PRESTIGE WATCH BRANDS
On this web site we have concentrated very much on the Rolex Watch Company, but of course that is very much the tip of the iceberg when we wish to discuss other watch brands that are what we would wish to put under the banner of ‘prestige’.
Very near the summit must be Patek Philippe. Established in 1839 the watch company was founded by AZntoine Norbert de Patek and Francois Czapek and among their first customers was the Russian Princess Zubów. In 1844 Philipe is awarded the Bronze medal for his keyless winding pocket watch. In 1851 at the London Great Exhibition Patek Philippe displays what is its smallest watch. That same year he establishes a partnership with Tiffany in New York, which is maintained to this day.
In 1867 Patek Philippe is awarded a gold medal at the Paris Exposition d’art et d’industrie and the same year Louise Queen of Denmark commissions a pocket watch to celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary. In essence, Patek Philippe is being commissioned by royalty throughout the continent.
The company goes on through to the next century providing watches to the rich and famous and in 1934 produces its first chronograph . In 1949 the company designs a new type of balance with weights on the rim of the balance wheel which reduces air resistance. It produces its first self winding mechanism in 1953.
In 1976 it launches its Nautilus range. Patel so normally associated with slim classic models now produces a large steel sports watch with a ships porthole design. In 1989 Patek Philippe creates the Calibre 89, the most complicated portable timepiece ever made. In 2013 it launches the Sky Moon Tourbillon, a new version of its most complicated design, enamelling and engraving having been a the heart of the design, and something the Genevan watchmakers have been famous for for centuries.
Today a modern day Patek Philippe will cost many thousands of pounds, but find a rare example and you can think well into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Audemars Piquet are certainly in the top three of prestige watch brands. It was in 1875 that Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piquet established a workshop in Le Brassus in Switzerland. They quickly became known for exceptional quality and became one of the largest watchmaking employers in the country.
One of the brave decisions to be made by the company was its Royal Oak watch design. This bold porthole design was inspired by the battleship of the same name, and the designer Gerald Genta . This inspired design was futuristic and dynamic and compared to watches of the period, was frankly quite shocking! So was the price! In the 70s it produced the world’s thinnest watch, just 2.45mm width. Today the watches continue to be at the height of excellence and quality.
260 years of watchmaking identifies this Swiss watch company as one of the finest in the world. The companies birth year was 1755 with the introduction of a silver pocket watch by Jean-Marc Vacheron. His son Abraham took over the workshop in 1785 and in 1810 his son takes over the business and in 1819 he formed a partnership with François Constantin.
In 1824 they produced the ‘jumping hours’ watch the name being given to the hours being shown in an aperture at the top of the dial showing the hours. In 1869 they produced a beautiful gold pocket watch chronometer, being of the finest quality the movement is regulated by an ultra precise detent escapement used in marine chronometers.
In 1906 the Company opened its first store and were supplying the likes of Queen Mary of Romania and Prince Napoleon grandson of Jerome Napoleon. By 1918 it was supplying a pocket watch to the American Corps of Engineers or ordered several thousand, a silver case with luminous hands. By the 1950s the company continued to supply some of the world’s top VIPs and Royalty including King Farouk.
In 1952 it introduced a new shape, a curved square or cushion case with a moon phase dial, day, dates and months. In 1968 it introduced one of the world’s thinnest automatic movements, just 2.45mm thickness, and square case re-introduced in 2010.
In 1979 it brought out the Kallista watch. Dazzling, this watch was carved out of a one kilo gold ingot and set with 118 diamonds totalling 130 carats! It took five years to match the diamonds and over 6000 hours of work to complete.
Now a world wide company and recognising that China was now a major buyer of prestige the company opened a store in Shanghai in a former colonial style French villa. Not an ordinary store, it covers over 6500 feet over four floors, and showcases the whole universe of this fine Geneva based company. 2015 saw the company celebrate 260 years of fine watchmaking.
The company was found by Antoine LeCoultre in 1833. He founded his workshop in Le Sentier and honed his skill to produce high quality timepieces. In 1844 he produced the world’s most precise measuring instrument, the Millionmetre, and in 1847 he invented a keyless system to wind watches. By 1870 the company employed over 500 people and by 1900 it had created over 350 different calibres, and over the next 30 years it supplied most of the movement blanks for Patek Philippe.
In 1903 Paris watchmaker to the French Navy Edmond Jaeger challenged Swiss watchmakers to make an ultra thin movements. It was LeCoutre that accepted the challenge and their calibre 145 produced the thinnest pocket watch movement in the world. With connections to Cartier this led to a collaboration between the two watchmakers and in 1937 the company was renamed Jaeger LeCoutre.
One of its most famous designs is the Reverso. Created in 1931 to enable it to survive the hard knocks in a polo match the case can be swivelled in its carrier to protect the glass, very much a classic Art Deco design, and still available today.
Another design it was famous for was its Atmos clock. It is a piece of near perpetual movement needing no human intervention and almost no energy. It derives energy from temperature and atmospheric pressure due to changes in the environment and is wound by a capsule filled with a mixture of temperature sensitive gases. A 1% fluctuation is enough to store energy to keep it working. It requires no lubricant and is so accurate it would take 3,821 years to accumulate one days discrepancy. Geiger LeCoutre obtained the patents for this design in 1936, and spent ten years perfecting the clock before making it available to the market.
In 2004 it teamed up with Aston Martin to create the AMVOX1 watch inspired by the instruments placed into the Aston’s 1930’s 1.5litre LM model, class winner and created by Jaeger LeCountre.
Originally called the La Generale Watch Co it was founded in Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland in 1848 by Louis Brandt who assembled pocket watches from other makers, and sold these all across Europe.
It was England that provided his best market and by 1894 his two sons developed a revolutionary in house manufacturing production system that allowed parts to become interchangeable and the name Omega was born in 1903.
In 1903 the company employed over 800 people producing 240,000 watches and this being run by the 24 year old Paul-Emile Brandt. His influence was felt for the next 50 years and he created the SSIH group, a union of Tissot and Omega.By 1955 the company created or bought some fifty companies and by the 197os the company was Switzerlands number one producer of watches. However the recessions of the 1980s put the company under huge financial constraints and had to be bailed out by the banks. Drastic financial restructuring the company merged with ASUAG which in 1985 was taken over by the man who created Swatch, Nicolas Hayek and over the next ten years became one of the world’s leading watch manufacturers.
So one of its most famous models are the Seamaster, produced since 1948, typically steel with screw down crown and case back engraved with the Omega hippocampus logo, sapphire crystal glass and helium release valve The most famous though was when the Speedmaster model was chosen for American astronauts and worn by Buzz Aldrin on that famous day in 1969. Although it was Neil Armstrong who should have been the first person to wear the watch on the moon- he left it behind inside the lunar module!
The James Bond movies have also favoured Omega as its favoured brand. Daniel Craig wears the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean model in Casino Royale, and in 2006 Omega launched a similar watch with a small 007 logo on the second hand. In Quantum of Solace he wears a Planet Ocean model with a black dial.
Omega is a frequent sponsor of the Olympic Games being 2008 and 2012 the most recent, and the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics.