When Babylonians invented the sundial in 1500 BC, they never imagined how that contraption would shape the future. If someone told them that one day people would be walking with time on their wrists, they would have laughed you off. Yet here we are, many centuries later, doing just that.
The watch brands that we know today started off somewhere. It is on the back of such history that they have been able to turn into the powerhouses of today. They, too, would never have believed the strides they would make in the future. In fact, for most involved in making watch movements, they never planned to grow bigger than that small corner shop.
Here are the oldest watch brands in the world.
The Swiss watchmaker is believed to be the oldest registered brand. Founded in 1735 by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain, the company began in a room on top of his house in Villeret, Switzerland. Like many other Swiss watchmakers, Blancpain rose to prominence after the 2nd World War.
It was not until 1953 that Blancpain left a mark in the watch industry when they launched the famous Fifty Fathoms. The watch was the first diving watch ever made, a request from the French navy for their underwater operations.
For a short period, Blancpain closed shop but reopened in 1983. They are currently partnered with various big brands like Lamborghini.
In 1737, Abraham Favre, the Favre family patriarch, registered as a watchmaker in Le Locle, Switzerland. That marked the beginning of the Favre-Leuba brand. For a time, the company stayed within the family, run by his sons and their grandsons.
In 1815, Auguste Leuba, a man from a merchant family, joined the company, and it officially became Favre-Leuba. Their most iconic timepiece is the classic Bivouac that was unveiled in 1962. The Bivouac Was the first-ever watch that could measure air pressure and altitude, a gem among the mountaineering communities.
The 1980 Swiss watch industry crisis forced Favre-Leuba to close down the shop temporarily. They came back in 201 and had been resurging since then.
The 1730s seem to have experienced a sudden appearance of watchmakers in Switzerland. It was in 1738 when Pierre Jaquet Droz set up a watchmaking shop in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Pierre was a known inventor in that era who used to create automata. He decided to transfer that to constructing watches, and it paid up.
Jaquet Droz watches became very popular among the wealthy elites of Europe and China. Their good fortunes were, however, cut short by the Napoleonic Wars. The shop went under and was never heard of again until the year 2000.
Swatch Group has since acquired them with their timepieces making a comeback into the market.
DuBois et Fils
Founded in 1751 and registered in 1785, DuBois et Fills is the brainchild of Moise DuBois, who set up shop in Le Locle. Moise was initially slated to take over his father’s business, a textile trading company. He instead switched his focus to trading watches and eventually decided to start making them.
By 1798, the company had sold over 110,000 pocket watches. They began making wristwatches in 1910 until the 1980s when they sold the family business to a German company.
Before turning into a full-fledged watchmaker, Ferdinand Berthoud was a scientist and an inventor. He worked for the French navy and was instrumental in the creation of the marine chronometer. In 1753 he decided to open a watchmaking company in his name in Paris.
The company continued making watches until 1876 when they abruptly disappeared due to a tragedy in the family. Charles-Auguste Berthoud died. In 2015, the company made a comeback with the unveiling of a new watch, Chronomètre Ferdinand Berthoud FB1. A tribute to their celebrated founder and patriarch
Vacheron Constantin holds the unique record of being the oldest watchmaker whose operations have never been interrupted even once. The result of this? Highly refined watches. Vacheron Constantin was founded in 1755 in Geneva. It has gone on to build itself a reputation of being the leader in the manufacture of luxury watches.
The company was behind the creation of the 57260 Reference, the most complex watch ever made in the world. It has 57 complications and over 2,800 components and costs over $9m. The company is part of the Holy Trinity of watches, an elite group of 3 of the best watchmakers in the world.
In 1775, Abraham-Louis Breguet foundedBreguet in Paris, France. One strange fact about Abraham-Louis Brequet is that he was a Swiss national. He found himself in France after his father died and his mother remarried a Parisian who had a showroom there. This was where Beguet’s interest in watches was born.
He is credited with the invention of Topurbillon escarpment that is used in all high-end watches in the world. In 1976 the company relocated to Vallee de Joux in Switzerland. In 1999 it was bought by The Swatch Group, and it continues to make watches.
In 1839, Patek Philippe was founded by Antoni Patek and Adrien Philippe in Geneva, Switzerland. Patek, A Polish watchmaker, joined hands with Philippe, a French inventor, and together, they revolutionized the watch industry. Adrien Philippe is the patent owner of the key-less winding mechanism.
It was not until 1851; however, when the two officially named the company using their two initials. They are now based in Plan-les-Ouates. Patek Philippe holds the distinguished record of having sold the most expensive watch in history.
The history of wristwatches is a checkered one, with a lot of French and Swiss connections. The vast experience needed to become the top watchmaker in the world takes hundreds of years: this is the main reason new players in the market are finding it hard to dislodge the established brands. The best they can hope to do is cause little waves and corner a tiny part of the market as the vintage brands continue to take center stage.