As a fairly avid watch collector, I am often asked about the hierarchy of watch brands and manufacture. There are many names which fall in the luxury Swiss watch category that are not well-known to the general public, let alone easy to pronounce.
Today I am writing this article to make life a little easier for me, as a reference for the next person who asks me where a particular watch brand stands in the gamut of Swiss, German and French tongue-twisters.
Watch brand hierarchy is generally quite established but still very subjective at the same time. Three people will have three different opinions on where Rolex should stand as a luxury watch brand. And out of the three, it is possible that one or all of them may not have heard of a top-ranking manufacture such as Audemars Piguet or Roger Dubuis.
My list of watch brands below will cover most brands in the market, from the entry-level to the crème de la crème of fine Swiss watchmaking. Watch brands by fashion designers such as Gucci, Calvin Klein and Hugo Boss are not listed, and are generally considered as Tier 6, although some of them do carry well-made movements.
Criteria of Assessment
Before I present my version of the top to bottom, it is important that I declare my list of criteria of what constitute the great from the merely good, and the exorbitant from the mildly expensive. While price is quite often a good indication, it is not the only determining factor, as watch brands, in my opinion, are also ranked more favourably based on the following 10 criteria (in order of decreasing importance):
- Heritage, history and provenance
- In-house manufacture status and independence
- Market perception, brand presence, demand and popularity
- Innovation and pioneering spirit
- Creativity in design and function
- Choice of materials and jeweller’s standard of finishing
- Reliability, accuracy and absence of common defects
- Involvement in social activities such as sports and charity events
- Choice of ambassadors and related contribution to society
- Representation at watch shop tier level
You are probably wondering why an important criterion such as “Reliability, accuracy and absence of common defects” would rank so low at number seven in the list above. It doesn’t make sense? Well, when it comes to watches, a lot of things don’t make sense. Spending a million dollars on a timepiece that doesn’t tell the time more accurately than your twenty-dollar quartz-powered digital watch sure doesn’t make sense, any more so than driving a Bentley to get from A to B that a Honda could do reliably and more economically.
When it comes to prestige, good sense goes out the window. So on reliability, accuracy and absence of common defects, most watches worthy of mention here are more or less on the same level, a plus-minus of very small tolerances.
With all else being equal, this criterion would affect very little on a watch brand’s standing, and hence is listed as the seventh important reason to rank a brand. Unless of course, a particular brand’s reliability, accuracy and common defects are way off the charts – then these factors become anomalously more important!
At this point, I would like to point out that while I have tried to be as accurate as possible in my list of hierarchy, it is by no means absolute, and represents only my own perception of the tier value of these watch brands based on my rather “extensive” (read: just a little more than the general public) exposure to Swiss luxury watch brands over the last decade or so, not to mention the countless hours pouring over articles in watch magazines and journals as well as handling watches at all tiers at luxury watch shops.
And don’t be surprised if some of these brands move up or down the tier as the direction of the organisation changes with mergers, take-overs, in-house manufacture status and so on. So here goes:
Tier Levels and Watch Brand Hierarchy
Click on the watch brands highlighted in blue below (where available) to find out more about the company’s watch designs and models, and in some cases, their history.
|TIER 1||TOP LUXURY BRANDS WITH HERITAGE AND HISTORY|
|TIER 1a||TOP LUXURY BRANDS BY INDEPENDENT MAKERS
Carl F. Bucherer, Christophe Claret, De Bethune, Devon, DeWitt, Dubey & Schaldenbrand, F.P. Journe, Franck Muller, George Daniels, Gerald Genta, Greubel Forsey, Linde Werdelin, MB&F, Parmigiani Fleurier, Philippe Dufour, Pierre Kunz, Richard Mille, Roger Dubuis, Urwerk
|TIER 1b||HIGH-END LUXURY BRANDS IN FAVOUR AND DEMAND||TIER 1c||HIGH-END LUXURY BRANDS BY JEWELLERS|
|TIER 2||POPULAR AND FAVOURED LUXURY BRANDS|
|TIER 3||MID-LEVEL LUXURY BRANDS|
|TIER 3a||MID-LEVEL BRANDS|
|TIER 4||ABOVE ENTRY-LEVEL BRANDS
Alexander Shorokhoff, Bernhard H. Mayer, Cimier, David Yurman, Ebel, Enicar, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Jorg Gray, Mido, Movado, Officina del Tempo, Revue Thommen, Seiko, Squale, U-Boat, UTS München, Vollmer, Zeno-Watch Basel
|TIER 5||ENTRY-LEVEL BRANDS|
Leave a Comment!
You are welcome to leave comments. If you would like a watch brand not mentioned above to be placed in a tier, kindly state the brand name or manufacture in the comments below. If you think that a certain watch brand above deserves to be in a different tier, do mention it in your comments below as well!