There’s something very special about Swiss watchmaking. Most of the biggest ever developments in the craft have taken place in the mountainous nation, whilst the majority of the most well-respected and prestigious watch brands were born out of the nation’s proud tradition. Here, we look into just why Switzerland has become such an incubator for watchmaking talent, as well as listing some of the nation’s most famous brands, along with their key information.
The very first Watches evolved from portable, spring-driven clocks made in the 15th-century across Europe. Although there is limited evidence that he created the very first to create miniature timepieces, the creation of the very first watch is often attributed to Germany, and the Nuremburg clockmaker Peter Henlein. Reports from the time suggest that Henlein’s clocks could - for the first time ever – be worn on the body, and “carried at the breast or in a handbag”.
These first timepieces were all made possible by the invention of the mainspring, a spiral torsion spring of metal, which could be used as a power source in mechanical watches. At the time of Peter Henlein creating his masterpeices it is said that many other German clockmakers were creating miniature timepieces during this period so there is no real evidence that Peter Henlein was the first.
It’s said that the word watch came from the Old English word "woecce" which meant watchman, with the timers being used by watchmen of the past to keep track of their shifts. There are also rumours that the word watch came from sailors that used the first timepieces to keep track of their shifts out to sea.
The origins of Swiss watchmaking’s distinctive style are often cited as baing due to the work of religious reformer John Calvin, who banned all jewellery except for watches in the sixteenth century. Jewellery makers faced ruin, so turned their attention to watchmaking. The city of Geneva became a hub for this burgeoning industry, and is still seen as a home for the craft to this day.
As they were created by jewellery makers, often the real appeal in the earliest Swiss watches was aesthetic, rather than due to the precision and accuracy of the timepieces. A strange contrast with today, when Swiss watches are probably the most reputable in the world in terms of accuracy. In these early days, too, all production was carried out by hand, meaning that it’s fair to say that every watch produced at this time is completely unique. There was no standard procedure carried out between these early companies and production was often split between a number of craftsmen.
Since these early days when watchmaking was a pursuit of style over substance, Swiss watches have become renowned the world over for the perfect combination of functionality and craftsmanship. The introduction of the Geneva Seal in 1886 further reinforced this reputation, fist created to fight counterfeiting, and still in use to this day. Watches of Switzerland have now ventured to the depths of the ocean, as well as pioneering the skies, and even going to space. Trusted brands like Rolex and Omega are seen as the go-to for elite sportsmen in terms of precision timepieces, whilst style-conscious people the world over opt for brands like Patek Phillipe and Hublot when looking for contemporary class and style.
Below in date order we have listed some of the most famous watch brands ever to come out of – or to have since built a base – in Switzerland. Most of the brands featuring were founded in Switzerland, whilst others began outside of the country and have since located to Switzerland, in order to be in the centre of the watchmaking equivalent of Mecca.
From the likes of Breitling and Jaeger-LeCoultre, to Tag Heuer and Omega, the list of fine watchmakers to have emerged from Switzerland really is unbelievable. Also listed is the date the companies are said to have been founded, along with their current Head Quarters.
|Watch Brand||Year Founded||Country Of Origin||Present Location|
|Vacheron Constantin||1755||Geneva - Switzerland||Geneva - Switzerland|
|Breguet||1775||Paris - France||Vallee de Joux - Switzerland|
|Girard-Perregaux||1791||La Chaux-de-Fonds - Switzerland||La Chaux-de-Fonds - Switzerland|
|Jaeger-LeCoultre||1833||Le Sentier - Switzerland||Le Sentier - Switzerland|
|Patek Philippe Co.||1851||Geneva - Switzerland||Geneva - Switzerland|
|Cartier||1847||Paris - France||Paris - France|
|Omega||1848||Biel/Bienne - Switzerland||Biel/Bienne - Switzerland|
|Tag Heuer||1860||Saint-Imier - Switzerland||Neuchatel - Switzerland|
|Panerai Officine||1860||Florence - Italy||Milan - Italy|
|IWC||1868||Schaffhausen - Switzerland||Schaffhausen - Switzerland|
|Piaget||1874||La Cote-aux-Fees - Switzerland||La Cote-aux-Fees - Switzerland|
|Audemars Piguet||1875||Le Brassus - Switzerland||Le Brassus - Switzerland|
|Breitling||1884||Saint-Imier - Switzerland||Grenchen - Switzerland|
|Rolex||1905||London - UK||Geneva - Switzerland|
|Franck Muller||1991||Geneva - Switzerland||Geneva - Switzerland|
|Bell & Ross||1992||Paris - France||Paris - France|
|Richard Mille||2001||Canton of Jura - Switzerland||Canton of Jura - Switzerland|
|Greubel Forsey||2004||La Chaux-de-Fonds - Switzerland||La Chaux-de-Fonds - Switzerland|