Top 10 Luxury Classic Watch Brands In The World
Let’s take a peek into the exclusive world of Haute horology with some of the oldest watchmakers on the planet.
We’ll be looking into the top classic watch brands, including their backgrounds and heritage.
These are just the watches any self-respecting watch enthusiast or would-be collector should know about.
If you ask people to name a classic luxury watch, most would likely say Rolex.
It’s definitely one of the most recognizable names in the watch industry, luxury or otherwise.
In fact, it’s so deeply ingrained in pop culture that some have referred to it as the male engagement ring.
You’d be surprised then that Rolex had a different name when it was founded:
Wilsdorf and Davis.
It doesn’t roll off the tongue, does it?
Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis founded their eponymous company in 1905 in London, England.
The “Rolex” name was not registered until three years later
Aren’t they a Swiss brand?
Yes, they are.
To avoid crippling taxation rates, Hans Wildorf eventually relocated the company to Geneva, Switzerland.
The famed brand with its distinct crown logo is best known for its Submariner and Datejust lines.
2. A. Lange & Söhne
It’s pronounced “a Lung eh And Zu ne,” or, ‘a Lung eh Unt Zu ne” in its native German.
Ferdinand Adolph Lange founded A. Lange & Söhne in 1845, in Glashütte, Germany.
When the Berlin Wall fell, it was re-registered under the same name by Ferdinand’s great-grandson.
The timepieces coming out of this watch house is primarily known for their ingenuity and supreme quality.
These nigh-perfect mechanical creations are a true testament to German engineering.
It’s not surprising then that dignitaries such as Russia’s Alexander II and Germany’s own Emperor Wilhelm II were great supporters of this watchmaker.
Two of the most well-renowned A. Lange & Söhne lines are the Lange 1 and the Datograph.
Breguet watches, pronounced “Bre-geh,” have been on the wrists of such people like Napoleon Bonaparte and Winston Churchill.
Breguet was founded in Paris, France in 1775 by Abraham-Louis Breguet.
Nearly 250 years old, it’s one of the oldest surviving watch brands in history.
In contrast, Breguet and its founder are well-known horological innovators.
It was Abraham Breguet who invented the tourbillion, produced the first self-winding watch, as well as the first-ever wristwatch.
That original wristwatch, the Breguet model No.2639, would go on the wrist of another Bonaparte:
Caroline; who was Napoleon’s younger sister and Queen of Naples in 1810.
People described this new watch design as the “oblong-shaped repeater for wristlet…”
Among Breguet’s most well-known products is the Classique 5157 and, of course, the Tourbillon Extra-Plat 5367.
The International Watch Company, or simply, IWC, was founded in 1868 by American watchmaker, Florentine Ariosto Jones.
IWC would eventually make Schaffhausen, Switzerland its home.
Jones sought out to combine Swiss watchmaking precision with the cutting-edge American technology during their time.
In 1990, IWC further cemented its claim to “Haute Horlogerie” by presenting its Grande Complications.
These watches were at the pinnacle of watch design and complexity during its time.
Today, IWC is also well-regarded for its high-quality aviation watches (the Pilot) as well as its Portofino models.
Léon Breitling (“bright-ling”) founded his watchmaking company of the same name in 1884, in Saint-Imier, Switzerland.
When Léon died, his son Gaston inherited the family business.
Breitling would be eventually bought by Ernst Schneider
Breitling manufacturers primarily focus their high-precision watch designs for two environments:
The sea and the air.
Breitling air – or aviation – watches (Navitimer line) are definitely the more recognizable of the two designs.
For the sea, on the other hand, Breitling created its SuperOcean line of diving watches.
Most popularly seen on the wrist of MI6 James Bond, Omega watches have been the official timekeepers for Britain’s Royal Flying Corps.
Founded in 1848 as La Generale Watch Co. by Louis Brandt, the Omega name would not be seen until nearly 150 years later in 1903.
Omega is widely known for its pioneering and trailblazing spirit.
An Omega was on Buzz Aldrin’s wrist during the Moon expedition.
That makes it the first watch on the moon!
The first commercially-available diving watch was also an Omega.
Omega would go on to grace the wrists of the likes of Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy
When on the track, you’ve got the Omega Speedmaster.
When in water – salt or fresh – you’ve got the Seamaster.
Jaeger-LeCoultre (“jay-JEHR-luh-kul-truh) is much more than just Tony Stark’s go-to watch choice.
In 1933, Antoine LeCoultre founded Jaeger-LeCoultre in Le Sentier, Switzerland.
Since then, the JLC brand has grown to become a pillar in modern horology with hundreds of patents, movements, and inventions under its proverbial belt.
At just one peak of its engineering, ingenuity is the Atmos clock, which needs no human input.
What about some world’s most complicated watches? Jaeger-LeCoultre.
The world’s smallest movement? Also, Jaeger-LeCoultre.
There are few – very few – watches as classic as JLC’s Reverso and Memovox lines.
8. Audemars Piguet
In the Vallée de Joux in 1875, 23-year-old Jules Louis Audemars and 21-year-old Edward-Auguste Piguet founded a small family business.
Today, Audemars Piguet (“Aw-du-mar-pi-gay”) is considered one of the most prestigious watchmakers in the world.
And it’s still a family business!
It also has probably one of the most expensive stainless steel watches: the Royal Oak.
Its iconic Royal Oak line has been endlessly duplicated, imitated, emulated, and “homaged.”
AP’s Royal Oak and its big chronograph brother, the Royal Oak Offshore is on every watch collector’s list.
9. Vacheron Constantin
On September 17, 1755, watchmaker Jean-Marc Vacheron took on an apprentice.
That’s how one of the world’s oldest watch manufacturers got their start.
Vacheron Constantin is part of the unofficial Holy trinity on Haute horology, sharing a spot with Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet.
The watchmaker’s long and storied heritage brings us many world firsts:
- Firstwatch complication
- Firstnonmagnetic timepiece
- FirstGeneva seal
If that’s not achievement enough for you, then you should know about the VC Ref. 57260
The Ref. 57260 is, officially, the most complicated watch in the world.
With a mind-boggling 57 complications.
Aside from Ref. 57260, be sure to check VC’s Patrimony and Historiques watches.
10. Patek Philippe
Watchmaking house, Patek Philippe, has always maintained this claim:
“You don’t really own a Patek. You merely care for it for the next generation.”
Truer words have never been spoken.
Patek Philippe is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious watch houses in the world.
It’s no exaggeration that it is the unparalleled epitome of craftsmanship and understated elegance.
That explains why PP is always a central feature in watch exhibitions.
So much for the once small Stern family business in 1839 at the Vallée de Joux.
This is what peak watchmaking savoir-faire looks like.
And it can be enjoyed for generations to come.
Short of telling you to check all of PP’s models, you should pay close attention to the Perpetual Calendar Chronograph, Nautilus, and Calatrava lines.
Got The Time?
What’s the classic watch brand are in your mind?
Did we snub your favorite classic brand?
Let us know in the comment below!