10 non-Swiss watch brands you need to know
There’s no denying that Switzerland is the mecca of the watch world – the SIHH and Baselworld aren’t held in Geneva just because it’s a pretty city.
Traditionally, the pinnacle of watchmaking and Swiss watch brands have been synonymous, but just because most of the world’s best watches can be traced back to Switzerland doesn’t mean they all can. This list of top 10 non-Swiss watch brands is certainly giving the homeland a hard time.
NB: Obviously the few or two listed here source their movements from Switzerland, but we are referring specifically to the brands themselves.
A. Lange & Söhne – GERMANY
Outside of Switzerland, Germany is undoubtedly the cradle of European fine watchmaking. At the forefront of this historical tradition is A. Lange & Söhne – arguably the country’s best timekeeping export and one that doesn’t shy away from pricing their high-quality parts in the six-figure range.
Founded in 1845 in the legendary watchmaking town of Glashütte by Ferdinand Adolph Lange, the company’s watches embody a timeless style of understated elegance, where the devil is most certainly in the details, especially when admired from behind. While Germany has a plethora of excellent brands such as Glashütte, Nomos, Sinn, right down to Junghans, it was Ferdinand Adolph Lange’s company that influenced and encouraged a whole community of watchmakers in Glashütte. For connoisseurs, he is considered one of the best watch manufacturers in the world.
Grand Seiko – Japan
Watchmaking would change forever when, in 1881, Kintarō Hattori opened a humble but efficient watch and jewelry shop called ‘K. Hattori’ in Tokyo. This seemingly small company slowly but surely evolved into one of the most accessible non-Swiss watch brands on the market: Seiko.
However, Seiko’s evolution and success did not stop there. Grand Seiko is different from its roots in almost everything but the name. In a challenge to the undisputed Swiss watchmaking dominance of the time, Seiko sought to alter opinion of Japanese watches. International praise was received and continues to be received to this day, with enthusiasts recognizing Grand Seiko as one of the most underrated and mechanically brilliant watch brands of all time. Grand Seiko watches are known for having Zaratsu-polished bezels and case, relatively flat dials, simple faces, and simple yet beautiful design dress style.
Grönefeld – Netherlands
The legacy of Gronefeld resides in the family. After more than a century of Dutch watchmaking excellence, the Grönefeld company is entering its third generation of family ownership, with brothers Bart and Tim. It is one of many non-Swiss watch brands on this list that are considered traditional, as the owners of Grönefeld have lived and worked in the same town of Oldenzaal since its inception.
Grönefeld watches seek to create contemporary yet sophisticated timepieces with surprising mechanisms. In this way, their watches offer versatile styles and are raw and mechanical in nature. However, this should not detract from the time, effort and precision that can be found in the crafting of every Grönefeld watch.
Bausele – Australia
It would be a sin for me not to mention any non-Swiss Australian watch brands on this list. Although the Australian watch industry is obviously in its infancy, there are some considerably compelling choices. bausele prides itself on being Australia’s only premium watch brand.
The company was founded in 2011 by the very accessible Christophe Hoppe who sought to combine Swiss technology, Australian parts and innovative design. What’s more, each Bausele timepiece features a little piece of Australia in its crown – from the sands of Bondi to the red earth of the Kimberly. Certainly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Bell & Ross – France
Bell & Ross was founded on the marriage of form and function. A team of watch designers associated with a team of aeronautical panelists have created a timepiece as precise as it is dashing. In their quest for the perfect function, Bell & Ross have incorporated many military-inspired style elements into their design philosophy.
Bell & Ross watches thrive on their readability – the faces are clear and precise. Additionally, many parts will include a number of sub-dials and other additional features for adventurous use.
Devon – United States
If any of these non-Swiss watch brands should make you stop scrolling, it will be Devon. Devon’s design language is absolutely unmistakable and unique. Parts such as the “Tread 1” run exclusively on computer mechanisms, which power the curious time belts you see below. To keep the battery working, Devon wearers should charge their piece approximately every 15-21 days.
Trust the Americans to completely skew left field of contemporary watch designs. Although Devon’s design may be unusual, they are certainly not without their fans and, despite their typically masculine and mechanical appearance, Devon has also managed to break into the women’s market.
Bremont – United Kingdom
Like Bell & Ross, Bremont has a unique militaristic history that emphasizes utility and form to create a watch that is tough, practical and beautiful. Bremont, in watch maker terms, is extremely young having only been founded in 2002, however, that hasn’t stopped aptly named founders Nick and Giles English from thriving in a heavily traditional industry.
The culmination of Bremont’s respect and adoration for the military is the recent Armed Forces Collection, in which the company released a trio of watches for the Royal Air Force, Army and Navy. The manufacture of these parts was overlooked by the Ministry of Defence, resulting in an innovative timepiece blending modern watchmaking technologies with the strong tradition of British militaristic excellence.
Ressence – Belgium
Ressence the excellence lies in its name, a not-so-solid combination of “rebirth” and “essence”. This is exactly what Ressence wants to be – an aesthetic revival of horology, such is their essence. The company launched its line in 2010 at BaselWorld where the watches were extremely well received by curious enthusiasts.
Ressence watches are terribly unique in terms of innovation and appearance. The first point of noticeable difference is that the dials and sub-dials sit a few millimeters away from the crystal, giving a very real, very flat look. However, Ressence is best known for their lack of a crown, which is integrated like a lever into the back of the titanium case and also their display of sub-dials which must be read in succession to tell the time. These dials are actually orbiting discs and rings that move around each other in order to display the time.
PANERAI – ITALY
Italians are renowned for their fashion and design savvy; it’s in their DNA. It is therefore not surprising that watch design is well within their area of expertise. No one displays this talent on the peninsula more than Panerai. We may be cheating a bit here, as Panerai watches are made in Switzerland, but their roots are firmly planted in their hometown of Florence.
The story began in 1860 with Giovanni Panerai, who opened a watch shop in Florence selling high quality pocket watches which later evolved into a watchmaking school, which in turn began producing equipment for the Italian Navy. When Navy demand exceeded store capacity, Panerai turned to Rolex to produce its Radiomir watches. The consumer-facing brand was relaunched in 1998, maintaining its legendary heritage and attracting a devoted fanbase.
SARPANEVA – FINLAND
‘Not for everybody’. This is the slogan of the Finnish watchmaker Stepan Sarpaneva, whose company bears the name. Sarpaneva believes its timepieces are exceptional watches for the wrists of the most exceptional individuals. It’s hard to argue that the man’s timepieces aren’t excessively eccentric (if not excessive). But, man, are they convincing.
Founder Stepan Sarpaneva was raised by jewelry designer Pentti Sarpaneva and moved to Switzerland at a young age to pursue his passion for watchmaking. In 2003, Sarpaneva opened its own boutique in Helsinki, forging high quality and unique design into every new piece.
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