In today’s consumer society, there are a multitude of luxury watch brands to choose from all claiming to be the greatest; however, each brand has their own particular style, heritage, and personality, making it impossible to determine which is the all-time best. So how do you choose which watch brand is right for you?
While there are many luxury watch brand owners out there arguing that one particular brand is, indeed, the absolute greatest—do not let them fool you. In actuality, there are so many different attributes of each brand important to each buyer or owner that a simple list of “the best” or attempts to rank the brands in detail would be useless. Instead, here is a list of the multitude of high-end luxury watch brands split up by the few parent companies that own each of them.
Major Watch Holding Companies
Based out of Switzerland, this luxury goods holding company owns several prestigious brands that specialize in jewelry, luxury watches and premium accessories. In 1988, South-African businessman Johan Rupert founded Compagnie Financiere Richemont SA to serve as a holding company for the luxury goods market. As a publicly traded company, Richemont sells and distributes premium jewelry, watches, clothing, accessories, and many other luxury goods. According to the Swiss Market index of market capitalization in 2012, Richemont SA is the sixth largest corporation.
Brands Under the Richemont Umbrella
A. Lange & Söhne: Founded in 1845 in Germany, A. Lange & Söhne is revered as one of the best high-end watch manufacturers for its unique assortment of superior watches. A. Lange & Söhne distinguishes itself as an opulent brand with quality craftsmanship. With the exception of a very few special edition watches, A. Lange & Söhne watches are made of gold or platinum. In addition, all of these watches consist of mechanical rather than quartz movements. (Read: A. Lange & Söhne History)
Baume & Mercier: Originating in 1830 in Switzerland, Baume & Mercier, a manufacturer a part of the Richemont group, has established itself as a luxury manufacturer of sporty chronographs. With high attention to detail, Baume & Mercier offers a range of authentic timepieces with that embody a contemporary look and modern feel. Today, the company is internationally known for its high-quality lines and adherence to the rules of truly fine Swiss craftsmanship.
Cartier: Since its foundation, Cartier has been hailed as one of the finest jewelers across the world, and is still recognized today as one of the best manufacturers of luxury jewelry and watches. Cartier’s watches passionately mix passion, delicacy, and boldness into one timepiece, making it one the world’s most well-known luxury watch brands. Many credit Cartier with making the first wristwatch; however, it is hard to determine who exactly created the first wristwatch. Regardless, Cartier undoubtedly made wristwatches popular to the general public. In essence, Cartier timepieces fuse cutting-edge technology with genuine passion making its watch brand a favorite among many watch aficionados.
IWC: Founded in 1868, the International Watch Company (IWC) began by fusing Swiss craftsmanship and American modern manufacturing techniques. IWC stays true to its tradition of using American engineering procedures in creating its watches in order to appeal to the American market. (Read: Brand to Know: IWC)
Jaeger-LeCoultre: Founded in Switzerland in 1833, Jaeger-LeCoultre distinguishes itself by mixing innovation with elegant design. In addition, Jaeger-LeCoultre is considered the first company to control all stages of the timepiece production in-house. This company has had many innovative creations, such as creating the world’s smallest caliber, the world’s most complicated wristwatch, and many more. With eight distinct timepiece collections, Jaeger-LeCoultre offers a wide variety and has many different partnerships across all industries, including motorsports, polo and marine preservation.
Montblanc: Founded in Germany in 1906, Montblanc was named appropriately after the tallest mountain in Europe to signify the high aspirations and goals the founders had for the brand. In addition, the founders used the snow-covered peak of the Montblanc mountain to create the brand’s most recognizable symbol, which is today seen as the white stylized six-pointed star with rounded edges.
Panerai: Founded in Florence, Italy in 1860, Panerai initially started by supplying precision timepieces to the Italian Navy. However, the company today is now internationally recognized as a luxury watch brand that blends Italian features, Swiss innovation and a passion for the sea.
Piaget: Founded in 1874, Piaget has become world renowned for its luxurious watches and jewelry. With a dual-status as both a watchmaker and jeweler, the company has created jeweled watches, coin watches, ring watches, brooch watch and cufflink watches. All of these watches emphasize the brand’s superior skill as a fine jewelry company.
Roger Dubuis: Roger Dubuis watches are known for incorporating delicate gemstones into the design of their watches. This brand balances traditional craftsmanship with avant-garde designs.
Vacheron Constantin: Founded in 1755 by Jean-Marc Vacheron, the company is considered to be one of the oldest watch manufacturers in the world with an uninterrupted record. Vacheron Constantin has distinguished itself by creating luxury watches made with the highest technological innovations. For instance, the timepieces incorporate perpetual calendars, chronographs, moon-phases and jumping hours. Despite its beginning centuries ago, the brand’s luxury watch look has not changed since its foundation and the company continues to include extensive detail into every crevice and part of the watch.
Van Cleef & Arpels: Founded in 1896, Van Cleef & Arpels mixes technological innovation, unprecedented manufacturing skills and unparalleled innovation in making its watch and jewelry creations.
As a French multinational luxury goods conglomerate, based in Paris, LVMH is a result of the 1987 merger of Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy. Christian Dior is the main holding company of LVMH; therefore, Bernard Arnault, the chairman of Dior, is also the CEO of LVMH. LVMH contains a portfolio of over 60 brands in a variety of industries ranging from watches and jewelry to cosmetics and perfume.
Brands Under the LVMH Umbrella
BVLGARI: Combining Italian design with traditional Swiss expertise, Bvlgari prides itself in making watches of the highest creative caliber. Made with high levels of precision and strict quality standards, Bvlgari is a leader in the luxury watch industry.
Chaumet: Founded in 1780 in Paris, Chaumet remains true to its legend as a brand of unstoppable glamor and success. The company distinguishes itself by flawlessly incorporating styles from each century into its rich and spirited designs. Chaumet’s watch lines typically reflect the splendid designs of the Romantic period and the beauty of the cameos during the late 1800s.
Hublot: Found in 1980 by Maksim Kuts, Hublot immediately sparked a revolution by combining a rubber strap with precious metal in creating a watch. Today, many luxury watch brands use rubber straps in designing their watches; however, Hublot is still recognized as the main one that uses this design. In essence, Hublot is unique for making its watchbands out of indestructible rubber and merging Swiss craftsmanship and Italian design. (Read: Brand to Know: Hublot)
TAG Heuer: Founded in 1860, TAG Heuer is one of the largest and most desired brands honored for making the most accurate timepieces in the world. Known for creating watches of incredible precision, the company prides itself on its excellence in design and constant quest for innovation. Whether the preference is for a comfortable timepiece suitable for aquatics, or an impressive evening wear piece adorned in jeweled splendor, TAG Heuer has unique creations for every customer.
Zenith: Beginning in 1865 as a high-end luxury Swiss watch manufacture, Zenith has long been regarded as being one of the few companies to produce all of their movements in-house. In addition, the company prides itself on being the most rugged luxury watch brand in its ability to be water resistant in the deepest depths. Zenith’s most distinguishable feature is its window that allows the owner to see the main gears turn and perform all of its functions.
Founded in the early 1980s, Swatch is the world’s largest watch company that not only owns many of the most well-known luxury watch brands in the world, but all has its own watch brand collection. In hopes of recapturing the entry-level market share, the Swatch line consists of unique and interesting watches that appeal to the watch lover on a budget.
Brands Under the Swatch Group Umbrella
Blancpain: Founded in 1735 by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain, this brand stays true to its often repeated slogan: “Since 1735, there has never been a quartz Blancpain watch. And there never will be.” As the leading mission of the company, Blancpain differentiates itself from other brands by remaining adamantly true to its devotion to the mechanical wristwatch. Not once has the brand manufactured a quartz wristwatch. Blancpain’s mechanical watches aren’t trendy watches but instead classical in their elegance and simplicity.
Breguet: Always ahead of its time in innovation and technology, Breguet was founded in 1775 in Switzerland. Known for numerous inventions in the world of luxury watches, Breguet is most famous for inventing the tourbillon. Always built by the most talented Swiss watch makers, these watches are known today for their hand engraved silver dials and intricately finished cases with the famous Breguet signature.
Glashütte Original: Since its foundation, Glashütte Original has always constructed every component of its famous Glashütte Original watch within its own factory instead of outsourcing parts from all over parts of the world. Glashütte Original stays true to this tradition because its mission is to provide buyers consistency in craftsmanship throughout every piece of the watch. The company prides itself on its signature watch features that include: polished steel parts, blue screws, hand-engraving of the Glashütte Original logo and gold screw mounted chatons. (Read: Glashütte Original History)
Hamilton: For more than 100 years, Hamilton played a large role in the American watch industry, staying true to the pioneering and creative spirit that has shaped the American culture. Using Swiss watch-making expertise, Hamilton combines Swiss mechanics with American spirit to appeal to the American market, in addition to others across the world.
Harry Winston: Founded in New York City in 1932, Harry Winston is known for changing the world of modern jewelry and transforming diamonds and jewels into works of fine art. Since its beginning, Harry Winston has gained a huge following in the world of high-end jewelry and watch consumers in America and beyond. In 1989, Harry Winston began making timepieces based on the concept of mixing true authenticity and luxury into the company.
Longines: Based in a Swiss Town since 1832, Longines has been revered worldwide for its technical expertise in designing precise and advanced watches. Aiming to create elegant, yet performance geared watches, the company has garnered respect and popularity in the world of sports and aviation.
OMEGA: Founded in Switzerland in 1848, Omega’s durability and accuracy has made the brand the choice of many adventurous industries, such as being the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games since 1932, in addition to being the first watch on the moon in 1969 with NASA. Recently, Omega has changed the luxury watch world by introducing coaxial mechanics into the industry.
Rado: Headquartered in Switzerland, Rado introduced the use of scratch-proof materials into the world of luxury watchmaking and is still recognized today for making some of the most durable watches. This brand distinguishes itself with its clean, modern and innovative designs. Comfort and usability are two extremely important elements that go into the design process of Rado watches.
Tiffany & Co.: Using technology and manufacturing skills from its owner, the Swatch Group, Tiffany Watch Co. Ltd fuses Tiffany’s impeccable designs with Swiss mechanics to create its notable high-end luxury watches.
Tissot: Since its start in 1852, Tissot Swiss watches are known as traditional innovators for developing high-tech products, special materials, and advanced functionality. For instance, the company introduced the world’s first touch screen watch in 1999, making itself world renowned for advanced technology and invention.
Brands Under the Rolex Umbrella
Rolex: Founded in 1905, Rolex is arguably the best known and most popular luxury watch brand in the world. World renowned for being the greatest maker of luxury watches, Rolex invented several well-known watch concepts that changed the industry for the better. Some of these inventions include the first “certified chronometer,” the first effective “waterproof” and dustproof watch casing, the first wristwatch with an automatic changing date, and the mass-manufacturing techniques of luxury watches. With the highest resale value of any other luxury watch brand, Rolex’s top collections include the Oyster-Perpetual, Submariner and Sea Dweller and many more.
Tudor: Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex watches, created the Tudor brand based on the idea of offering consumers the reliability and dependability of a Rolex, at a lower price. The company uses the same case materials, bracelets, and dials; however, Tudor’s movements are usually a Swiss-made ETA movement rather than an in-house Rolex movement. In essence, Tudor’s lower price is intended to appeal to a wider international audience. (Read: Watch Brand to Know: Tudor)
Brands Under the Kering Umbrella
Girard Perregaux: Established in 1791, Girard-Perregaux distinguishes itself as being one of the only Swiss watch companies that still develops and manufactures all components of the watch-making process in-house. Today, the company designs and develops many essential watch movements. For instance, the company manufactures the Tourbillon, mechanical movements and quartz movements.
Gucci: Known for its double “G” logo for many, many years, Gucci incorporates its infamous double “G” logo into its timepieces. Similar to how Gucci creates its other luxury goods, Gucci includes a wide variety of materials into its timepieces. For instance, Gucci watches come in a variety of straps, including metal, brown calfskin, black crocodile, and so on. Overall, the brand distinguishes itself by creating watches that are luxurious and edgy in their combination of various bold and creative materials.
Ulysse Nardin: Founded in 1846 in Switzerland, the company historically began by manufacturing marine chronometers; however, today, the company produces complicated mechanical watches. In addition, the company revived using enameling in the art of watch-making.
Brands Under the Movado Umbrella
Concord: Founded in 1908 in Switzerland, Concord was the first private luxury watch brand to incorporate precious metals and gems in its watches. In addition, the company was the first to make a wristwatch out of coins, which is a trend that has been popular since then.
Ebel: Founded in 1911 in Switzerland, Ebel stays true to its foundation of creating luxury watch brands with highly-valued innovative design. Ebel distinguishes itself among other brands for its fusion of architecture and design. Since its beginning, Ebel has had long lasting links with the world of architecture and design, channeling the work of famous architectures into its designs.
Movado: Founded in 1881 in Switzerland, Movado’s name stands for “always in motion” and stays true to its name by always being up to date on the current trends and innovations. Today, the company is best known for its Museum Watch, a watch recognized by its single gold dot on the face depicting the sun, while the hands represent the movement of the earth.
“Independent” Watch Brands
Today, few watch brands can claim to be independently owned and operated. While there are still a few actual independent brands out there, many watch companies are owned by holding companies with smaller or more diverse portfolios. They operate more or less independently.
Audemars Piguet: When Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet joined forces in 1875, they created Audemars Piguet, which is still in the hands of the founding families today. Since the company’s foundation, Audemars Piguet has stayed true to its original goal of crafting complicated luxury watches. Still today, this company is the oldest luxury watch manufacturing company that has never left the hands of its founding families, which has allowed the company to follow its own unique vision.
Bell & Ross: Bell & Ross is the result of a team of Swiss watch manufacturers and another team of aircraft control specialists joining forces in 1992 to create what has become known as one of the greatest luxury watch brands that can withstand extremely rugged conditions. In essence, Bell & Ross watches offer the wearer the luxurious look of a designer watch and the resilience of a sporty watch. These luxury watches can handle severe temperatures, extreme acceleration and high altitudes. (Read: Watch Brand to Know: Bell & Ross)
Bovet: Founded in London, Bovet originated on the idea that the founder wanted to manufacture watches exclusively for the Chinese market. In the 1990’s, Bovet produced its now infamously unique watch style, which incorporates various elements of the pocket watch form in its construction. For instance, this pocket-watch inspired wristwatch contains lugs that were unique to pocket watches before the introduction of this wristwatch. Overall, all of Bovet’s watches can be distinguished for their high-quality enameling, engraving, and seven-day self-winding Tourbillon.
Breitling: Known for their precisely made timepieces, Breitling has been producing Swiss watches since 1884. Originally manufacturing watches for the aviation industry, Breitling’s watches offer many functions to benefit those in the aviation industry, such as the fact that all of their watches have a large face for better visibility and to allow the display of more information on the analog dials. In addition, many of the new models feature a purely mechanical automatic winding mechanism. However, despite all these features, Breitling’s watches are more popular in the luxury watch industry and status symbols than in the aviation industry.
Chopard: Founded in 1860, Chopard is a Swiss luxury watch company that has stayed true to its origins of developing precise pocket watches and chronometers based upon innovative ideas. Made of fine gold and encrusted with jewels, Chopard is world renowned for its luxury watches.
Chronoswiss: Founded in Germany in 1983, Chronoswiss is known for its extraordinary mechanical timepieces that are easily recognized across the world for their guilloche dials, onion crowns and coin-edged cases. In addition, the company is famous for specializing in a variety of under-the-dial complications, as well as some modestly priced skeleton-like prices.
Corum: Founded in 1955, Corum is known for creating its world famous Coin Watch using the $20 gold coin. Credited for innovation and creativity, Corum has always been considered a luxury watch label that incorporates ideas from the pioneering spirit that founded the United States into the manufacturing of its watches.
de Grisogono: One of the most prolific designers of our time, Fawaz Gruosi has created jeweled watches for the wealthy of Switzerland and across the world since the brand was born in 2000. de Grisogono watches are famous for its unique designs and first-class quality artistry.
Franck Muller: For the past 15 years, Franck Muller watches has marked itself as a reputable brand for its self-winding and manual mechanisms. Franck Muller has introduced many inventions over the years, including 22 watches that brought new concepts and technology to the luxury watch industry.
Maurice Lacroix: Since beginning in the 1990’s, Maurice Lacroix watches have been uniting modern precision measures with high-end materials into its Swiss watch-making process. In essence, the company seeks to develop attractive functions in the mechanical watch models.
Oris: Since 1904, Oris has been known for only producing mechanical watches. In essence, the brand is highly regarded for staying true to its roots and initial manufacturing process. The company divides it watches into four sectors: motorsport, aviation, diving, and culture.
Patek Philippe: Founded in 1839, Patek Philippe has created a world-renowned luxury watch brand. Known for pioneering the perpetual calendar, split-seconds hand, chronograph and minute repeater, the brand makes all of its movements in-house and creates watches that celebrate quality craftsmanship.
Universal Geneve: Founded in 1894, Universal Geneve is internationally known for its superior craftsmanship and manufacturing skills. In addition, the brand claims to have created the first-ever chronograph in 1917.
Image Credits: Header; Richemont.