Written by Laura | 3rd April 2020
The delicate art of watchmaking has a long history.. Ever since the 15th century, miniature timepieces have been created by masterful clockmakers. In fact, the first watches designed for wear were actually pendants rather than wristwatches While styles have changed and plenty of new watchmaking brands have been established over time, some of the earliest ones are still making watches today. We worked clockwise through the oldest watch names out there and found out where they are now
Although founded twenty years after the world’s oldest registered watch brand, Vacheron Constantin is the oldest watchmaker to have existed without having their production interrupted. Many other classic manufacturers of mechanical watches had inactive periods over time or were forced to sell their brand due to the rise of less expensive quartz timepieces. Founded in 1755 in Geneva, Vacheron Constantin has been known for the exceptional quality, craftsmanship and high price tag of its watches ever since.
The brand created the 57260 Reference, currently considered to be the most complex watch ever made, with 57 complications and 2,800 decorated components. It was designed for Vacheron Constantin's 260th anniversary and is valued at €8 million, which made it one of the most expensive watches of that year.
This is considered to be one of the most complex watches ever made
Back in 1753, Ferdinand Berthoud opened his workshop in Paris. But Berthoud wasn't your average watchmaker – he was also a scientist. He worked for the French navy and was one of the inventors behind the marine chronometer; a device used to determine the east-west position of a boat on the ocean.
The Berthoud family had been creating watches and chronometers for more than a century, but tragedy struck in 1876, with the death of heir Charles-Auguste Berthoud, which led to the brand’s disappearance from the public eye. In 2015, however, Ferdinand Berthoud was relaunched with a new watch: Chronomètre Ferdinand Berthoud FB1. With this timepiece, the company paid tribute to the life’s work of its founder and helped revive his eponymous brand.
Pierre Jaquet Droz started manufacturing in 1738, in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. An inventive and imaginative man, he made timepieces and automata: mechanical art pieces that incorporated music and movement. His work was especially popular among the wealthy in Europe and China.
This popularity lasted until the Napoleonic Wars at the beginning of the 19th century, which brought an end to the brand’s prosperity. It took until the year 2000 for the company to resurface, when it was acquired by the Swatch Group. Since then, a range of timepieces have been launched, marking the start of a new Jaquet Droz era.
A Jaquet Droz watch
For this watch company, it all began with the Favre family. In 1737, Abraham Favre registered as a watchmaker in Le Locle, Switzerland. In the coming decades, his son and grandsons continued to run the business on their own, until Auguste Leuba, who hailed from a family of merchants and watchmakers, joined the company in 1815. From then on, the company came to be known as Favre-Leuba.
The brand’s motto was to create timepieces “for those who conquer frontiers” – and create they did. Their classic Bivouac watch first launched in 1962 and was the first wristwatch to measure altitude and air pressure, making it especially popular among mountaineers and pilots. While the crisis in the Swiss watch industry back in the 1980s meant the owners had to sell the brand, Favre-Leuba has been making a comeback since 2011 and is still well regarded in the field.
Blancpain is said to be the oldest registered watchmaking brand in the world. It was launched in 1735, when Jehan-Jacques Blancpain opened the company’s workshop on the upper floor of his house in Villeret, Switzerland.
The brand stands for tradition as well as innovation. One of its most famous models is the Fifty Fathoms diving watch, first launched in 1953. It was produced by request of the French navy, who needed a reliable watch for their underwater operations. Blancpain has known periods of inactivity, but the brand was revived in 1983. Now it’s part of the Swatch Group, and a partner and sponsor of Lamborghini.