The top end of the watch business is mammoth in terms of economic impact yet miniature in terms of the number of companies behind it.
The multi-billion dollar luxury watch industry is dominated by just a handful of major manufacturers, all of which are based out of Switzerland.
This is no surprise: when you hear “Swiss-made”, the first two things that to mind are quality and watches.
The Swiss were one of the earliest to get involved with timekeeping and watchmaking, gaining a reputation for producing fine watches as early as the 16th century. Today, the capital Geneva is home to two of the world’s most famous and renowned watch brands, and in the northern valleys, there are almost as many watchmakers as there are people.
Join us as we delve into the rich history and achievements of four of the world’s foremost watch companies — Omega, Heuer, Rolex, and Longines. Discovering what makes them, and particularly Swiss manufacturing, so great.
Founded in Switzerland in 1848, Omega has since launched to international stardom, the name becoming synonymous with quality, precision timekeeping, and huge names and organisations like NASA and the Olympics.
The name Omega, the last letter of the Greek alphabet, sums up the company’s philosophy: the strive for perfection. For nearly two centuries, the company has been at the forefront of watchmaking. Some of its greatest achievements include its Speedmaster becoming the first wristwatch to be worn on the moon, receiving the Olympic Cross of Merit for outstanding contribution to sport, and the launch of the world’s first self-winding wristwatch with central tourbillon.
The company continues to support explorers and push limits today, for instance by recently introducing the world’s most resistant movement to magnetic fields (greater than 15,000 gauss).
Another Swiss giant from the north-east of the country, the Heuer watch company (now TAG Heuer), is built upon quality workmanship, ultra-fast mechanical chronographs, and a long association with sports timing.
Soon after the company was founded in 1860, a strong series of technical innovations saw it become the go-to timing specialist for sporting events. During the 1920s, Heuer watches were used at the Antwerp, Paris and Amsterdam Olympics. And in 1933, it launched the first dashboard stopwatch for race cars.
Heuer was later acquired by TAG Group (TAG being an abbreviation for Techniques d’Avant Garde), and to this day remains closely tied with precision sports timekeeping.
No list of watchmaking greats is complete without Rolex — the world’s leading luxury watch manufacturer.
Founded in London in 1905, the company has operated out of Switzerland for most of its existence, producing millions of timepieces under the Rolex and Tudor brand names.
According to its founder, the name “Rolex” was chosen as it sounds like a watch being wound, as well as due to its ease of pronunciation in many languages. The company boasts a plethora of awards and innovations, including the first Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision in 1910, the first waterproof wrist watch in 1926, and the first timepiece to display two time zones in 1954.
Some of its signature and best-known models include the Submariner, Day-Date President, Cosmograph Daytona, and the Masterpiece. Today, the company continues to expand their lines by producing modern but equally masterful and unique timepieces.
Sprouting from the same northern Swiss region as the Heuer watch company, Longines started in 1832 as a ‘home business’ — with workers crafting watches out of their garden sheds or living rooms. To help standardise quality and manage the increase in demand, it moved to a factory in St Longines and thus the company was born.
Also associated with major sporting events and records such as the producing the first automatic timekeeping device, Longines is considered by many as one of the finest watchmakers around. Its timeless elegance and unrivalled reliability mean that everything from their century-old classics to their modern sporty collection continue to be in incredibly high demand.
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