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Square watches: An enduring icon of cool by Extropian

Brew Watches
Advisor Watches
Trafford Watch Co
Square watches: An enduring icon of cool by Extropian

There’s something just a little bit different about square watches isn’t there? A little difference that has made them an icon of slightly left-field cool right up to the present day. They have been worn by stars of stage and screen, famous writers, and even presidents - some pretty fabulous company to be in if you decide to sport one on your wrist! They also happen to have a pretty fascinating background littered with some of the most iconic models in the history of watchmaking. Let’s have a little look shall we?

What makes a square watch so unique?

Well, to begin with, it has to be said that a square is not the most logical shape for a watch! If you think about the technology that makes watches work you'll notice that it's largely based on round forms - all those interlocking gears and springs that we watch aficionados love so much. Also, the rotating hands on a dial are best read against numerals arranged in a perfect circle, all of which explains why most watches tend to be circular in design. It just seems to make more sense! But watchmakers as we know, get a kick out of challenging convention and hence the square watch. More on that below!

A short history of the square watch

The origins of the square watch go all the way back to 1904, when the pioneering aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont asked his friend Louis Cartier to design him a watch that wouldn’t get in his way while flying. Cartier responded by producing a timepiece which could be worn on the wrist - a genuine novelty back when most men still wore pocket watches. So, not only was it the world’s first square watch, but also the first modern wristwatch, the first pilot’s watch, and Cartier’s first tool watch. That is certainly some way to make a mark on watch making history! The Cartier Santos (as it soon became known) quickly established itself as one of the brand’s most popular models, and it’s pretty safe to say that it will always be regarded as one of the most iconic watches ever designed.

The square watch goes from strength to strength

Following the success of the Santos square watches went through a period of popularity from the 1920s to the 60s, being made by enormous brands like Elgin as well as luxury names like Longines and Rolex. They were never as common as round watches, but their slightly unconventional nature was all part of the appeal for those who did go for them! 

Many of the most iconic models were designed for specific functions rather than everyday wear. Among these were the Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso (1931), which was designed for polo players, and had a niftily designed case which could rotate so that the delicate face would be protected from all those swinging mallets! Although the most iconic version is rectangular, square versions also exist. And then there was the Heuer Monaco (1969), perhaps the most iconic square chronograph ever produced, which was created specifically to honor the Monaco Grand Prix. 

The square watch as an icon of cool…

So why has the square watch endured over the years? Well, it’s partly because they look so good! From the very beginning square and rectangular watches adopted the streamlined beauty of the Art Deco movement, making them an ideal dress watch. Many recent models have retained that same understated classical elegance which exudes a certain kind of timeless cool. No wonder they’ve appealed to numerous iconic figures over the years!

… Worn by some of the most stylish people that ever lived

Truman Capote, celebrated author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and one of the most style conscious men who ever lived, was an ardent fan of the square watch, as was legendary jazz musician Chet Baker. And they don’t come much cooler than Chet! John F. Kennedy was even sworn into office in 1961 wearing a square Omega Ultra Thin with an 18-karat gold case. Now that is stylish! 

Loved by stars of stage and screen

And ever since Rudolph Valentino wore a Cartier Tank (which is rectangular, not square, but still…) in his final film The Son of the Sheik in 1926, stars of stage and screen have always seemed to favor the four-sided timepiece. Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and David Niven are just a few of the names from Hollywood’s Golden Age who have sported a square watch on their super suave wrists. Perhaps most famously of all, that icon of timeless cool Steve McQueen wore a Heuer Monaco in the 1971 film Le Mans, which played no small part in cementing its place in the history books!  And the square watch has lost none of its appeal among contemporary style icons - Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston and Angelina Jolie have all been spotted wearing square or rectangular watches. 

Variations in shape

But wait a minute. Does a square watch have to be a literal square? Must it have four absolutely equal straight sides to qualify? Well, technically yes, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t models out there which come close to the square category without being completely square, and they’re all just as cool too! Let’s have a look at a few. 

The cushion watch and its heirs

The wonderfully named Cushion watch (and who could resist something that sounds so, well, comfortable!) is basically a square, but has rounded edges and bowed-out sides - sometimes charmingly referred to as a “squircle”. First popularized in the 1940s, it’s a common shape for sports and dive watches, but you can find it on dress watches as well. Even some watches which are technically octagonal can often look square, especially if they have four long edges and four very short ones at each corner. Think of all those classic Casio quartz and digital models from the 1970s and 80s!

Benarus - Moray Titanium 47


❤️ The bold design of this model is rocking Extropian’s world!


Brew Watches - Mastergraph


❤️ Extropian is just wild about this chunky cushion-shaped chronograph


Rectangular watches

And then of course there are rectangular watches. Although technically a slightly different shape, these are definitely a very close cousin to square watches, and date back almost as far. They were even popularized by the same brand, with the introduction of the iconic Cartier Tank in 1917. Yet another enormous success story, the Tank is still being made today, and has inspired any number of similarly shaped watches over the years. So ubiquitous was it that many watch people now refer to any rectangular model simply as a “Tank”!  Also, rectangular watches often share the same kind of design sensibility as their square relations, with a timeless, minimal elegance being the key, making them one of the most popular shapes for dress watches.

Vario VERSA Dual Time Reversible

Versa Green 1024x1024

❤️ Both ingenious and beautiful - Extropian has flipped over this reversible wonder!


Trafford Watch Co - Crossroads

Capture D’écran 2022 12 22 À 19.30.23

❤️ Extropian can’t get enough of this classic, timeless design


Square watches today

Many of the luxury brands mentioned above are still producing variations on their classics. If you have the funds, then you can still pick up a Cartier Santos, Heuer Monaco, or even a Reverso. But there are many other great options out there as well, and they don’t have to break the bank! 


Modern micro brands

Modern micro-brands in particular have jumped on the classic looks and unusual shape of the square watch to produce some great products. Something like the Vesuviate Attivo has a solid stainless-steel case and classically simple design, while the cushion shaped Brew Retrograph makes use of its spacious dial to include a chronograph. Or, if you want to go full Steve McQueen, you could even try the EMG Horizon, which pays direct homage to the Heuer Monaco with its square case, petrol blue dial, and orange accents. You can’t get much cooler than that! 


EMG - Horizon 


❤️ Extropian loves this stylish homage to an all-time classic chronograph!


Vesuviate Attivo 

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❤️ A perfect blend of rugged good looks and classic style. Extropian approves!



Whether you’re wanting to channel a cool film star vibe or simply try something a little bit different, square watches are well worth investigating. We have to say, when it comes to watch shapes it really is hip to be square! 


Models you might like 


Advisor Watches - Protégé Automatic 

Protege Blue 2

❤️ Extropian loves the marbled dial and bold angles on display here 

Maen - Manhattan 

Manhattan Wrist 3

❤️ We adore the retro 70s stylings of this octagonal beauty

Brew Watches - Method 

Brew Watches Method Blue A

❤️ Extropian can’t get enough of this cool coffee-themed chronograph

Created the 2022-12-27

Modified the 2023-12-01

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