Underdog brands: Here are the watches you should be paying more attention to


by John Wallis

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November 09. 2018 - by John Wallis

For a huge proportion of watch lovers, it's all about the Rolexes, Omegas and Breitlings. You might be aware of other brands, but how much do you really know? From Junghans to Maurice Lacroix, we investigate some of the finest watchmakers you rarely talk about.


Everyone loves an underdog, and for a watch collector, sporting a timepiece from a less mainstream company can be a sign of sophistication - if you know your stuff. Get educated with this handy guide to five of our favourite companies that rarely get their fair shot in the limelight.

Baume & Mercier

Baume and Mercier is a very distinguished firm with a long heritage starting in 1830. It has played a pioneering role in many of the great shifts in watchmaking over the years, embracing the idea of wristwatches early in the 20th century, and championing watches for women before most brands considered such a thing.

After being at the forefront of the pre-war Art Deco movement, Baume & Mercier entered the second half of the 20th century with a new style focused on the sense of balance and proportion suggested by the Greek letter phi - Ф - which became its logo. Its most recognisable collections hail from this era in the 50s and 60s (including Classima, Capeland and Clifton), though it has not been afraid to innovate since then.

Today, its wonderful watches for men and women are very much worth your time and attention. Still based in Geneva, the brand has carved out a place for itself as a member of the Richemont group, and attracts major stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashton Kutcher as brand ambassadors.

Junghans

One of the most successful German watchmakers outside of Glashütte, Junghans has enjoyed a prosperous 150-plus years from its home in the evocative Black Forest, on the other side of the Alps from the Swiss Jura.

Today the company is known for watches and clocks featuring remarkable minimalist, clean designs with strong lines and an understated aesthetic. This style has its origins in the most famous era of Junghans history: Bauhaus. The brand partnered with legendary designer Max Bill to pioneer these forms in horology. Junghans Max Bill timepieces are still in high demand, and are even featured in galleries of modern art.

The company would go on to become a leader in quartz and later radio-controlled watches of record-setting accuracy, and act as official timekeeper for major sporting events, including the 1972 Olympics. Its Max Bill, Meister and other watch series continue to present popular and very attractive models for collectors. 

Longines

Another prestigious heritage brand admired by those in the know, Longines was founded in 1832, and was an early innovator in production methods within the naturally conservative Swiss watch establishment. In the 20th century, the firm would establish a reputation as a sporting timekeeper and later a watchmaker for aviators - including the great Charles Lindbergh himself. This seems appropriate, given its very old and unchanged company logo of a winged hourglass.

Now a member of the Swatch Group, Longines still does timekeeping for some of the world's most renowned sporting events (Royal Ascot, Commonwealth Games, Roland Garros and more). It is generally acclaimed for its beautiful use of its own design legacy in modern collections and recreations, and is repped by the likes of Kate Winslet.

Current collections include the timeless and historic Master collection, the sportier, versatile Conquest and the high-performance diver: the Longines Hydroconquest. 

Maurice Lacroix

Originally founded in 1975 as the watchmaking division of its parent company, the brilliantly named Desco von Schulthess, Maurice Lacroix fully came into its own as an independent brand in the 2000s, when it unveiled its first in-house movement, the ML106 - a chronograph, no less, with several new innovations and patents.

As a full manufacture maison, Maurice Lacroix not only gained considerable prestige but used it to build from strength to strength. It earned a reputation for magnificent skeletonisations requiring extraordinary precision and craftsmanship, as well as superb mechanical creations that pushed the bounds of modern watchmaking. Additionally, its designs used the best of traditional classic forms, integrated flawlessly with the high-tech systems within.

Its most striking inventions include the Memoire and the Gravity, introducing amazing new complications, while more mainstream members of the Masterpiece, Pontos and other collections continue to perform very well in the international market. 

Oris

Named for the stream that flowed past its Alpine factory at its founding in 1904, Oris has been making stylish, affordable and distinctive watches for more than a century. Thanks to its robust, high-quality creations, the firm grew to become one of the largest and most successful in post-war Switzerland, although it suffered greatly in the quartz crisis of the 1970s.

After briefly joining and then leaving the Swatch Group, Oris emerged into the modern era as a mechanical-only private company with its commitment to fine-watchmaking as firm as ever. Today it is widely renowned for making some of the best luxury watches to be found at its comparatively low price points, with all the attention to detail and passion for mechanical mastery that is usually associated with more expensive timepieces. Thanks to this, the brand has cultivated a more "exclusive" reputation than its competitors (it is less mainstream than, say, TAG Heuer) and appeals to serious watch fans with its superlative manufacturing and unique designs - grouped into "Diving", "Culture", "Aviation", and "Motor Sport" collections.

John Wallis

by John Wallis

Living and working in London, John has been writing about watches since graduating university. He got his start at SalonQP, London's finest watch show, where he was inspired by the breadth and creativity of the modern industry. His fascination with mechanical horology has only grown from there.

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