Edward Howkins, Apr 2 2021

Why Are Steel Sports Watches So Popular?

Why Are Steel Sports Watches So Popular?

We at The Watch Collectors’ Club embrace all kinds of watch. One dominates the world of luxury watches like no other. That is the sports watch. We don’t mean a digital or smartwatch that can track your heartbeat and tell you when you get lost, but a smart looking timepiece made of steel that’s waterproof and robust. There are two main reasons these watches remain so massively popular: Fashion, and Practicality.

Fashion is always the most important trend for a product like watches. Here at the WCC we are not fashion commentators so this post will focus on the convenience, usability, and the general practicality of the watches.

Practicality means ease of use. Steel sports watches are mostly what is known as “Tool” watches. This name comes from when the watch industry produced watches to be used as tools for specific purposes, as well as telling the time.


During WWII, military uses dominated, and Swiss watch companies supplied all sides. Different specifications were demanded for military use, but most importantly, watches for pilots and sub-sea divers were in great need.

In the 1950s and 1960s, there was an explosion of new products which served new and exciting uses. For example, scuba diving or long-distance flight. Steel was the only affordable material robust enough to use for these activities, and other materials were too expensive, so steel cases became the standard.

This period left us with the two main watch types we see in the market today: chronographs and dive watches. Chronographs (stop watches) have been around for a very long time. Their association with Motorsports in the 1950s and 1960s saw them rise considerably in popularity. Pilots also found chronographs very useful.

These motor racing watches needed protection against bumps and vibration, and a very accurate stop watch function. Dive watches needed thick cases as protection against water depths and against bumps and knocks.

The final innovation that came in this era was an integrated steel bracelet, to ensure the steel sports watch was harder to damage or lose. There are many famous types of bracelet invented by different brands at this time. Their role was to give additional security to the wearer through strength, with a large clasp replacing the traditional buckle.

In summary, these watches were more useful, more distinctive, and more associated with exciting glamorous activities than prior types of watches. This is also where the term “Sports Watch” comes from; watches associated with sports such as scuba diving or racing.


The Swiss watch industry had designed a great selection of these watches. They were completely distinct from their collections of watches designed and for every day or evening wear. It was a golden period for experimentation, innovation, and sales growth. But it was not to last.

Electric watches began to be introduced from 1957, but everything changed when in 1969 the first Quartz crystal electric watch was launched by Seiko of Japan. Due to its accuracy, this new technology was an immediate hit. In 1972 the first LED watch was released by Hamilton of the USA. Developments over the 1970s saw technologies combine to allow the sale of small, lightweight watches, often with a digital display.

These were now the most fashionable and most useful watches people could buy. Older watches became deeply unfashionable for many watch buyers. They were heavy and in need of winding up and regular servicing. Swiss watches rapidly fell out of fashion.


From the 1990s to today there has been a steady and continued rise in watches being worn with pride and/or as a status symbol. There has also been massive growth in areas around the world where high-end Swiss watches are now sold. The materials the watches are made of are better than ever, while the designs from previous decades are an endless source for inspiration for current models.

This explains the growing popularity trend. Companies, such as Rolex, Breitling, and Tag Heuer have always had offerings in this space and made them a key to their success. We are now seeing other companies add offerings. This gives watch owners more and more choice, and not always at premium prices as recent models like theSwatch IronyandCasio All Metal G-Shockdemonstrate.

Brands such as Rolex and Patek Phillipe have very cleverly marketed a limited supply of these watches. They release limited editions and new versions each year but in small quantities which gives people enough novelty to keep the style exciting. At the same time, smaller brands are launching their own watches in the category, even if they have never participated in tool watches previously (A Lange & Sohne were a good example of this in 2019).


We at The Watch Collector’s Club don’t believe there is a best sports watch, and we are interested in all of them. On Thursday April 8th at 18:30 pm BST we will be hosting our second Watch Collectors’ Club Virtual Showcase, to look at some of yours! It’s very simple, you send us a couple of pics about your watch and tell us about it. Where you got it, what you like about it, and any other interesting points you’d like to share. We will do the same, and together we will all see and hear about some great timepieces. If you want to just listen in, that’s fine too. Please just let us know you’d like to join us though any of our channels, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn or via email.

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