It's no secret that luxury watches do more than tell the time. They are emblematic creations that showcase the prowess and meticulous craftsmanship of their makers. For many, a luxury watch is a symbol of sophistication and, sometimes, an investment that appreciates in value over time, reflecting the wearer's aesthetic sensibility and financial acumen.
It's only fair to state that the act of selecting the "top 10" in any category is almost always subjective. However, there is no denying that there exists a cadre of brands in the luxury watch market that have consistently stood the test of time, delivering quality watches that embody the apex of craftsmanship, innovation, and aesthetic appeal. We like to refer to these brands as the titans of horology.
So, which watchmakers deserve to be on the list of the top 10 luxury watch brands? Here, we'll explore the subject with pertinent information on the brands, share their unique history and specialties, and explain why you can't go wrong with a purchase from one of these storied watchmakers.
The company, founded in 1839 by Antoni Patek as Patek, Czapek & Cie, was renamed after Adrien Philippe partnered with Antoni in 1851 to form Patek Philippe as it is currently known. Still family-owned, the company arguably continues to reign as the pinnacle of Swiss watchmaking, renowned for its meticulous attention to detail, innovative mechanical complexities, and timeless aesthetics.
Image: Patek Philipe
With iconic sports watches like the 5811/1G and the Travel Time 5990/1A-001, the Nautilus is the brand's most popular collection, famed for its signature porthole case construction, rounded octagonal bezel and horizontally embossed dial.
Other notable collections include the Aquanaut, Grand Complications, and the Calatrava. These offer classic timepieces with a blend of traditional elegance and sophisticated ingenuity.
The Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime, identified as the company's most complicated watch, has twenty complications, two independent dials, and a reversible case. It currently holds the record for the world's third most expensive watch at $31 million and the most expensive watch sold at an auction.
Established in 1875, Audemars Piguet remains one of the few independent and family-owned luxury watch brands in the world. Founded by friends Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet, the company has a history of crafting some of the world's most complex watches, such as the 1955 Audemars Piguet ref. 5516, the first perpetual calendar wristwatch with leap year indication.
Image: Audemars Piguet
Audemars Piguet's best-known collection, the Royal Oak, was launched in 1972 and was the first luxury sports watch made from stainless steel. It remains a favorite amongst some of the world's most prominent athletes.
Since its founding in 1874, Swiss watchmaker Piaget has established itself as one of the world's finest watchmakers. Renowned for its ultra-thin and jewelry-laden watches, Piaget collections take luxury to a whole new level, with watches adorned with precious stones including diamonds, sapphires, and emeralds.
The Piaget Polo, launched in 1979, is the brand's most famous collection and has become a symbol of luxury and glamour in many upscale circles. The lineup best demonstrates Piaget's prowess at marrying the worlds of horology and jewelry.
Piaget has been a trailblazer in the manufacture of ultrathin watches since 1957, and fans of this category of watches will find the "magic" of the Altiplano Collection irresistible. With watches with a case thickness of just 2mm, the watchmaker continues to push the envelope of what is possible in the realm of thin wristwatches.
Having started in the world of horology as early as 1775, Breguet is one of the oldest watchmakers on this list. It was founded by Abraham-Louis Breguet, a Swiss-French genius who invented many watchmaking technologies like the tourbillon and the self-winding perpétuelle watch.
Although Breguet watches have been worn by the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, and Queen Elizabeth II, their most famous watch is the Breguet 160, also known as the "Marie-Antoinette" pocket watch. It is a Grand Complication watch commissioned as a gift for the queen.
Breguet has a variety of collections, including the Classique and Tradition, which have a distinctive "Breguet" look. With about 31 models, the Classique collection has simple and elegant watches featuring a guilloche dial, Breguet hands, and Breguet's iconic signature.
Much like Breguet, Vacheron Constantin also stands as one of the oldest brands on this list, boasting a rich heritage that stretches back to the year 1755.
Image: Vacheron Constantin
Founded by Jean-Marc Vacheron, the company is the oldest watchmaker with continuous operation since its founding and has created fascinating timepieces throughout its long history.
True to its roots, the watchmaker has crafted some of the most complex and prestigious timepieces in recent years, the most notable being the Vacheron Constantin 57260 from 2015, which, with a staggering 57 complications, is the most complicated watch in the world.
Characterized by their historical, classical, and adventurous styles, respectively, the Historiques, Patrimony, and Overseas collections are some of the most popular that the brand offers.
Founded by Jean-François Bautte in 1791, Girard Perragaux is one of the most illustrious Swiss watchmakers. Based in Geneva, the watchmaker is most recognized for creating the Tourbillion with Three Gold Bridges in 1867.
Image: Girard Perregaux
Popular collections from the brand include the Bridges and the Laureato. The Laureato collection was introduced in 1975, with sporty yet elegant retro-style watches.
The company chose the Laureato Absolute sub-collection to highlight Girard Perregaux's partnership with Aston Martin F1, with the release of the Laureato Absolute Chronograph Aston Martin F1 Edition. The watch features carbon pieces from Aston Martin's 2021 Formula 1 car.
With a catalog of over 1000 movements to its name, Jaeger-LeCoultre is one of the premier names in horology. Founded in 1833 by Antoine LeCoultre, the Swiss company is renowned for producing the Calibre 101, the smallest mechanical movement in history, and the watch that was won by Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation in 1953.
Collections from the brand include the Rendez-vous, Polaris, Master Untra-Thin, and the Master Control. However, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso collection, which was introduced in 1931, is the brand's signature product. Designed to withstand the rigors of the game of polo, the watches, which still have the Art Deco-inspired geometry, can be flipped over to protect their dial or reveal a second face.
A. Lange & Söhne
The only non-Swiss watchmaker on our list is A. Lange & Söhne. The German company was established in 1845 by Ferdinand Adolph Lange, the pioneer of the Saxony watchmaking industry. His most important inventions included the three-quarter plate and the jumping seconds hand.
Image: A. Lange & Söhne
Although the company closed in 1948 following the occupation of Germany by the Soviets, it was restarted in 1990 by Walter Lange, Ferdinand's great-grandson. More recently, the company made some noise in the horology world with the announcement in 2013 of the Grand Complication. The 50mm watch with multiple complications was valued at $2.6 million at the time of the announcement. Only six pieces were made available for sale.
Loved for its elegant perpetual calendars and minute repeaters, A. Lange & Söhne's current lineup includes watches in the Lange 1, Zeitwerk, 1815, Saxonia, Richard Lange, and the Odysseus collections.
Formed by American watchmaker Florentino Ariosto Jones in 1868, IWC (International Watch Company) Schaffhausen was born from Jones' dream of fusing traditional Swiss horology with modern and advanced American technologies.
Image: IWC Schaffhausen
Popular for its meticulously crafted high-quality aviation-themed luxury timepieces, the Schaffhausen-based company pioneered the use of Ceratanium, a titanium alloy in watchmaking. The light and scratch-resistant alloy combined the benefits of titanium and ceramic to make the watches more durable and corrosion-resistant.
Current IWC collections include the Pilot’s Watch, a set of aviation-inspired timepieces, and the brand’s icon, the Portugieser. The Portugieser includes timepieces with intricate complications, like the flagship Grand Complication, which includes a chronograph, perpetual calendar, and minute repeater.
Based in Locle, Switzerland, Ulysse Nardin was founded in 1846 by Ulysse Nardin, a young horologist who specialized in marine chronometers. The company notably supplied chronometers to over 50 naval forces during the 19th and 20th centuries, cementing its reputation in precision and reliability in the maritime realm.
Image: Ulysse Nardin
Known for its bold and somewhat avant-garde designs, some of Ulysse Nardin's notable lines include the Freak and the Blast collection, which offers the remarkable astronomical watch, the Moonstruck. However, the brand doesn’t restrict itself to unusual designs. It also offers the Marine Collection, which features more conventional timepieces.
While some may argue that other brands should have made the list, it highlights most of the crème de la crème of luxury watchmaking, showcasing brands honing their craft over centuries. Each watchmaker embodies a unique blend of history, innovation, and artistry, which shines through in their exquisite collections.