Words By Suzie Bakos
Swiss watchmaking delivers an excellence that is only known once you own such a timepiece. Unparalleled craftsmanship, expert precision, centuries of experience and impeccable design features are central to being considered an icon in the Swiss-watchmaking space — something Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piquet and Omega have perfected over time.
Each brand has become an iconic name in the fine watch industry, revered for their fusion of innovative technology and signature features. But how did they make their mark and what is their significance today? Our in-house fine watch expert, João De Brito E Faro, shares what sets these brands apart and reveals how their most celebrated details have come to adorn the wrists of an impressive roster of names, from the first man on the moon to historical presidents and more. ‘
The Swiss and timekeeping have gone hand in hand since the early days,’ says De Brito E Faro. ‘Their collective ethos — ‘all for one, one for all’ — has helped shape the industry, as they understand that in order to keep challenging themselves, they need experts in each component of the timepiece. They fostered a concept of assemblage — where different watch parts are sourced from specialized manufacturers — with the final product being assembled in-house. This led to jobs, technology development and, above all, strengthened their industry and positioning as the world’s leading watchmakers.’
Learn more about the history and key styles of these world-renowned Swiss horologists below.
It would be impossible to talk about Swiss timepieces without highlighting Rolex. Founded in 1905, the iconic brand became an innovator in the world of watches when it invented waterproof cases. Using a patented screw-down, winding crown and case back, the signature Rolex Oyster case was born. Since then, it has continued to create never-before-seen technology. It’s a brand loved amongst collectors and celebrities, from designers to rappers including Victoria Beckham and Drake, alike.
‘Rolex wears the crown in Swiss watchmaking and its leadership has been undisputed. There’s no other brand that has been able to create such a high positioning with such a large production output,’ explains De Brito E Faro. ‘It specializes in developing precision instruments for the most challenging conditions — from diving to motor racing — and Rolex's signature models have become status symbols throughout society. While most styles were originally developed for specific professional applications, they’ve now made their way into the collections of nearly all watch enthusiasts.’
With almost two centuries of history, Patek Philippe is a true pioneer in modern watchmaking. The brand has forever been a driving force in technological features, including producing the first pocket watch to feature a tourbillon in 1863, which counteracted the pull of gravity on the movement to keep accurate time. The house is also revered for its exclusivity. Since 1839, it’s estimated that less than a million watches have been produced worldwide, making a Patek Philippe design a truly special piece to own.
‘Patek Philippe has always been seated on the top of the pyramid for its quality, but also in terms of its investment proposition,’ De Brito E Faro notes. The house itself once coined the famous slogan, ‘You never truly own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation.’. The brand is known for its highly complicated movements — including split-second chronographs, perpetual calendars and world timers — as well as for its sport watches. Jay-Z has been seen wearing the most complicated watch ever developed by the brand, the Grandmaster Chime, and vintage pieces from the 1970s, such as the Nautilus 3800.’
Childhood friends and co-founders, Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet started their Swiss watchmaking journey in 1875. They soon made history when they created the first ever minute repeater wristwatch in 1892, before designing and releasing the first Grande Complication pocket watch — complete with a minute repeater, alarm, perpetual calendar, deadbeat seconds, chronograph and split-seconds hand — in 1899. This forward-thinking watch development continued into the 1900s when the brand launched the world’s thinnest wristwatch.
Now a major player in the world of Swiss watches, De Brito E Faro considers its popularity in the present day: ‘Audemars Piguet is another one of the top brands still part of the traditional Holy Trinity of Watchmaking. Known for its complex perpetual calendars, it's a brand revered for its popular Royal Oak design, which was brought to life by Gérald Genta. But other noteworthy styles include the dressy Jules Audemars model model, the unique Millenary collection, Concept models, Code 11.59 and the Royal Oak Offshore,’ he says.
Bearing the titles of the first wristwatch on the moon (worn by Buzz Aldrin) and the official timekeeper of the Olympics, Omega’s cultural significance is undeniable. Swiss craftsmanship and precision are at the heart of the brand’s popularity, with an impressive list of celebrities, movies and historical moments opting to showcase the brand’s beautiful timepieces. This popularity is the result of its unwavering attention to detail, technological features and unrivaled timelessness when it comes to aesthetics.
Here, De Brito E Faro shares some of the brand’s highlights: ‘Omega completes this roundup of key contributors to the Swiss watch industry. With impressive models like the Speedmaster Professional and robust Seamaster, the brand offers legendary options for every collector — even rivaling Rolex. Popularized by the ‘James Bond’ movies, George Clooney and Nicole Kidman, Omega has recently collaborated with Swatch to create the MoonSwatch, garnering even more attention around this iconic brand.’