Beyond Rolex – Swiss Watch Brands to Explore

Rolex of Switzerland remains the undisputed heavyweight of both the Swiss watch manufacturers and luxury watch brands; the self-titled King of Watches. However, when it comes to a listing of the best Swiss watch brands ranked, there’s much to be gained by exploring other, lesser known Swiss watch brands. If not Rolex, then the Swiss automatic brand watches that spring to mind are the opulent Omega and the sublime Patek Philippe. We’ll take a look at these luxury watch brands,  but we’ve gone beyond the top luxury watch brands to find the best of the rest. With Swiss made watches representing the work of some of the finest horologists in the world, we’re confident that you’ll discover something new from Swiss watchmaking with our all-Swiss watch review.

Tudor by Rolex watches

Date Established: 1926

Location: Geneva

Key Models: Pelagos, Black Bay GMT, Heritage Chrono

If you’re looking beyond Rolex, one of the world’s most expensive watch brands, for your next Swiss high end watches to fall in love with, Tudor has to be your first stop. Montres Tudor SA, known as Tudor, is the Geneva-based Swiss watchmaker that was registered in 1926 by Rolex’s founder. The brands have operated as sister companies since their foundation. Both companies remain in the ownership of the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation. Tudor was created by Rolex to provide a more affordable, more easily accessible route to purchase; however, with the demand for Rolex seemingly unending, vintage Tudors have been quietly rising in value over the last decade.

All Tudors are Swiss-made and it’s fair to say that some models clearly take their design inspiration from some of Rolex’s greats. Some of the best vintage Swiss watches include Tudor’s Submariner Black Bay, released in 2012, comes in a dual-coloured bezel GMT option that captures the very essence of the Rolex GMT Master, down to the red and blue Pepsi colouring. If you’re looking for an alternative to the Rolex Datejust, Tudor’s Style models bridge that gap.

Tudor’s brand ambassadors certainly showcase the brand’s robust credentials, with David Beckham, rugby’s All Blacks and big wave surfer, Nick Von Rupp, representing.

Tag Heuer watches

Date Established: 1860

Location: St-Imier

Key Models: Aquaracer, Monaco, Formula 1, Autavia

Tag Heuer has long been associated with sports and time-keeping, with elite sports sponsorships that have included the Ferrari F1 team and Manchester United. Tag Heuer’s skill and expertise at producing chronographs is so advanced that it has produced watches for many other Swiss watch companies, including rival brand, Rolex.

Tag Heuer’s foundations are firmly placed in invention and innovation, with the creator, Édouard Heuer, a constant at pushing the boundaries of timekeeping technology. Launching his watchmaking business in 1860, Heuer was able to take out his first patent in 1882 developing the oscillating pinion, which allows a chronograph to be stopped and started and is still used in watchmaking globally today.

Find out if Tag Heuer watches are good investments.

Breitling pilot watch

Date Established: 1884

Location: St-Imier

Key Models: Navitimer, Chronomat, Superocean

Founded in 1884 by Léon Breitling, this Swiss watch brand is known worldwide as one of the best watchmakers in the world, famous for its aviation and Swiss dive watches. As chronograph specialists, Breitling’s technical expertise in watchmaking has been responsible for several advancements in watch history. While other Swiss watch brands may be synonymous with aviation, space exploration and sports timekeeping, it is Breitling that supplies several air forces, including the RAF. The first watch ever worn in space was a Breitling, sported by American astronaut Scott Carpenter in 1962.

Working with Dubouis Dépraz, Breitling produced the world’s first chronograph with automatic winding in 1965. Every one of Breitling’s watches, since 1999, has been certified as a chronometer by the COSC (Contrôle officiel suisse des chronomètres), which focuses on precision and accuracy.

Cartier watches

Date Established: 1847

Location: Geneva

Key Models: Tank, Ballon Bleu, Santos, Panthere

Cartier is as well-known for the brand’s couture and jewellery as for their watches – such as the Cartier Tank and the ground-breaking Santos aviation watch – but how does the brand bring together the best in chic Gallic flair with Swiss made watches? Easy to consider Cartier alongside French watchmakers, Cartier watches are firmly rooted in the Swiss watchmaking tradition with all Cartier watches being Swiss made.

While the Cartier brand was founded by Louis-François Cartier in Paris in 1847, the French brand has evolved in the century and a half since its conception. Now a luxury brand that incorporates fine fragrances and leather goods, Cartier captures the best of Switzerland and France. Cartier watches of Switzerland is currently entirely Swiss-owned by the Richemont Group, although the brand is headquartered in Paris. As a watchmaker, however, the Cartier brand has always produced its luxury watches using Swiss-made movements.

It’s tempting to place focus on the look and feel of both Cartier men’s and women’s watches. After all, Diana, Princess of Wales, owned two Tanks, one of which now belongs to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, making it very well known for Swiss ladies watches. Yet Cartier has been the designer watch brand behind some of the most exciting advancements in modern watchmaking. It was Louis Cartier’s friendship with aviator, Alberto Santos-Dumont, that led to the flat wristwatch design that is now worn on billions of wrists worldwide every day.

 IWC pilot watch

Date Established: 1868

Location: Schaffhausen

Key Models: Portugiueser, Pilot, Portofino, Top Gun

While Swiss made watches have delivered the finest in engineering and innovation over the years, the IWC brand has represented the perfect blend of both since its conception in 1868. IWC stands for International Watch Co, which captures the essence of the brand’s story. Created by an American in Switzerland, Boston watchmaker, Ariosto Jones, brought his brand to life in Schaffhausen, controversial for its distance from the watchmaking hubs in the of French-speaking regions of Switzerland.  Jones paired his knowledge of advanced American production technologies with detailed Swiss watchmaking practices to create watches par excellence.

IWC watches stand out from other Swiss made watches for their mechanical brilliance, with IWC creating some of the most complex watches ever produced. IWC’s II Destriero Scafusia, made in 1993, was, for a time, the most complicated watch in the world. IWC watches can fetch up to $1m at auction and they are all the more precious because they are made in such small numbers.

IWC is hugely respected for its pilot watch models, which include watches made from titanium. Although IWC is forensic in their approach to watchmaking, they are also an imaginative brand with a hint of romance in there too. While three of their aviation watches are named with solid, robust names – Classic, Spitfire and Top Gun – the literary-inspired Le Petit Prince, and Antoine de Saint Exupery show a dash of flair.

Patek Philippe watches

Date Established: 1839

Location: Geneva

Key Models: Nautilus, Grandmaster, Perpetual Calendar

Patek Phillipe is one of the world’s most highly regarded premium watch brands and luxury watchmaker. Continuously cited alongside Rolex as one of the most famous watch brands in the world, Patek Phillipe has been dedicated to crafting watches rich with mechanical expertise and brilliance for over a century and a half. Settling in Geneva after fighting in the Polish army, Antoni Patek launched a watchmaking business. Patek would go on to partner with French watchmaker, Adrien Philippe – who was also the creator behind the key-less winding mechanism. It’s Patek’s commitment to detail that protects its position as one of the world’s top watch brands, with over 80 patents secured for hands, dials and minute movements. These patents have not only informed Patek’s development but pushed other luxurious watch brands to up the ante with their own watch models. The brand’s key innovation was the creation of a keyless watch, negating the need for a tiny watch key to wind the mechanism. Refusing to rest on their laurels, Patek Philippe also devised the world’s first self-winding wristwatch in 1953, which removed the need to wind the watch at all. Patel Philippe watches are developed and crafted to keep time for decades – centuries- and are made as heirlooms and one of the best watches that can be passed from generation to generation and make great investment pieces.

Omega watches

Date Established: 1848

Location: Bienne

Key Models: Speedmaster, Seamaster

As watchmakers go, Omega is not only one of the best-known Swiss watches, but it is also one of the most popular watch brands in the world. Often compared with Rolex, Omega has cemented its position in popular culture by going where other watches fear to tread. While other Swiss watch brands worked on their aviation models, Omega took to the stars and graced the wrists of NASA space missions, earning the name of ‘Moonwatch’ in the process. And, although James Bond is a fictional character, the impact of both Brosnan and Craig wearing ten different Seamaster models across nine Bond movies has forever connected Bond and Omega. Omega watches of Switzerland has carved a place for its name in Hollywood outside of the Bond franchise, with both George Clooney and Nicole Kidman brand ambassadors for Omega. There possibly no greater or public show of timekeeping credentials than the Olympics – and Omega have held that role for 90 years. Omega’s stainless-steel sports models perform well underwater, with the Aqua Terra proving watertight to 150m, while the Diver 300m doubles the dive depth.  With a focus on precision, Omega chronometers have performed well in annual chronology trials and relentlessly perform well at auction.

Piaget watches

Date Established: 1874

Location: La Côte-aux-Fées

Key Models: Polo, Altiplano

For over 30 years, Piaget created pocket watches and clock movements that were dedicated to precision. Nowadays, Piaget is one of the best watch brands in the world and is as well known for its stunning jewellery collections as time pieces. Coming from humble beginnings, the first Piaget workshop was on Georges Edouard Piaget’s family farm, nestled in the Swiss Jura. 35 years later, Georges’ son, Timothée, took over the company and grew the brand as a wristwatch brand. Where other famous watch brands have focused on creating strong, roboust sports models, Piaget watches are more likely to be ultra thin, with both the 9P and automatic 12P movements created by Piaget and leading the field in slim movements. With some of the most recent movements only 2.1 millimetres thick, the best example of this is the Piaget Altiplano 900P, which is the world’s thinnest hand-wound mechanical watch at 3.65mm. Piaget is also home to the world’s thinnest Tourbillon movement, with calibre 600P only 3.5 mm thick and 0.2 grams in weight – despite housing 42 minuscule parts. Alongside finessed and ultra-thin movements, Piaget incorporates precious stones into their dials and were the first luxury brand to include colour and stones in this way, with lapis lazuli, turquoise and onyx worked into the dials.

Jaeger-Le Coultre watches

Date Established: 1833

Location: Le Sentier, Le Chenit

Key Models: Reverso, Polaris, Master

Founded in 1833, by brothers Charles Antoine LeCoultre and François Ulysse LeCoultre, this Swiss watch brand showcased the skill and precision of Charles Antoine, who sought to develop new manufacturing and production methods in watchmaking. While it may not be the first Swiss made watch brand that springs to mind, it was LeCoultre that first made it possible to measure mechanical components to the thousandth of a millimetre in 1844. LeCoultre’s crown winding mechanism meant that no key was required and secured Le Coultre a gold medal at the 1st World Exhibition in London.  As the 1800s progressed the brand grew, becoming known for movements and watches, with the company making 125 movements by 1890. A 1903 meeting in Paris between the Antoine’s grandson and Edmond Jaeger, developed a relationship that brought LeCoultre to the luxury watch market and name change to Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1937. The Reverso arrived in 1931, with a flip over case and a focus on design; today, the Reverso still comprises over 40% of watch production. Leading the field in Swiss automatic watches, Jaeger-LeCoultre created the Futurematic in the 1950s and pursued the development of alarm watches to this day, led by the Memovox in the 1970s.

Raymond Weil watches

Date Established: 1976

Location: Geneva

Key Models: Amadeus, Toccata, Parsifal

It takes a brave brand to enter the world of Swiss luxury watches, with so many brands having well over a century of manufacturing and trading under their belt, but that’s exactly what the Raymond Weil did in 1976. While not one of the oldest watch brand, Raymond Weil is one of the last truly independent Swiss family watchmaking brands. Based in Geneva, the eponymous Weil began watchmaking, although annual production numbers remain in the low hundreds of thousands. Born out of the quartz crisis in Swiss watchmaking, the man behind the brand set out to capture his vision of what watches of Switzerland should be. While the brand’s technological focus was firmly placed on precision, design was inspired by music, influencing collections within years of the brand’s launch. 1983’s Amadeus collection was launched alongside the Oscar-winning film of the same name. Other music-driven collections include Fidelio, Traviata and Saxo. Raymond Weil was also pushing at the boundaries of watchmaking techniques, introducing Two Time Zones complication at the close of the millennium. As one of the top luxury watch brands globally, Raymond Weil has mastered the art of blending the practical world of watchmaking, with finessed complications and married it with pristine finishes and superlative design.

If you’re looking beyond Rolex for your next watch or have a brand listed that you’d like to discuss with our experts, please get in touch with us. You can also shop our range of pre-owned luxury watches online now. If you are looking to sell a luxury watch, please get in touch for a free quotation.

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