For those faithful followers of Haute horology, these top 5 luxury watch brands have captured our imaginations with their time-telling stories, all told through masterfully crafted timepieces.
These luxury watch brands redefine craftsmanship – forging form, fashion, and function into artistic poetry. Of course, they have the added value of keeping time. In fact, the components that run these little machines have preciseness dialed down to the nth degree.
We call these components the “complications,” Which is everything else a watch does besides telling time including showing the day of the week, moon phases, and so on. If you’ve ever taken a watch apart and tried to put it back together, you get it. It’s complicated!
Time in itself is a funny thing. Ask a scientist what time is and you’ll probably be told no one really knows, it is intertwined with what’s believed to be a space-time continuum where the past, present, and future all exist at the same time.
But to the everyday person, it’s just something we wish we had more of, and a constant in the human condition that reminds us we’re always running late. Thanks, time!
We’ll say sayonara to the science babble for now, and just say these top luxury watches remind us that art can be wearable while making a fashion statement. Keep in mind pricing can be all over the map with these as well.
When you get into limited editions, those with a provenance, one-offs, and special editions then we’ll venture in the millions of dollars. Let’s begin by covering some must-know terminology exclusively reserved for the luxury watch market. Remember to pair that watch with a robot dog or your personal flying car. It would be an atrocity not to.
What is Haute Horology?
Horology is the art of watchmaking (The H is silent, BTW). The word is related to the Latin word related to Latin Horologium which was derived from a Greek word, meaning an instrument for telling the hour.
So there you have it. In ancient Greece, everyone had to swing by the town sundial to know if they were running late. To keep folks from overcrowding around the sundial, they probably only had 3 types of time back then. Daytime, Nighttime, and Hangry time.
Haute is the French term most commonly related to high fashion and skillful dressmaking, so the watch world applies the term Haute to reference the unprecedented skill required in crafting timepieces of grandeur. Specifically, the ones we mention here.
In fact, there are many certifications that now define Haute horology and are usually region-specific like the Qualité Fleurier for watchmakers in the Fleurier region of Switzerland, and the Geneva Seal for luxury watches made in Geneva.
Speaking of Geneva, this brings us to the term “Holy Trinity of Watches,” which are all Swiss-made, and happen to be 3 of our top luxury watch brands.
What’s the Holy Trinity of Watches?
This designation by watch experts has been given to 3 of the top luxury watch brands in the world, and they include Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, and Vacheron Constantin.
These watchmakers go beyond using the finest materials deep-seated in a pedigree history, with a provenance attached to each timepiece.
Their mechanism, style, and design set the bar in horology. Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then behold the beauty of these fine watches. After all, “mesmerizing and enchanting” is also a criterion used in the Holy Trinity of Watches.
What’s Tourbillion mean in fine watchmaking?
Derived from the French word for “Whirlwind,” this sums things up the mechanism that constantly rotates the balance wheel, balance spring, and escapement while the movement is running.
Most of us have seen this component in watches that expose its inner workings. That fast-moving gear and springs that are such a visual treat is the tourbillion.
This solved a problem on pocket watches as gravity threw off the balance because the watch was always in one position, harming the accuracy. There needed to be a way to average out the balance and the tourbillon did this.
Since we now have wristwatches that are always in perpetual motion, the tourbillon is somewhat obsolete. Still, it gives luxury watchmakers an opportunity to showcase their skills by amazing us with the intricacies of these teeny, tiny parts.
That’s why we still see the tourbillon. And why luxury watchmakers can charge a pretty penny for this miniature theatre that we get a front-row seat to.
What are the Complications in a watch?
As we mentioned, these are the mechanisms operating everything outside the hours, minutes, and seconds that you expect on a watch. The level of complicity to show moon phases, add chimes (repeaters) days of the week, and different time zones are off the charts.
Now squeeze all that tiny stuff into a wristwatch casing and make it keep accurate time. That in itself boggles the mind.
Founded in 1875, Audemars Piguet was known to be the first to crack the nut of having luxury pricing on watches using non-precious metals, mainly using stainless steel.
Stainless steel is known for its non-corrosive qualities. Their Royal Oak Offshore series became one of the most popular luxury diving watches in the world, so using stainless steel for the encasement was a pretty big deal.
Whereas timepieces were originally worth their weight in gold or the jewels that adorned them, Audemars Piguet proved that horological expertise should be the determining factor on price.
Jetsetty Pick: Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Tourbillon Minute Repeater Titanium
Limited Edition: 10
The tourbillon on this luxury watch is a 10-minute repeater which is rare, and awe-inspiring to gaze upon, especially when you realize someone built this by hand. The barely audible chimes become music to your ears.
Those chimes are the “repeater” part, where the watch chimes every 10 minutes sounding off the hour, how many tens of minutes have passed by, and then the minutes after the last 10. That’s a lot of time-keeping and chiming to do, and this masterpiece delivers with the utmost accuracy.
The casing on the back is also quite amazing, each letter hand engraved and another window to view the poetic motion of the watches’ tourbillon underside.
This family-owned business is known for inventing the first wristwatch and creating a work of art that every watch aficionado dreams about. To give you an idea of how they set the bar, they wanted gold numerals on the watch face that were not printed, but individually made and hand-set.
This took years to achieve, but as President Thierry Stern states, “beauty is all that counts.” In fact, it’s rumored Stern burdens himself with the task of listening to every single chime on their repeater watches to ensure a pure sound that’s unique to Patek Philippe.
Known for creating watches with sophisticated complications, one of their most notable achievements was the watch they created for banker Henry Graves in 1933.
This was known as the Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication which had 24 complications. Back in the day, that was an amazing feat and it took 3 years to design and another 5 years to assemble.
the Supercomplication established a new record for the most expensive watch ever sold at auction, with a final price of US$24 million sold in Geneva on November 11th, 2014.
As if that wasn’t enough to establish the Patek Philippe as the grandest of watchmakers, this was exceeded by the sale of the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime for a cool US$31 million.
Jetsetty Pick: Patek Philippe Grand Complications Perpetual Automatic White Dial 5213G-001
Minute Repeater with their signature chime.
Founded in 1775, Vacheron Constantin is the oldest Swiss watchmaker and also one of the oldest in the world. They’re also known for producing extremely complicated mechanisms in these luxury watches.
Holding the title with 57 horological complications in a pocket watch (called Reference 57260) this is the most complicated pocket watch in the world.
This watch took 8 years to assemble and has 2,826 parts and 31 hands. We think you’re starting to understand the commitment that goes into creating a true luxury watch.
Staying true to form by creating timepieces as art, Vacheron Constantin has partnered with the Louvre to collaborate with an extraordinary range of artistic skills as guilloche experts, enamellers, engravers, and jewelry setters.
Known as the Les Cabinotiers Department (The term refers to Geneva’s most skilled horologists from the 18th century who practiced the surreal art of watchmaking in their workshops called ‘Cabinets’), they customize a thematic collection where a buyer can dream up any type of engraving their heart desires.
Per their website, the watches are perpetually enriched with new feats. These timepieces hold astronomical, armillary tourbillon, grand sonnerie, or sky chart complications, which represent the very pinnacle of Vacheron Constantin’s technical expertise.
Jetsetty Pick: Patrimony Traditionelle
Minute repeater, perpetual calendar, and power reserve.
We all know Rolex, and with 100% brand name recognition, it’s the most valuable brand in the luxury watch market. and the highest resale value. All Rolex watches are handmade and each one takes about a year to put together. We already know Rolex watches pair nicely with high-end sneakers.
Rolex is also the only watchmaker with an in-house foundry to produce and machine their own gold. With nothing short of being their own Fort Knox, employees go through scrutinous protocols with fingerprint and iris scanning. For transporting, they even have their own armored vehicles to move the precious metals from factory to factory.
What does Rolex mean?
Rolex is a made-up word by founder Hans Wilsdorf who states Rolex was picked because he wanted a word that was short and looked good on a watch face and could be easily pronounced in any language.
For such a sophisticated watch, we love that simplicity. He also thought that the name sounded like the noise a watch made when it was being wound. That could be a stretch.
In 2017, bidding on a Paul Newman-owned 1968 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Reference 6239 ended, at a whopping US$17.8 million.
Gifted by his wife Joanne Woodward, Newman became quite the auto racer and always wore this watch. This solidified racing and watches, and the Rolex hasn’t missed a beat. In fact, the Rolex Middle Sea Regatta is considered one of the top racing events in the world.
Rolex is very secretive about their research and development, and like most watch connoisseurs, we also love a good rumor that might actually be true.
Rolex has a following of sleuths always looking for that nugget of discovery and this is all part of the fun of enjoying luxury watches.
Capt. Danny Crivello, a Delta Air Lines pilot by trade and editor of Rolex Magazine, spotted an unusual Rolex on the wrist of Sir Ben Ainslie, the team’s skipper competing in the Prada Cup, a prelude to America’s Cup.
Turns out it was a unique prototype Yacht-Master ‘No Date’ made out of titanium. Being that Rolex has never officially released a titanium watch, this is a huge discovery. That’s also quite the eagle eye who could tell that from a photo.
Part of the value of a luxury watch is the “weightiness” feel, and titanium is a lightweight metal so high-end watchmakers shy away from using this. So is the rumor true? Only time will tell!
Jetsetty Pick: Rolex GMT Master II Ice
Entirely covered in precious stones and made from white gold.
Founded in 1735, Blancpain also rides the wave of creating one of the most complicated watches on the market. The Blancain 1735 luxury watch is a true grand complication with a limited edition of 30, producing only one a year.
And this is only by a single watchmaker. Proudly stating “Blancpain has never made a quartz watch and never will,” Blancpain has built its reputation on complications and beauty.
Not dissing quartz watches, specifically Seiko who saturated the market with quartz watches. They just lack the sophistication from a master craftsmanship point of view.
In 2006, Blancpain In 2006, created the Tourbillion Semainier, an unprecedented combination of complications with a seven-day power reserve.
Since an age-old skill is needed for watchmaking, requiring exact precision, Blancpain trains these specialists themselves. With some parts as thin as hair, we can see why you can’t learn this trade just anywhere.
Blancpain tourbillion components are absolutely spectacular, as we see in the Flying One-Minute Carrousel And Cathedral Gong Minute Repeater.
This is a first, and Blancpain stands completely alone in having developed not only an entirely new cathedral gong minute repeater mechanism but marrying it with its one-minute flying carrousel. Stunning.
Jetsetty Pick: Blancpain Carrousel Repetition Minutes 0233-6232A-55B
Ivory-toned grand feu enamel set with diamonds dial, hand-winding movement, Carrousel Minute Repeater, and One-minute flying carrousel complications.
You don’t have to drop six or seven figures for a pedigree luxury watch, as many of our top luxury watch brands can be obtained in the US$10,000 – $50,000. range.
There are some Luxury car brands that are expanding their brands as well, building high-end branded residences. Now you have a proper foyer to leave your luxury watch on.
The tenacity to create timepieces requiring so many components is a marvel in itself, but these watchmakers upping their gamesmanship to make sure the aesthetic quality is unmatched when it comes to works of art, well that’s just icing on the cake.