Time Will Tell When it Comes to Luxury
The concept of wearing a timepiece on the arm began to gain in popularity among the upper classes by the end of the 19th century. Although slow to replace the reliable and ubiquitous pocket watch, luxury watches such as those pioneered by Breguet were already beginning to catch the attention of a growing group of discriminating buyers. While the category of haute horlogerie for these items was still in the future, a solid foundation was in place by the early 1900s. Today, the demand is truly global, with the United States consumption comprising less than 31 percent of the global market.
At the other end of the timepiece market, it was a little less than a century ago that the wristwatch was in the process of becoming a common accessory for the average man. The looming World War and technology were to make the watch a standard item for officers fighting in the trenches. Its proven practicality and affordability made it a mass consumer product by the early ‘20s, and the pocket watch was largely relegated to the status of historical curiosities by the end of World War II.
Time has, indeed, been kind to the growing market for luxury watches. Even during the recent worldwide economic malaise, the global interest in these tokens of success grew by seven percent in 2012, which was the third consecutive year for such an increase, according to a preliminary report by the Digital Luxury Group.
This category of luxury products even has its own trade organization and magazine, the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie.
Any effort to rank and select key players in such markets raises the issues of which metrics are most important, as both subjective values and objective factors enter the equation. However, general interest and market revenues tell us that there are less than two dozen designers and manufacturers of truly high-end luxury watches. The principle players include brands such as:
According to the study’s data, the following luxury brands occupy the top ranks based on total market sales. However, there is evidence of shifting within these rankings, with newer brands such as Richard Mille and Vacheron Constantin recording the fastest rates of growth. The current leaders by market share are:
- Patek Philippe – 23.6 percent
- Jaeger-LeCoultre – 12.7 percent
- Vacheron Constantin – 12.6 percent
- Audemars Piguet – 9.2 percent
- Breguet – 7.7 percent
Below, we’ll take a brief look at just ten of these manufacturers that are admired and coveted by many of those considered to be in the highest-end of the luxury watch segment.
Vacheron Constantin Skeleton Minute Repeater
- via The Hour Lounge
With a retail price exceeding $600,000, you won’t see this market leader on many arms hoisting a working man’s brew. The workmanship of this timepiece requires thousands of hours of the finest watch artisans. It boasts a 30-jewel movement with a 34-hour reserve. Its clean design is reflected in the lack of complications. Of course, this is not a watch worn during a marathon. Here you find a piece that provides definitely proof that the watchmaker’s skills are not a lost art.
Girard-Perregaux Opera Three
- via Extravaganzi
Another of the watches that will cost more than many fine homes, this option also comes in at a little over $600,000. The supply of this timepiece that plays two separate personal tunes with its miniature carillon will be in greater demand than the supply, which is how the manufacturer that positions itself as the maker of “watches for the few’ likes it.
- via Amazon
With a price of $15,000 that is more attainable for many, the Egron has clean, curved lines focused on function and regular use. This is reinforced by its stainless-steel case and scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and crocodile band. Here is another luxury watch that eschews fancy complications, offering only hour, minute, second, and date functions.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Classique Grande Automatique
- via Go Top 10
Still more affordable at $8,200, this entry is nonetheless an exceptional product by a leading luxury brand. Known for its innovations, this timepiece has the ability to swivel or reverse its stainless-steel case. The design has a bit of the retro look, with a rectangular case and prominent numerals. You may not use the reversible feature very often, but it is one way to protect the crystal on this 30-meter water-resistant classic.
TAG Heuer Kirium F1
- TAG heuer Kirium F1
At “just” $3,000, this timepiece fits its manufacturer’s goal of being a favored selection of the active luxury watch buyer. Whether racing in the Le Mans or sailing on the bay, this is a rugged and practical everyday watch that has a total of seven functions, including both analog and digital displays. The other complications, such as dial backlighting and second time zone, are useful to some that compete or conduct business internationally. The water protection will take you to 200 meters.
Richard Mille RM 002-V2 Turbillon
- via Luxury Bazar
Moving back up the price range, this Turbillon will command just under a quarter-million dollars if you wish to add it to your collection. The look and feel of this striking entry shows why Richard Mille is such a rising star in the luxury watch universe. This model uses carbon nano-fiber construction and its lines reflect that advanced technology. There are a number of functions and complications shared among the separate models and provide the buyer a challenge concerning which to prioritize. This is a watch that will be worn for more than special occasions.
Parmigiani Fleurier Bugatti Type 370
- via Exquisite Timepieces
Priced just a little higher up the luxury chain at $274,000, the Parmigiani Fleurier Bugatti is still reasonable compared to what you would pay for its automotive inspiration, the Veyron by Bugati. Interestingly, the crystal and face are slanted as an acknowledgement of that source of design, and the angle allows a driver to check the time without moving his hand from the wheel of the presumably fast-moving auto. The movement wheels are even replicates of the early Bugati wheel rims. The white-gold case lends a simple elegance to the final product.
IWC Grande Complication
- via IWC
Coming in at $215,000, the IWC Grande Complication is limited to production of no more than 50 timepieces a year. The device earns its name with numerous functions that are supported by 659 parts in the 75-jewel watch that is also self-winding. Of course, you’ll find a chronograph, as well as a perpetual calendar and moon phase display. Multiple settings are available for the watch to chime, from on the hour to every minute.
Patek Philippe Celestial
- via Luxist
Some will consider this entry, the Patek Philippe Celestial, a bargain at just under $200,000 simply because it is made available by the leader of the luxury watch market. Another watch in the grand complication category, it includes an innovative sky chart to track more than most of us can appreciate about celestial movements. With 301 parts and 45 jewels, this watch reports a 48-hour battery capacity.
Breguet Double Tourbillon Classique Grande Complication
- via The Watch Quote
With a retail price of $329,000, this design by the grandfather of luxury watch makers is both classic and innovative. The rotating center plate is turned by hand and it has a case of platinum, protecting a total of 588 parts in a 69-jewel movement. A nice touch is the solar system hand engraved on the movement’s back.
Even if these watches are out of your current budget, you’ll enjoy stopping in and viewing them at your favorite retailer of fine and luxury watches.