Art Deco is an art movement that started in the 1920s—first in Europe (it first appeared in Paris), and then the United States. Also called style moderne and short for “Arts Décoratifs,” this type of visual art design signifies glamor and luxury, a combination of modern aesthetics and craftmanship. Art Deco designs are very decorative with sleek geometric lines, repeating patterns with vibrant colors highly ornamental motifs. The Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building in New York City are two well-known examples of art deco architecture.
Art Deco is best known for its influence on architecture, furniture, and fashion; this design movement also significantly impacted watch design. Jaeger-LeCoultre is one watch brand that stands out for its art deco-inspired watches, including The Reverso. Bulova with its “Banker” collection and Hamilton with its early “Doctor” watches are other good examples of this movement.
This article will provide some of the best Art Deco watches today and some vintage models. We’ll talk about their functions and design and provide you with watches of different price points.
You may also be interested in checking out these mid-century modern watches as there is some cross-over between these two design styles.
Best Art Deco Watches For Every Budget
Bulova Men’s Two-Tone Rectangle Watch
American brand Bulova has been around since 1875 and is one of the longest-running brands in the US watch industry.
This Art Deco Style men’s classic watch—the rectangular 35mm Bulova Men’s 98A117—has an attractive two-tone (silver and black) stainless steel bracelet, a patterned black dial, and a curved metalized crystal.
If you’d like to learn more about Bulova, you can go over to our site and read more about the brand’s history and collection in our Bulova Watch Reviews article.
We also have distinct features on the Best Bulova Watches for Men and Best Bulova Watches for Women.
This is a more affordable option compared to the Joseph Bulova collection tanks, which we’ll discuss further below.
Joseph Bulova Collection (Commodore, Banker, and Breton)
Bulova was already making watches before the Art Deco movement started. During the 1900s, the company made watches that showcased the period’s design.
Joseph Bulova Swiss Made Automatic collection was introduced in Baselworld. These are watches that pay homage to the 1920s-1950s period. Three names stand out in this collection: the classic watches Commodore, Banker, and Breton. These are the models that inspired the new releases.
The three main styles that took inspiration from these three are round, tonneau, and tank—three styles that all have Art Deco elements, such as the block fonts for the Arabic numerals and rectangular cases. All of these new models have the Sellita SW200 movement (with some parts exposed in the half-exposed caseback), and are all limited edition. The price range is around $980 to $1,500.
Atlantic Worldmaster Art Deco
Atlantic is a Swiss watch brand that has been making watches since 1888. One collection off its traditional line is the Worldmaster Art Deco, which takes inspiration from the period’s designs.
There are two main styles available: one with a case with elaborate grooves from the center of the watch, matched with Arabic and stick indices which is reminiscent of a luxurious style popular during the 1920s; and the more simple but still elegant case without the grooves but has the same font and markers.
Both of these designs go with either a stainless steel bracelet or a leather strap and have an automatic movement. The prices range from $580 to $660. You can check out all the options here.
Tissot Heritage Petite Seconde
Swiss watchmaker Tirssot’s vintage-inspired Heritage collection is composed of watches inspired by one of the brand’s collections first released in 1943.
One of these is the Heritage Petite Seconde—”aimed at men in the cities and very sought after due to its pure elegance”—is a simple yet elegant timepiece. This 42mm stainless steel watch has a domed sapphire crystal and a small seconds window at 6 o’clock.
The watch looks plain at first glance, but a closer look will reveal many exquisite details that have made it popular among collectors: the leaf-shaped hands in both the main dial and the small seconds, and the style font of the Arabic numerals. The brand also used the old Tissot logo for this model, giving the watch a vintage feel.
Most of the watches featured in this article are either inspired by old designs or are reissues of vintage models. This one by American brand Gruen, however, is an original.
Gruen Watch Co. was founded by a German watchmaker in 1908 and is currently owned by New York-based MZ Berger. Some vintage, Art Deco-inspired watches are still around today and are sold in places websites like eBay.
This pre-owned Gruen Quadron Model 77 analog watch has a gold case and a mechanical movement. This is a tonneau-shaped watch like the Bulova watches we featured above and has thick Art Deco-styled large Arabic numerals. There is also a seconds hand and a push-pull crown. This model was manufactured in the 1920s when the movement was popular. If you’d like a timepiece made during the said era, this is a good collector’s item to have—it will set you back a little over $1,000 for this particular model.
Panerai Radiomir 1940 3 Days Acciaio (PAM00791)
Panerai is an Italian watchmaker that makes watches with Swiss technology. The company has been around since the 1860s and continues to produce luxury watches today.
One of its models with an Art Deco design influence is the Panerai Radiomir 1940, which has the brand’s patented Radiomir.
According to Panerai’s website is “a radium-based powder that gives luminosity to the dials of sighting instruments and devices.” Panerai first created this innovation for the Italian Navy, for which the company was supplying high-precision and high-quality watches.
Available in black and ivory dials, these limited edition watches have elegant Art Deco Arabic numeral markers and sleek spear-shaped hands. These are large watches at 47mm. Both models are limited editions, only 300 pieces produced for each color.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso watch
The Reverso watch collection by Swiss watch brand Jaeger-LeCoultre is arguably one of the most unique watches on this list.
A Reverso watch has a reversing case, which has a fascinating history. It was created after the company needed to design a watch that is able to withstand polo matches of British Army officers. When reversed, the dial is concealed, protecting the face from mallet strokes.
The watches, which have rectangular lines and stylized gadrooning (=series of convex flutes), were inspired by the Art Deco aesthetic.
There are different types of Reverso watches. One of the models that we think stands out is the Reverso Classic Medium Thin watch, a simple yet powerful stainless steel watch with a manually wound Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 822A/2. This 40mm model has a simple hour and minute function, a silvered grey dial, and an alligator leather strap.
If you’re looking for a classic luxury watch that has stood the test of time, this Cartier Tonneau is a line worth investing in. Pictured above is the Cartier Faberge Tonneau.
The Cartier Prive Tonneau’s shape was first used by the French luxury watch company as early as 1906 and continues to be popular today. Last year, the brand released limited-edition models of this iconic shape.
In a reinterpretation of the classic watch, there are two options: a 46mm large model and the XL Dual Time Skeleton model. According to a 2018 article by Hodinkee, the rose gold with champagne dial Tonneau Large model costs around $22,400; and the platinum (limited to only 100 pieces) with a silvered dial costs approximately $26,200.
The Tonneau Large model has applied Roman numeral markers and stylish blue steel Breguet hands. The bracelet is a choice between a brown or grey alligator strap, and the movement is an in-house Caliber 1917 MC.
Hamilton Sekron Doctor’s Watch
This is another one for those who like vintage, pre-owned watches. The Hamilton Seckron Doctor’s watch is one of the Swiss brand’s timepieces that combines a sleek Art Deco design and function.
According to a post by Watch Doctor, the Hamilton Seckron watch was produced between 1935 and 1941. This was originally marketed as a watch for the working man; a watch for professionals who need to easily read the time and use another dial that counts seconds as well (like counting heart rates).
To learn more about Hamilton and its collections, you can also check out our Hamilton Watch Reviews and Best Hamilton Watches for Men and Women.
Vacheron Constantin Historiques 1921 American collection
Last but not least is another uniquely designed watch—a reissue of the Historiques American 1921, which was first introduced during the Art Deco period.
This is a 40mm watch is part of the Vacheron Constantin Historiques collection. According to this article by Monochrome Watches, the 1921 model is not based on a single watch. Rather, it was inspired by two models. You can read more about the history and changes of the designs here.
When the watch was first created, the 1921 models were limited editions for motorists. Vacheron Constantin created a watch that allowed drivers to view the time while driving easily—the unusual dial is positioned at a 45-degree angle, which allows the wearer to easily read the time without having to remove hands on the steering wheel.
Today, the watch has an in-house movement (a calibre 4400) and a small seconds subdial positioned at 3 o’clock. There is also a 36.5mm unisex version available for those who want a smaller dial. Other notable features include painted Arabic numerals, a railroad minute track, and a silver-toned dial. The American 1921 model will set you back 30,300 euros, or nearly $33,800.
Featured Image by Guy Sie