The price range of watches is as wide as a 10-lane highway. A cheap watch can go as low as $20 while the most expensive ones can beat the price of your house. But how did these luxury watch brands attain this status?
It turns out that reaching luxury status can be a combination of things — craftsmanship, rarity, and demand. But most importantly, what these luxury watch brands have in common is a rich history of watchmaking.
What are the top luxury watch brands?
Whether or not you’re searching for a new watch, here are the top luxury watch brands that truly deserve recognition. We also threw in some fun facts about each brand and which models are worth taking a look at.
1. Vacheron Constantin
Enthusiasts are fond of calling Vacheron Constantin as the “Old King”. As a matter of fact, watch enthusiasts consider this Swiss brand as one of the Holy Trinity of watchmakers. The other two luxury watch brands are Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet.
The Old King’s reign dates back to the mid-18th century and has been in continuous operation ever since. This gives it the title of the oldest watchmaker in the world with an uninterrupted history.
Of course, having that title is synonymous to dozens of achievements. They made the first-ever complication, some of the most complicated watches in the world, and the first anti-magnetic timepiece. These are only some of the many milestones that have gained the respect of watch collectors.
Fun facts about Vacheron Constantin:
- Among Vacheron Constantin’s clients are Queen Elizabeth II, Pope Pius XI, and Napoléon Bonaparte.
- Vacheron Constantin created the most complicated watch ever — the Ref. 57260.
- They can repair any Vacheron Constantin piece made since 1755.
Vacheron Constantin Overseas
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas is unique compared to the brand’s other collections. While the others have an old-fashioned, elegant look, this one is sporty. In fact, people often compare it to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus.
To this day, the Oversees models are available with different complications. A few of those are the chronograph, moon phase, and world time.
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony
Among the luxury watch brands, Vacheron Constantin produces one of the most elegant dress watches. An example of this is the Patrimony collection. Its slim profile and minimalistic dial scream class.
Like the Overseas collection, the Patrimony is available in different models. While some versions are minimal, there are a few that have complications like the Retrograde Day-Date.
2. Patek Philippe
Next on the list of luxury watch brands is Patek Philippe. If Vacheron Constantin is called the “Old King”, Patek is the “Current King” and is also part of the Holy Trinity. It has been making watches continuously since 1851.
Among the brand’s achievements are the double chronograph, precision regulator, and the annual calendar mechanism.
To many watch enthusiasts, Patek Philippe is the brand that they save up for a lifetime to pass on to the next generation. With that in mind, one of Patek Philippe’s slogan is “you never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation”.
Fun facts about Patek Philippe:
- Patek Philippe introduced the silicon escapement wheel.
- Its official name is Patek Philippe et Cie.
- It takes nine months to make the most basic Patek Philippe watch.
- Patek Philippe still uses the traditional case-making techniques from the 1800s.
Patek Philippe Nautilus
The Patek Philippe Nautilus is arguably the brand’s most recognizable model. Additionally, it is one of the most sought-after models in the watch community.
People often mistake this steel luxury sports watch for the Royal Oak. A big reason for that is because they were both designed by the same person — Gerald Genta. Interestingly, Genta drew inspiration from a ship’s porthole when making the Nautilus.
Patek Philippe Calatrava
Although the Nautilus has the spotlight, the Calatrava is what embodies the principles and ideals of Patek Philippe. The Calatrava is what people should picture whenever they hear the brand’s name.
The Calatrava is supremely elegant and classic. It has a slim profile and a clean face that make it a timeless dress watch. Furthermore, it is available in precious metals like yellow gold, white gold, and platinum.
3. Audemars Piguet
Audemars Piguet takes the last slot in the Holy Trinity. With that in mind, people often refer to it as the “young prince”. And like its moniker, it is the most adventurous and avant-garde when it comes to their watches’ designs.
Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet founded the brand in 1875. And since then, Audemars Piguet remained family-owned. This explains their freedom to experiment with different styles.
Among their milestones are introducing the first skeleton watch and the first jumping-hour wristwatch.
Fun facts about Audemars Piguet:
- Audemars Piguet made the first luxury sports watch made of steel — the Royal Oak.
- Audemars Piguet almost went bankrupt during the Quartz Crisis.
- Founders Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet were both farmers.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
The Royal Oak is the brand’s most famous timepiece. Additionally, the story behind it is as interesting as its aesthetic. Legend has it that the Royal Oak saved Audemars Piguet from bankruptcy during the Quartz Crisis.
When the brand was at the brink of falling apart, they reached out to Gerald Genta. In less than a day, he produced the diving helmet-inspired sports watch. Currently, the Royal Oak is one of the most sought-after models in the watch community.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore
It is difficult to spot the difference between the Royal Oak and the Royal Oak Offshore. While the former is a classic created by Gerald Genta, the latter is a spin-off of the Royal Oak. It was created in 1993 to celebrate its ancestor’s 20th anniversary.
The easiest distinction between the two models is the size. While the Royal Oak is only 41mm, the Offshore has a 42mm size. Apart from that, their chronograph versions have different configurations. Royal Oak’s subdials are located at 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00. On the other hand, the Offshore’s subdials are beside 6:00, 9:00, and 12:00.
Among the luxury watch brands, Rolex is arguably the most famous. Even outside the watch community, the name needs no introduction.
Two men named Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis founded The Big Crown, as some people call it. This was in London way back in 1905. Years after, they moved their base of operations to Geneva, Switzerland, after World War I to avoid heavy taxation.
In 2018, Forbes listed Rolex as the world’s 71st most valuable brand. And until now, they still hold the record for the most certified chronometer movements in the wristwatch category.
Fun facts about Rolex:
- The word ‘Rolex’ was only made up by Hans Wilsdorf.
- Rolex was originally called Wilsdorf and Davis.
- All official photographs of Rolex watches show the time as 10:10.
- Rolex watches are handmade.
Rolex Day Date
People fondly call the Rolex Day Date as “The President”. Indeed, it is the ultimate watch of prestige. It is aptly named the Day Date because it is the first watch to ever show the full day and date on the dial.
Additionally, leaders like Johnson and Kennedy wore this watch. And to add to its prestige, the Day Date is only available in precious metals. Among the choices are yellow gold, platinum, and white gold.
The Rolex Submariner is one of Rolex’s most popular models. It is probably the watch that people think of when they hear “Rolex” or “dive watch”. In fact, it is one of the most-copied designs.
Based on its name, the Submariner was invented for divers. True enough, it’s the first-ever watch to be water-resistant up to 100m.
When it comes to the Sub, watch enthusiasts have a lot of versions to choose from. For one, there is the all-green colourway called the Hulk. It is also available in both a date and a no-date configuration.
When speaking to watch enthusiasts, they will often call Jaeger-LeCoultre as the “watchmaker’s watchmaker”. Indeed, people gave it its nickname because they used to provide movements for other luxury watch brands. Yes, for years, they were the exclusive movement provider of Cartier, Patek Philippe, and others.
JLC has around 400 patents and made hundreds of inventions. One of those is the thinnest watch in the world. Apart from that, they also invented Millionomètre, which was the first timing instrument that can measure microns.
Fun facts about Jaeger-LeCoultre:
- Jaeger-LeCoultre made the smallest calibre in the world.
- Since its founding, Jaeger-LeCoultre has made more than 1,200 calibres.
- Jaeger-LeCoultre was originally named LeCoultre & Cie.
- The watchmakers of JLC made the Reverso with the golden ratio in mind.
As its name suggests, the wearer can flip the dial of the Reverso to showcase the reverse side. But it isn’t just for aesthetics as the main purpose of the design was to protect the crystal of the dial from external forces. Basically, Jaeger-LeCoultre created it for polo players who often cracked their watches during games.
Although originally a sports watch, its rectangular shape and Art Deco style make it a capable dress watch.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra-Thin
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra-Thin is part of the brand’s Master collection. Significantly, the collection showcases sleek and elegant watch designs.
People consider the watch as one of the slimmest in its league at less than 10mm thick. In fact, a lot of people swear that you wouldn’t be able to tell that you’re wearing it due to its lightness. Watch enthusiasts consider this a very impressive feat. Fitting some complications inside a very thin case is no easy job.
Louis-François Cartier founded Cartier International SNC, or simply called Cartier, in Paris. The brand began by making bespoke jewellery. Eventually, it blossomed into one of the most respected luxury watch brands.
Apart from its elegant jewellery, the brand also created the first-ever pilot’s watch which was made for Brazilian pilot Alberto Santos. The watch then became popular and turned out to be one of Cartier’s most popular collections.
Fun facts about Cartier:
- Louis Cartier was the one who popularized men’s wristwatch.
- King Edward VI called Louis Cartier the “Jeweler of Kings and King of Jewelers”.
- Forbes magazine ranked Cartier as the 58th most valuable brand in May 2016.
- Cartier created a wristwatch that was inspired by a car crash.
The Cartier Tank is considered as the brand’s most iconic model. Its rectangle shape and lines were inspired by Renault Tanks during World War I. In fact, the watch’s first prototype was gifted to American General John Pershing in 1918.
Currently, the Tank is available in different models. There’s the Tank Anglaise which is the closest to the first version of the watch. Meanwhile, the Tank Francaise is the sportiest version and is larger than the other models. Finally, there’s the Tank Solo which sports curved and square angles.
Whichever model, people consider the Cartier Tank as a very elegant dress watch. Its relatively small size and Roman numeral markers give it elegance and class.
As mentioned above, Cartier created the first-ever pilot’s watch. They called it the Cartier Santos, after the Brazilian aviator who wore the timepiece.
The watch bears a square case and its dial shows Cartier’s signature Roman numeral markers. Modern Cartier Santos watches are now available in steel, yellow gold, white gold, or pink gold. Some models even come with interchangeable straps so you can easily customize them.
Omega traces its roots back to La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland, in 1848. Back then, they still operated under the name La Generale Watch Co. It was only in 1903 when they incorporated the name Omega, thus becoming Louis Brandt et Frère — Omega Watch & Co.
In 1905, Omega became the official timekeeper of various sporting events in Switzerland. The brand has been the official timekeeper of the Olympics since 1932. Apart from that, the Swiss brand also issued watches for Britain’s Royal Flying Corps and the US Army in 1917 and 1918 respectively.
To date, people consider Omega as one of the most popular luxury watch brands. Its name is well-known even outside the watch community.
Fun facts about Omega
- Omega got its name after one of the movements they made — the Omega Calibre.
- Omega was the first watch to go to the moon.
- In 1946, Omega created the first-ever tourbillon wristwatch movement.
- At the Geneva Observatory Time Trials during 1931, Omega won first place in every category.
People often recognize the Omega Seamaster as “the watch of James Bond”. Indeed, you can see it in many 007 movies. It is also one of the most popular and sought-after dive watches alongside the Rolex Submariner.
One of the most impressive features of the new Seamaster is the helium escape valve. This technology helps the watch become more reliable and durable when used underwater. Additionally, Omega filed a patent for this technology.
Omega introduced the Speedmaster as a chronograph watch. It was the first chronograph to display a tachymeter scale on the bezel. This then became a standard for other chronograph watches.
A few years after, it made history when it became the first watch to reach the moon. With that in mind, people started calling it the “Moonwatch”.
8. IWC Schaffhausen
The International Watch Company is one of the luxury watch brands that people associate with the pilot’s watch. In fact, it was one of the five watchmakers commissioned to make Flieger watches for the German Air Force.
Apart from that, IWC is one of the rare luxury watch brands located in Eastern Switzerland. Typically, major Swiss watch manufacturers are located in Western Switzerland.
Fun facts about IWC Schaffhausen:
- Although IWC is a Swiss brand, it was founded by an American.
- Their motto is “Probus Scafusia” which means “good, solid craftsmanship from Schaffhausen“.
- In 1978, IWC created the first titanium luxury watch bracelet.
IWC Big Pilot
A lot of luxury watch brands produce small-sized watches. On the other hand, IWC has the Big Pilot watch that sports a large 46.2 mm case. This is a nod to the original Flieger watch’s size requirement.
The Big Pilot is fitted with a Pellaton automatic winding system that generates up to 7 days of power reserve. Its legendary Junkers JU-52 plane engraving at the case back is like icing on the cake.
The IWC Portugieser collection is IWC’s oldest and best-known line of watches. It was originally created for two Portuguese businessmen who needed a high-precision watch with perfect readability.
Its iconic design consists of simple Arabic numerals, railway-track-style chapter ring, and slim Feuille hands. This makes it very easy for people to read the time.
Some watch enthusiasts would argue that the IWC Portuguese started the trend of relatively bigger wristwatches.
Blancpain is the oldest among the luxury watch brands listed here. It was founded in 1735 by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain in Villeret. In 1961, the company became part of the SIHH (Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère), which is one of the companies that became the Swatch Group.
A few people would argue that the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms is the world’s first dive watch. This is one of the brand’s most influential contributions to the world of horology. Apart from that, they also made the first-ever automatic tourbillon and calendar with an 8-day power reserve.
Fun facts about Blancpain:
- Jean-Claude Biver made up the slogan “Blancpain has never made a quartz watch and never will.”
- Blancpain didn’t originally use a screw-down crown for the Fifty Fathoms. Instead, they used a new dual-gasket crown system.
- The US and French Navies used the Fifty Fathoms in the early 1970s
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
Unlike the other divers from luxury watch brands, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms does not receive much hype, especially outside the watch community. However, watch enthusiasts widely consider it as the world’s first diver watch.
Blancpain introduced the Fifty Fathoms in 1953. And due to the watch’s impressive features, the US Navy as well as the French Navy used it for their missions. Throughout the years, Blancpain has given the watch a number of upgrades to keep up with the times.
Last on the list of top luxury watch brands is Breitling. Léon Breitling founded the company in Saint-Imier back in 1884. They are famous for their connection with aviation and they have been creating precision-made chronometers for pilots for years.
Most of Breitlings models are tool watches like pilot and racing chronographs. This is the reason why their timepieces typically have busy and cluttered dials. While some people do not like the aesthetic, this isn’t a bad thing. Breitling makes sure to optimize those complications for their intended use. In conclusion, adventurous people will appreciate the watch’s features.
Currently, all Breitling watches are chronometer-certified. And that includes their racing models as well.
Fun facts about Breitling:
- Breitling watches didn’t have the name “Breitling” on their dials until the late ’20s.
- The Breitling Emergency watch has saved dozens of lives.
- Breitling invented the chronograph.
- All of Breitling’s quartz movements are certified by the COSC.
One of the most iconic pilot watches is the Breitling Navitimer. The history of the watch is remarkable. Although it is not as popular compared to models from other luxury watch brands, some people call it a “mini-computer for pilots” as the watch helped in calculating measurements needed while flying.
Indeed, people recognize Breitling for their pilot watches. But that doesn’t mean they skimp on dive watches. Case in point, the Breitling Superocean is an impressive timepiece that is on par with rivals from other luxury watch brands. Since its release in 1957, the watch has gained the respect of thousands of watch enthusiasts.
It turns out that the name Emergency came from a very important history. As mentioned above, the Breitling Emergency has saved dozens of lives. If you’re wondering how, the Breitling Emergency features a built-in emergency beacon technology.
When the watch was first released in 1995, it had an antenna with a frequency of 121.4 MHz. Once you active it, it creates a signal that search-and-rescue organizations monitor. This turned out to be very useful to adventurers and divers.
If you’re interested in more luxury watch brands, check out the watchmaking giant of the East — Grand Seiko!