September 19, 2013 / High End Sway: Luxury Watch Brand Rankings
Josh Sway's take on the biggest luxury watch brands.
One of the most common questions asked by those seeking a high end watch is "which brand is the best". While the range of offerings from most high end watch manufacturers is so broad that it’s difficult to compare two watches based on brand alone, it nevertheless remains a hot topic of debate and interest. Below is how I rank some of the better known high end watch manufacturers by brand. This list is my opinion, and even my opinion on the rankings changes slightly as the wind blows. Hopefully though. you will find this list to be a useful starting point in your search.
1. A. Lange and Sohne and Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe is likely the number one on everyone’s list, and A. Lange and Sohne, the famous German manufacturer is generally lumped in together with them. Entry level watches from these manufacturers can cost upwards of $25,000, and are almost always made with precious metals (as opposed to stainless steel) and considerable assembly and decoration done by hand. In terms of prestige, a Patek Philippe or a Lange timepiece is hard to beat.
2. Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin
It used to be that the "Big 3″ top tier swiss manufacturers were Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and Vacheron Constantin. Many will undoubtedly consider these manufacturers on the same level as Patek of Lange. I, however, rate them slightly below due to the better brand name recognition of a Patek and the slightly more high-end collection of Lange, weighted by which offerings of respective manufacturers are popular (Maybe it is just me, but I don’t consider the Royal Oak watches on the same par as the Lange 1).
Breguet is another manufacturer that is many times considered right up there with the other great swiss watchmakers. Their offerings are high end in every respect; however, I still believe that on average, most watch connoisseurs would consider Breguet to be ever so slightly less prestigious than those brands I listed above them.
4. Blancpain, Girard-Perregaux, and Jaeger LeCoultre
Right behind Breguet are the remaining big name high end luxury swiss brands. Each has a rich history and a plethora of high end offerings. In the case of JLC, it has perhaps the best pedigree and history when it comes to the manufacturing of movements, but a larger offering of "lower end" stainless steel products holds it back from being lumped with the top of the top. Blancpain and Girard-Perregaux simply do not have the cache of a Patek or AP for reasons that aren’t particularly obvious.
5. IWC + Ulysse Nardin
IWC is a tricky one given some of their lower end offerings should put them more in the group below with Rolex; however, many of their popular watches belong in the same class as offerings from those in group 1 – 4. Ulysse Nardin is in a similar spot. Many could easily consider Ulysse Nardin in group number 4, however, I generally think of them as just a touch below in prestige, though it depends on the actual watch.
6. Rolex + Panerai
If you are new to watches you may be surprised to find Rolex all the way down here. The reality is that Rolex’s are not considered high end luxury watches when it comes to high end luxury watches. There is less hand crafting in most models, and movements are not decorated to the extent of the "true" luxury brands listed above them. With that said, they make excellent watches which carry a mark of prestige. I have also lumped Panerai into this group. Another highly popular watch (despite limited quantities produced), Panerai is a true watch manufacturer but their popularity is more due to the fashion of the watches than their quality, history, or prestige.
7. Omega + Breitling
A large number of quartz offerings and usage of generic movements (by Breitling) put them in a class below the rest of the luxury brands listed here. Omega is also here due to a large number of lower end offerings which dilute the prestige of the brand despite them having a rich history.
So there you have it, my prestige rankings of some of the more popular high end watch brands out there. Remember, purchasing a watch is a much more involved decision than just choosing a brand. There are offerings from brands listed at number 5 on this list that are considered more prestigious than some Patek or Lange timepieces. This list is also very far from exhaustive with many notable brands missing; it is meant to be a rough guide to help ‘center’ you in your search. Brands like Glashutte Original, Zenith, Piaget, Frank Muller, Hublot, etc. are all missing. I have also not included ultra high end new independent watchmakers like Richard Mille or FP Journe.
Questions, comments, or suggestions for future articles on watches? Let us know.