Dear mere mortals. Lest ye be confused, this article featuring the best watch brands for men in the world is for the rich people—the ones born with silver spoons in their mouths. Or at the very least, for the very well off. Mere peasants like you and me can only salivate at the breathtaking beauty and craftsmanship produced by these high-end watch brands. Many of them have been doing this for either decades or even centuries, and yet, some relative newcomers have found some wiggle room in the market. So if you’ve landed on this page by accident and want to have a look at some watches that are a bit more affordable, head on over to our Watches page – you’ll find something more “peasant-friendly” there.
Many of the premium timekeepers offered by these companies are costly enough to turn into family heirlooms instantly. Most of these luxury watches are specifically designed to stand the test of time as far as style and fashion go. In other words, when you spend half a million dollars on a watch, it never goes out of style. But don’t let that number crush your dreams of owning one of these luxury men’s watches. After all, a few brands in this list offer enduring symbols of taste, class, and style for a mere few thousand dollars. So if you’re willing to patiently squirrel away enough Benjamins, Euros, or whatever currency you’re dealing with, one of these amazing watches can be yours.
But what exactly is it that makes a watchmaker land on a list of the finest luxury watch brands? First is a sense of flawless craftsmanship that is often accompanied by decades or centuries-old tradition of passing down manufacturing techniques that are often close-kept secrets. The second is a demonstration of near-perfect knowledge of the art of horology. While many of these watches become pieces of art that adorn someone’s wrist, they are, after all, still designed to tell time.
Some of the high-end watch brands on this list are immediately recognizable. They have become household names far beyond the circles of watch collectors and even those with a passing interest in the industry. Companies like Rolex, Tag Heuer, and Omega (James Bond’s watch brand of choice) have managed to penetrate the global consciousness of what it means to be a premium men’s watch brand. But there are plenty of other luxury watch brands to explore and marvel over. Join me below on a journey to explore the finest timepieces the world of watchmaking has to offer.
1. PATEK PHILIPPE
Let’s begin with what many consider to be the finest watchmaker the world has ever seen. A certain myth-like aura surrounds the Patek Philippe brand, and that awe and international regard have only grown in recent decades. Founded in 1839, this Swiss luxury watch and clock manufacturer is one of the oldest and continuously operating luxury brands globally. It also happens to be one of the most successful, with its brand name becoming synonymous with some of the most luxurious and most expensive watches in the world.
Owned by the Stern family since 1932, Patek Philippe has grown to the point where they have over 400 retail locations around the world. Their annual production output of only roughly 60,000 timepieces per year may pale compared to some other luxury watch brands. But each watch they make is simply on another plane of existence when it comes to the craftsmanship of their timekeepers. Feel free to explore the lengths to which this company goes when it makes each watch. The manufacturing process alone goes a long way to explaining the starting prices of these watches.
This watchmaker’s prestige is so renowned that they’ve even seen it fit to create their very own Patek Philippe museum. You can visit it if you ever happen to find yourself in Geneva. What you’ll discover there, however, is not just a collection of Patek Philippes. The museum has been created to be one of the finest collections of mechanical timepieces from the 16th century until now, with well over 2000 exhibits to gawk at. Just don’t forget to wear your tophat and twirl your moustache each time you examine a watch with your monocle.
So how exactly how ludicrously premium is the brand of Patek Philippe of watches? When patrons of the company include JFK, Pablo Picasso, Leo Tolstoy, not one, but two Queens of England, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, Walt Disney, The Beatles, and Eric Clapton, you probably know you’re in good company. And if that doesn’t convince you, consider the fact that as of this writing, Patek Philippe watches occupy seven of the top ten spots for the most expensive watches ever sold at auction. Of that list, the number one spot belongs to the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010 wristwatch, which sold for over 31 million dollars. Perhaps one of the greatest marketing slogans in the watchmaking world was born of a campaign in 1996 when the company said: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”
Owned by the Swatch Group, which counts Omega as just one of their luxury brands, the Omega Watch Company has become synonymous with some of the biggest events of the 20th century. Perhaps none bigger than the Apollo moon landings when astronauts wore an Omega Speedmaster series model on their wrists, which subsequently became known as the Moon watch. Another feather in Omega’s cap has been that they have remained the Olympic Games’ official timekeeper since 1932, an almost unheard of longevity in the corporate sponsorship world.
Founded in 1848, Omega is another luxury Swiss watch manufacturer that has been refining, redefining, and often inventing the very art of watchmaking. It has often seemed as if other luxury watch brands have only been able to copy some of Omega’s finest timepieces with similar-looking shapes and designs. Having survived world wars, economic depressions, countless recessions, corporate restructuring, and even the quartz crisis of the 1970s, Omega has not only survived but strengthened its brand to the current day.
Much of this has happened due to their continuous investment in innovation and stubborn yet successful adherence to certain design principles. Many of which have remained unchanged for decades. But much of that success has also been on the back of cleverly engineered marketing campaigns. Arguably their most successful campaign has come on the back of another worldwide phenomenon known as the James Bond film franchise. With a massive coup over its chief rival Rolex, the previous luxury brand watch of choice for the famous and fictional British spy, the Omega brand began to don the wrist of 007, starting with 1995’s GoldenEye. That corporate marketing pair-up continues today with Daniel Craig’s current portrayal of the suave spy with a license to kill.
Omega’s current lineup reflects its roots. While the Speedmaster and Seamaster collections are probably the company’s most well known amongst the general public, Omega also sells a few other lines that have grown in popularity over the years. This includes limited edition collections made expressly for Olympic city occasions. And while some Omega watches have gone for well over a million dollars at auction, there remains a very distinct pricing level that seems almost within reach for middle-class collectors. A quick breeze through Omega’s catalog will quickly reveal that an Omega can be owned for under $5,000.
Yup, you guessed it, Tudor is also a Swiss watchmaker based in Geneva. It leads one to wonder just what the per-capita percentage of watchmakers wandering the streets of Geneva is? Do they have their own clubs or buildings they live in? But I digress. The Tudor brand was born in 1926 as a sister brand to one of the other luxury watch brands on this list, Rolex.
The Tudor brand has been traditionally known for its more practical design of watches. Designed for specific purposes such as diving and military applications, Tudor became a favourite of various Navies around the world and was often worn and issued by special forces, including the U.S. Navy Seals and the French Marine Nationale. These types of watches were the driving force behind many of the designs you would expect between the 1960s and 1990s.
However, in recent years, Tudor has successfully repositioned itself as a maker of high-end luxury watches designed for performance and engineered for elegance. Today’s Tudor watches easily rank in the set of top watch brands for men. Their attention to detail, instantly recognizable logo in the world of horology and bold bezels make any Tudor watch a truly unique and recognizable item on your wrist. The Tudor collection has grown, and while there is a wide variety of watches for both men and women, there is a common aesthetic that runs through most of the lines, including the Black Bay and Pelagos collections. That again includes bold and colourful bezels with 1950s inspired dials mostly featuring non-numerical hour markers. The only relatively weak spot that I think currently exists in their lineup is their Chronographs, which, while nice, I think, could be taken to another level.
But don’t get me wrong. I love Tudor’s obvious heritage of excellence regarding watchmaking and strict adherence to an aesthetic that has become truly timeless for them. I mean, who am I to argue with a nearly one-hundred-year-old Swiss watchmaker? And hey, if it’s good enough for brand ambassadors like Lady Gaga, David Beckham, and those scary New Zealand rugby players known as the All Blacks (you know, the one that do that intimidating dance before each game), then it’s good enough for me. One final note, the Tudor brand is relatively affordable as far as expensive watch brands go. The usual retail range for Tudor Watches is somewhere between $2,400 – $8,000 – with a vast majority of them falling in the $3,000 to $5,000 range.
4. VACHERON CONSTANTIN
If you’ve ever wanted a direct and uninterrupted connection to some of recent history’s most important figures, a Vacheron Constantin watch is one of the ways to accomplish that linkage. Founded over 265 years ago in 1755 by Jean-Marc Vacheron, this Swiss luxury watch brand is often argued as the single most prestigious maker of timepieces on the planet. Only a mere handful of brands could possibly even attempt to argue with that statement. All of which are profiled here on this luxury watch brands list.
The connection to well-known historical figures isn’t just a recent phenomenon for the Vacheron Constantin brand. The founder happened to be friends with a few philosophers you may have heard of before, namely, Jean-Jacque Rousseau and Voltaire, who bonded over their mutual interest in watchmaking, amongst other topics. And speaking of modern-day patrons, figures like Elizabeth Taylor, Jay Z, John D. Rockefeller, the Wright Brothers, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Princess Diana have all had a Vacheron Constantin watch adorn their wrist.
There’s no doubt that this company has been a pioneering maker of timekeeping devices. That’s evidenced by the fact that back in 1790, Vacheron Constantin created the world’s very first watch complication. A design and watchmaking principle that is still used by nearly every modern watchmaker. Even a technology company like Apple has benefited from this invention, imbuing many of its Apple Watch dials with multiple complications.
The thread of innovation throughout more than two-and-a-half centuries has continued. In 2015, Vacheron Constantin completed work on a watch that took three artisans eight years to make. This watch is known as the Reference 57260 pocket watch. This is a one-of-a-kind mechanical pocket watch widely regarded as the most complicated mechanical watch ever constructed with 57 complications and 242 jewels. The Reference 57620 was made for a major watch collector who has chosen to remain anonymous, and various estimates put the price of the watch at well in excess of $10 million.
Let’s face it, to own a Vacheron Constantin, you probably have to have some serious coin burning a hole in your pocket. After all, the cheapest Vacheron will run you about $20,000, but if you want to get one of the nicer ones on your wrist, expect to pay somewhere between $50-$100k.
5. IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN
While the name is a little on the nose (International Watch Company and previously International Watch Chronology), IWC is a Swiss watchmaker that was, oddly enough, founded by an American watchmaker named Florentine Ariosto Jones in 1868. The story is that Mr. Jones, who had some watchmaking experience by being a director of America’s leading watchmaking company at the time, decided to strike out on his own. The result was IWC, whose goal was to combine Swiss craftsmanship with modern engineering and technology being developed in the U.S. It also helped that Switzerland’s wages were very low compared to the U.S. and Mr. Jones took advantage of both that and Switzerland’s abundant watchmaking experience.
IWC is a company that is serious about its history. And not just the usual boastful storytelling spiel you have come to expect from luxury watchmakers. This storied brand also takes a hands-on approach to its heritage. In the world of horology circles, IWC is known for its meticulous record keeping for every single watch that has ever left its production line, going back to the year 1885. That means that any watch collector that happens to own an IWC that is at least ten years old can obtain precise information and lineage about their watch. As further proof of putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to their dedication to years past, IWC says that its service department is capable of repairing and maintaining any watch that they’ve ever produced, dating back to 1868. This alone is a remarkable feat of organization for any company.
While the company produced the world’s first “digital” readout in a watch, today’s’ IWC watches consist of a few luxury collections suitable for nearly any man who wants to wear a beautiful and elegant timepiece. Perhaps their most popular collection is their Pilot’s line that has been conceived as useful navigation instruments for all kinds of aviators and adventurers. IWC watches have a wide range of pricing, but you can make a home for one, usually for under around $10,000. New IWC luxury watches are currently priced from $4,200 to a rather astronomical $249,000.
6. GLASHÜTTE ORIGINAL
As you’ve thus far surely ascertained, the list of the best watch brands for men is littered with companies headquartered in Switzerland. But while that country enjoys an outsized advantage due to the clustering of high-skilled watchmakers in a relatively small geographical area, there are luxury brands outside this small country. Exhibit A is Glashütte Original, a prestigious German watchmaker whose roots in Germany’s Glashütte region extend back to 1845. And while watchmakers in that part of the world have passed down their watchmaking secrets and expertise to new generations for over 160 years, the Glashütte Original brand didn’t officially exist until 1994.
Now owned by the Swatch Group, Glashütte has managed to establish itself as one of the best watch brands for men. It’s accomplished this by recognizing that German engineering is synonymous with excellent quality, and their dedication to upholding and perpetuating this ideal is without equal. Another unique aspect that adds to the prestige and, frankly, the price point of Glashütte watches is that they only produce a few hundred pieces of any given watch model in a year. This is true even for their best-selling models.
Glashütte Original’s collection of luxury watches hews heavily towards men and features four distinct collections for them. The Senator collection skews towards the look of classical pocket watches. Many of the dial designs in this beautiful set of german luxury watches take design cues from classic pocket watches. This means that many of the dials feature roman numerals as hour markers and thin and delicate hands. On the other hand, the Pano collection is a bit more contemporary and features a nearly universal adherence to asymmetric dial design. The Spezialist collection, on the other hand, is made up almost entirely of a lineup of luxurious diver’s watches with mostly blue and black dials.
7. A. LANGE & SÖHNE
This German watchmaker is yet another premier maker of luxurious watches whose genesis can be traced back to 1845. Albeit, this company doesn’t have an unbroken line of watchmaking expertise as the Soviet occupiers of East Germany nationalized the company in 1948. The current incarnation of the company was not re-established until 1990 following German reunification. From that time, the company has grown into a highly regarded manufacturer of designer watches that hew more closely to traditional British watch design than their neighbouring Swiss competitors.
While not all A. Lange & Söhne timepieces exhibit these characteristics, the company has a remarkable penchant for sticking with a few design hallmarks that make an A. Lange & Söhne watch instantly recognizable. Well, instantly identifiable to the moderately knowledgeable collector. The first of these signs is the distinguishing blue screws, whose incredibly beautiful hue is achieved through a chemical process of heating them to about 300 degrees Celsius. Amongst the usual red of the jewels they occupy space with, they are a stark and beautiful contrast easily visible through the caseback. Next is the three-quarter plate that also adds a unique aesthetic and reveals many internal movement mechanics.
Worn by patrons such as Brad Pitt, Ed Sheeran, Bill Clinton, these watches owe their beauty and sophistication to a long history of inventions and patents that continue to this day. As recently as January of 2018, Lange created a triple-split mechanical Chronograph, which allows the comparison of two concurrent events. Featuring six modestly distinct collections, you better bring your fat-stacks chequebook if you want to own a Lange watch. They’re rarely found for under $15,000, and that’s the cheap ones in their collection.
Now returning to the realm of Swiss luxury watchmakers, Breitling is a favourite amongst watch collectors that love chronometers for aviators. For those like me who admire both the design and look of a chronometer dial and the functionality that the complications afford, Breitling is a standout on the best watch brands list.
Commenced in 1884, Breitling’s Chronometer watches are all certified by the COSC, which is the official Swiss Chronometer testing institute. This organization ensures that Swiss watches bearing its certification are as accurate and precise as they claim to be and conform to a certain set of standards.
Perhaps Breitling’s most famous line of watches is the Navitimer. This iconic luxury watch was first introduced in 1952 and featured a flight-specific slide rule that has been used by countless pilots, airlines, and aircraft makers. Today’s Navitimer collection is a gorgeous group of Chronometers in nearly every imaginable dial and band option. The dial design of the Navitimer sticks with a classic but oversized look with pleasantly small markers and hands that add an air of technical class to the overall look. You can read more about the heritage and history of the Breitling Navitimer here.
Another now-infamous watch from this high-end watch brand is the Breitling Emergency watch, which I featured in my best military watches list. Featuring an incredible dual-frequency distress beacon, it’s the first watch in the world equipped with this feature. Emitting an emergency signal on channels most commonly monitored by international rescue authorities, it’s a great watch for those seeking a bit of adventure in the wild.
Because of their stranglehold on the navigation timer market, Breitling has become known as one of the world’s most competent technical watch manufacturers. Along with that has come a luxury price for most of its timepieces. Breitling is an incredible innovator. Incredibly they’ve now adopted an automated assembly process for their movements. Additionally, Breitling has now adopted a digital passport system using Blockchain technology to ensure that Breitling owners can forever see and track information about their watch, its history of sales, service, and repair.
9. AUDEMARS PIGUET
Regarded as one of the most renowned Swiss watchmakers, Audemars Piguet is headquartered in Le Brassus, Switzerland. Founded in 1875, the company has had a continuous line of family ownership and is known for a few key watchmaking milestones, including the world’s first minute-repeating movement for wristwatches in 1892 and the world’s first skeleton watch in 1934.
But it wasn’t until the 1970s when Audemars Piguet introduced the Royal Oak collection that the company rose to prominence in watchmaking circles. This collection continues to be the beating heart of Audemars’ lineup of watches. If there’s one thing that’s true about the company’s current lineup of horological masterpieces, Audemars Piguet is not afraid to experiment with a huge variety of materials, dial styles, and bold colour choices. This design philosophy runs somewhat counter to the traditional Swiss watchmaking model. Manufacturers tend to stick to a single design style with only minor variances to fill out their collection. In addition to their technical prowess, in my mind, this product design diversity is what makes Audemars Piguet stand out from other Swiss luxury watchmakers.
The company currently produces around 40,000 timepieces per year, and their watches are worn by luminaries like LeBron James, Lionel Messi, Serena Williams, Tom Cruise, Kevin Hart, and Jay-Z. From a historical perspective, when you find Audemars Piguet watches from previous eras, you can almost determine their age by the design they exhibit. That’s because the company has a rich history of design that reflects the periods and decades in which they were created.
Across eight almost wildly different collections, you may be able to find an Audemars Piguet watch in the $3-5k range, but most likely, you’ll need to shell out in the tens of thousands of dollars to get what you want.
10. TAG HEUER
Tag Heuer is perhaps my favourite expensive watch brand, swimming just a notch above all the others in a sea of expensive watch brands. Well, perhaps it might share that place with Omega, but damn, do I ever love me a Tag Heuer watch. First, the company is just as steeped in the world of Swiss luxury watchmaking, with its origins going back to the year of its founding in 1860. Edouard Heuer opened his watchmaking shop at the astonishingly young age of 20, producing the very first Tag Heuer timepieces, mostly with silver cases.
In 1963, Tag Heuer’s most famous collection, the Carrera. Its aim was to capture the romance and danger of racing in a chronograph that would stun onlookers with its style and beauty. Eventually, the Monaco collection would be introduced and immediately catch the world’s attention when it began to adorn the wrist of Steve McQueen.
Heavily inspired by competitive automotive racing, many of Tag Heuer’s watch collections are named after aspects of racing and feature precise chronograph functions. You would think that a 160-year-old company would have seen and done everything that watchmaking has to offer, but especially since 2004, the company has been firing on all cylinders. Since that time, when leader designer Christoph Behling came on board, the company has been introducing one renowned timepiece after another.
Unlike other luxury watch brands, Tag Heuer has not been afraid to get digital. In 2015, it introduced the first Swiss luxury smartwatch, the Tag Heuer Connected. Since then, the company has been refining and updating this collection of luxury smartwatches based on the Android Wear platform.
Tag Heuer’s collections are broken down into the Carrera, Formula 1, Aquaracer, Monaco, Autavia, Link, and Connected. Amongst these, you’ll find an incredible amount of variety and selection. And perhaps one of the best things about Tag Heuer watches is that they won’t hurt your bank account too badly. You can easily get your wrist around one of these fancy watches for between $1-3k.
It’s shocking to think about how many successful luxury watch brands were started in the mid to late 1800s. But I suppose in some ways; watchmaking was the BIG thing in technology back then—that along with steam engines and typewriters and dynamite, the telephone and yes, electricity. And while timekeeping wasn’t exactly invented in the 1800s, massive advances in the miniaturization of mechanical components led to a technological revolution. The result? An enormous influx of clockmakers decided to put their skills to use to make wrist and pocket watches. I’m sure one day we’ll look back on the first two or three decades of this century and wonder why the hell so many electric car companies started around this time.
Panerai is an Italian luxury watch manufacturer founded in Florence in the year 1860. Now headquartered in Geneva, Panerai has a long and deep history of making precision watches for the Royal Italian Navy, who began supplying the force with watches as early as 1916. While not as large as many of the Swiss luxury watch giants, Panerai has held their own against some of their bigger competitors. In 2005, Panerai was even able to snag a lucrative branding partnership with Ferrari that allowed them to design and manufacture watches featuring the Ferrari trademark, resulting in the Ferarri engineered by Panerai collection.
Today, Panerai only designs and sells Men’s luxury watches across four beautiful collections, Submersible, Luminor, Luminor Due, and Radiomir. While each group is somewhat distinct, many of Panerai’s watches use a signature design trait. A case covered Crown that adds instant recognizability to the luxury brands timepieces. If you look hard enough, you should be able to get yourself a new Panerai for between $4-6k, but expect to get into the tens of thousands if you want to be wearing a top-of-the-line Panerai.
I know I’m starting to sound like a bit of a broken record when I mention yet another Swiss company amongst some of the best watch brands in the world, but you better buckle in because there’s more of that coming. After all, it’s not my fault that Switzerland happens to be the absolute mecca of the best watch brands for men.
Founded in 1980 by Italian Carlo Crocco, Hublot may not have the same long-standing pedigree that reaches hundreds of years into the past, but what the brand lacks in longevity, it more than makes up for in design excellence. Horology connoisseurs worldwide respect the Hublot brand as a maker of fine mechanical and quartz-powered wristwatches. Now owned by the French parent company LVMH, Hublot is renowned for paying particular attention to each watch’s case design and manufacturing. The result is some of the most stunning luxury watches in the world with a decidedly unique look. There’s no question that Hublot has not been afraid to escape the too often stodgy and stuffy look of other luxury watch brands.
Hublot’s signature design philosophy is closely tied to its name, which is “porthole” in French. When perusing their collections, you’ll immediately notice that the shape of a porthole runs throughout nearly every watch. The other common design element you’ll notice is that Hublot watches tend to stick to large and bold contrasting bezels. You’ll rarely come across a Hublot that isn’t screaming for attention but only in that good way that a luxury watch can pull off without being obnoxiously ostentatious. Now a favourite of celebrities like Jay-Z, Prince Albert of Monaco, and Lionel Richie, Hublot watches run anywhere from just a few thousand to a few hundred thousand dollars if you want to pick up one of their crazy Carbon Tourbillon pieces.
A subsidiary of the Swatch Group, Breguet is a storied brand whose birth preceded the American Revolutionary war by one year. Yes, that’s right, this Swiss luxury watchmaker was founded in Paris in 1775. While not the oldest, Breguet is one of the oldest watchmaking brands in the world. As a result, it has an incredible history of horological innovations. Such a long tale as a respected manufacturer of timekeeping devices has also conferred the fact that historical figures such as Napoléon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, and Queen Victoria have at one time or another worn a Breguet watch.
But instead of recounting the history of this brand, I thought I’d talk more about some of their incredible inventions this company is responsible for thinking up.
In 1780 they invented and made the world’s first self-winding/automatic watch.
Oddly enough, the Queen of Naples, perhaps with an odd amount of foresight, commissioned Breguet to create the first wristwatch ever known on June 8th, 1810. Even more incredibly, despite being owned by a Royal and of obvious monetary value, the last record of this watch goes back to 1855. That’s when it was last brought in for repair. To this day, nobody knows of its whereabouts, and no private or public collection lists it on its inventory. That leaves us all wondering if the very first wristwatch ever made will one day reappear or if it’s gone forever?
Some of the world’s most expensive watches feature something called a Tourbillon. And while the world has moved on with newer inventions for countering gravity’s effects upon delicate components of a watch’s movement, the Tourbillon’s creation was an astonishing feat. Frankly, the Tourbillon’s conceptualization and manufacture was as big a stroke of genius as there has ever been in the world of horology.
While there is some dispute over the exact timing of who invented the first perpetual calendar, Breguet, perhaps rightly, also claims this invention, dating back to 1929.
And before I tell you about some of the unmistakable exterior design characteristics that will let you recognize a Breguet if you’re lucky enough to run across one, I want to relay one more fascinating historical tidbit about the Breguet brand. In 1783, Count Hans Axel von Fersen (a mouthful I know), thought to be a lover of French Queen Marie Antoinette, commissioned a pocket watch from Breguet. He gave Breguet strict instructions that the watch had no limit on the time or budget, but simply that it should be the most spectacular watch the world has ever seen. With those marching orders, work on the watch began in 1782 but would not be completed for another forty-four years, far outliving both the Count and Marie Antoinette, who was executed 34 years earlier.
Known as the “Marie Antoinette,” the watch was made with every watch function known at the time, including a clock, chronograph, minute repeater, thermometer, perpetual calendar, power reserve, pare-chute, chime, and independent seconds hand. Encased in gold with a completely clear case, Breguet used sapphires inside the mechanism and cost the company an, at the time, completely insane, 30,000 francs to produce.
Bouncing around amidst the ownership of various watch collectors for centuries, the watch eventually wound up in the Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem. In 1983, the Marie Antoinette pocket watch was stolen in a massive burglary in which over two-hundred items, including 106 rare clocks and watches, were taken. Missing for 20 years, amidst a crime that went unsolved, the Marie Antoinette watch reappeared when a Tel Aviv lawyer mistakenly took some of the stolen items to an antique appraiser. Upon inspection, the appraiser quickly ascertained what he was looking at and promptly reported this to the authorities. The lawyer represented the widow of a man who had died and left the stolen items to her. That man happened to be famed Israeli master thief Na’aman Diller who fled Europe and died in the U.S. in 2004. And if that wasn’t enough intrigue, the watch is now estimated to be worth over $30 million.
So what are the specific characteristics of a Breguet watch? Let’s have a look:
- The Engine turned dials – The various decorative patterns are often seen in even contemporary Breguet pieces with sunbursts, checkerboard, waves, cross weave, and other patterns making an appearance.
- The “Breguet hands” – hollow and eccentric “moon-shaped” tips harkening back to their original design in 1783
- Caseband fluting – The grooves reflect a coin-like edge
- Secret signature – etched into the dial that is almost invisible unless looked at in oblique light.
- Unique production numbers – Every Breguet watch is imbued with a unique production number.
Today’s Breguet collections come across as some of the more sophisticated and old-school watches available amidst the high-end luxury watch brands. Perhaps more so than any other brand, Breguet has relied heavily on classic dial designs that feed off a rich history of watchmaking dating back to the 1700s. And as you would expect, they are extraordinarily expensive. If you think about it, “expensive” is a highly relative word, isn’t it?
You’re probably wondering what took me so long to get to the brand that many consider to be the top dog amongst some of the most expensive watch brands known to man. Well, I’ll be forthright by saying that while many will disagree with me, I think the Rolex brand has lost a step or two.
Now don’t get me wrong; this incredibly popular brand is still amongst the most respected, well-known, and high-quality manufacturers of men’s watches in the world. But for my liking, where Rolex used to be a cut above the rest, the company seems to have lost a step or two in the design department. Again, I completely understand the desire to hew towards tradition, but frankly, and surprisingly, the other brand that Rolex owns, Tudor, has completely outdone Rolex in innovative watch design in recent years.
Nevertheless, there are still plenty of Rolex devotees in the world of watch collection. For good reason, this storied brand, now headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, generates over $5 billion a year in sales and is perhaps the single most recognizable watch brand name ever uttered.
Originally founded as a British company in 1905 by Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis, the company became the Rolex Watch Co. Ltd. in 1915 and moved its base of operations to Geneva after World War I due to poor economic conditions in Britain. Its history of watchmaking runs deep with a direct line of innovations that continue to reverberate in the watch industry to this day. In 1914 the Kew Observatory in Britain awarded a Rolex wristwatch with a class “A” precision certificate, signifying a level of precision that had only been reserved for large marine chronometers at the time. In 1926, Rolex delved into another world of watchmaking expertise by creating the first waterproof wristwatch and appropriately dubbed it the “Oyster.” Rolex is also responsible for the modern date window complication, which it invented in 1945.
Continuing the company’s history of firsts, in 1953, Rolex introduced the Submariner line of watches, which became the first diver’s watch waterproof to a depth of 100 meters. The rotatable bezel provided divers with the ability to read their immersion time. Like many other high-end watchmakers, Rolex also dipped their toe into the world of professional motorsports racing when it launched the Cosmograph Daytona in 1963. Designed as a new-generation chronograph, this watch soon became a much-used tool for endurance racing drivers.
With over 500 patents to its name, Rolex continues its tradition of excellent watchmaking around the world. Perhaps one of Rolex’s finest traditions perpetuates and uses as a differentiator amongst its Swiss luxury watch brand peers is the company’s commitment to product excellence through testing. That means various drop tests, extensive waterproof testing, shock testing, dustproof testing, and even band testing. Perhaps more than any other manufacturer, Rolex is known for their commitment to ensuring that every watch that leaves their factory has been put through the appropriate paces to ensure you’ll never get a lemon.
Today, Rolex offers a fairly large selection of luxury watches for men and women across the following collections:
- Classic Watches
- Professional Watches
Perhaps their most famous pieces remain the Sea-Dweller, New Submariner, Explorer, Cosmograph Daytona, and Oyster Perpetual.
Owned by The Swatch Group, Longines is a traditional Swiss maker of fine timepieces whose existing trademark logo, registered in 1889, is the oldest unchanged trademark in existence. Founded in 1832 by Auguste Agassiz, who happened to be the brother of famed biologist Louis Agassiz. Amidst the company’s patrons, perhaps the most famous three happened to be aviators. Amelia Earhart, Howard Hughes, and Charles Lindbergh all wore Longines wrist watches at one point or another.
Amelia Earhart’s story with Longines is particularly compelling. The fearless aviatrix became the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic in 1932. On both of her Atlantic crossings, she was wearing a Longines chronograph that helped with her navigation during the perilous journey filled with strong winds, icy conditions, and mechanical problems. With retail outlets in over 150 countries, the Longines brand is well-respected among various collectors and those that pay attention to the art of horological device making.
The look of Longines watches exudes a very classic and traditional appearance. Suppose you’re looking for something outlandish designed to turn heads, no matter how tacky, you won’t find that anywhere amidst Longines current five collections. One true design choice that runs through the entire lineup of Longines watches is elegant simplicity. Perhaps you’ll discover Longines most adventurous designs amidst the Master Collection, but even there, there is an obvious amount of design restraint that should be admired.
16. ULYSSE NARDIN
Founded by Ulysse Nardin in 1846, this Swiss company came from the founder’s mind that apprenticed with some of the day’s leading Swiss watchmakers. Fascinated by the sea, Ulysse focused his early efforts on producing nautical timekeeping instruments, which quickly became reference products in various civil, military, and scientific realms.
In the early days of submarines, the company continued to provide some of the most accurate and technically capable chronometers. By winning competitions at the Washington Naval Observatory, the company soon became the official supplier to the U.S. Navy. That tradition grew and expanded over time as Ulysse Nardin (the company, not the man) became a supplier to Japan, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
A favourite brand of Michael Jordan, Ulysse Nardin watches have also adorned the wrists of other luminaries such as Larry King, John Wayne, Andy Warhol, and the world’s wealthiest man, Jeff Bezos. Like many Swiss watch luxury brands, Ulysse also suffered during the quartz crisis of the late 70s and 80s and wound up going through multiple ownership changes.
Today the company is helmed by a previous Apple executive by the name of Patric Pruniaux and continues its horological innovation tradition. Today’s Ulysse Nardin collection of watches skews towards a slightly conservative overall design philosophy. Don’t get me wrong; their timepieces are marvelous. I’d say they have one of the finest men’s luxury watch collections in the world. With a penchant for silvers, golds, blues, blacks, and whites, many of their watches would feel right at home on the wrist of Captain America. As you browse their collection, don’t forget to check out this particularly fine line of watches: The Freak Collection.
Some watch-collecting aficionados will potentially sneer at the fact that I include the Bulova brand on this list of luxury watch companies. Bulova is definitely not amidst the top tier of most expensive watch brands. While most of the timepieces in its lineup can be purchased for under $1000, I still think the company deserves to be mentioned here for a few reasons.
First of all, the company is one of the oldest and most recognized American luxury watch brands. Founded in 1875 by Czech Republic immigrant Joseph Bulova in New York, the company maintains its headquarters there and now manufactures them throughout the world. Unlike many of his Swiss competitors, Joseph Bulova and the people he hired had a knack for advertising and promotion and quickly made Bulova watches popular with the American public.
This promotional DNA was deeply embedded in Bulova’s culture as they became the first advertisement broadcast on radio in 1926. The company announced the first “time beep” in history: ‘At the tone, it’s eight o’clock, Bulova Watch Time’ – heard by millions of Americans tuned in to discover the wonder of publicly available radio. In 1927, Bulova hitched its wagon to the rising star of Charles Lindbergh, who became the first solo pilot to cross the Atlantic in a non-stop flight. That crossing resulted in Bulova paying him $1000 (an astronomical sum back then) and a brand new Bulova watch.
Once again, seeking to connect themselves with more broad technological innovations, Bulova also produced the world’s first T.V. advertisement. The ad would run on July 1st, 1941, and was displayed as a WNBT test card modified to look like a clock with the hands showing the current time and Bulova’s logo.
Bulova’s history of horological innovation may not run as deep as some of the other brands I’ve discussed here. Still, one area of innovation that would foreshadow the Quartz revolution was the invention of the Accutron. First sold in 1960, Bulova’s Accutron watches, remarkably, used a 360 Hz tuning fork instead of a balance wheel as its primary timekeeping element. This technology foreshadowed the invention of quartz watches, which also keep time using a vibrating resonator.
Today’s Bulova watch collection represents a less restrained design philosophy compared to some of its Swiss rivals. A good example of that is to peek at their lineup of Chronographs. With a focus on strong and varied Bezel design, the company still produces plenty of styles that hew towards more classic dial and case design.
18. BELL & ROSS
When it comes to highlighting one of the best watch brands for men, I did not hesitate to include Bell & Ross. However, I did pause to consider how to describe this odd duck of the watch industry. Somehow, perhaps through sheer will of unique design, Bell & Ross has squarely put itself in competition with other luxury watch brands. That’s a feat accomplished despite the company’s origins only going back to 1992. A far cry from many of its Swiss competitors whose roots often go back hundreds of years.
Nevertheless, Bell & Ross has always had a few advantages since its founding. First, the company has focused heavily on its mission to create luxury timepieces built to function in extreme conditions, such as high altitudes, freezing temperatures, high-pressure, and amidst severe acceleration and deceleration. These qualities have made Bell & Ross watches a perfect match for high-performance pilots and deep-sea divers.
Based in Paris, Bell & Ross produces its watches in Switzerland and currently maintains three collections: Aviation, Marine, and Vintage. Its signature design is the oversized square-case look that has become very recognizable. Additionally, the company has delivered on its promise to always focus on four key tenets of its horological design philosophy: legibility, functionality, reliability, and precision.
An official supplier to the French Air force since 1992, Bell & Ross watches have the distinction of carrying a few records, including the first automatic chronometer to be worn in space as well as being the recipient of the world record for wristwatch water resistance at 11,000 meters.
This Swiss watchmaker has more than several distinct attributes that set it apart from its Swiss and European rivals. Its first distinction is that the company is very likely the oldest surviving watchmaking brand globally, with its founding set back in 1735. Now owned by the Swatch Group, Blancpain has been seen on the wrists of icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Brad Pitt. Blancpain is often regarded as one of the most revered and most expensive watch brands in the world. The company is also known for its small manufacturing output, often producing less than 30 watches per day.
Another aspect of Blancpain’s watchmaking philosophy that is different from its peers is that a single watchmaker makes each watch. No small feat considering how incredibly talented each maker must be to accomplish this feat. Handed down to his descendants for almost 200 years, Blancpain’s founder Jehan-Jacques Blancpain, born in 1693, was both an industrialist and the mayor of the town in Switzerland, Villeret, where he started the company.
Perhaps most famous for its collection known as Fifty Fathoms, which arose from the Fifty-Fathoms watch introduced in the 1950s. Produced in collaboration with the French Navy’s combat swimmers, variations of the Fifty-Fathoms watch became standard-issue for the U.S. Navy’s combat divers and U.S. Navy SEALs.
Today, Blancpain’s watches are primarily divided into three collections. The Villeret collection represents classic watch designs with large variability in terms of dials and complications. Within the Villeret collection, you’ll find primarily white-dialed watches with silver, gold, or rose-gold cases. The Fifty Fathoms collection is the company’s large selection of diver’s watches, with some of them serving as Chronographs with black, green, blue, and black dials. And finally, there is the Métiers d’Art collection, which features Blancpain timepieces featuring stunning art carvings that serve as the primary focal point of each dial.
20. BREMONT CHRONOMETERS
Here’s another relative newcomer to the luxury watch game. And, believe it or not, they’re not even from Switzerland! No, Bremont is as British as they come. And the inspiration for their lineup of high-quality watches continues to be inspired almost entirely by aviation themes. Hell, even their logo has an engine propeller in it.
Founded by brothers Nick and Giles English (I shit you not, that is their real last name – see what I mean by Bremont being as British as it comes), the origin of the company’s name has an interesting back-story.
In the late 1990s, Nick & Giles were cruising in their 1930’s vintage biplane across France when they ran into bad weather and an engine on the edge of failure. Keen to avoid any French authorities, the brothers were forced to make an emergency landing in the field of a French farmer who was more than happy to help the two Brits.
The man happened to have flown aircraft in World War II and was himself a gifted mechanic and engineer and an amateur clockmaker. As a result of his incredible hospitality, Nick and Giles decided to name their watch company after this man. His name was Antoine Bremont.
Bremont’s broad swatch of watches runs across various collections, many of them inspired by aviators’ needs. However, as the company’s ambitions have grown, it’s begun to explore other themes, including the British armed forces and one of Britain’s best-known icons, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.
21. HYT WATCHES
If you haven’t heard of HYT Watches before, don’t be too perplexed. After all, this Swiss watchmaker has only been around since 2012. So you’re probably wondering how in God’s name it made it onto a list of luxury watchmakers with the likes of storied brands like Rolex, Patek, Panerai, just to name a few. One look at these timepieces should give you a clue.
There is plenty of controversies that continue to swirl around HYT watches. Some see the entirely new and different way of telling time with a completely brand new and never-seen-before movement as something revolutionary. Innovation to be celebrated. Those like the judges of the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève seemingly agreed, when in 2012, they awarded an HYT watch the prize of Best Innovative Watch. Then, there are horology purists that view HYG watches as an aberrant abomination. I tend to agree with the former group.
HYT is a different kind of watch, built around a completely new type of movement that relies on the motion of fluids to help tell time. The fluid module (movement) has two reservoirs that compress and expand using a system of two bellows to move the liquid. Beginning at 6 a.m. the coloured liquid moves around the outer portion of the dial. Once the coloured liquid reaches 6 p.m., it takes about a minute to drain into the reservoir and begin its next journey around the dial. Don’t worry; the watch continues to tell perfect time by using a hand-wound movement. If you want to get a better handle on how the technology works, I’d suggest you have a peek at the company’s technology page.
I’d be lying if I said that I perfectly understood how this movement works. After all, I am not a watchmaker or engineer, but from what I do understand, it’s an ingenious combination of liquid and solid parts to create a first-in-the-world-of-its-type timepiece movement. Adding to the fact that HYT watches look like nothing else on the market also helps to explain why these incredible looking pieces of engineering that use a sapphire crystal dome to contain the entire movement usually sell for tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.
With over a thousand movements in its history, Jaeger LeCoultre is a well-known luxury watch brand with a lengthy history of patents and watchmaking inventions. But instead of droning on about this Swiss maker’s antiquity, let me instead tell you a bit about some of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s innovations and notable timepieces.
In 1944, Antoine LeCoultre invented a first-of-its-kind tool to accurately measure the micron. He called the device the Millionomètre. How small is a micron, you ask? It’s one-millionth of a meter or one-thousandth of a millimetre. So pretty small, I guess. This next bit, you can thank me for on your next trivia night. The invention of this tool was not only useful in the precise manufacture of tiny watch components; it was so valuable to Swiss watchmaking that it was kept as a closely guarded secret for over fifty years. It was only revealed at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900. How insane is that?
Continuing its prolific and almost casual record-setting, Jaeger-LeCoultre broke another record in 1907 when it created the world’s thinnest watch movement at only 1.38mm thick.
Today’s Jaeger-LeCoultre watches run the gamut of dial and case design. Everything is on display so-to-speak. From the refined Chronographs of the Duomètre collection that will run you about 40 thousand dollars for each piece to the decidedly rectangular cases of the Reverso line. From the handsome Polaris collection to the elegant women’s collection dubbed the Rendez-Vous to the unquestionably insane Gyrotourbillons of the Hybris Mechanica collection, there’s a watch for every wealthy man or woman amidst this brand of high-end watches.
Oh, and did I mention this company invented something called the Atmos clock? It’s a nearly perpetual clock that requires almost no intervention from humans to keep running, basically forever. It uses energy from the changes in temperature and atmosphere to wind itself. And it was invented in 1928. No big deal, right?
Montblanc is somewhat unique amidst its peers on this list in that it’s strictly not just a watch manufacturer. Oh sure, some of the other designer watch brands here also dabble in a few different product categories, but Montblanc is first and foremost seen as a maker of luxury goods. In fact, you probably know them most famously for their luxury line of writing instruments, aka pens.
But it would be a shame to dismiss the company’s watchmaking division simply for the reason that the company also produces items in other luxury goods categories. After all, Montblanc’s watchmaking prowess dates back to the 1880s when the company began to specialize in developing pocket watches that could wound with a crown. Today’s Montblanc watch collection is relatively small, but amidst the pieces you will find there, many of them exhibit plenty of beauty and style, not to mention that you can own one without completely breaking the bank.
Corum is as representative of Swiss watchmaking in the modern-era as one could possibly hope to conceive. Founded in 1955, Corum has been dedicated to the art of fine watchmaking for decades and has not been afraid of using unique and lateral thinking as to what a classic watch could be possibly made out of.
Early on in its growth as a company, it conceived of the “coin-watch,” which used a $20 gold coin to create a wristwatch. Today, the Heritage Coin collection continues its remarkable run and continues to use valuable American heritage coins as the basis of its dials. So finely made and unabashedly American looking, several U.S. presidents have worn one version or another of the Heritage Coin watch, including Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, George Bush Sr, Ronald Regan, and Lyndon B. Johnson.
However, don’t think that Corum’s tradition of thinking outside the box concerning Swiss watchmaking design stops at their idea of turning coins into watches. Have a closer look at the equally awesome Golden Bridge, Admiral, Lab, and Bubble collections. Once you’ve come back, tell me you’re not impressed with their design decisions?
Suppose you’re looking for the type of Haute horological excellence that only a Swiss watchmaker with over two centuries of experience can deliver in a timepiece. In that case, Girard-Perregaux is where you should look. With origins dating back to 1791, this incredible brand is best known for the historic Tourbillon with three gold bridges and a few other notable models.
Pursuing the domain of high-quality mechanical watchmaking, Girard-Perregaux has proven time and time again that its mastery of horological device making is nearly unparalleled. Much of that mastery is rooted in the over 80 patents the company owns and continues to exploit in the making of its luxury watches for men and women.
With a single movement at times involving over four-hundred intricate components, Girard-Perregaux has revealed the art in precision engineering by exposing many of its movements for viewing. Fine examples of this kind of watchmaking are reflected in models like the Minute Repeater Tri-Axial Tourbillon and the La Esmeralda Tourbillon. It’s no wonder that the price ranges for Girard-Perregaux also reflect the mastery of watchmaking. I mean, sure, you could get a couple of Ferraris, but instead, why not get a Girard-Perregaux watch and make your other rich friends jealous. But fear not, merely well off person, there are even a few watch models in this company’s collection that retail for under 10 thousand dollars.
Alpina may be the odd duck amidst this list. Not because it’s not a worthy luxury watch brand made in Switzerland, but because it’s owned by another luxury brand on this list, Frederique Constant. Founded in 1883 by Gottlieb Hauser, the company begins as a loose union of Swiss watchmakers dedicated to achieving the highest quality and technical innovation in manufacturing. By 1910, the company creates a perpetual calendar pocket watch, and by 1912 makes its first Chronometer.
Suffering greatly during the Quartz crisis of the 1970s, Alpina is nearly relegated to the dustbin of history of a once successful watchmaker. Thankfully, Dutch entrepreneur Peter Stas comes onto the Alpina scene to help the company realize its potential. In 2002 the company was purchased by Alette and Peter Stas, the previously mentioned Frederique Constant brand owners.
Since that time, Alpina has focused its efforts on producing horological devices in a few primary categories, including their Land, Air, Sea, and AlpinerX collections. Not wanting to be caught completely flat-footed by the company in Cupertino, California, that shan’t be named here, Alpina has even started to wade their toes into the Smartwatch market. And don’t worry, you don’t have to own a Yacht to get into picking up an Alpina or two. Most of their watches retail for somewhere between $500 to $2000.
27. JAQUET DROZ
Springing from the mind of famed Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz, The Jaquet Droz brand began, oddly enough, when Pierre decided to make animated dolls (automata) in the 18th century. It was all a part of a ploy to help him sell his watches and mechanical birds. Through his efforts of developing unique and animated items, Jaquet-Droz caught the eye of Kings, royalty, and Emperors the world over, especially those in China who became his primary benefactors.
In 1784, one year before Vacheron Constantine set up a workshop, Pierre decided to move to Geneva and set up his manufacturing capacity in the city. And then there is a massive gap in the history of the company, for some reason. Nevertheless, the Swatch Group purchased the brand in 2000 and has gone on to continue its tradition of creating some of the most luxurious and unique watches in the world.
And while amidst its current eight collections of watches, you can still find some traditional luxury designs, like this sublime Grande Seconde Tourbillon, Jaquet Droz is better known for dial and case designs that are not exactly traditional. Just have a look at a few of these unbelievably cool examples:
- Loving Butterfly Automaton
- Grande Seconde Skelt-One Red Gold
- Charming Bird
- Grande Heure Onyx
- Parrot Repeater Pocket Watch
- Pocket Watch Ivory Enamel
That’s quite the range of luxury watch design.