Now, traditionally Swiss watchmaking has been the absolute pinnacle, the kippers knickers, the dogs bollocks, whatever you want to call it. But in recent years (the past 20) watch making pedigree and 'Haute Horologie' has started to creep out of the woodwork of other countries, namely Germany and Japan. And this has sparked an incredibly interesting and hotly discussed debate amongst watch geeks, and the debate is this. Is Swiss watch making still the best?? Or has Germany and Japan knocked the traditionalist off its seemingly impenetrable pedestal? Lets find out shall we?
Swiss Watching Making
I can hear the uber traditionalists out there saying "well if its not Swiss its Sh*t". If that is you, not only are you missing out on some of the best watches EVER made, you are also a monumental cock. Swiss watch making is the traditional big dog. Swiss watch making harkens back to 1601. Yes. You heard that correctly, SIXTEEN HUNDRED AND ONE. This marked the founding of the first watch making guild in Switzerland. By 1704, Swiss watchmaking was the backbone of their economy. There are a number of reasons for why this started. The first, and maybe one of the most interesting ones is this. Switzerland, like a lot of central European countries, is renowned for having quite bloody cold winters. As a result of this, none of Switzerlands farmers could farm stuff, as a result of this they found work making and assembling watch components for firms based in less rural areas such as Geneva.
Switzerland, as I think we can all agree, is renowned for its luxury watch manufacture. Rolex, Omega, Vacheron Constantin, AP etc all reside there. However, it has not always been plain sailing. One of the biggest crisis to ever hit this industry was of course the Quartz Crisis during the 70's and 80's. The Japanese, who I am going to speak about later, developed this technology, which saw the demise of hundreds of Swiss watch brands collapse as they simply could not compete with brands like Seiko and Citizen, who flooded the market with cheaply produced and super accurate Quartz pieces. As a result of this, and in order to be able to compete with the Japanese, the Swiss decided to change angles slightly. They started celebrating their history, setting themselves apart from their competitors by focussing on high quality and levels of design. In recent years companies have further done that by transitioning from 'companies' to 'manufacturers'. This change in title effectively means that they are taking their manufacturing and development in house, in other words they are doing it all themselves. This is only helping them to further differentiate and elevate themselves in what is becoming an incredibly saturated market.
This elevation in quality and price has helped cement Switzerland's spot in the upper echelon of watchmaking. If we think about the top brands of all time, I think a large majority of you will say three Swiss brands. Not only being a front runner in terms of when the watchmaking industry in Switzerland was conceived, coupled with successfully riding the wave of the quartz crisis and surviving it, has meant that some people; maybe rightly, consider Switzerland to be the kippers knickers for Watchmaking. Now, Just to make sure that this series isn't just a history lesson/technical nerd fest, let us talk about a legend of not only Swiss watchmaking, but watchmaking in general. Rolex are without a shadow of a doubt the most recognisable luxury watch brands of all time, in fact, you can take out watch from that. They are one of the most recognisable luxury brands of all time... Being the most recognisable watch brand in the world means that they have some pretty recognisable models.
The GMT Master
The GMT is a bloody cool watch. Rolex are a company that do sporty, practical and 'tooly' watches very, very well. And the GMT Master is one of them. It was introduced in 1959 and was marketed at airline pilots. Naturally they travel a lot, and as a result the ability to time two different timezones at once is an immensely useful complication. Too this day it is one of the most recognisable watch complications around, as well as one of the most famous Rolex watches.
This watch needs no introduction. This is without a doubt the most famous watch of all time. Not only has it been seen on the wrist of James Bond, it has also been copied, faked and homaged to within an inch of its life. It is sort of hard in a way to describe quite how amazing and iconic this watch really is... It is a complete legend of watch making. The thing that I find amazing about this watch is its key features of a 24hr bezel, steel bracelet and clean dial has been basically unchanged since 1953. If a design is that timeless that there is no need to change it in 65 years, I think that is a testament to a pretty special watch. The other amazing thing is it is still impossible to get hold of one brand new from an AD, unless you a) have a relationship with a dealer or b) are John Goldberger or Ben Clymer.
Maybe the most famous Submariner?? Sean Connery's Bond Sporting a 6538 on an undersized nato strap in Dr. No...
The three Submariner models... The Hulk, Regular Submariner and the Smurf, the controversial white gold sub...
As I have spoken about Rolex's two most famous sports watches, lets look at their most iconic 'dressier' piece, the Rolex daydate. This is another legend of the Rolex family, which also has a 60 plus year history! Introduced in 1956, it continues to be the status watch from the brand. Unlike the sportier watches, this is one which is elevated in class. Not only does it come exclusively in precious metals, it also comes with exotic dial options, and a higher price tag. The watch effectively oozes prestige and classiness. Although this watch comes in an almost infinite range of options in terms of dial, markers and hands, the base design has remained unchanged since its inception, just like the Submariner and GMT Master... This says a hell of a lot about just how timeless Rolex are as a brand! Who doesn't love Rolex?!
Just three of the multiple variations of the stunning Rolex Day-Date. This rare marble dial version is definitely on my grail list...
I hope you have enjoyed my brief history lesson about the legend of watchmaking, Switzerland, and the most famous watch brand ever? I started with Switzerland as the benchmark because a lot of people think they are not only the best, but the only country to buy watches from. In the next two parts I am going to very much prove those people wrong, by showing you the immense watchmaking talents coming out of Germany and Japan. If you enjoy these little mini-series of articles please let us know!!
Editor and Co-Founder