The watch industry is a multi-billion dollar business with a few companies being some of the biggest and most luxurious brands out there. With so many brands to choose from, how can you choose the best watch for you? Some luxury watches cost as much as a Ferrari and a beach house combined!
If you truly consider yourself a watch aficionado, then you must already know about these luxury watch brands. If not, you'll want to read this article where we give you a brief rundown of some of the most popular luxury watch brands in the world. We've also included the year they were founded in and who owns them (if anyone), isn't that nice?
A.Lange & Söhne - 1845
You might be surprised to see that we're kicking off this list with a watchmaker that isn't Swiss. As it turns out, the Swiss aren't the only people able to make high-end luxury watches and A.Lange & Söhne is a testament to that. The founder and namesake of the company, Ferdinand Adolph Lange, invigorated the town of Glashütte with his watchmaking business and set the scene for a booming economy.
A.Lange & Söhne was bought out by the state at the end of WW2 and subsequently made defunct until a descendent of the founder, Walter Lange, worked to revive the company alongside Günther Blümlein (whom had previously worked for Junghans, IWC and had been entrusted with reviving Jaeger-LeCoultre).
Today, A.Lange & Söhne still resides in Glashütte, Germany, and produces around 5000 watches annually. Their watch models include the Lange 1, 1815, Saxonia, Richard Lange, Zeitwerk and Odysseus.
Audemars Piguet - 1875
Owner: Privately owned
Audemars Piguet has been a leader in the industry for a long time. Two close friends created this brand back in 1875, and this brand grows and leads every day.
Audemars Piguet sets the standards today and many luxury markets like Tiffany & Co and Bulgari following their lead. The Royal Oak watch with its octagonal bezel and integrated bracelet has been the main seller for the brand since its introduction in 1972. Recently, they've introduced the Code 11:59, which is their attempt at making something other than a Royal Oak, it was fairly controversial at launch, but it has since gained a big following.
This is a popular watch among celebrities with famous people like LeBron James, Jay-Z, Tom Cruise, and Serena Williams wearing this brand on various occasions.
Bell & Ross - 1992
Owner: Privately owned
Bell & Ross is not as old as old as the other luxury brands on this list, but it's gained quite a reputation for its solid luxury watches. Bruno Belamich and Carlos A. Rosillo launched this luxury French brand in 1992. Aircraft instruments inspire the designs of these watches with the square shape of their cases being the main selling point for the brand.
They do make watches in round cases as well, but if we're looking to buy a B&R watch it's definitely because of the case! They've made several variations in the square case, some of which take their styling directly from the instruments found in a plane's cockpit.
They're also a partner of Renault's F1 team and have made a few limited edition watches which come in possibly the best colour combo for a sports watch: black and yellow. This brand is one to keep an eye on.
Blancpain - 1735
Owner: Swatch Group
One of the oldest names in watchmaking, Blancpain has been around since 1735 (although it has not been in continuous operation since then). A pioneer in professional diving watches, Blancpain's current model lines represent a vast history of watchmaking.
The watches are split up into the Villeret, Fifty Fathoms, Metiers d'Art and Women's ranges, all off which are very subtle and elegant. The Fifty Fathoms was one of the very first diving watches, alongside the Zodiac Sea Wolf and Rolex Submariner, and is still available for purchase today with a number of different colours, case styles and complications available.
Breguet - 1775
Owner: Swatch Group
The grandfather of modern horology (although not the oldest watchmaker), Breguet has been around since 1775 and represents the pinnacle of watchmaking marrying design and tradition.
Founded by Abraham-Louis Breguet, this brand relies on innovation, and has several complications to its name including the first working tourbillon, the first self-winding mechanism for a watch, as well as the first ever wristwatch!
Breguet's current model lines represent the brand's history, and a fair few of them use designs drawn by Breguet himself. Gent's watches are split into the Classique, Classique Complications, Type XX, Marine and Heritage lines while ladies pieces come under the Reine de Naples and High Jewellery (Haute Joaillerie) lines
Breitling - 1884
Owner: CVC Capital Partners
Breitling is known for precision along with durability. This luxury brand was founded back in 1884. Aviation is the inspiration for these watches, much like Bell & Ross, although it must be noted that their watches are a lot more conservative in their approach to design.
Breitling's watches have been worn on the wrists of aviation pioneers, but it's also done some pioneering of its own over time. Most notably, Breitling invented the very first twin-pusher chronograph, which made the reset button separate to the start/stop. This means you can stop and start the chronograph as much as you like without having to reset.
Breitling's Navitimer range is probably its most beautiful (and functional), but it also makes other tool watches like diving watches with its Superocean range and explorer's watches with the likes of the Emergency watch, which was featured on an episode of Top Gear.
Cartier - 1847
This is another one of the most iconic names in watches globally. This brand gets a lot of publicity in the mainstream because several celebrities love its jewellery and fragrances, but Cartier is also a major manufacturer of watches.
Cartier dates back to 1847 and was founded in Paris. Cartier watches are known for avant-garde design, high-end materials and using Roman numerals. It has a classic and distinguished look making it a safe bet when looking to buy a luxury watch.
Cartier's most iconic range is probably the Santos, named after Alberto Santos-Dumont who was a Brazilian pioneer of heaver-than-air flight after setting a world record for covering 220m in 21.5 seconds (he was also the very first person to be filmed while flying an aeroplane). Other notable models in the range include the Tank, which was the watch that made wearing a wristwatch popular, and the Ballon Bleu de Cartier which hides its crown within the case.
Chopard - 1860
Owner: Privately owned
Officially called Le Petit-Fils de L.U.Chopard & Cie, Chopard has a long-standing history of making quality products, but they're a bit of an underdog these days. Their watches often look excellent, but this brand is actually more known for its high-end jewellery than its timepieces (although this is slowly changing).
Chopard was founded by Louis-Ulysse Chopard in Sonvilier in 1860, although it's now based in Meyrin in Geneva. Chopard's watches range from beautiful ladies pieces with their world-class gemsetting to racing watches designed for the Mille Miglia to high-end watches that compete with the likes of Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe.
Chopard makes a wide variety of watches, so they group their products into Gent's, Ladies, Metiers d'Art and Grand Complications of which most of their watches are for women.
Girard Perregaux - 1791
An old name in watchmaking, Girard Perregaux has been around since 1791. It's known as both a manufacturer of high-end watches but also of movements for other watchmakers as well. It's not as popular today as it once was, but it can still hold out against the best watchmakers out there. Its most notable models today use three golden bridges as the most prominent part of the movement.
The Tourbillon with three golden bridges was first patented in the USA in 1884, and in 1889 it won a gold medal at the Universal Expo in Paris. This watch fused the technical ability of the watchmaker with their art skills, as the three golden bridges were used as both decorations and functional elements of the watch. Girard Perregaux was also the first watch manufacturer to make a high-beat watch, the Gyromatic HF, which had a beat rate of 5Hz.
Today, Girard Perregaux is most known for its Laureato, a 70s inspired smart/casual sports watch with an integrated bracelet.
Hublot - 1980
Hublot (pronounced Hoo-blow or Ooh-Blow) is a relatively modern brand compared to the others on this list. With that it brings modern designs that other manufacturers wouldn't dream of which, ultimately, plays to Hublot's advantage. Without established reputations or centuries of designs, Hublot has to think outside of the box which has rewarded us with some refreshingly avant-garde designs.
Their primary design language comes from the porthole of a ship (hublot is the French word for porthole), and you can see where they have been inspired as there are exposed screws and the idiosyncratic 'ears' which represent the hinges and latch assembly on a real porthole.
Their range consists of the Classic Fusion, Big Bang, Spirit of Big Bang, MP and the Novelties. Hublot also works closely with Ferrari and has produced some very striking partnership pieces with them.
IWC - 1868
IWC stands for International Watch Company, it's a mainstay of the Richemont Group and a brand most people consider when they are also looking at Cartier and Rolex. IWC is also the only major watch manufacturer which is not located on the western side of Switzerland as Schaffhausen is north of Zürich.
Like Breitling, IWC has a strong history of watchmaking for the aero industry, IWC was a manufacturer of W.W.W. watches for the British (W.W.W. standing for Watch.Wristlet.Waterproof. 12 manufacturers produced watches with these specs, and collecting one from all 12 gives you the 'Dirty Dozen', a collector's dream) and B-Uhr (Beobachtungsuhr) watches for Axis pilots.
IWC's current lineup includes pieces inspired by their aviation heritage, as well as a mix of dress watches and watches for scuba divers too. They also produce a myriad of complications which can present good value for money on the pre-owned market.
Jaeger-LeCoultre - 1833
Jaeger-LeCoultre is nicknamed "the watchmaker's watchmaker" thanks to its past history of supplying movements to nearly all of the major Swiss watch manufacturers including Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet.
Jaeger-LeCoultre makes watches with possibly the widest array of complications from the humble power reserve to extremely complicated 3D tourbillons and striking mechanisms. All complications (and all watches) still receive the same level of care and finesse, though.
This Swiss brand is best known for its Reverso watches which were originally designed as sports watches for Brits playing Polo in India. Turning the watch over to reveal a steel caseback prevented them sapphire crystal from being damaged. Jaeger-LeCoultre does make other watches, however, and it's particularly well-regarded for its ladies timepieces.
Panerai - 1860
Panerai, often called Officine Panerai, shares its birth year with Chopard. That's about all it shares, actually, as the brands went in entirely different directions. Panerai was renowned for making nautical instruments, particularly those for early scuba divers and early sub-aqueous armed-forces. It developed the world's first glow-in-the-dark watch dials, and then re-invented their lume and made it safer by cutting out the radioactive element.
Like so many other watch brands, Panerai all but disappeared in the mid-late 20th century, and it didn't help that you had to be in the armed forces to buy one. That all changed, however, when Sylvester Stallone discovered them and started wearing them for his movies. Soon, everyone wanted a Panerai, and the brand found success and earned a reputation for hardcore watches that can take a beating.
Nearly all of the brand's watches are in their signature cushion-shaped case bar the Mare Nostrum and a couple other novelties. They make the Radiomir, the Luminor (similar to the Radiomir but with their signature crown guard) and the Submersible line which is meant for scuba divers.
Patek Philippe - 1839
Owner: Privately owned
Patek Philippe as we know it today was established in 1851, when company founder Antoni Patek joined forces with Adrien Philippe. However, the company can actually trace its history further back to 1839 when Czech-born Patek was working with another Czech watchmaker, Franciszek Czapek. Back then, the company was called Patek, Czapek & Cie. Nowadays, both names are alive and strong in watchmaking, but Czapek & Cie is now its own company after being revived in 2015.
These days, Patek Philippe is synonymous with wealth, and the brand actively targets its clientele with adverts that talk of keeping a Patek Philippe watch for the next generation. The brand has several ranges of watches which use historic designs as a basis. The most popular watches in the range are undoubtedly the Nautilus & the Aquanaut, which both have extremely long waiting lists and very high prices on the pre-owned market. The company also makes classical dress watches, such as the Calatrava line, as well as complications and grand complications.
Omega - 1848
Owner: Swatch Group
Omega is one of the most famous watch brands on the planet. Its watches have been worn on the wrists of the rich and famous for decades, as well as the wrists of professionals and pioneers.
Omega started out in 1848 as La Generale Watch Co, and was founded by Louis Brandt. The main market for these watches was the UK! In 1894, Brandt's two sons devised a system of designing watches which were in-house made and had interchangeable parts. These movements were named after the Greek letter Omega (Ω), they were very successful and the company changed its name to Louis Brandt et Frère - Omega Watch & Co. in 1903. In 1982, the company changed its name to Omega.
The most popular ranges from Omega today are the Seamaster and Speedmaster, which are divided into multiple types and styles of watch. Omega also makes dressier watches like the DeVille and Constellation, and ladies watches such as the Ladymatic.
Richard Mille - 1999
Owner: Horométrie S.A.
One of the most forward-thinking watchmakers of our generation, Richard Mille is known for making watches that are bonkers to look at and fuse materials science and horology into one unique package. These watches are known for being rare and extremely expensive, while also not conforming to traditional watchmaking design (round cases, subdued dials etc). Whatever you can think of, Richard Mille are capable of making it.
Richard Mille makes both men's and ladies watches, most of which have their unique barrel-shaped case (called a tonneau shape) which has exposed screws and rubber straps. There are a few models in the range which are round, such as the RM-028 diver, but these are generally few and far between. Like Panerai with its PAMxxxx serial numbering system, Richard Mille's serial numbers begin with the letters RM. They're also well known for working with celebrities and athletes like Rafael Nadal, Sylvester Stallone and Sébastien Loeb.
Roger Dubuis - 1995
Roger Dubuis was founded in 1995 by, you guessed it, Roger Dubuis, who cut his teeth at Longines in the late 1950s, after which he moved to Patek Philippe where he worked for 14 years. Today, Roger Dubuis watches are known for their outlandish styling and use of skeletonised movements. In fact, outlandish styling has pretty much always been the Roger Dubuis way!
Like Richard Mille, Roger Dubuis watches are distinctive and futuristic, but Roger Dubuis tend to use round cases instead of other shapes. Notable models in the brand's past include the La Monagesque and Easy Diver which are attractive prospects now they've depreciated a bit. The Excalibur is the main line of watches the brand makes, it's versatile and adaptable in its design, but they also make special editions partnering with Pirelli and Lamborghini.
Rolex - 1905
Owner: Privately owned
You can't have a list of luxury watch brands without including the biggest name of them all. Rolex is known across the globe thanks to its strong reputation and marketing. In some places, a Rolex can be used as currency in desperate times, but in all places, a Rolex is seen as a symbol of affluence and success.
Believe it or not, this company was founded in London in 1905 by a German-born businessman named Hans Wilsdorf. He started by importing Swiss-made movements, fitting them into cases and selling them in the UK. In 1908, Wilsdorf trademarked the name 'Rolex' which was short enough to fit easily on a dial and could also be pronounced in nearly every language. In 1919, post-war tariffs made it too expensive to keep importing watch movements, so Hans took the company and set up in Switzerland where it is based today.
Rolex has had a number of firsts in watchmaking, and it's known for consistently improving its watches over the years. Most of the models on sale today have been on sale for decades, with incremental updates improving them/ Perhaps the most iconic watch of all time, the Submariner, has been around since the early 1950s. Meanwhile the DateJust has been around even longer still. It's fair to say that this brand will be around for a while yet.
Seiko - 1881
Owner: It's complicated
This one's a bit of a complex one to explain. The company we know as Seiko Watches was founded in 1881 by Kintaro Hattori, who decided he was going to be a watchmaker from a very young age. He became a very successful watchmaker indeed, and the Wako department store in Tokyo is the old K.Hattori factory after he launched Seiko watches in 1924 as a replacement to K.Hattori.
The confusing part comes into it when we consider what Seiko is today. The company that owns Seiko the watchmaker is called Seiko Holdings. Seiko Holdings also owns other businesses such as manufacturers of jewels and semiconductors, which also come under the Seiko name. Seiko holdings also owns the Wako department store mentioned above. Alongside Seiko Holdings is Seiko Instruments which also makes semiconductors, as well as batteries, printers and other behind-the-scenes type equipment. Then there's Seiko Epson which trades as Epson for the most part, but Seiko Epson also owns Orient watches instead of Seiko Holdings. All of these confusing names are a part of the Seiko Group, just to add to the cacophony of businesses going on there.
Seiko's primary model lines include the Seiko 5, Prospex and Presage, as well as Grand Seiko and Credor. The brand tagline for Seiko is that it is "always one step ahead of the rest."
TAG Heuer - 1860
This Swiss name is yet another icon of the watch industry which is extremely well known outside of the horology fandom. TAG Heuer started out life as Uhrenmanufaktur Heuer in St Imier in 1860 and was founded by Edouard Heuer. Heuer was a particular fan of the chronograph, an invention that was still relatively new in the late 1800s, and he designed his own and patented the oscillating pinion, which connects the column wheel chronograph to the rest of the movement. TAG Heuer still uses the oscillating pinion today, as do many other movements including the Valjoux 7750.
In 1985, Techniques d'Avant Garde (TAG) acquired the Heuer company to form TAG Heuer. The TAG company makes precision components such as ceramic turbochargers for Formula 1 cars.
TAG Heuer has a strong history of connections to athletes and celebrities from the likes of Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio to heavyweights like Steve McQueen and Ayrton Senna. Today, TAG Heuer relies heavily on its history for both its watch design and advertising. Its most notable product lines are the Carrera and the Monaco.
Tudor - 1946
The Tudor name was originally a trademark set up by "Veuve de Philippe Hüther", a watchmaker, on behalf of Hans Wilsdorf. The company Montres Tudor SA was founded in 1946 as a way to make affordable tool watches that would be as reliable as Rolex watches but without potentially hurting the brand's reputation.
Tudor watches used to use a lot of the same technologies that Rolex used, such as the Oyster water-resistant case that made Rolex a household name and the Rolex self-winding system for Tudor's first automatic watch, the Tudor Prince. Tudor watches became very popular with armed forces across the globe thanks to their build quality and simple-yet-robust approach. Both the French and US Navies were very involved in testing and using Tudor timepieces, especially after Tudor released their first diving watch, the Oyster Prince Submariner, in 1954.
Today, Tudor still lives under the Rolex tree and has thrived after a major brand relaunch took place in 2009. Tudor watches have been praised for their build quality (as they always have been) and their ruggedness. Their most popular watch model at the moment is the Black Bay diver.
Vacheron Constantin - 1755
Vacheron Constantin is the oldest name on this list to have been in operation since day one. That's right, this company has been working away designing, making and selling watches since 1755, that's over 265 years! Vacheron Constantin has been renowned throughout its history as a maker of the very finest watches. It introduced one of the very first non-magnetic watches in 1885 by using components made of materials that were not affected by magnetism. Omega's METAS-certified chronometer watches use this same principle.
Vacheron Constantin has been known for making some of the most jaw-dropping simple watches, as well as some of the most complicated such as the Tour de I'lle and the reference 57260, the most complicated watch ever made with 57 complications. Vacheron Constantin currently makes a number of different watches, but its most popular are the Overseas, which shares window space with the Patek Philippe Nautilus and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the Patrimony and the Traditionelle. The brand may not have the same immediate appeal as other. brands on the market, but its long history proves that this won't be a problem. Vacheron Constantin has lived through two financial crises, two world wars, the quartz crisis and much more, after all.
Ulysse Nardin - 1846
Here's a name that is synonymous with the sea. Ulysse Nardin was founded way back in 1846 in Le Locle where it remains to this day. If you Google the Ulysse Nardin logo, you'll be presented with an anchor. That's because Ulysse Nardin has an extremely strong connection to the sea, particularly the world of sailing. Switzerland may be a landlocked nation, but its timepieces were free to roam the world. And roam they did, between the 1850 and 1950, over 50 of the world's navies relied on Ulysse Nardin chronometers to keep accurate time and thus make safe navigation possible. It's also won 18 gold medals at international expos for its marine chronometers over the years.
So, what's been happening between then and now? Well, Ulysse Nardin had a resurgence in the late 90s and early noughties with several world firsts in terms of watchmaking. Most of those firsts came in one watch, the iconic Freak, which places most of the movement components onto the dial as a set of hands, including the escapement. The original Freak was the very first watch to use a silicone escapement which is superior to traditional materials as it is not affected by magnetism or corrosion and it doesn't require lubrication either. The Freak remains very popular to this day, but the Marine is probably their most popular model.
Zenith - 1865
Zenith is a watchmaker based in Le Locle like Ulysse Nardin. It's most notable for producing the El Primero calibre, one of the most famous watch movements on the planet. Zenith owes its existence today to two people in particular. The first is Georges Favre-Jacot who initially founded the company in 1865. The second is a man called Charles Vermot. Despite making one of the very first hi-beat chronograph calibres (the 5Hz El Primero), Zenith was in financial trouble after the quartz crisis really set in.
The brand was forced to close in 1975 and Vermot, who was one of the team behind the El Primero's development, was afraid all their work would be lost forever. So, he ignored the instructions of his superiors and took all the plans and equipment for the El Primero calibre and hid it in a walled-off part of the factory's attic. When Zenith was revived a decade later, staff found the hidden part of the attic with all of the designs and tools Vermot had hidden. Although he didn't know whether his efforts would work, Vermot saved the company and was a main reason Zenith today is what it is.
The most popular lines today are the Defy, which received a makeover recently, and the Pilot.