The luxury watch market is one of the most competitive, inflated and sought-after on Earth. In fact, during the pandemic, the second-hand watch market was the 2nd most inflated market behind vehicles, largely due to a lack of production in factories causing worldwide shortages. There are four big names in the luxury watch game that dominate the industry, accumulating 41.7% of the market share. These are Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille. Each of these brands embody different characteristics to appeal to a wide range of consumers. For those that find themselves with the funds to make a substantial watch purchase such as celebrities, business persons and athletes, you’ll often find them with one of these four Swiss made watches on their wrist.
Rolex – Robust, Iconic, All-Rounder
Rolex is the big name in not only luxury watches but luxury consumer goods in general. It’s the first name people think of when they hear about an expensive watch. The iconic ‘crown’ logo is instantly recognisable and the brand notoriously sponsors all four tennis grand slams, and dabbles in Formula 1 as well as golf. Entry-level models start at around $5,000 and limited-edition or gem-set pieces fetch well over $1 million. Most commonly, standard Rolex watches are anywhere between $10,000-$80,000. Founded in 1905, the brand has a storied history, having played the catalyst in several groundbreaking innovations, including the world’s first waterproof watch, the Rolex Oyster, and the self-winding movement. It’s the timepiece of choice for pioneers and explorers, from Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest, to James Cameron, who descended to the deepest point in the ocean, the Mariana Trench. Rolex is equally a symbol of wealth as it is of status, it is the leading luxury watchmaker worldwide accumulating the most retail and second hand sales globally. Rolex has many watch variations but the Swiss made manufacturer’s most iconic models include the Submariner, Day-Date, Datejust, and GMT Master.
Patek Philippe – Timeless, Elegance, Historic
Founded in 1839 in Geneva, Patek Philippe timepieces are equally as precise as they are prominent. They are the priciest and most distinguished timepiece brand on our list. Patek Philippe is renowned for producing some of the most expensive timepieces in the world. Entry-level models start around $33,000, while complicated and limited-edition pieces can reach several million dollars. The brand is synonymous with uncompromising quality. Patek Philippe’s advertising slogan, “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation,” underscores the brand’s reputation for creating enduring family heirlooms. Patek Philippe is known for its extraordinary complications, such as perpetual calendars, minute repeaters, and tourbillons, that push the boundaries of horological engineering. Notable wearers of Patek Philippe watches include royals, world leaders, and cultural icons. Queen Victoria, Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso. Some of the most iconic models include the Nautilus, Aquanaut and Calatrava.
Audemars Piguet – Showstopper, Bold, Legacy
Audemars Piguet, founded in 1875, proves to be a catalyst for modern time-telling. The Royal Oak, AP’s iconic watch, revolutionised the luxury watch industry with brave new shapes and designs. It’s a favourite among celebrities and watch enthusiasts. The Royal Oak was not only the first luxury watch made of stainless steel but also featured a distinctive octagonal bezel, known as the “tapisserie” dial. The large size makes AP’s easily customisable for diamonds and gemstones. The brand frequently produces limited-edition and exclusive timepieces, showcasing its dedication to pushing the boundaries of watch manufacturing. Introductory AP’s start at around $20,000. The most iconic is by far and away the Royal Oak.
Richard Mille – Intricate, Sporty, Daring
The master of Avant-Garde watchmaking, Richard Mille is renowned for its exclusive and highly technical timepieces. Founded in 2001,RM is a relative newcomer in the world of luxury watches. Prices typically start in the mid-six figures and reach several million dollars for exceptional pieces. Often, RM is celebrated for its cutting-edge material incorporation and avant-garde designs. The brand’s watches are lightweight, durable, and exceptionally precise, often utilising materials from the world of motorsport and aerospace. The brand is most notably recognised for its ‘open face’ appearance, where the mechanics are exposed. Boasting a sporty appearance and utility, the watches are favoured by a select group of celebrities and athletes, including Rafael Nadal, Charles Leclerc and Bubba Watson. Richard Mille’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of watchmaking has resulted in timepieces that are not only luxury accessories but also high-performance instruments. The brand continues to be a disruptive force in the world of horology, challenging conventions and redefining what is possible in watch design and engineering.
Special Mention: Cartier
The renowned French brand, founded in 1847, boasts a rich history in jewellery and watchmaking. Cartier embraces an instantly recognisable square face incorporating roman numerals, conveying an old money, charming and classic look. Base prices can start at around $5,000 and can reach hundreds of thousands for limited pieces, particularly those with gemstones. Iconic models include the “Tank,” inspired by military tanks, and the “Santos,” dedicated to aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. These watches feature distinctive designs, precise movements, and luxurious materials. Cartier timepieces are a great first watch for enthusiasts.