The Best Swiss Watch Brands & Insider Tips
By Georg Platzöder, 10 January 2023The whole world is talking about Swiss watch brands. From affordable fashion brands to exquisite luxury manufacturers, watches from Switzerland enjoy an impressive international reputation synonymous with precision and are appreciated for their quality worldwide. Let's take a look at the luxury watch market and answer the question: which Swiss watch brands are the best?
Luxury watches from Switzerland
Swiss luxury watches have long stood for the utmost in precision and quality. The history of the Swiss watch industry is a tale of the pursuit of perfection. From what were once inexpensive mass-produced goods, Swiss watchmakers shifted towards producing high-quality timepieces and discovered the luxury watch market.
How many brands are there?With a total of over 100 individual brands and manufacturers, Switzerland is a veritable hot spot for watchmakers. Needless to say, all the brands based there are both manufacturers from the luxury segment, as well as lesser-known and lower-priced manufacturers. That said, even these companies seem to benefit from the prestige of the "big boys" because of their origins. This is because, in addition to the prevailing reputation as a reliable "Swiss watch", manufacturers of less expensive Swiss watches appear to live up to a similar claim of high quality and reliability as well. Brands like Swatch are therefore still quite popular with anyone who "just needs a watch".
The fight for the crown: The Top 10 Swiss watch brands
The following list of the best Swiss luxury watch brands is based primarily on the findings of a 2020 study that examined the global market shares of retail sales watch brands from Switzerland. We have omitted large corporations such as Swatch Group, Richemont or LVMH, whose portfolios include several watch brands from this list. Instead, we will focus on individual watch brands, even though they belong within one of the aforementioned luxury groups.
10. BreitlingIf you cast a glance at the displays of different jewellers, you will often find the distinctive models by Breitling among the watches on display. Since the change of management in 2017, the new CEO Georges Kern has emphasized a combination of modern and retro styles and has managed to bring the Breitling brand out of its previous dip. The popularity of Breitling's models remains strong on the pre-owned market, which deservedly earns them a place in our ranking of the best Swiss watch brands.
Global market share of retail sales of luxury watches: 2.4%
BREITLING BENTLEY GT A13362
9. Richard MilleFrom the "new" star of fine watchmaking, Richard Mille's sought-after timepieces quickly shot to success within a very short time. This manufacturer's mechanical masterpieces are extremely popular thanks to the influence of modern pop culture and behave a bit like the "enfants terribles" of Haute Horlogerie in the time-honoured luxury watch landscape of the Swiss Watch world. Thanks to its mechanical excellence and avant-garde designs, Richard Mille enjoys popularity with celebrities such as Margot Robbie, Pharrell Williams and Jay-Z – as well as this list of the most popular Swiss watch brands.
Market share: 2.5%
8. IWC SchaffhausenThe International Watch Company, or IWC in short, was founded in 1868 by Florentine Jones and is known in particular for its chronographs in the Portuguese collection. The history of the series began in 1930, when the Portuguese concessionaires Rodriguez and Teixeira approached Jones with a request to produce particularly precise timepieces that were significantly larger than the conventional watches of the time. Since 1998, the Portugieser has been firmly established in the brand's product range, joining the Pilots Chronograph and Portofino as popular series. The company is based in Shaffhouse and has been part of the Richemont Luxury Group since 2000.
Market share: 2.7%
7. TAG HeuerAs a cornerstone of motorsports, TAG Heuer and its timepieces can invariably be found where adrenaline is in the air. As one of the main sponsors of the Red Bull Formula 1 Team, this watch manufacturer remains closely associated with motorsports and once competed with none other than Rolex for dominance in this field. With a superb price-performance ratio, the Swiss brand TAG Heuer offers a great opportunity to purchase an affordable luxury watch of the highest standard.
Market share: 3.0%
TAG HEUER CARRERA MIKROPENDULUM CAR2B83.FC6339
6. Audemars PiguetAs one of the original names in Swiss fine watchmaking, Audemars Piguet is best known for its legendary Royal Oak Collection – a bold design for a steel sports watch from a manufacturer, which to that point had been known more for elegant dress watches. Designed by Gérald Genta, this model remains a flagship of the brand to this day.
Market share: 4.3%
5. Patek PhilippeFew names have been mentioned as often in connection with luxury watches in recent years and months as that of Patek Philippe. As one of the most in-demand manufacturers of top-quality timepieces, anyone with a prominent name seems to want to own a model from this watchmaker. In particular, the Nautilus and Aquanaut sports models have made the manufacturer available to a wider audience. The price of used Patek Philippe watches has increased exponentially due to the enormous demand within the last few years and easily reaches heights of several hundred thousand euros.
Market share: 5.8% (5th place)
4. LonginesAmong Swiss luxury watches, Longines is currently more popular than ever, because this manufacturer is also impressive thanks to its outstanding quality for reasonable prices. These predominantly elegant timepieces are suitable for the office, as well as for evening wear. However, there are also some sporty diver's watches and casual models with vintage designs that are increasingly in popularity. As one of the oldest luxury watch manufacturers on the market, Longines boasts immense know-how.
Market share: 6.2% (4th place)
3. CartierAs one of the most famous jewellers in the world, Cartier is known for much more than just making fine jewellery. In fact, the company has played an essential role in the history of the wristwatch, as Louis Cartier made the first men's wristwatch ever for his friend Alberto Santos Dumont in the early 20th century. Since then, the Santos has been a staple in the brand's catalogue and at least as well known as the famous Love Collection of jewellery. While the company's headquarters are located in Paris, Cartier watches are manufactured in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Moreover, the brand also belongs to the Swiss luxury goods group Richemont.
Market share: 6.7% (3rd place)
2. OmegaAs one of the most important and famous players in the world of watches, Omega is an integral part of the Swiss luxury watch scene, as well. The creator of the first wristwatch on the moon and timekeeper of the Olympic Games, this company held a respectable 8.8% of the market share in 2020. While Omega – like many other well-known watch brands – is part of the Swatch Group, it manages to regularly hold its own against other brands in the group due to its distinctive brand identity.
Market share: 8.8% (2nd place)
OMEGA SEAMASTER OLYMPIC GAMES COLLECTION 5126.96.36.199.03.001
1. RolexRolex is unchallenged and leads in first place by a wide margin among the best and most popular Swiss watch brands. With a market share of 24.9%, the Geneva-based brand is for many the Swiss luxury watch par excellence. Internationally recognized, loved and admired, watches by Rolex are regarded as a coveted status symbol and have long been popular beyond the borders of Hollywood. This is illustrated by their high share of total sales in the Swiss luxury watch market, which accounts for almost one quarter of the market. Although most models were once developed for specific professional applications, they have made their way into the everyday lives of many watch enthusiasts. Whether a sporty racing chronograph, an elegant yacht timer, an iconic pilot's watch or a robust diving watch, there are many different models in the product range that impress with their value appreciation on the pre-owned market.
Market share: 24.9 % (1st place)
|Watch brand||Global market share||Headquarters|
|1. Rolex||24.9 %||Geneva|
|2. Omega||8.8 %||Biel/Bienne|
|3. Cartier||6.7 %||La Chaux-de-Fonds|
|4. Longines||6.2 %||Saint-Imier|
|5. Patek Philippe||5.8 %||Geneva|
|6. Audemars Piguet||4.3 %||Le Brassus|
|7. Tissot||3.1 %||Le Locle|
|8. TAG Heuer||3.0 %||La Chaux-de-Fonds|
|9. IWC||2.7 %||Schaffhouse|
|10. Richard Mille||2.5 %||Les Breuleux|
|11. Breitling||2.4 %||La Chaux-de-Fonds|
|12. Hublot||2.3 %||Nyon|
|13. Jaeger-LeCoultre||2.1 %||Le Sentier|
|14. Panerai||1.6 %||Neuchâtel|
|15. Vacheron Constantin||1.5 %||Geneva|
Top 15 Swiss watch brands based on market share 2020 (Source: Statista)
Which brand is the best?
The burning question: whichSwiss watch brand is the best? Manufacturers fight among themselves for this title. That said, it can be broken down to two winners that share first place. One manufacturer, Rolex, is unbeatable in terms of everyday wearability and build quality. The calibres may not be the most sophisticated in terms of complications, but they are among the most reliable and the most accurate movements on the market. Unfortunately, their limited availability and high prices on the used market are a necessary evil.
ROLEX SUBMARINER 116613LN
The second manufacturer, Patek Philippe, is a master in the field of grand complications. The Haute Horlogerie brand is one of the most famous manufacturers of exceptional timepieces, each of which is a work of art. As the leading expert in complications, the company is justifiably one of the most popular watch brands of our time, even if the most famous model, the Nautilus, is currently a sports watch.
With a watch collection including a Submariner Date (ref. 116610LN) for everyday wear and a classically elegant Annual Calendar (ref. 5205R-010) for formal evening wear, one is perfectly outfitted.
Which watchmaker is the oldest?
As the oldest Swiss watch manufacturer, which continues to inspire, Blancpain should not go unmentioned. The timepieces from this brand, which was founded in 1735 in Villeret, impress with their fine materials, outstanding workmanship, and elegant design concept. One highlight by the manufacturer is the Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms Collection, which was launched in 1953 as the first, proper diver's watch – even before Rolex and its legendary Submariner.
A few other Swiss luxury watchmakers that also recorded a notable share of retail sales of Swiss luxury watches include Tissot (3.1%), Hublot (2.3%), Jaeger-LeCoultre (2.1%), Panerai (1.6%), Vacheron Constantin (1.5%), and Breguet (1.2%). This leaves a remaining 20.9%, which was claimed by other Swiss brands in 2020.
Insider tips from Switzerland?
If you would like to purchase a luxury watch, but don't want to spend a lot of money on a utilitarian object like a watch, you don't have to abandon the idea of a noble, high-precision Swiss watch. After all, in addition to the prestigious "Big Five", there are other major Swiss watch brands that offer outstanding value for money.
While the following manufacturers have made a name for themselves in the industry as well, they frequently seem to fly under the radar in the public eye and are able to offer the opportunity to get a high-quality luxury watch at a moderate price.
Longines: The best price-performance ratioWith one of the best price-performance ratios in the luxury watch world, Longines offers a wide variety of wristwatches and pocket watches for men and women. Whether elegant dress watches for evening wear, sporty-elegant timepieces foreveryday life in the office or sporty models for a casual leisure look, this manufacturer's product range leaves nothing to be desired. In addition, their watches are high-quality and brilliantly crafted to live up to the brand's motto, "Elegance is an attitude".
LONGINES PRESTIGE GOLD L188.8.131.52.6