The world of luxury watches can be a bit confusing when you first enter it. There are so many luxury watch brands that it feels like it’s hard to identify all the brands, their rankings and what makes them so special. It could be simpler to think that luxury watch brands are like comic books. Yes, comic books. Comic books have limited runs, and of course, number ones or special editions that are worth more than the average issue. Now, some comic books have chromium covers, or there are chase covers per issue. For super limited runs, the chase or chromium cover is going to have a higher resale value than the basic comic book issue from the same run, and that’s how (kind of) luxury watch brands run. Some of the higher-end luxury watch companies will create anywhere from 20 to maybe 2,000 of a particular watch. Once they’re sold, the only way to acquire them is via resale. But unlike comic books (sadly), luxury watches don’t depreciate, they only appreciate.
Want to know more? Keep reading as we discuss where these brands came from, what makes them so special and what are some of the best luxury watches to buy right now.
Where Do Luxury Watch Brands Come From?
If it seems that luxury watch brands only come from Switzerland, there may be good reason. That tiny country has over 700 watchmakers living within its 15, 940 square miles. While other countries do have luxury watch brands, most of them have parts that are made in Switzerland, and that country’s considered to be the world’s biggest exporters of watches. According to Swiss Law, the mechanics, casing and the watch’s final inspection must be done on Swiss soil to achieve the designation “Swiss Made.”
What Makes Luxury Watch Brands Special?
Luxury watches brands achieve their designation as luxury watches because of the high quality of materials used to create each piece. That includes the mechanisms, the calibre, the way the watch is run, the insides — if you will — which are all painstakingly created to be accurate to the literal Nth degree. Built with precision and by hand, it can take almost a year to complete a luxury watch. Put all those factors together, and that explains why they are such a pricey purchase. Luxury watches are also defined as a watch that is created solely by watchmakers. The only two exceptions to that rule are Cartier and Chopard, both those houses also create jewelry.
Luxury Watch Prices
While luxury watch prices can be astronomical (the most expensive can cost a cool million), many luxury watch brands have lower-priced watches. These watches are sometimes called “entry-level,” or “starter watches,” and they can range from around $1K to over $20k. They can be considered the most affordable option when lusting after a higher-priced luxury watch.
Ranking Luxury Watch Brands
If you do a web search on the top 25, 50 or even the 100 top luxury watch brands, you’ll see a lot of the same names but in a different order, all depending upon the publication. There isn’t a list that is set in stone per se, if there was, life would be easier for all of us. We’ve narrowed the luxury watch brands to a manageable 10. Read on to find out a bit more about each brand, and what they have to offer.
Rolex is based in Geneva, Switzerland, but its roots are British. The company was originally known as Wilsdorf and Davis, after the owners and brothers-in-law Hans Wildorf and Alfred Davis, and was started in London, 1905. They started off as Swiss watch movements importers, and after opening an office in La Chaux-de-Fonds Switzerland in 1908, Wildorf came up with the name “Rolex.” He was looking for a word that could be easily pronounced in any language, and to him, it sounded exactly how a watch sounds when being wound. Glossing over the company’s history, the first Rolex watch was the Oyster back in 1926. It was so named because of the hermetically sealed case that repelled dust. The company has gone from strength to strength over the years. Through popular literature, movies and TV, it has become to many, the ne plus ultra of watches — to many, owning a Rolex means that they’ve made it.
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual is often considered the brand’s entry watch. Made to last, it’s as water and dustproof as the original. Its price tag usually hovers around $5,000. The timelessness of the watch’s style lends itself to both dress and casual wear. Yes, one could wear the Oyster with the brand’s iconic silver and gold bracelet, but it looks just as sleek in one tone. This one has a white dial with luminous and black indices. It uses the Rolex 3130 automatic movement with a 48-hour power reserve.
Rolex Oyster White Dial Stainless Steel Bracelet
Based in Biel, Switzerland, Omega’s watches are interwoven into America’s history. Elvis Presley owned a 1960 Omega, and astronaut Buzz Aldrin wore his Omega Speedmaster on the moon. The company was created back in 1855 and has watches at almost every price point. Omega’s Speedmaster Moonwatch series of chronographs is an homage to Aldrin and the other members of Apollo 11. The collection ranges in price from $5,250.00 to $45,300.00
Omega’s entry watch is their chicly designed Omega Prestige Co-Axial Chronometer. It sports a pale gray face that’s adorned with six blued cabochons and blue Roman numerals to delineate the hours and has a date window at the 3 hour. This 39mm watch is a self-winding chronometer that has a co-axial escapement, and a 48-hour reserve.
Omega Prestige Co-Axial Chronometer
3. Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe creates about 5,000 watches a year, and it takes almost nine months or more to make just one. These intricately designed timepieces often become heirlooms. In an episode of Billions, Wags was reduced to tears when he recounted how his Patek Philippe (inherited from his father) was stolen from him during an ill-fated romp. The Swiss watch company’s pieces have reached an almost legendary status. The company started back in 1839 and is one of the oldest watch companies in the world. Prices for new Pateks can range from anywhere from $12,500 to over a million, and pre-owned (never say used) can be even higher depending upon the model. Sometimes, depending upon the model, one might find a pre-owned Patek Philippe for around $10,000. The brand has three entry level watches: The Nautilus, The Calatrava or the Aquanaut styles.
The Patek Philippe Calatrava silver and 18k rose gold watch is sleekly designed, and created to match anyone’s wardrobe, from day to night. The 38mm case is 18K rose gold, with gold-toned dauphine hands and hour makers. It is a manual wind watch with a 44-hour power reserve and a transparent back.
Patek Philippe Calatrava Silver & 18k Rose Gold Watch
4. Audemars Piguet
Founded back in 1875 by Jules-Luse Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet, this watch company has always been a luxury watch brand. Today they create about 36,000 watches a year. Audemars Piguet are known innovators; they originated the skeleton watch and have also made some of the thinnest watches in the world. In 2019, they created the world’s thinnest automatic perpetual calendar watch. Audemars Piguet just released their Code 11.59 collection (or family) of watches, they’re also known for their Royal Oak, Millenary, Jules Audemars, Haute Joaillerie and other styles. The first Audemars Royal Oak watch was released back in 1972, and it caused a sensation as the stainless steel watch was a unique combination of luxury and sporty. Every few years it goes through a few iterations, but the core style, the octagonal bezel and steel bracelet remain unchanged.
Because of its price tag, it can be the brand’s entry watch, but even so, at $20,000 or so, that is steep for a “starter” watch. This shiny and slick stainless steel model has a 41mm case, gray textured dial with white gold applied hour markers, and the Royal Oak hands have a luminous coatings.
Audemars Royal Oak Selfwinding
5. IWC Schaffhausen
Florentine Aristo Jones was an American watchmaker who fought in the Civil War. After that was over, he headed to Europe with the hopes of settling in Switzerland and creating a watch company that combined the best of American and Swiss watchmaking, and thus in 1868, IWC Schaffhausen was born. They are known for their meticulously crafted timepieces of which there are six styles or families. They are the Portugeiser, Pilot’s Watches, Portofino Da Vinci, Aquatimer and Ingenieur. Their history is rooted in aviation, during WWII, British pilots wore their watches. Tom Brady, Lewis Hamilton, and Bradley Cooper are all ambassadors of this storied brand.
Looking to get into collecting IWC watches? Their IWC Schaffhausen Pilot’s Mark XVIII Petite Prince Edition Automatic 40mm Stainless Steel and Leather Watch, Ref. No. IW327004 is a smart looking entry watch. Sporty looking with a navy dial and leather straps, this 40mm watch is manual winding with a 42-hour reserve and has Swiss-made calibre 30110 automatic movement. The stainless steel case has a soft magnetic-resistant inner case and an engraved back.
IWC Schaffhausen Pilot’s Mark XVIII Petite Prince Edition Automatic
Maker of the most complicated watch, the Grand Complication, and owners hundreds of patents and innovations, it’s easy to state that inventions are in the Swiss company’s bloodstream. They’ve been around since 1833, and each year following they have blown the minds of watchmakers from all over. In December 2018, they, along with Vacheron Constantin and Cartier, were given the environmental rating “Upper Midfield” by the World Wildlife Fund for the company addressing the impact their manufacturing takes against the environment. They’re known for their Reverso, Duoplan and the Calibre 101. Queen Elizabeth II was spotted wearing the Calibre 101. Ralph Lauren recently released a chronograph watch that uses Jaeger-LeCoultre movements. Prices for a Jaeger-LeCoultre can range from $6,000 to well over $100,000.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Classic Medium Small Seconds is an ode to Art Deco, the bracketed dial has a small seconds subdial at the 6. The manual wind watch has a 42-hour reserve. The Reverso was first designed for polo players. The idea was that they could wear the watch reversed and it would not only be easier to read, but it would also save it from the dings and knocks of the game.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Classic Medium Small Seconds
Founded in 1863, the Chopard company was known for its pocket watches and ladies’ wristwatches. In 1963, the founder’s grandson Paul-Andre Chopard sold the company to watchmaker and jeweler Karl Scheufle. By 1976, the company started creating watches that highlighted a free-floating diamond. During the 80s, the brand expanded once again, and started designing and making men’s watches and luxury jewelry.
Chopard, like Cartier, is the exception to the rule that only watchmakers make watches, as both companies create jewelry for both sexes as well as luxury watches. For a luxury brand, they’re extremely active and create at least 75,000 watches per year. That’s not to say that because they make so many watches, they are not a luxury watch brand. They are, and they will be for quite a while to come. Ryan Reynolds wore one in the movie 6 Underground. It’s the Chopard L.U.C XPS 1860 Officer Watch ($26,0000). For men they make four families or series of watches: Alpine Eagle, L.U.C, Classic Racing and Racing Stripes. They make quartz, automatic and manual watch movements.
While they’re known for glam watches and red carpet jewelry, their Chopard L.U.C. XP 40mm Automatic watch is rather sexy. This blue-on-blue watch with a sleek brown alligator strap has gold-plated hour markers and is a self-winding watch with a 58-hour reserve.
Chopard L.U.C. XP 40mm Automatic
Cartier, like Chopard, is a jeweler and a watchmaker. Perhaps their most famous design is the Cartier Tank Watch. They say that Louis Cartier was inspired to create the watch after viewing the tread of a Renault tank during WWI. The truth may be found somewhere in the mists of time, but we do know that Cartier created an iconic watch shape that has often been copied. While Rolex, another well-known luxury watch brand that’s been called the “gateway to luxury watches,” Cartier also has well-priced entry-level luxury watches. In addition to the Cartier Tank, they offer the Drive de Cartier, Santos de Cartier, Rotonde de Cartier, Caliber de Cartier, Ballon Bleu, and the Santos-Dumont collections. As with any luxury watch brand, some models are crazy expensive. However, slipping on and owning a Cartier watch is not as frightening as one would think. Their men’s Tank Solo watch can be had for under $3,000.
The Cartier Tank Solo is a sleekly classic watch that doesn’t need flash to prove how great it is. The watch has a calfskin band that can be changed out, and the rectangular steel dial is highlighted with bold black Roman numerals. The watch has a quartz movement and will look as incredible in 50 years as it does now.
Cartier Tank Solo
Breitling watches are all fitted with chronometers that are certified by the CSOC. The watch company was established by Leon Breitling in 1884. Their men’s watches include the Navitimer, Chronomat and Super Ocean collections. The company’s known for their easy-to-read large faces. New watches range in price from the low $4,000s to over $30,000.
The Breitling Navitimer Automatic 41 A17326161C1P3 is really sexy watch for men with a chic-looking dial. The white indices and numbers pop against the deep blue background, and there’s a clever date window at the 6. This is a self-winding mechanical watch that has the Breitling 18 calibre, a 38-hour power reserve, and a built-in chronometer, ensuring that it will always be accurate.
Breitling Navitimer Automatic
Some say that the Italian fashion house created the first fashion or designer watch back in 1972. Unlike other fashion brands who’ve delved into watches, Gucci’s watches are made in Switzerland in the company’s own watch facilities. They even went as far as procuring a Swiss factory that creates watch dial specifically for the brand. Not bad for a watch that ranges in price from $910 for the G-Timeless striped watchband watch, to their G-Timeless gold bee-encrusted watch face and blue lizard strap for $2,800.
On one hand, Gucci is considered a fashion or designer watch, as it comes from a fashion house. On the other hand, they have their own proprietary factories in Switzerland and utilize Swiss mechanisms within their watches. So, in a very roundabout way, yes, Gucci watches can be considered both a fashion watch and a luxury watch brand. Unlike the other luxury watch brands, Gucci’s entry watch is affordable, one can even use an after-pay program like Klarna to split up the purchase price. The only unfortunate thing about a Gucci watch is that unlike the other luxury watch brands, Gucci watches do not appreciate in value over time.