Attempting to list all of the Swiss watch brands is a little like trying to name every fish in the ocean. Switzerland remains the beating heart of the watch industry, home to dozens of the finest watchmakers on the planet continuing to produce timepieces of the utmost quality and craftsmanship. If you’re a novice horology enthusiast and feel a little intimidated by the vast number of luxury watch brands out there, don’t fear: we’ve assembled this quick rundown of 18 absolute essential Swiss watch brands. (To be clear, for the sticklers: while some of these watch companies are based in other countries, all of their wristwatches are Swiss-made.)
While this list doesn’t come close to covering all of the world’s A-list watchmaking brands (shoutout to Girard Perregaux! La Chaux-de-Fonds represent!), the ones below are here because they’ve played a significant part in keeping old-school watchmaking alive in the smartwatch era. And if you’re reading this, we don’t need to explain why that’s an accomplishment worth celebrating.
Want to brush up on your terminology and find your next dream timepiece? Don’t miss GQ’s ultimate guide to watches for men.
This Swiss brand is one of the oldest and most respected in the business, but you probably know it best as the maker of the Royal Oak (which, thanks to endorsements from Jay-Z, Justin Bieber, and just about every NBA All-Star) is harder to find at retail than BTS tickets.
Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph watch
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding watch
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Diver watch
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept “Black Panther” Flying Tourbillon
Bell & Ross
Year Founded: 1992
Best Known For: Square-case watches that look like they were pried out of a jet cockpit.
Like Supreme’s box logo tee and the piano key necktie, the brilliance of some ideas lies in their relative simplicity. That’s definitely true of Bell & Ross, who pioneered the square pilot’s watch in the early ’90s and have been riffing on that signature aesthetic ever since.
Bell & Ross BR 05 Black Steel watch
Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Black Matte watch
Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Radar Ceramic watch
Bell & Ross BR 01 Cyber Skull watch
Year Founded: 1884
Best Known For: Pilot’s watches worn by actual pilots.
After decades of catering to guys who wear epaulets and aviator shades to work, Breitling now has a lot to offer those on the other side of the cockpit door, too, including recent collabs with Kelly Slater’s Outerknown and modern reproductions of vintage dive watches from the ’60s.
Breitling SuperOcean Automatic 44 Outerknown watch
Breitling Chronomat B01 42
Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43
Breitling Premier B09 Chronograph
Year Founded: 1847
Best Known For: Timelessly elegant and unapologetically old-school watches worn by every fashionable celebrity ever.
You’ll either dig Cartier’s signature aesthetic or you won’t, but getting on-side with this historic Parisian jeweler will put you among seriously stylish company. Muhammad Ali, Andy Warhol, Tom Ford and the man himself, Yves Saint Laurent, are just a few of the legends who rocked the brand’s signature rectangular Tank, while Kanye West and Tyler the Creator have helped elevate the Dali-esque Crash to grail status. Who wouldn’t want to be a member of that club?
Cartier Pasha de Cartier watch
Cartier Santos-Dumont watch
Cartier Tank Louis Cartier
Year Founded: 1980
Best Known For: Watches that say, “My other car is a Cigarette boat.”
Hublot was the first brand to put a solid gold watch on a rubber strap, which in 1980 was as revelatory and transgressive as wearing sneakers with a suit. Forty years later the brand is still experimenting with materials, recently figuring out how to carve an entire watch case out of a single block of lab-grown sapphire.
Hublot Classic Fusion Titanium watch
Hublot Big Bang Unico Summer watch
Hublot Big Bang Integral Tourbillon Full Sapphire watch
Hublot MP-09 Tourbillon Bi-Axis Yellow 3D Carbon watch
Year Founded: 1868
Best Known For: WWII pilot’s watches you can wear with a suit.
IWC redesigned their Big Pilot watch this year, but to see it next to the ones they made for British pilots in the 1940s, you might not be able to tell which is which. Everything else about this watch—and every other watch made by IWC—is an exercise in top-down luxury, from the sand-colored ceramic case on the Mojave Desert edition to the tide indicator on the Portugieser Yacht Club.
IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Top Gun Edition “Mojave Desert”
IWC Portugieser Chronograph watch
IWC Portugieser Yacht Club “Moon and Tide”
Year Founded: 1833
Best Known For: Highly sophisticated sports watches; unpronounceable name.
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s most famous creation, the Reverso, was designed for polo players in the 1930s. It was also the watch Don Draper bought when he got his name on the door at Sterling Cooper. Wherever you’re wearing yours, say it zhey-ZHER leh-KOOLT or risk being mocked by ad execs and horse people alike.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Classic Monoface watch
Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Automatic watch
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Geographic watch
Jaeger-LeCoultre Duometre Unique Travel Time watch
Year Founded: 1832
Best Known For: Spot-on vintage reproductions of archival designs.
When you’re spending thousands of dollars on a watch, the idea of “good value” becomes more than a little subjective. That said, Longines offers everything that a top-tier Swiss watchmaker should (heritage, high-quality Swiss movements, unique design) at a (relatively) attainable price point. If you want something with vintage looks and modern reliability, look no further.
Longines Heritage Classic Sector Dial watch
Longines Legend Diver watch
Longines Avigation BigEye watch
Year Founded: 1894
Best Known For: Being the first watch on the moon.
More than half a century after Neil Armstrong made what might be the biggest watch flex in history, Omega’s Speedmaster is still the brand’s most-wanted creation. Tough, refined and technically-advanced mechanical sports watches are what this brand does best, and there are many to choose from—with or without ties to Apollo 11.
Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200m watch
Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional Co-Axial Master Chronometer Chronograph watch
Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra 150m Co-Axial Chronometer Small Seconds watch
Omega Seamaster Diver 300m Co-Axial Master Chronometer 42mm 007 Edition
Year Founded: 1860
Best Known For: Big, beefy dive watches beloved by Sly Stallone, Dwayne Johnson and other guys with arms like tree trunks.
Panerai’s first watches were created for the Italian navy, with dials that glowed bright green thanks to Radiomir, their patented luminous paint. Radiomir turned out to be radiocative, but Panerai’s original design details and bulked-out proportions are as good as they ever were.
Panerai Submersible Azzuro watch
Panerai Luminor Base Logo watch
Panerai Luminor Chrono Luna Rossa
Year Founded: 1839
Best Known For: Extremely expensive, buttoned-down watches coveted by hedge fund managers, oligarchs, and John Mayer.
At the highest levels of watchmaking, a certain amount of OCD is considered an asset. A case in point: Patek Philippe hand-finishes every single component in their watches—even ones that no one but the watchmaker will ever see. That, combined with nearly 200 years of heritage and famously stable resale value is what makes this one of the most coveted brands on the planet.
Patek Philippe Calatrava 6119G watch
Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1A watch
Patek Philippe Grand Complications 5374G watch
Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse 5738R watch
Year Founded: 1874
Best Known For: Impossibly thin mechanical movements.
Watchmakers, like high school seniors, love superlatives. Piaget earned its reputation as the maker of the world’s thinnest mechanical watch movements in the 1950s and has been upping the ante ever since. At just 2mm thin (only a smidge thicker than a penny) their latest Altiplano is a mind-bending feat of watchmaking, albeit one you’d not want to wear to the gym. For that, look to the Piaget Polo, a criminally underrated steel sports watch from the ’70s.
Piaget Altiplano Ultimate watch
Piaget Polo Chronograph watch
Year Founded: 1999
Best Known For: Marrying 19th century watchmaking with 21st century industrial design.
Insanely high-performance watches made from things like carbon nanotubes, ceramic and titanium are RM’s specialty. Along with a car with doors that open upwards and a chalet in Jackson Hole, there’s no better indicator of having arrived among the 1%.
Richard Mille RM 40-01Automatic Winding Tourbillon McLaren Speedtail watch
Richard Mille RM 72-01 Automatic Winding Lifestyle Flyback Chronograph watch
Richard Mille RM 07-01 Automatic Winding Coloured Ceramics watch
Richard Mille RM 27-04 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal watch
Year Founded: 1905
Best Known For: Understated design, uncompromising attention to detail and insane waiting lists at retail.
Rolex makes really nice watches, obviously, but that doesn’t begin to explain the next-level hype around this brand. Books could be written about the special sauce that has made them number one for so many years, but it basically comes down to one thing: consistency. From the quality of their movements to designs that rarely change (at least on the outside) to resale value that only seems to go up, no one can touch them.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual 41 watch
Year Founded: 1860
Best Known For: The favorite watch of golden-era motorsports drivers and Walter White on Breaking Bad.
You don’t have to know what a chicane is or be conversational in the Prost-Senna rivalry to appreciate TAG Heuer, but it helps. Since the 1960s this brand has been trackside at every major motorsports event on the planet, and most of their watches celebrate that legacy in one way or another. For those who prefer their races to involve banana peels and Koopa Troopa, they also just launched a series of collabs with Nintendo.
TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 300
TAG Heuer Formula 1 watch
Year Founded: 1853
Best Known For: Swiss quality, entry-level prices.
You can spend a lot of money on a mechanical Swiss watch, but you don’t have to. Just ask this legendary maker of everything from old-timey pocket watches to pro-quality divers, all of which are as well-made as they are accessibly priced. It’s basically the L.L.Bean of watch brands.
Tissot Seastar 2000 Professional Powermatic 80 watch
Tissot Heritage Visodate Powermatic 80 watch
Tissot Gentleman Powermatic 80 Silicium watch
Year Founded: 1755
Best Known For: Being the world’s oldest watchmaker.
Much like a Whole Foods buffet of high-end Swiss watchmaking, Vacheron Constantin’s range of models encompasses everything from quirky 1920s driving watches to 1970s steel sports watches to six-figure showpieces with hand-enameled dials.
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Moonphase Retrograde Date watch
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Self-Winding watch
Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 watch
Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Tribute to Great Explorers – Bartolomeu Dias watch
Year Founded: 1865
Best Known For: High-accuracy chronographs for serious watch nerds.
Zenith rocked the watch world in 1969 when it dropped the original El Primero, one of the world’s first automatic chronographs. That accomplishment may not sound as impressive these days, but their signature chronograph looks just as fresh as it did back then and its legendary movement has only gotten better.
Zenith Chronomaster Revival Safari watch
Zenith Chronomaster Revival El Primero A3817 watch
Zenith Chronomaster Sport watch
Zenith Defy El Primero 21 UltraBlue
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