Discussing your favourite brand amongst watch lovers can quickly descend into a heated debate about the merits of the individuals most beloved manufacturer. While there are many who merit a mention in our Brief History of Manufacturers, we are trying to keep it just that, brief. So please excuse us if we have missed out your particular darling but here are our list of the top manufacturers from around the world;
Lange, the famous manufacturer from Glashutte in Germany, has two histories. The rich historical side of the tale, and the most recent rejuvenation.
The original company was established in 1868 by Adolf Lange and his brother in law Adolf Schneider. Lange's ingenuiety helped the company develop innovative ways to manufacture watches at scale. Not only did he have a mind of a genius he also a big heart, and sought out to invigorate his local economy in Glashutte by creating a watch manufacturer in the town and training the locals to become experts in the manufacture of watch parts. The company quickly garnered a reputation for excellent quality pocket watches.
When Lange died in 1875, his son took over the business, now known as A. Lange & Sohne and continued to thrive despite the war due to their production of high precision marine chronometers. However on a day in May 1945, Russian bombing destroyed the main manufacturing building, and however soon rebuilt, the new East German government expropriated the company and declared the Lange family as Nazis war criminals, a claim the Lange's have always denied.
The communist government went on to combine seven german manufacturers under the name Glashutte Uhrenbetrieben or GUB, and the famous Lange name ceased to exist.
After Germany reunited after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, Water Lange, who had escaped East Germany, returned to Glashutte with a plan to relaunch his family business. After four years and the support of Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC, A. Lange & Sohne launched their first range of watches in a generation. These stunning watches have hand decorated movements to an extremely high finish and are some of the most sought after timepieces in the world today. The Richemont Group purchased the company in 2000, and the brand has 345 employees working for them producing a few thousand watches per year.
Founded in LeBrassus, Switzerland in 1875 by the double act of Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet, this watch manufacturer started off slow but quickly blossomed into the watch royalty we know today.
The men behind the company split duties between them, Audemars ran the watch production and Piguet was resposnible for sales. Between them however they managed to forget to register the company name for another 7 years until 1882. Thankfully they managed to speed things up and quickly become renowned for their high quality complicated timepieces.
After the founders' death the company continued to innovate and having survived the depression and released a beautiful line of dress watches in the 1950s featuring an ultra thin model.
In 1967, working closely with Jaeger-LeCoultre, AP released the world's thinnest automatic movement at 2.45mm.
A move in 1972 however really brought the brand to the fore and etched it's name in watch history. The company introduced to the world the Royal Oak luxury sports watch designed by the creative genius Gerald Genta featuring an octagonal shape and hexagonal screws to mimic a ship's porthole. The watch was the first sports watch to be made from stainless steel and quickly became a modern day icon. Seen as a bold move by the company at the time, as no such market existed for steel sports watches, it has proved to be the wisest move in the illustrious brand's history as the model accounts for over half of AP's sales worldwide.
1993 saw the release of the Royal Oak offshore which came in a variety of complications such as chronograph and twelve hour counters, proving hugely popular to this day.
The company remains one of the few family owned, with descendants from both Jules-Louis and Edward-Auguste continuing to work for the company and maintaining it's principles of cutting edge compilations and forward thinking design. After the Richemond group bought Jaeger-LeCoultre, which AP owned 40% of, they received a large dividend allowing them to invest and protect the future of this wonderful manufacturer.
Blancpain is another fine manufacturer who's history is divided into it's previous guise and then it's relaunch. Founded in 1735 it shares a similar story with many Swiss manufacturers in that it struggled during the mid-twentieth century. After the last member of the blancpain family died in 1932 it ceased to manufacutur it's own watches, with Blancpain watches being produced by Rayville for a number of years in no great quantities. It then found itself in the business portfolio of SSIH, which at the time was made up primarily of Omega and Tissot, and although some success was found in their range of divers watches, the company was closed down.
In 1983, an Omega executive by the name of Jean-Claude Biver and business partner Jacques Piguet, a descendent from a a distinguished watchmaking family, purchased an old farmhouse in Le Brassus and set about relaunching the long forgotten brand. The companies reputation steadily began to grown and in the early 1990s achieved their goal of producing six masterpieces of watchmaking featuring an ultra-slim movement, a moon phase indicator, a perpetual calendar, a minute repeater, a split second chronograph, and the greatest of them all, the tourbillon.
Unlike most watch manufacturers, each Blancpain watch is built by one watchmaker from inception to completion unlike the modern day assembly line, giving the brand a wonderful sense of tradition and artistry. The brand have became famous around their world for their beautiful moon-phase complications which remain their best selling models.
The Swatch group bought Blancpain from Biver in 1992 and continues to produce sensational timepieces with a cult like following.