Hans Wilsdorf was born in Kulmbach, Germany in 1881, and founded ‘Wilsdorf & Davies’ in 1905 which is the company we now know as Rolex. Wilsdorf & Davies was based originally in London and by 1908 it had become one of the foremost watch companies in the UK. This initial success led him to coin the name Rolex later that year in order to further differentiate his brand from Official Chronometer Certification was awarded to Rolex in 1910 from the “Bureau Officiel” in Switzerland, the first time this had ever been given to a wristwatch. This was to be the first of many accolades awarded to the watch, including the Class A Precision from the Kew Observatory in 1914.
In 1926 the Rolex Oyster was released. It was the first wristwatch to be considered waterproof, proven a year later when the watch was worn by the swimmer Mercedes Gleitze in his successful bid to cross the English Channel. This was beneficial to Wilsdorf whom had sponsored the event and gained considerable exposure for his new Oyster Watch. Wilsdorf recognised the importance of advertising and marketing his creation in order to gain publicity and prestige.
1931 saw the creation of the Perpetual Rotor, a mechanism now seen as the basis for self-winding movements. In the following years Rolex released the first Oyster Perpetual Lady date in 1954, the GMT Master with dual time zone function in 1955 and the first Day-Date in 1956.
Following the death of Hans Wildorf on 06 July 1960, Andre Heiniger took over the company, with Rolex continuing to invent and innovate through technical skill and style throughout the 2nd half of the century. From the release of the Cosmograph Daytona Ref. 6239 in 1963, to the first Sea-dweller in 1967 which was certified as reaching depths of up to 610 metres, making it the choice for Professional Divers – a point that was quickly adopted when advertising the model. 1971 heralded the release of the Explorer II – infamous for its orange GMT hand, which is still in use in its modern equivalent! The emergence of 904L steel came in in 1985 and was introduced for its higher corrosion resistance and superb polish, and only became what we know today as ‘Oyster Steel’ in 2018.
All of these dates contributing and solidifying Rolex as one of the world's most illustrious luxury watch brands.
Edouard Heuer founded his workshop in 1860, with the aim was to make time measurement more precise. The company has always been known as the “avant-garde of watchmaking”, as they have continually been at the forefront of horological innovation through technology, materials and design. In 1882 Heuer patented his first chronograph mechanism, which was a huge success and set in motion the brands long standing history of timekeeping. With Heuer also claiming the patent for the first chronograph capable of measuring 100ths of a second. However, these are not the only accolades the brands has claim to, such as creating the first automatic chronograph with a microrotor in 1969, the first analog display quartz chronograph in 1983 and not forgetting the 1998 Kirium Ti5 in grade 5 titanium and carbon fibre, to name but a few. Heuer's continuing presence within the watchmaking world secured his place in history. This mastery is reflected in the impressive number of patents making TAG Heuer one of the key references in Swiss Made watch-making know-how. For 142 years, the company has confirmed its initial vocation: producing watches that constantly push back the frontiers of precision, reliability and aesthetics. That is why the TAG Heuer philosophy is symbolized by the slogan “Swiss Avant-Garde since 1860”.
In 1875, Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet joined forces to produce watches with complex mechanisms. Based in La Brassus in the heart of Vallée de Joux in the Swiss Jura region, Audemars Piguet has been creating and marketing under its own name a range of Haute Horlogerie watches for the last 145+ years.
In 1972 Audemars Piguet launched the world’s first high-end sports watch in stainless steel – The Royal Oak. The watch launched at the Basel watch fair was a radical departure from the current watch trends, with its unique octagonal bezel proving to be revolutionary shape in watchmaking.
Arguably among the finest luxury watch manufacturers in the world, Audemars Piguet boasts a history that is rich with tradition. One of only a handful of watch companies that have the capability to produce and assemble its own movements and complete timepieces.
Cartier was founded in 1847 by Louis-Francois Cartier and was the “Master jeweller” to Europe's Crowned Heads of State. The first Cartier wristwatch, the Santos, was released in 1904 and can be regarded as the first 'sports watch' in history. This world-renowned line of watches were followed by the Jewelled watches Cartier is more well known for today in 1906.
Although best known for jewellery, Cartier created the Deployment Folding Clasp in 1910, which is now used by numerous watch houses across the Globe. In 1917 the Cartier Tank Francaise was introduced, a model which is today still considered a classic example of style and design, which is still produced to this day.
Most contemporary Cartier watches (and jewellery) are based upon the distinctive designs of founder Louis-Francois Cartier.
1884 – In St. Imier, in the Jura mountains of Switzerland, Leon Breitling opens a workshop specialising in making chronographs and precision counters for scientific and industrial purposes. In 1914 Leon Breitling dies and the company is passed over to his son Gaston, who a year later creates the first wristwatch chronograph and subsequently provides pilots with the first wrist instruments. By 1923 Breitling had developed the first ever independent chronograph pushpiece, subsequently laying the foundations for the chronographs which are still made to this day.
Gastons son, Willy Breitling takes over control of the company in 1932 and in 1936 Breitling becomes the official supplier to the Royal Air Force. The Chronomat is introduced in 1942 – the first chronograph to be fitted with a circular slide rule. The company also widens its professional clientele to include the American armed forces. 1954 saw the creation of the Navitimer, a wrist instrument equipped with the famous navigation computer. This super chronograph becomes a firm favourite among the pilots across the globe, and by this stage Breitling is already supplying the major international airlines with cockpit clocks. In 1962, Astronaut Scott Carpenter wears the Cosmonaught chronograph during his orbital flight aboard the Aurora 7 space capsule. 1969 saw Breitling introduce the first ever self-winding chronograph, this technical feat representing a major breakthrough for the entire swiss watch industry. 1979 saw the takeover of Breitling from the founder's grandson Willy with Ernest Schneider taking the helm. In 1984 The Chronomat is launched and marks the return of the chronograph, with it becoming the best-selling line in the Breitling collection, a position it has held ever since. Soon afterwards in 1985, the Breitling Aerospace is launched and remains in the modern Breitling collection.
Today, Breitling is still established in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the town where Leon Breitling opened his first chronograph factory 110 years earlier.
Today, seven out of ten people throughout the world are familiar with the OMEGA watch brand – a truly amazing rate of awareness to which few other watch brands can lay claim. The reason behind this success is said to be the reliably fine quality of every OMEGA watch. From its modest beginnings in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1848, the assembly workshop created by 23-year-old Louis Brandt gradually gained renown. Louis Brandt assembled key-wound precision pocket watches from parts supplied by local craftsmen. After Louis Brandt's death in 1879, his two sons Louis-Paul and Cesar took over control of the business.
Louis-Paul and César Brandt both died in 1903, leaving one of Switzerland's largest watch companies – with 240,000 watches produced annually and employing 800 people – in the hands of four young people, the oldest of whom was Paul-Emile Brandt. The economic difficulties brought on by the First World War would lead him to work actively from 1925 toward the union of OMEGA and Tissot, then to their merger in 1930 within the group SSIH. By the seventies, SSIH had become Switzerland's no 1 producer of finished watches and no 3 in the world. The severe monetary crisis and recession of 1975 to 1980 led to SSIH being bailed out by the banks in 1981. In 1985 the holding company was taken over by a group of private investors. Immediately renamed SMH, Societe suisse de microelectronique et d'horlogerie, the new group achieved rapid growth and success to become today's top watch producer in the world. Named Swatch Group in 1998, it now includes Blancpain, Breguet, Longines, Hamilton and many others. Dynamic and flourishing, OMEGA remains one of its most prestigious flagship brands.
1st March 1965 – OMEGA's Speedmaster chronograph was “flight-qualified by NASA for all manned space missions” as the only wristwatch to have withstood all of the U.S. space agency's severe tests. On 21 July 1969 – 02:56 GMT, the Speedmaster records man's first steps on the Moon's surface. The Speedmaster became the first watch (and the only watch since) to be worn on the Moon. With this unique accomplishment came a unique nickname: the Moon Watch. April 1970 – the OMEGA Speedmaster rescued the Apollo 13 mission from a potential disaster, earning OMEGA the “Snoopy Award”. 1948 saw the advent of the Seamaster, with the well-known Seamaster 300 launched in 1957. In 1981, the newly launched Seamaster 120 set a new world free dive record at a depth of 101 metres. The Seamaster is also famous for being the choice watch for James Bond, with numerous limited editions' continuing to be released to this day.
During the Polish uprising in 1830, Norbert de Patek, a Polish refugee settled in Geneva preferring exile rather than facing prison. Geneva at that time was the capital of watchmaking and fine jewellery. Nine years later together with his friend and fellow countryman, the gifted watchmaker François Czapek, they set about using their combined talents and founded the watch manufactory of Patek, Czapek & Cie, with their headquarters in Geneva.
As the fashion of wearing a watch around the wrist was catching on, watchmakers began challenging the integration of various complications into their new timepieces. Patek Philippe's first perpetual calendar wristwatch was produced in 1925. In addition to indicating the day, date and month, whilst considering the number of days in each month (29, 30, 31) as well as the 29th of February in leap years, and even displaying the ages and phases of the moon. Patek Philippe's general production launched the first bracelet chronographs both with and without a split-second mechanism, in addition to wristwatches with the famed minute repeating complication.
Born in La Chaux-de-Fronds in July 1958 to a Swiss father and Italian mother, Muller’s acumen for things mechanical was soon evident and as a young boy he regularly took apart anything mechanical. It was this passion for all things mechanical which led him to enroll in the famous Ecole d’Horlogerie de Geneve when he was 15 years old. Three years later Franck Muller graduated first in his class. During the 1970’s when the mechanical watch marker was dead due to the popularity of the quartz watch, Franck Muller spent his time restoring mechanical timepieces for collectors, museums and auction houses. He soon gained a reputation as a master restorer of antique timepieces, and this expertise flows through to his modern-day collection, cementing him as a household name within the horological world.
In 1868, the American engineer and watchmaker, Florentine Ariosto Jones was director of 'F. Howard & Cie' in Boston, which at the time was one of the most influential watch manufacturers in America. With this in mind he travelled across the Atlantic to Switzerland, where his plan was to found the International Watch Company, initially aiming to manufacture movements and watch parts for the American market. However, he had failed to consider that the workers in the Geneva region and the remote valleys of the Jura mountains feared for their jobs and were against Jones' intrusion. It was probably around this point that Jones met watch manufacturer and industrialist Johann Heinrich Moser who manufactured pocket watches for the Russian tsars. Moser was an industrial pioneer and had recently finished building a hydrostation in Schaffhausen powered by water from the Rhine. Moser showed a great interest in Jones' plans and so the foundations were set for the first and only watch manufacturers in north-eastern Switzerland: the IWC INTERNATIONAL WATCH CO. in Schaffhausen.
In 1833, Antoine LeCoultre founded the little known workshop which was to become the Manufacture Jaeger LeCoultre. Antoine was a self-taught watchmaker and a brilliant inventor. He devoted his whole life to achieve total precision and reliability. His work made a lasting impression on the history of watchmaking, and to this day is regarded as 'the watchmakers watchmaker' due to supplying the likes of Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Cartier with high grade movements and parts.
In 1844 Antoine LeCoultre was the first person to measure a micron. Such was the perfection of his watchmaking components no tool could determine their level of inaccuracy, and so to push the boundaries even further he created the world's most precise measuring instrument: The Millionometer. Which served as the standard for more than half a century. It measured components to the nearest thousandth of a millimetre.
In 1992 a team of designers and specialists of aircraft and space controls joined with a set project to create watches perfectly suiting a professional use, to be part of the great Swiss watchmaking tradition while meeting the demands of men facing extreme situations. Nowadays astronauts, pilots, divers or bomb disposal experts use Bell & Ross watches as tools on their missions.