Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso

The World of Watches

Originally published in Crème de la Crème, January 2008

Dickie Jackson

The major mechanical and collectable watch brands of the world

Audemars Piguet

Two school friends founded the company in 1881. J-L Audemars and E-A Piguet. Audemars was the technician, Piguet the salesman and businessman. Specialising initially in watches for connoisseurs, Audemars Piguet launched a new era in the company’s fortunes by creating the Royal Oak line in 1972. These luxurious sports watches were created in stainless steel, a first, and feature a distinctive octagonal design, said to be based on the guns of HMS Royal Oak. They currently produce several attractive lines of every-day watches, and some intriguing novelties.


Baume & Mercier

Now part of the Richemont Group, Baume et Mercier have their origins in the 1830 firm Baume Freres. 20 years later they opened in London. In 1920 Paul Mercier joined the firm and the present name was founded. Particularly sympathetic to the feminine, they pioneered bracelet and bangle watches, and continue the tradition of delicate design within a robust frame.



Blancpain was founded in 1735 by enlightened watch master Jehan-Jacques Blancpain and for two centuries the business was run by the Blancpain family. Passing out of the Blancpain family, the brand was extinguished 40 years later by a decision to abandon mechanical watches and move to quartz. In 1983, Jean-Claude Biver and Jacques Piguet decided to revive the brand and defy the quartz revolution and have declared that there never was a quartz Blancpain, and never will be. Manufacture is resolutely traditional employing a high degree of craftsmanship, and their designs play strongly on these skills.


Do you know what Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, Rothschild, Alexandre Dumas and Winston Churchill all had in common? Correct - they all wore Breguet watches. Abraham Louis Breguet, watch making genius, founded this label in 1775 in Paris, and patented several innovations: shock-resistance and gravity-compensation, to name but two. Frequently mentioned in literary works, including those of the sublime Patrick O’Brian and of Hugo and Dumas, the Breguet has two histories, and the fact outfaces the fiction. Now produced in Switzerland the tradition continues.



Breitling make Instruments for Professionals. And you can wear them. Here are Form and Function truly combined to make things of wonder and beauty. Too often watchmakers have sacrificed accuracy for looks, or vice versa. In 1884, Leon Breitling decided to specialise in making chronographs – timepieces with a stop-watch function. 85 years later the firm invented the self-winding chronograph, a break-through for the industry. Particularly useful for pilots and navigators, Breitling watches are popular with airmen and sailors around the world.



Founded in Rome by a Greek silversmith and son of silversmiths, Bulgari built fame and a reputation with excellent jewellery. Watchmakers within the jewellery tradition since the 1920s, with their Art Deco designs, they broke new ground with their snake bracelet watches in the 40s: heavy gold and jewel-studded spiral bracelets. Bulgari continue to represent the best of the jewel-watch field. Made in Switzerland since the 1980s with design, manufacture and assembly all vertically-integrated, they continue the founder’s passion for fine design.



In 1847 Louis-Francois Cartier took over his master’s workshop and the legend began. By the end of the century the firm had moved to one of Paris’ most expensive addresses and the head of the family dispatched two of his sons to New York and London to establish branches there and the empire started to grow. It was the London shop that became jeweller to royalty, but it was the creative energies of the Paris operation that made the innovative jewellery that made the Maison’s name. It was the advent of flying that drew the firm into making watches – a Brazilian pilot friend asked for a watch that he could look at without taking his hands off the controls. Cartier made it for him, and the firm still makes a line of watches named after the pilot: the Santos collection.


Dubey & Schaldenbrand

The firm was founded in 1946 by a teacher at a watch-making school, Georges Dubey, and watch maker Rene Schaldenbrand, to exploit the invention by Dubey of the Index Mobile. This performs the function of two separate chronographs and has been copied widely. Refusing to abandon mechanical watches, the firm declined and was eventually taken over after the two founders retired by Cinette Robert, an enthusiast and collector of old movements. Initially re-casing these old movements, she has reinvented the firm which has now reverted to manufacturing beautiful, innovative yet traditional mechanical movements for their line of watches



Franck Muller

New boy on the block Frank Muller grew up with a passion for little machines, and has put his adult life into creating his own firm and his own line of watches. He began making his “complications” watches in 1992, and his unique and colourful designs have challenged all the taboos in the industry. Bringing phenomenal success and a rash of imitators, his designs stand out and give the traditional watchmakers a new benchmark to achieve.



Louis-Ulysse Chopard, born into watch-making, opened a workshop in 1860. Steady progress was made over the years, and a single-minded devotion to quality kept the firm’s name good. The last grandson of the founder found that there were no takers within the family to carry on the tradition. Chopard needed a solid partner to carry on the name, and into the gap stepped the Scheufele family, old acquaintances of the Chopards, and jewellers looking to diversify into selling watches. Famous for selling a watch with loose diamonds behind the face, Chopard have moved into a different order of watch-making.



German watchmaker Gerd-R. Lang, “the man with a screw loose” opened a specialised shop for mechanical watches in 1981. A passionate follower of Harrison and Berthoud, inventors of the first true chronometer and the regulator, his watches have the same authentic style – separate hour and minute and second dials in a classic case. His chronographs are masterpieces of the intricate.



Ferdinand Lange in 1845 founded a watch-making business in the town of Glashütte in Saxony, and over the years this flourished, spawning several local offshoots and competitors. After the Second World War, all the watch making businesses in Glashütte were nationalized into one organization. After the fall of the communist party, and the re-unification of Germany, the combined entity was incorporated and recommenced making luxury mechanical watches for the connoisseur market.



Founded by an American in 1868 in NE Switzerland, from the outset the firm tried to exploit American ideas of process engineering and Swiss ideas of craftsmanship and skill. Within 6 years the firm employed 200 people. It became a family company for a hundred years, going through several changes of name before reverting to the original International Watch Company. Now part of Richemont. After a brief flirtation with electronics in the 70s, IWC is firmly back in the mechanical movement camp and builds classic watches with variations for the horological enthusiast – watches that track the phases of the moon, and a perpetual calendar good until 2499.


Jaeger LeCoultre

JLC was founded in 1833, From the first it set about bringing together cottage industry craftsmen into a modern factory. Innovators from the earliest days, they not only make technically perfect watches, they also produce astonishingly beautiful table clocks – the Atmos range, powered by variations in room temperature. The Art Deco Reverso watch, which has a swiveling case, allows the solid back to take the knocks received by the active sportsman. Invented for Polo players in 1931, the watch has become a design icon. Owned by Richemont.



Louis Brandt started hand-assembling watches from locally-sourced components in 1848. His sons created the brand Omega in 1894, and following a merger with Tissot in 1930, the combined firm eventually became one of the largest in the horological world. Now part of the Swatch Group. In 1932 Omega were appointed official time keepers for the Olympic Games and are proud of their continued association with the Olympic movement. But it is their association with the space race that is their claim to fame. NASA threw everything they had at the wristwatches available, and only the Omega Speedmaster came through. And so it was that Omega came to be the only watch to have been to the moon. Russia’s cosmonauts have used the same watch since the joint Apollo-Soyuz mission.



Giovanni Panerai opened for business in Florence in 1860 selling Swiss watches. His grandson expanded the business, and won the contract to supply the Italian Navy. Over the early years of the 20th Century, Panerai expanded its business with Italy’s armed forces to include other precision instruments, and eventually developed the first truly submersible watches. Much research in luminescence was carried out. Now part of the Richemont Group, they continue their association with hard-wearing watches designed for tough conditions.



Patek Philippe

Founded by an expatriate Pole, Count Patek, in Geneva in 1839; Philippe, an innovative employee became a partner in 1851. Initial success came from attention to quality, and the unique stem-winding system invented by Philippe. Leading innovators to this day, PP were at the forefront of the quartz revolution and continue to supply industrial time-keeping equipment as well as their more famous mechanical wrist watches. They are relentless promoters of the qualities of classic design and craftsmanship and have done much to preserve these in the public eye.



The company was founded in 1874 by Georges E. Piaget, and for 70 years the firm assembled watches for other companies. A collection of new ultra-thin designs caused a sensation in the early 1950s and Piaget took off in its own right. Using the proceeds of their success to buy bracelet and case manufacturers, the company moved towards jewellery watches and remains strong in this field, with its own line of jewellery in addition to its fabulous watches. Now part of the Richemont Group, Piaget have a particularly strong franchise in the Far East where their sumptuous designs have a ready market.


Raymond Weil

When Weil founded his company in 1976, he was already 50 years old. With uncompromising standards of manufacture and using classically-inspired design, he nevertheless managed to turn the watch-making business on its head, going from technological achievement to design success year after year. Both Weil and his son-in-law (who now runs the business), are lovers of the arts, and the firm has drawn inspiration for design and marketing from the classics, and their marketing images are evocative of the grandeur and passion of the performance world.



Founded by a German in London as a distributor of watches, the brand Rolex was created 3 years later in 1908. In just 2 years more, they were the first firm in the world to produce a wristwatch chronometer, an astonishing achievement. Having made an accurate watch, the next direction was to make a reliable watch and the Oyster case was born with its innovative sealed case. Marketing genius matched engineering genius, and the Oyster was sold in window displays within tanks of water, giving huge brand awareness. Further success followed with the first automatic self-winding rotor movement, and Rolex’s position at the forefront of the watch making world was assured. It was 1931.


Ulysse Nardin

Founded in 1846 by Ulysse Nardin, an accomplished watchmaker, the firm was purchased in 1983 by Rolf W. Schnyder, later joined Dr. Ludwig Oechslin, a scientist, inventor, historian and watch-maker extraordinaire. In a unique relationship of professional cooperation and personal friendship, Schnyder and Oechslin have created timepieces that had never before existed. In its over 150 years of history, Ulysse Nardin was widely respected as a specialist in marine chronometers. Today, Ulysse Nardin continues to develop and produce specialized timepieces of the highest technical level in limited editions. Using the company’s patented inventions, these include complications offered by no other watchmaker, such as the renowned Trilogy of Astrolabium, Planetarium and Tellurium; the Jaquemart Minute Repeater and the Hour Striker San Marco.


Vacheron Constantin

The company was founded in 1755 by Jean-Marc Vacheron. In 1819, his grandson and a partner, Francois Constantine created Vacheron Constantin. VC watches were the first to fly – The Wright brothers wore them on their historic flights in 1903. Members of the Richemont Group, they continue to make their classic watches, yet keep at the forefront of contemporary design with both quartz and mechanical movements.


Van Cleef & Arpels

In 1906, Alfred Van Cleef and his brother in law Charles Arpels went into the jewellery business together, and opened in the famous Place Vendôme in Paris. Alfred’s daughter became a noted designer and the 20s were a period of intense creative success for the firm. Going into the watch business in 1949, they have specialised from the first in jewellery that tells time, and this is where their emphasis lies today.



In 1865, the then 22-year-old visionary Georges Favre-Bulle founded the firm. In 1911 a movement, named Zenith invented in 1900, became the brand for the company which from the outset aimed at accuracy above all. Famed now for their eccentric designs and their continued worshiping of the mechanical ideal, their watches are uncompromising and elegant at once.


And Crème de la Crème? Breitlings and Rolexes for us.

The World of Watches as published in PDF form