A wristwatch is one of the most important accessories in the collection of any man or woman. Nevertheless, for the 10 most iconic watch brands in the world, a timepiece is much more than a fashion accessory; it is a statement – an indication of status and an investment that will span generations. The names on this list are more than just brands – they are institutions.
Founded by Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis in London in 1905, Rolex is not only the most recognisable watch brand in the world, but one of the most recognisable brands – period. Rolex is the largest single luxury watch brand, producing around 2,000 watches per day. The company, which moved to its current home in Geneva, Switzerland in 1914, was the first to produce a fully waterproof wristwatch, the first to show two time zones at once on timepieces, and the first to make watches featuring an automatically changing day and date. In addition, what many people do not know about Rolex is that it is actually a non-profit company.
Founded in Paris in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier, Cartier is the most exclusive jewellery brand in the world. Once referred to as the ‘jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers’ by King Edward VII, Cartier created the world’s first practical wristwatch, the ‘Santos’ (named after Brazilian pioneer aviator, Alberto Santos-Dumont) and the first ladies jewellery bracelet-watch. Having moved to its present-day headquarters at Rue de la Paix in 1899, the company remained under family control until 1964, before becoming a subsidiary of Compagnie Financière Richemont SA. Cartier has been issued royal warrants by no less than 12 countries over the years.
3. PATEK PHILIPPE
Widely considered as the world’s most prestigious watch brand by experts, Swiss watch manufacturer Patek Philippe specialises in the design and creation of timepieces and movements in a range of complicated mechanical watches. Polish watchmaker Antoni Patek and French watchmaker Adrien Philippe founded the brand in 1851, being notable for manufacturing its own watch components. Over the years, the brand has pioneered the perpetual calendar, split-seconds hand, minute repeater, and chronograph and has supplied watches to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, among others. Patek Philippe also has its very own museum close to its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
Once a producer of movements for Cartier and Patek Philippe, Jaeger-LeCoultre was founded by Antoine LeCoultre, starting life as a small workshop in Le Sentier, Switzerland in 1833. Collaboration with French watchmaker Edmond Jaeger led to the company being officially renamed Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1937. During its long and distinguished history, the brand has been responsible for hundreds of inventions and has produced over 1,200 calibres. Some of its notable successes include the world’s smallest calibre, a timepiece of near-perpetual movement, and the world’s most complicated wristwatch. In 1847, Antoine LeCoultre invented a keyless watch, though the design was not patented and subsequently used by other major watchmakers.
Founded by Swiss watchmaker Louis Brandt in 1848, Omega is one of the most instantly recognisable brands in the world. The brand is located in Biel/Bienne and has been since 1880, taking its name from its famous ‘Omega’ 19 calibre. In 1917, the British Royal Flying Corps chose Omega as the official timekeeper of its combat units and the American Army quickly followed suit a year later. Omega became the first watch on the moon in 1969 and is the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games and has been since 1932.
Officine Panerai was founded by Giovanni Panerai in Florence, Italy in 1860 and remains headquartered in the city today, despite manufacturing watches in Switzerland. An official supplier of watches to the Italian Navy, the brand produced the first wrist-worn diving instruments and watches, which were provided to the Italian Marina Militare from 1938 to 1993. Having been acquired by Compagnie Financière Richemont SA in 1997, the brand became an official partner of Ferrari, designing watches that featured the sports car logo. A Panerai Luminor was purchased and worn by Sylvester Stallone in the 1995 movie Daylight.
7. TAG HEUER
Having been established in 1860 by Edouard Heuer in St-Imier, Switzerland, TAG Heuer was known as Uhrenmanufaktur Heuer AG until 1985, when the company was purchased by TAG Group SA. The Heuer brand became TAG Heuer and has gone on to become one of the top fashion brands on the planet, thanks largely to current owners Louis Vuitton, which acquired the brand in 1999. TAG’s roots as a watchmaker have not diminished and timepieces remain the brand’s biggest seller. TAG Heuer has been the official timekeeper of Formula 1 and the Skiing World Championships, and has a long-standing association with Hollywood, with numerous celebrities endorsing watches.
8. FRANCK MULLER
Franck Muller is a Swiss watchmaker and owner of one of the most iconic watch brands on the market. Founded in 1991, the brand was able to build on the success and reputation that Franck Muller had earned during the 1980s as a watchmaker and designer of a tourbillon wristwatch. Today, the company is known for its exclusive clientele and its ‘world premieres’, whereby a new product is launched every year featuring something that has never previously been seen in the watch industry. Franck Muller is the watch brand of choice for numerous celebrities, including Elton John and Demi Moore.
9. AUDEMARS PIGUET
Having met in 1874 at Vallée de Joux – the home of Swiss watchmaking – watchmakers Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet founded Audemars, Piguet et Cie in 1875 and soon began creating and assembling components for clients including Cartier, Bulgari, and Tiffany & Co. Audemars Piguet is famous for manufacturing the smallest minute repeater in the world and a jumping second hand pocket watch. Along with Jaeger-LeCoultre, the brand is also responsible for designing the thinnest automatic movement. Today the company produces around 26,000 timepieces a year.
International Watch Company, better known as IWC, was founded in 1868 by American engineer and watchmaker Florentine Ariosto Jones with the intention of combining modern US technology with Swiss craftsmanship to manufacture movements for the North American market. IWC is headquartered in Schaffhausen and is notable for being the only Swiss watch factory to be located in the west of the country. It is also a current member of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH. The brand is the only major Swiss watch company whose founder was American.