most iconic watch in Jaeger-LeCoultre history.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Panerai Richard Mille Sports Tag Heuer