The name on the watch dial can tell you a lot. It represents a range of intangible qualities, from history, pride and prestige to a reputation for quality and interesting design. But for those who are into watches, there is a lot to take in.
Ideally, it’s best to develop your own impressions and relationships to brands over time and through experience. Everyone has their own tastes and ideally each watch should be judged on its own merits, but you may want to have a basic orientation towards the most popular brands when learning about or shopping for watches.
There are hundreds of watch brands in operation today, each with its own personality and approach to watchmaking. The brands below aren’t necessarily the “best” or the ones to know, but they are just some of the companies you should definitely be familiar with. Together they help you establish a base from which you can explore on your own.
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Sure, you already know Rolex. Aptly represented by the crown logo, Rolex is the undisputed king of luxury watches, worn by countless historical figures and contemporary celebrities. Newer models are sold on the secondary market at prices well above MSRP, and vintage Rolexes are the subject of a highly active and passionate watch collection. You don’t need to know anything about watches to know or want a Rolex. Naturally, the company backs up its reputation with unbeatable quality.
Internationally, Seiko has long been associated with affordable but reliable “everyman” watches. Today, the Japanese watchmaker is a global superstar loved for its quality and value, but it also rivals top Swiss luxury brands for exquisite finishing and innovative technology (especially with its Grand Seiko spinoff brand). Seiko produces almost every component for its watches in-house, ranging from the lowly three digits to the five.
Year of establishment: 1892
RA representative sample: Prospex “Turtle”
Cartier is sometimes thought of as a jeweler, but it is one of the world’s most important historic watchmakers. The French company pioneered the early wristwatches and continues to make some of the most recognizable models today. Cartier’s often formal style means you can’t discuss the brand without using the word “elegant.”
The technology company, like it or not, is a major presence in the watch industry. Since its introduction in 2015, the Apple Watch has continued The entire Swiss watch industry has been overtaken In terms of units sold. It’s the absolute standard for smartwatches, and has caused many traditional watch wearers to switch for good – as it’s a technological marvel, thoughtfully designed based on horological principles developed over centuries.
Year of establishment: 1976
Representative sample: Apple Watch (Shop Pre-Owned)
From the moon landing to James Bond to the official timekeeping role of the Olympics, Omega has had notable partnerships and watches with them. The Moonwatch alone makes the brand a recognizable force, but it has multiple bonafide icons, from dive and dress watches to more chronographs.
The International Watch Company is one of the many brands that come to mind first when talking about watches and their association with aviation. IWC has several important product lines, but is most recognized for its various pilot watch collections based on its military history.
Year of establishment: 1868
Representative sample: A large pilot’s watch (Shop pre-owned)
Jaeger-LeCoultre has a history of notable models, but is best recognized for the Reverso, a watch with a unique reversible case first introduced in 1931 for polo players. Also known as “JLC”, the company produced a range of products from the mid-tier. From everyday wear to high-end, complex horology and luxury for ultra-thin watches.
Year of establishment: 1833
Representative sample: Reverse (Shop pre-owned)
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A strong association with motorsports and chronograph watches characterizes TAG Heuer, known as Heuer until 1985. The modern brand is the most affordable and youth-oriented of its parent company LVMH’s stable of watchmakers, but it produces its own in-house movements. And some high-end pieces too. Its current catalog ranges between heritage models for collectors and modern watches aimed more at first-time buyers.
Year of establishment: 1860
Representative sample: Carrera (shop pre-owned)
Panerai more or less does one thing, with mostly subtle variations: the Italian brand has a big, clear retro military look. Despite its practical roots supplying Italian navy divers, the brand today has relatively high-end watches with in-house movements. Fun fact: Actor Sylvester Stallone is often credited with “discovering” the brand and launching its modern popularity.
Breitling was known for its chronographs and pilot watches many decades ago. Modern Breitling watches have long focused on rugged usability with bold sizing and a brash military stance. Most of the brand’s recent releases have focused on re-releases of vintage models following current industry trends.
Tudor is owned by Rolex and many of its watch components are produced in the same facilities as Rolex watches. The brand offers an irresistible connection to Rolex’s reputation for excellent fit and finish, in-house movements and exceptionally reasonable prices. Tudor is widely recognized as offering some of the best values in luxury watches.
Audemars Piguet is often considered one of the most prestigious names in watchmaking, focusing on high-end, highly finished in-house movements and complex horology. The Swiss brand is essentially synonymous with its Royal Oak and spinoff collections of luxury sport watches.
Since its relaunch in 1990, A. Lange & Söhne has risen to stardom and ranks among the oldest and most respected Swiss watchmakers. The brand’s passionate following is a testament to its refined German approach, strong character and appeal of refined, hand-finished details.
Although Swiss-owned since the 1970s, Hamilton makes its American roots central to its DNA. Hamilton has a rich history and today offers an entry-level luxury watch experience (often sub-$1k) with a wide range of collections and models. The brand is also known for its association with Hollywood and the many films in which its watches have been featured.
Year of establishment: 1892
Representative sample: Khaki Field Mechanical (Shop Pre-Owned)
Timex’s past slogan “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking” is one of the best known in advertising history. The historic American watchmaker has long been at the center of affordability for its brand, and continues today with a wide range of quartz and mechanical watches, many of which cost more than a few hundred dollars.
YThe ear is established: 1854
Representative sample: Weekender (shop pre-owned)
Japanese watchmaker Casio also makes other electronics, but has been almost synonymous with digital and calculator watches since the 1980s. It has multiple watch sub-brands under its name, including the famously durable G-Shock collection.
YThe ear is established: 1946
Representative sample: G-Shock 5600 (Shop Pre-Owned)
Citizen is a watchmaker but also owns a range of other brands, including movement maker Miota, which supplies many smaller companies. Most Citizen watches use quartz movements with batteries that are recharged by light through a technology called Eco-Drive.
Year of establishment: 1918
Representative sample: Promaster Diver (Shop pre-owned)
Richard Mille is known for its outrageous prices and association with high-flying celebrities, and you can even see the brand in the news sometimes. Costing mostly in the six-figure range, Richard Mille watches typically feature complex movements, tourbillons, unconventional materials, aggressive sizing, and flamboyant styling.
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