With so many luxury watch companies and models out there, it's difficult to figure out which popular luxury watch you, as a collector, want to choose. Learning about the brands may help you determine which popular pre-owned or used luxury watch is best for your personal wants and lifestyle.
In 1905, Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis, Wilsdorf's brother-in-law, founded the watch wholesaler Wilsdorf & Davis in London. Their business was importing Swiss movements and placing them in quality cases. By 1908 they branded the company Rolex, which was easy to pronounce, and they could write the name symmetrically across European languages. The company soon relocated to Switzerland.
Switzerland is where they began designing their own watches with a focus on quality movements. Rolex became the first wristwatch in the world that received a chronometer certification in 1910. They continued making waves through the watch industry with dive watches reaching depths previously unheard of, aviator watches that could tell time across multiple time zones, watches with the day-of-the-week and date and watches that racers could use to time laps. Now Rolexes are cherished for their looks, precision, heritage, and collectability.
- Rolex Explorer II - The Explorer II was the expansion of the Explorer line in 1971. They designed the Explorer II for professional cave explorers with features including a large 24-hour hand, a fixed, stainless steel bezel with 24-hour markings, and a highly prominent AM/PM indicator.
- Rolex GMT Master II - Rolex introduced the GMT-Master II in 1981. They added modern features that continue to be updated, including an arrow-tipped hand allowing you to track a second-time zone—it can even be independently adjusted to track a third-time zone— and a bi-colored 24-hour bezel.
- Rolex Submariner - Rolex released the Submariner in 1954 as the most successful dive watch. It includes a durable stainless steel bracelet, a 904L stainless steel case, an in-house automatic movement, and a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and ceramic bezel insert. This is a highly recognizable Rolex watch, especially The Hulk Rolex, beloved by collectors.
- Rolex Datejust II - Rolex updated the Datejust in 2009 with the Datejust II that added a 41mm version alongside the 36mm model. The inside of this dressy watch has a new-generation 3235 automatic movement; the outside has a distinctive fluted bezel in white gold.
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In 1848, Louis Brandt began a small workshop to sell pocket watches in Le Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. He used the money he had and parts from local craftsmen to create custom pieces. During the next several decades, he sold his watches to people around the world. In 1879 Louis Brandt's sons took over the company after his passing.
They expanded their father’s operation and began making their own parts. After a few years, they relocated the workshop to Bienne, Switzerland, so they could expand and grow their workforce. In 1885, they launched the Labrador; it was their first mass-produced caliber watch. Once they introduced the 19-line OMEGA caliber, it helped them establish their reputation, and it gave them their name. Now, these iconic Swiss timepieces are worn by notable people from astronauts to actors to athletes.
- OMEGA Speedmaster - OMEGA debuted the Speedmaster in 1957. The watch features a tachymeter scale engraved on the bezel, along with a stopwatch function, and it continues to evolve with various designs, materials, sizes, and movements.
- OMEGA Seamaster - The Seamaster has been in production for OMEGA since 1948 and is still in production. The watch used rubber O-ring gaskets that retained their shape, thus making them impervious to watch over a wide range of temperatures. They even invented a specific type of spring inside the winding tube, creating an even tighter seal under increasing water pressure.
- OMEGA Constellation - OMEGA released its Constellation watch in 1952 that they named for the Constellation jet that flew during WWII. The watch stands out with richly decorated dials that have gold hour markers, gold hands, gold applied logos, gold dials, and onyx hour markers. The fancy rounded lugs add to the attractiveness and collectibility of the Constellation.
- OMEGA De Ville - In 1960, OMEGA released the De Ville as part of the Seamaster collection. They released it as a dress watch with an exceptional case finish, refined case design, precious metals for manufacturing, and the most advanced wristwatch movement-building technology. This De Ville’s design won multiple awards, including six Baden-Baden Golden Rose Design awards.
Eduard Heuer founded the Heuer brand in 1860, not far from Bienne, Switzerland. By 1869, Heuer patented a keyless, crown-operated winding system for pocket watches. When they received the patent for an oscillating pinion mechanism in 1887, it was the most important development that is still used by watchmakers today. This patent created a longstanding relationship between the airline and automobile industries. Later in 1887, Jules-Edouard Heuer, Eduard’s son, joined the business and took over after his father passed away in 1892.
In the 1940s, Heuer started shifting their focus to making wristwatches. They crafted wristwatches with chronograph functions that they made to work for pilots and seafarers. Astronaut John Glenn wore a Heuer on his wrist in 1962, making Heuer the first Swiss watchmaker in outer space. When the TAG group purchased the majority stake in Heuer in 1985, they renamed the company as TAG Heuer, and they played a major role in taking the company to new levels of performance and accuracy. This helped secure their place in watchmaking history.
- TAG Heuer Aquaracer - In 2004, TAG Heuer launched the Aquaracer from a previous dive watch line. The Aquaracer features the use of colored aluminum bezels, circular lume-filled hour markers, and rated 300m water-resistant.
- TAG Heuer Carrera - TAG Heuer’s 1963 sporty watch Carrera’s name comes from the legendary car race through Mexico called the Carrera Panamericana. The Carrera revolutionized the design of chronograph movements and made significant contributions toward the development of stopwatches, thus making it possible to determine the speed of a car.
- TAG Heuer Link - The Link from TAG Heuer was the first watch released once TAG acquired Heuer. This stainless steel sports watch features an elegant cushion-shaped case with a flat brushed steel bezel, a small date window, and has hours, minutes, and seconds on the dial.
- TAG Heuer Monaco - TAG Heuer named the Monaco watch after the famous Formula 1 race in Monaco. The watch features a square watch case, a powerful caliber 11 ‘Chromatic’ with a micro-rotor creating an iconic race watch.
Leon Breitling founded Breitling in 1884 in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland, with the goal of creating precision timepieces for industrial purposes, science, and sports. Breitling relocated to La Chaux de Fonds in 1892, which was the center of watchmaking. Gaston Breitling, Leon’s son, took over Breitling after his father passed away. In 1915, Gaston introduced the first Breitling chronograph wristwatch after seeing that WWI pilots were in need of a precision wristwatch.
Leon’s son Willy took over Breitling when Leon wanted to retire, thus keeping the business in the family. They made groundbreaking advancements in 1969 with the invention of the self-wind chronograph movement. They did this as part of Project 99, which they did in tandem with Heuer, Dubois-Depraz, and Buren. Breitling continues to make waves in the watch industry with their countless achievements and advance5[ments to keep with Leon Breitling’s original goal to create precision timepieces.
- Breitling Chronomat - When Breitling debuted the modern Chronomat in 1984, the watch cemented the Breitling name in watchmaking. The watch was a collaboration between Breitling and the Italian Jet Team Frecce Tricolor as part of the resurgence of the mechanical chronograph, and the bezel features rider tabs.
- Breitling Navitimer - In 1954, Breitling debuted the Navitimer, which is known as the “super” chronograph. The Navitimer features a “navigation computer,” making it capable of handling calculations needed for flight plans to create Breitling’s first pilot watch that blends precision and aesthetics.
- Breitling SuperOcean - Breitling’s SuperOcean debuted in 1957 with the choice of a manual-wound chronograph or automatic time-only model. Both versions of the SuperOcean featured rotating bezels, dials with luminous details, steel mesh bracelets, and water-resistant up to 200m. The SuperOcean continues to evolve with various sizes, color options, materials, and water depth ratings from 500m to 2,000m.
- Breitling Bentley - Breitling created the Bentley after their win at the 2003 Le Mans, to share the technical quality and design aesthetic one expects from the luxury vehicle. The Bentley took inspiration from the vehicle with features such as quilted leather straps and the honeycomb radiator-grill pattern on the bezel.
In 1839, Polish immigrants Francios Czapek and Antoine Patek founded their company, where they specialized in making pocket watches for royalty and other elite society members. When Patek attended the Eposition Nationale des Produits de L’Industrie in Paris, France, Patek met Adrien Philippe. A short while later, they went into business together and formed Patek Philippe in 1845. That year they produced their first pocket watch using Philippe’s hand-setting and winding system.
To grow their international reputation, Patek traveled to the U.S. and started working with Tiffany and Co. in 1851. This partnership is still occurring today. By 1885, Emile Joseph Philippe joined the business and helped maintain the company’s legacy. In 1932, the Stern brothers—who owned a dial manufacturing company in Geneva, Switzerland—purchased the company and created some of the most iconic Patek Philippe models. Patek Philippe continues to thrive today with its intricate mechanical features and unique look.
- Patek Philippe Nautilus - Patek Philippe debuted the Nautilus in 1967, which now has a cult-like status amongst collectors. The Nautilus luxury sports watch features a porthole inspired case design, a smooth octagon bezel, a dial that uses texture and plays with light, and an externally-sourced movement made by Jaeger-LeCoultre. Now there is a significant range of Nautilus watches available.
- Patek Philippe Aquanaut - In 1997, Patek Philippe released the Aquanaut, which was more sporty and casual than the Nautilus. The Aquanaut has a 3-hand model with date complications, modern Arabic numerals, it’s defining rubber strap, a luminous coating for easy reading in low-light, and a porthole inspired eight-sided bezel similar to the Nautilus.
- Patek Philippe Calatrava - Patek Philippe released the timeless aesthetic of the Calatrava the same year the Stern brothers invested in the company, 1932. The name Calatrava comes from the ornate Calatrava cross used on the marching banners of the Calatrava knights who defended the Calatrava fortress against the Moors. The Calatrava featured movement originally made LeCoultre and later made in-house, a design stripped of excess, a flat bezel surrounding a harmonious dial, and trapezoidal markers.
Cartier was founded in 1847 by namesake Louis-Francois Cartier in Paris, France. From the beginning, Cartier built his reputation by outfitting members of high society. Cartier created its first wristwatch by the turn of the twentieth century to meet the evolving needs of pilots. Cartier later refined the design of this watch with the guidance and inspiration of his friend and famous aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. Thus, releasing the Cartier Santos in 1903 as a unique model showcasing a square bezel and distinctive flat shape.
Four years later, Cartier began a partnership with Edmond Jaeger of the watch manufacturing company Jaeger-LeCoultre. They became the exclusive supplier of movements for Cartier. By 1907, Cartier had a global presence by opening boutiques in London, St. Petersburg, and New York City. The brand’s popularity continued to grow into this legendary watch brand for close to 175 years.
- Cartier Tank - Cartier launched the first Tank in 1917, becoming one of Cartier’s iconic models. The shape and design of the tank paid homage to Britain’s first use of tanks in 1916 at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. The Tank is available with quartz and mechanical movements, has lines reminiscent of a tank’s tracks, has unique lugs that enable the strap to fit into the case without space between, and has various case materials, sizes, and dial designs available.
- Cartier Santos - In 1906, Cartier created the world’s first pilot’s watch with guidance and inspiration from Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont so he could quickly reference the time without taking his hands off the controls. The distinct design of the Santos features a rectangular case, exposed screws on the bezel, and traditional Roman numeral hour markers subtly stretched to fill the dial.
- Cartier Ballon Bleu - Cartier launched the Ballon Bleu collection of watches in 2007 to appeal to men and women who are lovers of sheer elegance and grand complications. The collections feature blue cabochon-adorned crowns, high-quality finishes, unusual bubble-shaped profile, Roman numerals, elegant blue-steel hands, and case diameters that span from 28m to 46m for every wrist size.
- Cartier Calibre de Cartier - Back in 2010, Cartier launched the Calibre de Cartier collection to pay tribute to the Cartier’s first in-house developed movement. The Calibre de Cartier watch collection features water-resistance up to 300m, three-handed dial designs with the subsidiary date and seconds displays, and the collection is available in various materials, sizes, and strap/bracelet options.
The Panerai luxury watch brand is a luxury watch brand founded outside of Switzerland. The company was founded in 1860 by Giovanni Panerai in Florence, Italy. Panerai was not just a shop and workshop, but Florence’s first watchmaking school. They made connections to the Swiss watchmaking industry to make sure they featured high-quality parts and designs, thus helping Panerai become the top Italian company.
Once Guido Panerai, Giovanni’s grandson, was heading the company, they began specializing in precision mechanisms leading them to a longstanding partnership with the Royal Italian Navy. They even worked with Rolex to develop dive watches for the Royal Italian Navy. Since 1972 the Panerai brand changed hands multiple times as they went through the Quartz crisis to creating their first in-house movement. Now Panerai is synonymous with Italian luxury watches, and they continue innovating by experimenting with new materials.
- Panerai Radiomir - In 1916, Panerai filled the patent for Radiomir, which was a radium-based powder that gave luminosity to details on precision mechanisms. By 1936 the Radiomir watch prototype debuted for the Royal Italian Navy through Panerai’s work with Rolex. The Radiomir features a luminous dial, integrated lugs with spring bars, cushion-shaped case, and a water-resistant Rolex movement.
- Panerai Luminor - Panerai continued refining its luminous technology that led them to patent a new luminous substance in 1949 called Luminor. The Luminor watch has a crown-protecting bridge, a wider flatter bezel, a crown-protecting bridge, and cushion-shaped case (like the Radiomir).
- Panerai Luminor Submersible - Panerai revised the Lumior to add the incredibly popular Submersible collection in 1998. The Luminor Submersible watch features the famous luminescence, water-resistant up to 300m, cushion-shaped curves, a round bezel to create a professional dive watch.
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