It’s gentleman time
There is a time in which every gentleman comes to realise that in life there are things that are important and other that are less important. In a life of a sophisticated man, a man who looks for excellence in everything he does, well, that time is precious. But how do we define time? What is time? Simply put time is a measure of our actions, of the past, present and possibly future. There is a little tool that represents one of the greatest invention ever: the watch. More specifically, in this article we will discuss about the wristwatch. Thanks to this accessory of inestimable value, we can measure the time of our life. But for a gentleman a watch is something definitely more than merely measuring the flow of time. The watch that we wear is a statement. When you wear a watch you make a statement, clearly saying who you are, at least regarding taste and personality. Knowledge is essential in understanding quality and choose among the best watch brands. So, without further ado, let’s dive in the world of class and style of watches.
A brief history of horology
Since the ancient civilizations men had the urge to measure time and countless inventions were made in the effort. The part of the story that I am going to talk about, starts at the end of XIX century. It was around this time that the first men started to wear a wristwatch. The solution that made it possible was, amongst other technical innovations, the application of straps at the watch. It was, as often happens with other inventions, due to military needs. Apparently during wartime for officials it was not handy to search their watches in the pockets of their jackets to check the time. They indeed needed something quick and easy to look at when they needed to know the exact time and only a wristwatch could guarantee that. Anyway there are of course other theories but all of them focus on the need of something practical and functional while still keeping the aesthetic of a jewel. Probably that’s why the first wristwatch historically documented is a lady’s watch. It dates back to 1868 and it was commissioned by the Hungarian countess Koscowicz to Patek Philippe, who created a bracelet made of gold and diamonds with a concealed dial.
How to choose the right watch
Before wearing a watch, always remember that there is not a watch for every occasion. You are always free to choose the model that you like best, but, speaking about elegance, there are some basic rules to follow. The watch that you are going to wear at a gala dinner obviously cannot be the same that you would wear while doing sports. So which are the main categories? How to choose the right watch?
Like clothes, also watches can be classified according to the formality of the occasion. Starting with the more formal ones:
- If the occasion is formal the watch should be very neat and clean in its design, without complications, rather simple and with the leather strap, usually dark. The case should be quite thin also to help the watch stay underneath the shirt cuff.
- Semi-formal and informal watches can have complications and can have both leather bands, also lighter leathers, or steel bracelets. Also in this case it is recommendable that the case is not too big.
- Sports watches are usually made entirely of steel because they need to be robust to withstand shocks and various conditions. They tend to be bigger and also have several complications according to specific needs. Nowadays smart watches are very popular and in many cases they can be an alternative to the classic sports watch.
Types of watches
Dress watch – elegant and simple, usually the indices are not numbers but simple lines or Roman numerals. Dress watches traditionally have no complications and are usually made of precious metals like gold, silver and platinum.
Field watch – these watches were used during the First World War and usually they have that rugged look. Usually the field watches are large and with high contrast in the dial. The strap can be made of nylon or other materials that you could usually replace.
Racing watch – created specifically to keep track of lap and race time or to calculate average speed and often they come in bright colours. The main feature of any racing watch is the chronograph. This complication is basically a stopwatch and usually there are two or three buttons on the side of the case that have the function of start and stop buttons to record time. Another typical feature is the tachymeter, that allows you to figure out distance and speed based on the information that you put.
Dive watch – these watches are meant to withstand high pressures because they have to be able to go deep under the sea. Therefore they need to be waterproof and more often than not be equipped with a sapphire glass. The band must be made of rubber or silicone. One important feature is the counter clock bezel. This bezel can only rotate in one direction and this is very important because it avoids accidental rotations of the bezel that could make you think you have been under water for less time than you actually have. Finally another characteristic is the tritium aluminum illumination that allows the dial to glow for an extraordinary long time.
Aviator watch – the first aviator watches were created for military purposes so they share common features with field watches. Usually, in fact, they are large too so that you can immediately tell the time. Another characteristic is that they have generally a black dial with white indices to create a contrast usuful to identify easily hours and minutes. The time zone bezel and the whiz wheel are also other typical features of aviator watches.
Most iconic watch brands
Let’s have a look now at some of the best watch brands in the history of horology. Of course the following list is just a brief summary and in no case wants to be exhaustive but the intent is just to bring you some of the most recognizable and interesting names amongst watch manufacturers.
A. Lange & Söhne
Adolph Lange created the A. Lange & Söhne in 1868 in Glashütte together with his son Richard. Three years later his other son Emil Lange joined the company. After the second world war and the following split in two of Germany, difficult times came but in 1990, thanks to Walter Lange with the help of Günter Blümlein, the company surged to new heights and gained its place back as one of the most well known non Swiss watch manufacturers.
Audemars Piguet was founded in 1875 in Le Brassus, in Vallée de Joux, by Auguste Piguet and Jules-Louis Audemars. Considered another of the big names in the watch industry has rightfully its place in the so called Holy Trinity. The most iconic model is undoubtedly the Royal Oak (1972), designed by Gérald Genta who got inspired by the ships’ porthole locking system.
Baume & Mercier
In 1912 William Baume met Paul Ceredicenko, Parisian of Russian origins who later will change his surname in Mercier. From this moment Baume & Mercier was born, with its headquarters in Geneve. To name some of the most successful models of the house we have:
Talking about Abraham-Louis Breguet there is the risk of avoid giving him all the credit he deserves. Simply put, Breguet is the man who single-handedly has given more contribution to innovate and change the history of horology with his genius. He was born in Neuchâtel in 1747 from a French family that emigrated to Switzerland. But it’s in France where he came back to perfect his studies as a watchmaker that culminated with the opening of his atelier in Quai de l’Horologe in Paris. Among some of his main innovations there are the automatic movement, different from the self-winding movement introduced by Abraham-Louis Perrelet, the thermometer, the power reserve, the perpetual calendar for personal watches, some types of escapement and even the tourbillon. To make you understand what kind of a legend status he gained, among his fans and clients which comprised European royals and nobles, there was none other than Napoleon Bonaparte for whom Breguet produced several watches.
Breitling history starts in 1884 when Léon Breitling found his factory and then in 1892 it moved to La Chaux-de-Fonds, the historical capital of horology. The maison made a name for its precise and reliable chronographs, often adopted by civil and military aviation. In fact it became the supplier of several airline companies like Royal Air Force, KLM, Air France and United Airlines. In 1942, the firm introduced its most iconic model, the so called Chronomat, especially useful in the aeronautics field. Ten years later it was the time of another masterpiece of the house, the Navitimer, even more accurate and developed of its predecessor. Finally in 1962 the natural evolution of these watches came under the name of Cosmonaute with 24 hours on the dial instead of 12 to distinguish directly the night hours from the daily ones. In 1985 was introduced the Aerospace model, characterised by both digital and analog time indication. Other famous models are the Emergency and the SuperOcean.
In 1884 Sotirio Bulgari, of greek origins, opened his first shop in via Sistina in Rome. The worldwide famous Bulgari shop in via Condotti was inaugurated in 1905. Initially his adventure in horology is heavily affected by the jewelry heritage, but in 1977, thanks to the design of Gérald Genta, the watch Bulgari-Bulgari was born. This model catapulted Bulgari directly into high end horology. Famous models since then created include the Diagono, the Aluminium, the B.zero1 and the Octo Finissimo.
We all think of Cartier as one of the most luxurious jewelry brand, but the French maison rightfully deserves a place among the horological big names. If we should choose a single point in time that turned Cartier into a highly respected watchmaker is when in 1904 the aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont commissioned to his friend Louis Cartier a wristwatch. As a result, Cartier designed one of the most looked after watches of the maison even nowadays, the Santos, named after the Brazilian tycoon. Officially the Santos was introduced into the market in 1911. Another watch that is due to the creativity of Louis Cartier is the famous Tank. Initially designed in 1917, it was marketed in 1919. Other famous watches from the brand are the Pasha (1985) and the Ronde.
Japanese company Casio story started in 1946 when Tadao Kashio founded its company initially called Kashio Seisakujo in Tokyo. In 1974 Csio presented one of the first digital watches, the Casiotron and later on the C-80, equipped with a calculator. Casio opened up to a new way of conceiving horology. Famous are also the G-Shock (1983) and the Pro Trek (1998) with GPS integrated.
Founded in 1918 by Kamekichi Yamazaki under the name of Shokosha Watch Research Institute, Citizen took on its current name only a few years later. It soon started to specialize in high-tech research. Famous were the models Parashock (1956), Parawater (1959), X-8 or Cosmotron (1966), and the Super Titanium, Citizen’s patented material. In the following years they produced the Crystron Mega Quartz (1975), the Aqualand (1985) and the Eco-Drive (1995).
Eberhard & Co.
Founded in 1887 by Georges-Emile Eberhard in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the Eberhard specialized since the beginning in the production of chronographs. Among the most famous models there are the Extra-fort, the Tazio Nuvolari and the Chrono 4.
Hamilton was founded in 1892 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Famous its models Khaki, US Navy Watch, Army Field and above all it stands out the asymmetric case of the Ventura (1957), the first electric watch in the world.
Hublot was originally the name of the flagship model of MDM, a watch company founded in 1980 by the Italian Carlo Crocco in Geneva. Later on the company became Hublot SA. The brand achieved an immediate and broad success thanks to the innovative and outside the box aesthetic combination of gold case and natural rubber strap. Famous Hublot watches are the Classic, the Elegant, the GMT and the Big Bang.
IWC acronym of International Watch Co., was founded in 1868 in Schaffausen, far from the traditional horological Swiss centers, by the American Florentine Ariosto Jones and the entrepreneur Johann Heinrich Moser. The first wristwatches are manufactured in ‘900 and at the end of the 1930’s it was introduced one of the most successful models of the house, the Portugieser, meaning the Portuguese as the watch was originally intended for the Portuguese market.
The watchmaker of watchmakers. This one sentence sums up perfectly what is Jaeger-LeCoultre. The history of this legendary maison started when the parisian Jaeger joined the old swiss LeCoultre in 1937. LeCoultre was founded in 1833 in La Sentier, in Vallée de Joux. The founder, Charles-Antoine LeCoultre, thanks to its talent for making watch mechanisms, became the supplier of the most prestigious names of the horology world. Among the others Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, Cartier and Girard-Perregaux. Only around the end of the ‘800 appeared the first models under the brand LeCoultre. The records made by this brand are breathtaking. Although it is unarguably the most respected watch maker in the world since its establishment, commercially speaking it doesn’t have the brand recognition of other brands. There is one watch though that anybody who is at least interested in horology should know. The story goes like this. Apparently some english officials stationed in India needed a solution to avoid breaking their watches due to frequent shocks during polo matches. The solution was to manufacture a watch in which you could literally reverse the case. In 1931 the legendary Reverso was born.
In 1832 Auguste Agassiz opened an atelier in St. Imier. Thirty years later, under his nephew Ernest Francillon, it became a real watch making company capable of manufacturing every single component of a watch. Since it moved to another place, the company was called Longines, like the place where it was build the new establishment. Famous models include the DolceVita, the Flagship, the Heritage, and the Evidenza.
The Italian company was founded by Tullio Bolletta who opened his laboratory in 1934 in Milan. Four years later he moved to the fashion street via Montenapoleone and the boutique was called Lorenz. Some of the most famous models are the Montenapoleone, the Theatro, the Sporting Club, Acapulco and the Torneo.
The origins of Officine Panerai are linked to the city of Florence, where in 1860 Giovanni Panerai opened the first watch shop on Ponte Alle Grazie, then moved to Piazza San Giovanni, inside Palazzo Arcivescovile. Its most famous model is definitely the Luminor that is the evolution in terms of research of the Radiomir.
Omega is another historical brand and comes second just to Rolex as brand recognition. Founded in 1848 by Louis Brandt in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the firm moved to Bienne at the end of the ‘800. The brand was named after their successful caliber Omega 19, but the name Omega was officially adopted in 1903. The most iconic piece is for sure the Omega Speedmaster Professional which was chose by NASA to go literally to the Moon with the astronauts. Therefore since July 1969 the Omega Speedmaster has been called the Moon Watch. Another iconic watch is the Omega Seamaster, famous also because it has been James Bond’s watch in most of 007 recent movies and the Aquaterra.
Considered one of the Holy Trinity of watches, Patek Philippe first establishment dates back to 1839. Its extraordinary quality of mechanisms and refined aesthetic taste, made the brand one of the most looked after by watch collectors from all over the world. Among it most iconic models we can mention the Calatrava (1932), the Nautilus, the maison’s first sports watch, designed by Gérald Genta and the Aquanaut.
Founded in 1917 in Lengnau as Schlup, the name became officially Rado in 1957. It became quickly famous for its jewel like watches and the ceramic models. The most famous watches of the brand include the Green Horse, the Strainer Day-Night, the Captain Cook, the DiaStar and the Centrix.
The first line of watches made by Richard Mille dates back to 2001. The design of these watches is definitely eccentric and pushes the boundaries of avantgarde materials and technology combined in bold designs.Very famous is the participation of F1 pilots in the creation of their watches. One of the most famous and outstanding Mille watches is the Tourbillon Felipe Massa, weighing only 30 grams, an incredible record.
Rolex is the quintessential of the luxury horology. It is the most looked after and recognizable watch brand in the world by far. Not many people know that is was actually founded in London in 1905 by Hans Wilsdrof first under the name of Wilsdorf & Davis. Nevertheless, the legendary brand that goes under the name of Rolex was founded in 1908 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The headquarters first is moved to Bienne and in 1912, seven years later, in Geneva. Since the beginning Rolex focused on a huge marketing campaign, maniacal attention to chronometric performance and an open mind to technical innovations. The two main innovations that Rolex achieved are the Oyster case, the first waterproof case, and the perpetual movement, the first automatic movement for a wristwatch. Both of these innovations were and are still found in what is even today the entry level Rolex, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual. Another big innovation was adding the date under a magnifying lens in the next legendary model, the Rolex Datejust. Just to mention other models:
- Rolex Submariner
- Rolex Daytona
- Rolex GMT
- Rolex Day-Date
- Rolex Explorer
- Rolex Yacht-Master
- Rolex Sea Dweller
- Rolex Sky-Dweller
- Rolex Air-King
Unarguably the most important watch company outside Switzerland, Seiko was founded by Kintaro Hattori in 1881 in Tokyo. Later on the brand will create another branch to manufacture watches that would express the company’s highest standards under the name of Grand Seiko. In 1969 Seiko created the Caliber 6139, famous to be one of the first automatic chronographs wristwatch. The name Seiko will be forever associated with the earthquake that its revolutionary quartz watches originated in the traditional horology world. Swiss companies never suffered such a difficult time like that one. Some of the most iconic Seiko watches include models like the Alpinist, the 5 Sports, the Prospex and the Presage. In 1999 another incredible milestone was achieved by the Japanese brand. After many years of research Grand Seiko finally patented a revolutionary system that combined both automatic and quartz movements in the so called Spring Drive.
After the shock caused to Swiss traditions watchmakers by the introduction of quartz movement, in 1983 a Swiss company was able to surge to world fame thanks to its original design. Swatch was founded in 1983 and harnessed the quarts technology to produce cheap slim and colorful watches to please the masses. The success is immediate and huge.
Edouard Heuer founded his maison in 1860 in Saint-I-mier. Since the beginning Heuer name becomes synonymous of trustable movements, especially linked to sports events. In its long history of watchmaking, his most important innovation is definitely the creation of the first automatic chronograph after a race that involved other legendary brands of the caliber of Zenith and Seiko. Although some people give credit to Zenith El Primero movement, the first patent for an automatic chronograph dates back to 1969 and its due to the work of Jack Heuer that developed the famous Caliber 11 in collaboration with Buren, Hamilton and Breitling. The most iconic piece fo their collection is the Monaco with its unmistakable square dial and crown on the left that gained legendary state since it has been worn during the movie Le Mans by the king of cool Steve Mc Queen. In 1985 TAG (Techniques d’Avant-Garde) acquired the firm and its name was added to the historical name. Since then, even after in 1999 LVMH group bought the maison, the name has gone under TAG Heuer. Among its huge history mainly linked to racing we can find some of the most iconic watches of all times, often named after racing events like the Carrera and the Autavia watches.
Tissot, one of the most traditional Swiss watch company, was founded in Le Locle in 1853 by Charles-Félicien Tissot. It was thanks to his son, Charles-Emile Tissot, that the brand expanded and became very active and famous outside Switzerland. Some of the main models are the Prince (1917), the Navigator (1953), the Astrolon, the Rock Watch, the Pearl Watch, the Wood Watch and the T-Touch (2000).
In 1755 Jean-Marc Vacheron opened his atelier in Geneva starting the production of watches under his name. It was just in 1819 that François Constantin joined Vacheron in its enterprise giving rise to Vacheron Constantin. is regarded as one of the most prestigious watch manufacturers in the world. With this brand we complete the Holy Trinity of watches. To name a few of its models we have the Patrimony, the Historiques, the Overseas, which can be considered Vacheron Constantin’s answer to the steel sports watch market, the Malte, the Jubilé 1755 and the Métiers d’Art.
Zenith company dates back to 1865 when Georges Favre-Jacot launched his workshop in La Locle. The company grows quickly and took the name after its caliber called Zenith. The brand focused especially on two kinds of products, chronometers and chronographs. In 1969 Zenith participates in the race to manufacture the first chronograph wristwatch with its legendary caliber El Primero.