Throughout many corners of the world, watches are constantly being crafted. Most of these are the relatively inexpensive type, while others are exclusive enough to be considered luxury timepieces.
In this resource, we will be concentrating on the latter. Naturally, one comes to wonder – among all, which nation makes the best? To answer this, we’ve put together a list of the top timepiece manufacturers today, as well as provided links to our individual guides on each. Feel free to use the links below to jump around this page:
One thing – if horological history has taught us anything, it’s that those at the top don’t tend to stay there. Read through our list and then let us know in the comments who you think may take the top spot next.
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Why Buy A Watch From A Specific Country?
It’s safe to say that watch fans everywhere buy their timepieces for many different reasons. We can also guess that most of these buyers also have a smartphone in their pockets when they reach for their wallets.
Accordingly, it quickly becomes evident that watch purchases are not a consequence of the need for keeping time. Nor is there a true need for mechanically recording time down to the tenth of a second, for example.
Watches are a passion purchase, fueled by our emotions. Indeed, they are beautiful objects, aesthetically speaking. Yet most captivating of all is the story behind them.
The wearer may have a particular connection to the horological heritage of a country. Britain, for instance, has a rich history of innovative watchmakers, one that could make a solid case for purchasing an English timepiece.
Similarly, other countries are known for particular techniques. Markedly, German made watches have a very specific style of decorating movements, which is quite distinctive from the Swiss. This is yet another characteristic that could make watches from a specific region a personal preference.
At the end of the day, the wearer attaches their own meaning to their timepieces. This meaning, in turn, allows us to make our own stories behind the timepieces we wear. And if you know “watch people”, you already know they won’t pass up the chance to talk about what they’re wearing.
The Top Watch Manufacturing Countries
Coming in at the top of our list are Swiss made watches. We admit, this is surprising to absolutely no one. It’d be difficult to argue against this, though, given that even the layman associates Switzerland with expensive wristwatches.
Almost every well-known watch manufacturer is located in Switzerland, specifically between the cities of Geneva and Basel. In this 200km long expanse you’ll encounter common watch pantheons like Neuchâtel (Bvlgari), Le Brassus (Audemars Piguet), and Le Locle (Ulysse Nardin), among dozens of others.
Moreover, Switzerland is home to the biggest watch shows of the industry. When brands are preparing to release their newest models, they will usually exhibit them for the first time at Baselworld (Basel) and SIHH (Geneva).
Want to learn more about specific Swiss watchmakers? We’ve got you covered with our list of the best Swiss watches, categorized by price. Check it out if you want a peek into the brands based in the watchmaking capital of the world.
When it comes to the the art of fine timepieces, Germany is a close second to Switzerland. It can be said that what Geneva is to the Swiss, Glashutte is to the Germans.
It is in this town that German watchmaking was born, and where the biggest of Saxon brands operate out of today. Surprisingly, while Germany is often identified as a nation of engineers, they don’t come up in horological conversations as often as they should.
A look at popular brands like Nomos and A. Lange & Sohne should quickly shift this perspective. The characteristic three-quarter plate, Glashutte stripes finishing, and hand-engraved balance cocks are incredibly attractive. Likewise, the increase in German made watch movements is putting the European nation’s watchmakers on the map.
For a depeer look into German watch brands, visit our page on the best German made watches.
The world of Japanese watchmaking revolves mostly around quartz movements. This is due to the fact that, while an entire industry crumbled in the ’70s and ’80s, the Japanese thrived.
Having been the first to market with high-quality, low-cost quartz watches, Japanese movement manufacturers enjoyed incredible success. The likes of Switzerland and the US tried to keep up. Yet, they were not successful, with most going out of business.
Even in the modern day, high-end “Swiss made” watch brands continue using movements sourced from Japan. Aside from being reliable, the cost of these is significantly lower than their Swiss equivalents.
If you’d like to learn about the history behind Japanese watchmaking, as well as our list of the top Japanese watches, use the previous hyperlink to jump to our guide.
In the modern watch industry, Britain has seen itself become one of the underdogs. This is rather unfortunate though, as the country possesses probably the richest hological heritage of all the countries on this list.
Indeed, brands like Graham and Bovet were founded in England. Furthermore, the first marine chronometers were crafted in England, by the historic watchmaker John Harrison.
Today, numerous brands tout a British heritage, though many of their manufactures are located within Switzerland. Nevertheless, their designs still possess distinct design cues.
For a more detailed review of English watchmaking history, as well as the top brands, check out our guide on the best British watches.
The French are yet another nation of watchmakers that has been pushed outside of the focus of modern watches. Nevertheless, it’s easy to make a case for their significance.
The most famous watchmaker of all, Abraham Louis-Breguet, though Swiss-born, worked in Paris a great majority of his life. He served a Royal clientele, the likes of Napoleon and Marie-Antoinette, while also making substantial horological advances.
Surely you’ve heard mention of tourbillons? These were invented by Breguet himself.
Today, the brand by the same name carries his legacy. As do various others, like Cartier, who maintain French design and inspiration in most of their timepieces.
For the best French watches and a recap of their rich history, check out our guide at the previous link.
Often looked down upon as the makers of cheap, disposable watches, Chinese watchmakers have been working at expanding their line of work.
China will likely never cease to manufacture the aforementioned types of watches, they’re simply too good at it. This being said, various Chinese brands have been diligently working to push boundaries and change this perception.
Most recently, Chinese watchmakers have managed to produced incredibly accessible tourbillons. While lower in price, these are still made to very high standards. So high, in fact, that they’ve reportedly been employed by Swiss made brands.
Check out our guide on the top Chinese watches to learn about their history, as well as their future outlook.
Having produced timepieces since the 1930s, Russian watch brands have recently become a huge hit in online watch communities.
The economical nature of their timepieces, along with their variety and their ties to Russia’s history, has made for very popular timepieces.
Most of them fall under the “tool” watch category, being diver and sports model. Yet, even in Russia, there are independent watchmakers with a hunger for innovation.
To read over our list of brands, as well learn about the history and the modern landscape, check out our guide on the best Russian watch companies.
8. United States
Once a powerhouse of watch manufacturing, the United States holds a weak position in modern watchmaking.
There’s plenty of horological history stateside, though, and many young brands are looking to build on it. From watches crafted of old Hamilton pocketwatch movements, to a 100% USA made tourbillon, there’s a rising tide of brands that deserve your attention.
Learn more about them in our guide of American watchmaking and the best US watch brands.
It’s almost alarming that a country so often associated with fine, fashionable goods is not itself a power in the watch industry.
Yet this is the case with Italy. Seemingly the only remnants of Italian watchmaking left today are Panerai and Bvlgari, with both of these producing their timepieces in Switzerland. The city of Florence, rich with watchmaking innovation and historic figures like da Vinci, have also been forgotten by the watch world.
Hope remains, though, as various brands are forging ahead with true Italian-inspired designs. You can read into these at our page on Italian watch brands and their history.
Simply put, there is not much watchmaking history in Australia.
In fact, the country has a history of importing timepieces rather than making them themselves. It’s hard to blame them though, given the physical distance between them and the watchmaking hubs of the world.
Nevertheless, the modern watch brands of the “land down under” are not letting this stop them. Indeed, many still import the majority of the components to then assemble and retail domestically.
However, as we have encountered in the other countries on this list, there remain small players with an appreciation for the traditional craft. These same players are persevering in bringing the appropriate machinery to their country, and in doing so, planting the seeds for a fruitful local industry to flourish.
You can read our page on the best Australian watch brands to learn more about them.
It may surprise you to see the Nordic countries included on this list. Similarly, it may be strange to see a “The Best…” list made up of 11 points, when the normal choice would have been to just leave it at 10.
Having recently delved into what horological offerings the Scandinavian countries have to give, we thought it’d be unjust not to highlight them. By the same token, if you check out our list of the top Scandinavian watch brands, you may be as pleasantly surprised as we were.
Included in our page are some rather talented watchmakers who merit your attention, not merely minimalist fashion watches, which we think any watch enthusiast will enjoy.
More Guides & Watch Articles
Now that you’ve read through our top list of watch manufacturing countries, we’d like to know your thoughts. Do you agree with the order of the countries on our list? Leave a comment below!