Switzerland’s enduring obsession with fine timepieces has established it as the horological capital of the world. Correspondingly, within the countries’ borders lie countless watch brands, from the most well-known names to the most obscure watchmakers.
In this page, we will be bringing you the best Swiss watch brands that money can buy. And speaking of money… if we’ve learned anything being avid watch aficionados, it’s that watch prices can range from reasonable to reasonably insane.
For that reason, we will be breaking down our picks into the following categories:
Our list of top Swiss watch brands is by no means intended to be exhaustive or final. However, the brands that we’ve covered represent a great majority of the timepieces produced today.
In effect, this resource is intended to be dynamic. History has proven that brands can fall and rise again. Similarly, we will be updating this page as new brands gain a foothold and established ones fall behind. Make sure to check back often for future updates!
The entry-level tier of luxury Swiss watches is reserved for models ranging in price up to $5,000. While some brands live exclusively in this category, others will offer models that start around this price point, but quickly fall out of the confines as you traverse their catalog.
There is absolutely no doubt that the timepieces in this price range will be of high quality. Correspondingly, the movements will usually be Swiss-made with at least some level of decoration. Similarly, the case is sure to be a premium steel, finished to a very high degree.
Just because we’re in the entry category, it does not entail that any kind of imperfection is acceptable. In other words, precision is one of the pillars upon which Swiss watchmakers stand. Consequently, any kind of misprint, incorrectly finished bevel, or poor mechanical performance is inadmissible.
This price category serves the purpose of allowing neophyte watch fans to find out what they like. There’s a ton of variety to be hand, and there’s also a ton of value. As we will see a bit later, many brands remain in this price range not due to a lack of watchmaking quality and expertise, but due to marketing.
Our top brands in this category include:
The TAG Heuer brand is well-recognized in the watch industry for its historical Carrera chronograph and, more recently, for high-tech releases.
The brand has also become the official timekeeper of numerous sporting events, including the Indycar Series and the LaLiga Spanish soccer league.
With exciting timepieces and exciting partnerships, the brand is sure to continue earning the wrists of watch fans all around the globe.
Albeit a Swiss watch manufacturer in the modern day, Hamilton watches possess a rich heritage of American watchmaking. Their timepieces have also maintained an illustrious career in feature films that persist to this day.
Boasting attractive designs, outstanding quality, and very competitive prices, Hamilton timepieces have earned themselves a spot in even the most demanding of watch collections.
Since the 1850s, Tissot has been producing timepieces from Le Locle, Switzerland. They’ve garnered a reputation for sports chronos as well as dress watches, and they offer them at consistently at accessible prices.
The brand’s centuries-old heritage also allows them to look back and draw inspiration from their horological past. Their modern PRS chrono, as well as the timeless Visodate, prove this brand has plenty of runway ahead of them.
Oris is one of the biggest watch brands in the industry, and one which until recently seemed to be an underdog. Always producing quality timepieces, evidenced by their long-standing Aquis and Big Crown collectiones, Oris has forged ahead nonetheless.
Their attractive designs, an unwavering commitment to quality, and bold value proposition makes them an ideal entry-level watch for those looking to get their feet wet in the world of luxury timepieces.
Longines’ long history has allowed them to master many classes of timepieces, from ultra-thin dress watches to rugged divers. Consistently, they’ve shined in each category they venture into; one need only take a look at their Legend Diver or Avigation Type A-7 pilot’s watch to agree.
Moving up the ladder, we delve into the second tier of Swiss timepieces, generally in the price range of $5,000-15,000. At this level, we start to bump shoulders with the most prestigious brands, as well as the most recognized ones.
The movement quality goes up a notch. If the watch possesses a sapphire case back, one will be able to appreciate the fine decorations, polished chamfers, and high-grade components that characterize them. In-house movements can also be expected.
By the same token, the case material is upgraded. Steel still reigns king, though titanium will often be used.
Moreover, precious metal options will start to appear, most prominently as two-tone varieties. Additionally, it is in this category that exotic materials like ceramic will surface, particularly in the bezel.
The dial options in this range will also become more intricate. Premium details, such as a guilloché or sunray finish, are typical. The indices will certainly be hand-applied, likely lumed, and often presented in anti-corrosive metals (e.g. gold).
The best Swiss watches in this category include:
While many people believe Rolex is the most expensive watch brand, this guide will exemplify how it is not. Yet this is not a failure on Rolex’s part, as they’ve not set out to accomplish it.
It’s evident in their timepieces that they’ve set out to make the perfect luxury watch. To many, they’ve achieved this categorically. The rest have probably not spent enough time with one on their wrist.
Most widely recognized for their Speedmaster and Seamaster models, Omega boasts a lineup of modern timepieces of almost endless variety. They’ve revolutionized the watch space in the past as well as recently. Undoubtedly, they’ll continue to innovate and excite watch aficionados for decades to come.
JLC has been producing high-quality watch movements for most of its history, though the last couple of decades have seen them evolve immensely. Notably, they’ve been able to craft and establish horological classics such as the Reverso, while also pushing horological technology to create marvels like the gyrotourbillon.
Possessing a history forever tied to Italian watchmaking, the Milanese watch brand Officine Panerai is no longer known just for dive watches. And while always flaunting their iconic case designs, the original Radiomir and Luminor models have sprouted offsprings that have themselves become modern classics.
Zenith is yet another mid-tier watch brand which holds an illustrious career of movement manufacture. Their El Primero caliber, the first ever automatic chronograph movement, even made its way into Rolex’s Daytona models.
Regrettably, the brand has lost some steam in the modern day, though the recent release of watches like the Defy El Primero 21 ensures we won’t take our eyes off of them, and you shouldn’t either.
Now we’re talking real luxury! The timepieces considered high-end will range in retail price from $15,000-75,000.
You may be thinking, what separates a mid-tier watch from a high-end luxury timepiece? Well, there’s a couple of things.
For one, the watches in this category tend to be crafted entirely of various golds or platinum. In the same fashion, some may even be wholly constructed of “performance materials” such as ceramic or forged carbon fiber.
Second, the internals. The movement of these opulent timepieces will be finished to impeccable standards, and often be Geneva Seal (Poinçon de Genève) grade. Furthermore, the complications available may include annual or even perpetual calendars.
Finally, this category will also see the introduction of diamond applications. Comparatively, while you may find a diamond dial here or there in the mid-tier category above, it is in high-end watches that brands begin to display their gemstones most liberally.
The extravagant Swiss brands we consider high-end watch manufacturers include:
Patek Philippe timepieces will often be considered the epitome of timepiece perfection, and rightly so. The unimaginable degree of craftsmanship and attention to detail required to produce just one of their creations has earned them the esteem and respect of watchmakers everywhere.
Once a brand mostly dedicated to high complications, Audemars Piguet in contemporary times has becomes a true luxury powerhouse. Their Royal Oak platform continues to fascinate veterans and neophytes alike, guaranteeing the success of the brand way past the foreseeable future.
Francois-Paul Journe, the creative genius behind F.P. Journe, has proven that all it takes is the determination of a single man to bring a watch brand to worldwide distinction. Having produced watches for just over 20 years, it will be interesting and exciting to see where Journe’s watches are in another 20.
Along with Patek and Audemars, Vacheron Constantin is the final member of the so-called “Big Three” of watches. Their watchmaking tradition, which stretches back into the 16th century, has proven successful through history and likewise continues to do so today.
Breguet watches carry the name and legacy of the most historic watchmaking figure, Abraham-Louis Breguet. His tradition of producing timepieces fit for royalty has not been forgotten and has seen applications throughout the modern Type XX, Marine, and Classique model lines.
Also known as high horology, this category contains the crème de la crème. We can’t put an upper price limit on this category since it changes on a yearly basis (or less), so we’ll just say that it starts around $75,000.
Watches considered haute horlogerie are the kind of timepieces that are purchased when money is no object. These creations are the result of the most prestigious watchmakers asking themselves “What if?”.
“What if we pack 20+ complications into a single wristwatch?”, or “What if we craft a watch case entirely out of sapphire crystal?”. You get the idea.
These, the most luxurious and expensive timepieces ever, generally fall into two categories.
First, we consider complications. Notably, the most innovative complications, or collection of complications, are encountered in this group. A minute repeater can almost be considered standard among these peers. Regular tourbillons are not enough, they must become gyrotourbillons.
Alternatively, haute horlogerie timepieces will lean more towards haute joaillerie, or jewellery. These timepieces tend to be covered in factory-set diamonds throughout. Likewise, they may be crafted of a secret proprietary material, or made entirely of sapphire, as alluded to earlier.
It’s important to note here that some mid-tier and high-end brands will often produce watches that will fall in the haute horlogerie category. This will often occur when years of R&D by a particular brand yields a new concept watch.
These watches will tout the latest horological technology and lavish price tags. As the particular brand perfects the technology and it becomes more commonplace, it will tend to make its way down towards their less luxurious models.
The Swiss made watch brands selling these timepieces include:
Having been founded in 2004 by Stephen Forsey and Robert Greubel, the Greubel Forsey watch brand has succeeded in its mission of pushing the boundaries of complications and creativity itself to produce the most outstanding (and expensive) timepieces ever seen.
Bovet’s timepieces fill a niche in the modern watch world that few dare enter: the overlap between modern horology and extravagant art.
Not merely an attempt, Bovet’s execution is flawless, making for discernible and opulent watches desired by many, yet enjoyed only by a lucky few.
The Richard Mille watch brand has seen a meteoric rise to fame like none other that has been encountered before. Being less than 20 years old, the brand boasts success not achieved by even the most established names.
It’s also become the timepiece of choice for top athletes and celebrities alike. Basically, if you’ve spent any time on social media in the past 12 months (as of June 2019), you definitely know what a Richard Mille looks like.
Jacob & Co.
Jacob & Co. has made a historic comeback that will surely be talked about for decades to come. Previously known for their 5 time zone watch, the modern day has seen Jacob & Co. bring the most grandiose and lavish timepieces to life. Check out their Astronomia collection to see what we mean.
While the other names on our list are relatively big operations, Kari Voutilainen is an extremely talented watchmaker with his own watch brand who could not go unmentioned.
His timepieces, many of which are made-to-order under direct client specifications, embody the passion for perfection and tradition that inspires their creator. Similarly, they’ve allowed the Voutilainen name to travel from the small town of Môtiers into the collections of the most scrupulous horologists around the globe.
History Of Swiss Watchmaking
Watch movement signed by Tompion & Graham. Image: Watchpro.com
Our previous section has made it glaringly clear that the modern watch industry is absolutely dominated by Swiss watch brands. Surprisingly, throughout history this was not always the case.
The watchmaking craft is believed to have surfaced in the 14th century, and not in Switzerland, might we add. The first traces of horology made their way to Swiss territory when French Huguenot refugees settled in Geneva.
In the mid 1500s the protestant reformist John Calvin, who headed the church of Geneva, declared jewellery ostentatious and thereafter outlawed. Consequently, the multitude of jewellers in the city found themselves forced into the watchmaking trade.
Resultantly, Switzerland would go on to become a watch production hub over the next couple of centuries. In the past, ironically enough, the Swiss were producing cheaper versions of expensive timepieces invented by neighboring countries.
European Watchmaking Innovations
It must be stated that the majority of groundbreaking innovations in the world of watches came at the hands of English and German horologists, not the Swiss. Similarly, French watchmaker Jean-Antoine Lépine would lay the groundwork for the modern wristwatch.
Up until the mid 1800s, the Swiss reigned in sheer volume of timepieces made. However, when entrepreneurial Americans implemented the concepts of industrialization to watchmaking, the USA quickly took the lead.
The Swiss took notice and implemented similar practices in their factories, but the American’s lead would not be turned over until the end of WWII. Markedly, the war had forced factories to turn towards the war effort, an obstacle the Swiss did not face. Geneva was once more the king of horology.
The Japanese, in turn, would have their moment of glory in the ’70s and ’80s. The quartz revolution, better known as the Quartz Crisis, wiped out the majority of traditional mechanical watch manufacturers in Switzerland and the world. This crisis came at the hands of Japanese quartz movement factories.
The brands that survived did so by changing the nature of the product entirely. Once functional necessities, wristwatches had to evolve into decadent accessories in order to prevail.
Swiss Watch Brands Today
In the contemporary world, the game has turned into a battle of marketing budgets. Indeed, brands are sinking millions of Swiss francs into expanding their in-house manufacturing and technological capabilities. Yet, without the proper marketing campaign and brand ambassadors, the fruits of these R&D investments would never make it to customer’s wrists.
Competition is fierce, and new brands are always appearing. Even the biggest players are constantly watching their backs. Luxury watches are more popular and widespread than ever, and luckily for watch aficionados like ourselves, there’s seemingly no end in sight.