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luxury watch brands

You don’t have to be a watch enthusiast to appreciate the fascinating histories of the world’s best-known luxury watch brands.

Some of these brands have been in existence for hundreds of years. They’ve ingrained themselves in our consciousness as synonyms for impeccable craftsmanship and elegant design.

Blancpain

Blancpain, the oldest of all the luxury watch brands, was founded by Swiss watchmaker Jehan-Jacques Blancpain in 1735.

Now, almost 300 years later, Blancpain watches are as prized as ever.

In 1815, rapid industrialisation was forcing well-established Swiss workshops to close down.

Blancpain’s great-grandson, Frederic-Louis, is credited with having transformed Blancpain’s traditional craft workshop into Villeret’s largest modern watch manufacturer. His thoughtful expansion efforts ensured the long-term survival of the brand and its superior quality.

Audemars Piguet

A family-owned business since its inception in 1875, Audemars Piguet is today one of the most widely recognized luxury watch brands. This is thanks in no small part to its flagship Royal Oak series.

In the early 1970s, Audemars Piguet was struggling; newly invented quartz watches threatened its end.

Then the company launched the Royal Oak – the world’s first stainless steel watch marketed as a luxury timepiece.

It was more expensive than watches crafted from pure gold. Yet, thanks to its sporty design and influential fan base, sales climbed. Just like that, a new watchmaking benchmark had been set.

Rolex

It’s impossible to talk about luxury watch brands without mentioning the most identifiable of them all: Rolex. It was originally founded in 1905 as Wilsdorf and Davis.

Co-founder Hans Wilsdorf registered the brand name “Rolex” just three years later. He wanted the watch’s name to be easily pronounceable in any language. He also chose the name Rolex because, phonetically, he said it sounded similar to the winding of a watch.

Omega

Omega started out in 1848 as watchmaker Louis Brandt’s small, single-man workshop. Brandt soon became known across Europe for his precise, high-quality timepieces.

It was several years later, though, when his two sons took over the family business, that history was made. In 1892, the Brandt brothers created the first-ever minute repeating wristwatch – a miraculous feat at a time when these complex movements occurred only in the substantially larger pocket watch.

Jaeger-LeCoultre

In 1833, Jaeger-LeCoultre was born out of pure innovation. Its founder, Swiss inventor Antoine LeCoultre, is credited with having created:

  • a machine to cut watch pinions from steel
  • a keyless system to rewind and set watches
  • the world’s most precise measuring instrument at that time.

Continuing in the spirit of its founder, Jaeger-LeCoultre is still revolutionising the art of watchmaking today. The company has hundreds of inventions and patents, and more than a thousand watch movements, to its name.

Vacheron Constantin

What do Queen Elizabeth II, Napoléon Bonaparte and Marlon Brando have in common? They’ve all been proud owners of a Vacheron Constantin timepiece.

In 1755, 24-year-old master watchmaker Jean-Marc Vacheron signed on as an apprentice to help start his business – a business that, for the past 265 years, has produced some of the world’s most covetable watches.

Vacheron Constantin was founded in Geneva by Jean-Marc Vacheron, 24-years old at the time, in 1755. He was friends with philosophers Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and is responsible for having created the first engine-turned dials.

In 2005, a Vacheron Constantin pocket watch, owned by Egypt’s King Fuad I in the 1930s, was auctioned for R39.5 million, making it one of the most expensive watches ever sold at auction.

Chopard

By his mid-twenties, artisan watchmaker Louis-Ulysse Chopard was a household name in Switzerland. His artistic timepieces were known for their exceptional reliability and precision.

A century later, in 1963, the family-owned business was acquired by Karl Scheufele III, the owner of a German watch and jewellery company known for its creative, Art Deco-influenced designs.

With the Scheufele family at the helm, Chopard’s signature watch, with its free-floating diamond design, became a style staple among the elite.

Patek Philippe

Undeniably one of the world’s best-known luxury watch brands, Patek Philippe was founded in Geneva in 1839. It was started by Polish watchmakers Antoni Patek and Francizek Czapek. Patek was later joined by French horologist Adrien Philippe, the inventor of the keyless winding mechanism.

Initially, the company manufactured pocket watches. In 1868, however, Patek Philippe created the first Swiss wristwatch, for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary.

Patek Philippe watches have been owned by several notable personages, from Queen Victoria Queen Victoria and Pope Pius IX to Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, Pablo Picasso, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Leo Tolstoy and Nelson Mandela.

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