Watches have a long and fascinating history

The Royal Connection

The watch gifted to Queen Elizabeth I of England around 1571 is thought to be the first ever device produced that we would today call a wristwatch. At the time, this was merely a curiosity. However, as time went on giving what became known as ‘bracelet watches’ to royalty became a more common practice. For example, one was presented to Princess Auguste-Amelie of Leuchtenbergin by Empress Josephine, and another produced by the Swiss company Patek Phillippe was given to Countess Koscowicz or Hungary in 1868.

It was only in the 19th century that watchmakers started producing wristwatches for a more general audience. These early wristwatches were very fragile, and were almost exclusively worn by women.

From War to Peacetime

The British Army started to use wristwatches in the late 19th century. They realised that if soldiers could quickly refer to their watch during battle, the army was provided with a considerable advantage. In the years that followed these watches were improved to make them more rugged and reliable in battle.

The First World War was a turning point. It changed public perception of the wristwatch, making it acceptable for men to wear them. After soldiers came home, many continued to wear them in peacetime. This trend was accelerated by John Harwood’s invention of the automatic wristwatch in 1923. Watches that did not need winding everyday were more attractive to consumers, and this accelerated the trend. For all of these reasons, by World War II the wristwatch had truly made the pocket watch a thing of the past.

The Electric Revolution

The next major innovation in wristwatch technology came in 1954 with the Bulova Accutron; the world’s first electronic wristwatch. The Japanese company Seiko developed this concept and in 1969 released the Astron; the first quartz watch. Very shortly after this, other manufacturers began to produce their own quartz watches.

These were much cheaper to produce than the traditional mechanical watches, but were also far more accurate. Their superiority proved devastating for the traditional Swiss watch industry; the dominant force in the watch industry of the time.

The American company Hamilton tried to compete with the Japanese with their ‘Pulsar’ watch, but by the end of the 1970s the company was sold to Seiko. Over the following years, Japanese companies such as Seiko and Casio bolstered their dominant position with innovations such as LCD screens, calendars, alarm clocks, and diary functions. To this day, they still dominate the electronic watch industry.

Saving Face

Meanwhile, the Swiss developed the ‘Swatch’; a cheap plastic watch designed to win customers back. Although this did help to revive the Swiss watch industry, it still emerged from the crisis much smaller than it had been before. As it adjusted to the new circumstances, the Swiss began to focus on producing luxury wristwatches. At the pinnacle of this new luxury industry was the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and Vacheron Constantin. These three companies are generally thought to produce the finest wristwatches in the world. Some other highly respected traditional watch manufacturers are A. Lange & Söhne, Rolex, and Jaeger-LeCoultre. 

Silicon Futures

The arrival of the smartwatch commenced the most recent chapter in this history. This promises to shake-up the wristwatch industry in much the same way as the quartz watch did in the 1970s. It is difficult to know how things will develop in the future, but what is certain is that there will be more surprises in store. 


There are many different versions of the 6239, some of which are very rare and valuable


Over the long history of watchmaking, so many different watch designs have come along that it can be difficult to categorise them. The method we choose here is what many use, and that is to split them up according to their intended use:

  • Tool watch: Designed to be used as a tool for a specific practical purpose
  • Sports watch: Designed to be worn on informal occasions
  • Dress watch: Designed to be worn on formal occasions
  • Smart watch: Designed to be used to compute

The boundaries between the first three categories has become thoroughly blurred in the modern watch world; a blurring that has increased over time. For example, many examples of modern dress watches would have been called sports watches in the past. Also, the designs of what were intended to be tool watches have massively influenced sports watch designs over the years.

Since we split up watches according to their intended use, tool and sports watches are treated as two separate categories. However, if we were to split them up according to the ways they are actually used by the modern watch consumer, these two categories would merge into one. This is because very few consumers use tool watches for their intended function. Instead, they are worn in the same informal settings that sports watches are worn in.

The smart watch is the newest addition to the watch world, and is so different from anything else that it really has to have its own category.

Tool watch

These are watches that were made for a specific practical purpose on top of a watch’s basic purpose of telling the time. To achieve this, they display information to the wearer that is not found on an ordinary watch. The main types of tool watch are the field watch, aviation watch, dive watch, and racing watch. Although the design of these watches depends on the specific purpose, there are some commonalities shared by all of the main types of tool watch.

Since the purposes of most of the types of tool watches that have emerged involve physical activity, they need to be tough enough to endure this. This is a demand that they share with the sports watch.

For this reason, tool watches often have a high water resistance, a tough crystal, a screwdown crown and caseback, and if pushers are present they are usually screwdown as well. This all ensures that water and dirt don’t get inside the watch and stop it from functioning.

All of the main tool watch types also share the requirement of high legibility. For this reason, the case size tends to be larger than either dress or sports watches. This can be 40mm and upwards. The indices can be as large as needed to be legible to the user, and there is no restriction on what kind of indices appear. Lume often appears to ensure that the watch is visible at all times of day. The bezels are often large and have lots of writing on them, to hold all the information the wearer needs to carry out the specific task the watch is designed for.

Automatic and quartz movements most commonly appear, with an emphasis on reliability in their design. As with sports watches, there is no need for intricate thin movements here so the case thickness is usually within the 12 to 20mm range.

Since the emphasis here is on function over form, precious metals are rarely used. The cases are usually made of stainless steel or titanium. In addition, the cases and other components of the watches tend to be brushed rather than polished, adding to its rugged utilitarian appearance. You don’t find the kind of decorative elements and bright colours that are often found on sports watches, as the emphasis is purely on function rather than form.

Sports watch

Despite the name, the term sports watch is not used exclusively for watches designed for use in sports. Rather, you should think of the term sports as being proxy for outdoor activity in general. They are watches that are worn casually as the wearer goes about their business throughout the day. In other words, a sports watch is a watch that is designed to be worn in informal settings. By this definition, for the modern consumer pretty much anything that is not a dress watch is a sports watch.

Since sports watches are not designed with one practical purpose in mind, they can have aesthetic decorative elements that are not found on tool watches. An example of this are bright colours on the dial, that do not tend to be found on tool watches. Also, more decorative hands sometimes appear, such as sword hands. All sorts of other features of the watch, such as the style of the writing on the dial, are also allowed to be more decorative than with a tool watch.  

However, one thing that they share is that both sports and tool watches are both designed to be tough enough to endure everyday outdoor wear. To this end, you will almost always find a water resistance of 50-100 metres on sports watches. Also, screwdown crowns and casebacks are often used to ensure that dirt and water don’t get into the watch. Tough crystals, a double-safety clasp, shock resistance, and magnetic resistance are also common for the same reason.

Since they are not made for a specific practical purpose, you won’t find complications such as chronographs or diving bezels. However, there may be a GMT or power reserve indicator. Having said this, watches such as chronographs are often referred to as sports watches as these classifications are very subjective and loose.

There is an emphasis on legibility, though not to the extent found on many tool watches. To this end, the cases can get up to 42mm, or even higher more recently. The case thickness can be as much as 14mm. Also, the text on the dial is larger than that found on dress watches.

There is less restriction on the materials used for the case and bracelet than is found in other categories. Stainless steel, titanium, or gold can be used, and sometimes these are mixed. A metal bracelet is preferred to a strap. As with the tool watches, lume often appears. Also, the movement is usually automatic or quartz based.

Dress watch

The dress watch is a watch that has been designed to be worn at formal events. The aim is to give the wearer an air of elegance and sophistication when attending these events. They tend to do this by exhibiting the skill of the watchmaker in a subtle and inconspicuous manner.

To this end, they have a clean design, meaning there is not any clutter on the visible components of the watch. There is a minimal amount of text on the dial; usually only the manufacturer’s name and the hour markers. These markers themselves are simple and unobtrusive. On the classic dress watch the dial is almost always a light colour. Grey and black dials are found but only in more recently released dress watches. Watches with these darker dials are less traditional.

You will not see lots of markings on the bezel and dial, large pushers, or chronograph sub-dials with lots of text on them. Instead, the watch is designed to be as simple to read as possible.

Most often the bezel is very thin and has no or few markings on it. The dial usually has only the manufacturers name and hour, minute, and seconds markers. Also, the hands of the watch are generally thin so they don’t clutter the dial underneath.

Although high-end chronographs are not unheard of, if there is a complication it will be a more refined one such as a perpetual calendar or tourbillon. These are less for practical use and more to show off the abilities of the watchmakers, since they are so difficult to produce. Their presence on a watch is therefore a sign of wealth and status, as well as a hint at the refinement of the wearer.  

Traditionally, only precious metals such as gold and platinum were used for the case and bezel. However, more recently high-end silver dress watches have appeared and are respected by many watch connoisseurs. The case itself is much smaller than those of sports watches. The traditional dress watch’s case is rarely more than 35mm, but dress watch cases in general can be up to 40mm. As for case thickness, usually it is 8mm or less. This is possible due to the thin movements that are described below. The metal components of the watch are almost always fully polished.

Movements on dress watches are generally thinner than those of sports watches. This is for two main reasons. Firstly, it allows the wearer to hide, or at least partly hide, the watch under their shirt cuff. This helps to ensure that the watch is not ostentatious. Thin movements also show off the abilities of the watchmaker, in much the same way that high-end complications do. This is again because thin movements are so difficult for manufacturers to produce.

Precious stones can appear on the dial; signalling wealth and class. These are placed in a way that is noticeable without being flashy. Finally, the watches almost always come with a leather strap; usually of the darker variety. However, gold bracelets are not unheard of, although they are a little flashier than is found in a classic dress watch. Since they are designed to be worn only on formal occasions, dress watches do not need to have water resistance at all. Therefore, you usually see a water resistance of 50 metres or less.

High-end watch manufacturers specialise in this type of watch, and indeed until the 1970s it was all they made. After then, some of the most prestigious watchmakers have begun releasing watches that have elements of the sports watch design. On top of this, a new brand of high-end watch company has emerged, typified by the company Richard Mille, whose designs are wholly sporty. Nevertheless, the dress watch design is still predominant for watches at this level.


The word ‘smart’ here refers to computing. A smartwatch is a watch that can compute. By this definition, the earliest smart watches can be found amongst the digital watches of the 1970s. These early examples can be considered smartwatches because they had features such as calculators, FM radios, and what were called ‘memo diaries’. These are examples of specialty smartwatches, since the additional functionality their computing power was used for is very specific. They might also be considered tool watches for this very reason.

More recently, advances in computing technology have allowed for much more advanced smartwatches. You interact with this new breed of watch via a touchscreen. Some examples are specialty smartwatches and so again they fit into the tool watches category. These include activity trackers, hiking watches, and diving watches. There are even smartwatches made specifically for pilots; continuing the tradition of the aviation watch in the modern world.

However, there are also all-purpose smartwatches that really need to occupy a category of their own. These are not made with one specific purpose in mind. Rather, they are used for a variety of purposes, just as a personal desktop or laptop computer is. Examples are the Apple Watch and the Tizen watch. It is hard to predict what impact this category of watch will have in the future.


The watchmaking industry today is dominated by huge holding companies that own companies from a wide range of luxury industries. Despite this, there are still quite a few powerful independent companies

The Swatch Group

The Swatch Group Watch Companies (date of acquisition)

  • Calvin Klein (1983)
  • Omega (1983)
  • Tissot (1983)
  • Longines (1983)
  • Rado (1983)
  • Certina (1983)
  • ETA SA Manufacture Horlogère Suisse (1983)
  • Swatch (1983)
  • Hamilton (1984)
  • Mido (1985)
  • Flik Flak (1987)
  • Blancpain (1992)
  • Balmain (1995)
  • Breguet (1999)
  • Léon Hatot (1999)
  • Glashütte Original (2000)
  • Jaquet Droz (2000)
  • Union Glashütte (2000)
  • Harry Winston (2013)


The Swatch Group was the earliest of the current holding companies to emerge. Its success set a precedent that other companies followed, leading to the current era where holding companies dominate the industry.

The Quartz Crisis

It was created in the midst of what is known as the ‘quartz crisis’. This was the period from the mid-‘70s to the mid-‘80s when the mechanical watchmaking industry experienced significant and rapid decline. It occurred due to the flood of cheap electronic watches from Japanese companies such as Seiko, Casio and Citizen.

In these watches, electricity flows from a battery to a quartz crystal and causes it to vibrate at a steady rate. The steady stream of electric pulses generated from this drive the hands of the watch. For this reason, they are referred to as quartz watches. In an age when the watch was still a practical necessity for most people, rather than a fashion statement, these new quartz watches were a no-brainer. They were not only cheaper; they were also far more accurate than any mechanical watch ever made.

The mechanical watch industry was hard hit by this; not just in Switzerland but throughout the world. The leaders of the traditional watch companies didn’t know how to respond to the crisis. Many came to the conclusion that the mechanical watch was dead and that they had to switch to quartz watches to keep up. In many cases, companies sacked workers and began scrapping equipment.

The Merger

The two biggest Swiss watch companies of the time were the Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH) and Société Générale de l’Horlogerie Suisse SA (ASUAG). Both were groups that had been formed during the Great Depression, which plunged the Swiss watchmaking industry into crisis, as it did across industry. The bankers of Omega and Tissot forced them together in the SSIH group, then two years later a number of important watch parts manufacturers were forced together in the ASUAG group for similar reasons. By 1979, roughly half of all those employed in Swiss watchmaking worked for these groups. ASUAG owned watchmakers Rado, Longines, and Certina, along with movement maker ETA.

During the quartz crisis, the same pattern repeated itself, but this time it forced SSIH and ASUAG together. Both were in dire straits due to the quartz crisis, and in 1983 their bankers decided that they should merge. They asked businessman Nicolas Hayek to oversee this merger. The new company was initially called simply ASUAG/SSIH. Hayek proceeded to reorganise the two companies so that they would be more profitable. In 1985, with the help of some investors, Hayek became the majority shareholder. The following year, the company was renamed Société de Microélectronique et d’Horlogerie, or SMH for short, and Hayek became its chief executive officer.

The Invention of the Swatch Watch

In 1983, the same year that the merger happened, a team at ETA, led by its CEO Ernst Thomke, finish production of a revolutionary new quartz movement. It was decided that it would be the basis of what was called the Swatch watch. The name Swatch is short for ‘second watch’, as the intention was that this would be a cheap disposable watch that could supplement your primary watch. It would be quartz, making it cheap and accurate, but at the same time would have an analog display rather than a digital one. The watch was specifically designed to appeal to the entry level watch consumers who were buying the Japanese watches. A new company called Swatch was launched from within SMH in 1983, as was the Swatch watch. Very shortly after launch, sales skyrocketed and the watch became the basis of the phenomenal success of SMH.

Building the Group

At its launch, the group already had a very impressive number of companies, including the newly formed Swatch, the companies Omega and Tissot from SSIH and Rado, Longines, Certina, and ETA from ASUAG. Aside from Omega, none of these companies occupy the high luxury tier of watchmaking. However, unlike many of the time Nicolas Hayek still believed in the appeal of the traditional mechanical watch. Instead of focusing exclusively on cheap quartz watches, the company he created was organised like a pyramid, where the revenue generated by the entry level watches sustain those at a higher level.

The strategy in the ‘90s seems to have been to build up this prestigious upper layer of the company. In view of this, in 1992 the company greatly increased their prestige in the eyes of watch collectors with their acquisition of renowned watchmaker Blancpain. This was followed by their acquisition of Breguet and Léon Hatot in 1999; both highly distinguished watch companies. Glashütte Original and Jaquet Droz acquired in the following year, are also very highly regarded.

Hayek now owned companies at all levels of watchmaking from low to high-end. In 1998, in the midst of all these acquisitions, Hayek’s company changed its name to the Swatch Group. Around the same time, it opened stores where it could sell directly to its customers. His company was now a force to be reckoned with in the watch industry.

Recent Trends

In the years that followed the company slowed down its acquisition of new companies and instead focused on improving those it had already acquired. This trend changed in 2013 when it bought jeweller and watchmaker Harry Winston.

If we analyse the situation in 2020, the top tier of the company consisted of Breguet, Blancpain, Harry Winston, Jaquet Droz, Glashütte Original, Léon Hatot, and Omega. Slightly lower but still prestigious brands included Longines, Rado, Union Glashütte. The middle tier consisted of Tissot, Balmain, Calvin Klein, Certina, Mido, and Hamilton. Finally, the entry brands were Swatch and Flik Flak.

Compagnie Financière Richemont SA

Richemont Watch Companies (date of acquisition)

  • Baume & Mercier (1988)
  • Piaget SA (1988)
  • Cartier International SNC (1993)
  • Montblanc (1993)
  • Vacheron Constantin (1996)
  • Officine Panerai (1997)
  • Van Cleef & Arpels (1999)
  • A. Lange & Söhne (2000)
  • IWC Schaffhausen (2000)
  • Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre SA (2000)
  • Institut Minerva de Recherche en Haute Horlogerie (2006)
  • Roger Dubuis (2008)
  • Greubel Forsey (2006)
  • Donze-Baume SA (2007)
  • Buccellati Holding Italia (2019)


The Richemont Group, officially known as Compagnie Financière Richemont SA, is a holding company that contains companies involved in all of the main luxury goods industries, including jewellery, leather goods, clothing, pens, high-end firearms, and of course watches. It was formed in 1988 when another company called the Rembrandt Group split in two.

The Rembrandt Group

Richemont’s origins lie in a company called The Rembrandt Group. This company, originally called Voorbrand, was a tobacco company created in South Africa in 1940 by Anton Rupert. It changed its name to Rembrandt eight years after its founding. The company made its name by introducing a number of innovations, including the king-size filter, menthol filters, and foil-wrapping. As it became more successful, it began getting involved in industries outside of tobacco; namely wine and spirits, fashion, mining, industry, and finance.

The Split

Since 1984, Rupert’s son Johann got more and more involved in his father’s companies, eventually taking over from him. In 1988, Rembrandt was split into two new companies. Richemont was created to hold the interests in luxury sectors, whilst another company called Remgro was formed to hold interests in the areas of finance, industry and mining. Johann is currently chairman of both Richemont and Remgro and holds the majority of shares in both companies. Like their parent company, both of these are holding companies. This means that they hold other companies rather than produce anything themselves.

The Vendôme Luxury Group

When it was formed, Richemont had two watch companies in its portfolio – Baume & Mercier and Piaget. In 1993, Richemont added Cartier and Montblanc to the list and combined them in a subsidiary company called the Vendôme Luxury Group. Both of these were jewellery companies which also made watches. Others such as watchmaker Vacheron Constantin and the clothing companies Chloé and Dunhill were added to the group later.

At roughly the same time as the Vendôme Luxury Group was formed, another company called Rothman’s International (tobacco) was formed to hold Richemont’s tobacco interests. However, this was sold to British Tobacco in 1999, making Richemont the purely luxury brand it is today.

Key to Richemont’s success is its strategy of loose management of the companies it holds. For the most part, the companies it holds are allowed to operate independently.

LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton SE

LVMH Watch Companies (date of acquisition)

  • Louis Vuitton (1987)
  • TAG Heuer (1999)
  • Zenith (1999)
  • Hublot (2008)
  • Bulgari (2011) (not primarily a watch company but they make do watches)
  • Chaumet (2012)
  • Tiffany & Co. (2019) (not primarily a watch company but they do make watches)

The Death of Boussac’s Empire

The story of the company begins in the late ‘70s, with a failing businessman called Marcel Boussac. Earlier in his career, Boussac had been one of the dominant players in France’s textile industry; owning sixty mills in the country. He subsequently crossed over into the luxury sector with his financial backing of the House of Dior, founded by the fashion designer Christian Dior. All of his companies, including the House of Dior, were contained in what was called Boussac Saint-Frères.

By 1978, he was in his old age and his empire was crumbling. That year, Boussac Saint-Frères was sold by a Paris commercial court to a holding company called Agache Willot Inc. However, it remained a troubled company. In 1984, a savvy businessman called Bernard Arnault snapped up the failing company. Since 1971, Arnault had headed the construction company Ferret-Savinel, taking over from his father. In 1979, he changed its name to Férinel Inc. and focused his energies on the real estate industry. He used both his family’s wealth and the money he had generated in his business to Boussac Saint-Frères. He was interested in the company because it contained House of Dior.

The Founding of LVMH

LVMH was formed in 1987 when the French cognac and champagne producer Moet-Hennessy merged with luxury retailer Louis Vuitton. It was initially headed by Moet-Hennessy’s president Alain Chevalier, with Louis Vuitton’s chief executive Henry Racamier named vice-president of the new merged company. In the previous year, Louis Vuitton had acquired the champagne company Veuve Clicquot, which owned the perfume division of the fashion and perfume house Givenchy.

Moet-Hennessy was the larger of the two companies, and in the year following the deal there was feud between the two men about its terms. By then, Moet-Hennessy had become the majority shareholder of the House of Dior, and Arnault didn’t want to lose control of the company. Recamier asked Arnault to buy stock in the company so that he could consolidate his position in this new company. However, by 1989 Arnault had bought so much stock that he took control of it for himself. Recamier left the following year, and he went off to create his own conglomerate called Orcofi. From then on, Arnault built LVMH into the powerhouse it is today.

The Building of Arnault’s Empire

In 1988, before Recamier was ousted, LVHM had acquired the couture division of Givenchy, giving it control of the whole company. LVHM now owned two of the most prestigious luxury companies – Louis Vuitton and Givenchy. Christian Dior was not made part of the LVMH but was instead owned by Arnault’s holding company Groupe Arnault.

Once Arnault had assumed control of the company in the following year, he began buying lots of different luxury companies. This begun with his acquisition of the two fashion companies Berluti and Kenzo in 1993, followed by the perfume company Guerlain in the following year. In 1996, he took over the leather goods companies Céline and Loewe, and cosmetics chain Sephora in the following year.

In 1999, LVMH created a new watches and jewellery division and began buying companies in this sector. Up to this point, he did not own any companies that operated primarily in these areas. However, from 1999 onwards they didn’t waste any time in building their watchmaking and jewellery empire. This began in that year with the acquisition of the two renowned watchmakers TAG Heuer and Zenith.

The Gucci Saga

During the same timeframe that these watch and jewellery acquisitions were happening, a corporate battle was beginning for the fashion house Gucci. This began early in 1999 when LVMH acquired a 5% stake in the company. This immediately panicked the board members of Gucci, who were convinced that Arnault was trying to take over the company. Within days, this had risen to 14.5% after he bought Patrizio Bertelli’s stake in the company. This made his Gucci’s largest shareholder, but he continued to buy shares. By mid-January he owned 26.7% of the company. Later in the month Arnault met with Gucci CEO Domenico De Sole to ask for three seats on the board of the company, but he was declined. Following this, he increased his stake to 34.4%. A panicked De Sole made a counter-offer of two seats, but this was declined by Arnault.

In order to decrease Arnault’s stake De Sole decided to issue millions of new shares. This diluted the existing shares, meaning that LVMH now only owned 20% of the company. These shares were sold to the holding company PPR, which is now known as Kering. LVMH’s response was to offer to buy the whole of Gucci, including PPR’s stake. When the two offers it made were both rejected, LVMH sued Gucci, claiming it had broken the law when it issued the shares. This began a lengthy and bitter court battle that lasted several years. It finally ended in September 2001 when a settlement was agreed. LVMH agreed to sell its shares in Gucci to PPR, which has owned the company from then on. Although this may be seen as a setback for Arnault, in many ways it was a success because he made a profit of $700 million from his shares in Gucci during this dispute.

The Hermès Saga

Both during and after this dispute, LVMH continued to grow through acquisition. In 2000, they acquired fashion house Emilio Pucci, and in the following year began buying shares in the leather goods, jewellery, and watch company Hermès. Ten years later this would result in another bitter dispute that followed a similar pattern to the Gucci saga. Arnault bought more and more shares from 2001 onwards, and by 2010 it was revealed that he had acquired 14.2% in the company. In the following years, Arnault continued to increase this. By 2013 it had risen to 23.1%. This panicked the board members of Hermès. Ultimately, Arnault was stopped when the French authorities decided that he had broken French disclosure law when buying some of these shares. As a result, he lost all of his shares in December 2015.

Climbing to the Top

However, in the intervening period, Arnault had amassed a remarkable array of companies, including Moynat, Bulgari, Loro Piana, Nicholas Kirkwood, and J.W. Anderson. In 2017, Arnault bought the shares of Christian Dior that were not already owned by him, and the company was integrated into LVMH. Then in 2019 the jewellery company Tiffany & Co. became part of it. LVMH is now the largest player in the watchmaking world by sales and Arnault is one of the top three richest men in the world.

Kering S.A.

Kering’s Watch Companies (date of acquisition)

  • Gucci (1999)
  • Boucheron (2000) (Gucci acquired the house of Boucheron in the year 2000 from Schweizerhall. Four years later, PPR, now known as Kering, bought Gucci.)
  • Girard-Perregaux (2011)
  • JEANRICHARD (2011)
  • Qeelin (2013) (almost entirely jewellery, but they are beginning to move into watches)
  • Ulysse Nardin (2014)


Kering S.A. is a holding company with a portfolio of luxury brands specialising in everything from leather goods to jewelry and watches.

Timber Period

The company was originally a timber trading company called Pinault S.A. It was founded by Paris in 1963 by François Pinault. This was a natural area for Pinault since his family were all timber traders. During this period, the company continually grew by buying up failing businesses operating in this sector and regenerating them.

François’ son François-Henri began working for Pinault SA in 1987. The following year the company went public, and it began moving out of the timber industry and instead invested in retail companies. One of these was the French conglomerate CFAO. CFAO has been operating since 1852, and was a leading distributor of consumer products across Africa. It also invested in a number of retail chains. In 1991, it acquired the department chain Conforama. The following year, it acquired another retail chain called Printemps, which itself was the majority shareholding in another called La Redoute. In 1994, Pinault SA bought up the remaining shares of La Redoute and it was renamed Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, or PPR for short. In the same year, it acquired department chains.

The Founding of Artémis

In 1992, in the midst of all of this, Pinault founded another holding company called Artémis. It went on to buy businesses from a wide range of different luxury areas, including winemaking, fine art, magazines, and luxury cruises. Most important for the watch enthusiast was its purchase of auction house Christies in 1998. Artémis and the company that is now Kering are closely connected, and both have shares in many of the same companies. Artémis is the controlling shareholder of Kering.

Luxury Period

In the late 20th century, there was another shift in direction for PPR; this time towards luxury industries. This has led to the current situation, where all of its companies operate in this sector. An important step in this journey happened in 1999 when it acquired a stake in Gucci, followed by Gucci’s acquisition of Yves Saint Laurent in the same year. This was followed by a lengthy court dispute with LVMH for control of the company, which PPR eventually won. After this, there was the acquisition of the jewellery and watch company Boucheron in 2000 and the fashion company Bottega Veneta in 2001.

In 2003, François’ son François-Henri took over as head of Artémis, and then two years later he became head of PPR. He continued the shift of direction towards the luxury industries. During his tenure, the company sold off all of its old retail businesses and bought up luxury ones. This began with the selling off of Le Printemps in 2006, followed by Conforama (2011), Fnac (2012), CFAO (2012), and La Redoute (2013).

It built up its watch credentials in the eyes of connoisseurs when it bought the Sowind Group in 2011. The Sowind Group had been founded in 1988, and was the owner of the prestigious watchmaker Girard-Perregaux. It also owned the innovative watch company JEANRICHARD. In 2013, PPR was renamed Kering. The following year it bought the Ulysse Nardin, another very highly regarded watchmaker. In the same period, the company bought companies in many other luxury areas, such as menswear (Brioni, acquired in 2011) and jewellery (Pomellato and Qeelin, both acquired in 2012). Although Qeelin is primarily a jewellery company, they have begun to experiment with watches as well.

Independent Watchmakers

Independent Watch Companies

  • Rolex/Tudor
  • Breitling
  • Hermès
  • Chopard
  • Frederique Constant/Alpina
  • Richard Mille
  • Chanel
  • F.P. Journe
  • Franck Muller
  • Laurent Ferrier
  • Romain Gauthier
  • Urwerk
  • Parmigiani Fleurier
  • Shinola
  • Christophe Claret
  • Philippe Dufour
  • H. Moser and Cie
  • Nomos Glashütte
  • Carl F. Bucherer

Not all major watch companies are owned by holding companies. It is not clear that they will retain their independence in the future, as the trend of watch history since the ‘80s certainly favours the holding company. However, presently some of the biggest names in watchmaking are independent, including the most well-known watch brand of them all, Rolex.

Some of the highest tier watchmakers are independent, including Hermès, Chopard, Frederique Constant, and Richard Mille. Two of the three members of the so-called Holy Trinity of watchmaking are also independent: Patek Phillipe and Audemars Piguet. The third member of the group, Vacheron Constantin, is currently owned by Richemont.

In addition to this, a new industry of so-called microbrands has emerged. These are small watch companies, sometimes run by a single person, producing very short runs of products. This is a lively and varied scene that has popped up thanks largely to the internet, which allows small companies to sell directly to consumers via a website, rather than having to go through retailers. Some of these companies are highly innovative, developing some of the most interesting watches released in recent years.


They say a watch is more than the sum of its parts, but here  is a description of some of the most important


The case is an outer covering that encloses the watch’s bezel and dial. All components of the watch are contained within it, including the movement.

It is most often metallic, but plastic is used in some quartz watches. The most common materials used in mechanical watches are stainless steel, gold and platinum. These materials are used because they are good at protecting the internal components of the watch from shock and dirt.


The dial, sometimes called the face, is the part of a watch that the time is displayed on. It contains all of the markings that the wearer uses to tell the time, such as those that indicate hours, minutes and seconds, as well as the various hands of the watch. The dial is covered by a transparent crystal that protects it from the elements. You tell the time by comparing the position of the hands with the markings.


Hands are long indicators that are visible over the dial. They are connected to the inner workings of the watch so that they change position over time, allowing the wearer to tell the time. There are generally three main types: the hours, minutes and seconds hand.


The crystal is the component in a watch that covers the dial, protecting it from the elements. It can be made from a variety of materials, including glass, plastic or sapphire. Whatever material is used, it is always transparent, allowing the wearer to see the dial underneath and tell the time.


The bezel is a ring that sits in the case and surrounds the dial and crystal. It is usually metallic, but sometimes a ceramic material is used instead.

Bezels often have scales on them that are used to add functionality to the watch. The bezel scales can be compared with markings on the dial and the movement of the hands to provide information to the user. Although most often the bezel is stationary, rotating bezels are sometimes used. Some examples of scales used are the tachymeter, pulsometer and telemeter.


The crown is a button located at the side of a watch. Its main function is winding the watch, but it is also used to set the time. They are sometimes referred to as winders or winding stems. On some watches, the button can be pushed in, allowing for a variety of other functions such as the chronograph.


Pushers, or push pieces as they are sometimes called, are buttons that are found on the side of some watches. They add to the functionality provided by the main button that is referred to as the crown. They could, for example, be used to start, stop and reset a chronograph.


The lugs are the parts of the watch that connect the case to the bracelet or strap. They do this by way of a metal spring bar that slides inside the lugs. They are usually made of the same material as the case and are located on the top edges of the watch. 


Either a bracelet or strap is used to hold the watch to the wearer’s wrist. The difference between the two is that straps are made of a non-metallic material such as leather or rubber, whereas bracelets are metallic. 


As the name suggests, the movement is what makes the watch move. This includes the running of the timekeeping functionality that is available on all watches, plus whatever extra functions the watch may have. For example, the movements of Rolex Daytonas run the chronograph functionality as well as basic time functionality.

Three types of movements can be found: manual, automatic and quartz. The latter is a relatively recent invention that is powered electronically, whilst both the manual and automatic movements are mechanically powered.

Manual movements, also called hand-wound movements, need to be wound by hand every day in order for the watch to run. The winding stores energy in a spring. This spring slowly uncoils over time, and the energy this generates is sent to gears that move the watch. The components that accomplish this are very intricate and complicated, and so manual movements are often difficult to produce.

This is also true of automatic movements, but these are more convenient for consumers since they don’t have to be wound by hand. In automatics, a metal weight in the shape of a half-circle, called a ‘rotor’, is attached to the movement. This weight naturally swings about as the user moves their wrist during the day. It is this swinging of the rotor that winds the watch. However, although the user no longer has to wind the watch, it is still entirely mechanical.

In contrast, quartz watches are electronic, not mechanical. They use a battery to power the movement. It has the name quartz because power from the battery runs through a quartz crystal and causes it to vibrate at a steady rate. For each one vibration the crystal sends out one electrical pulse. The electronic circuitry of the watch is designed so that this pulse is send to a series of gears that move the watch’s hands. Quartz movements were introduced in the 1970s and are far more accurate than manual movements.


This section is for information about details that are not limited to one brand or reference

Sigma Dial

A sigma dial is a dial where two special symbols appear at the 6 o’clock position. These symbols resemble the lower-case Greek letter sigma (σ). They are inscribed on either side of the designation at the bottom of the dial. The exact designation differs for each watch, reading ‘T SWISS MADE T’ on some and ‘T SWISS T’ on others. The T stands for tritium and indicates the use of tritium in the luminous on the dial. If the sigma symbols appear it indicates that certain components of the watch are made of solid gold. Sigma dials are something that every serious collector will know about, but yet there is still some doubt about exactly what components it refers to. This all depends on the model of watch concerned, and it is not a finished debate.

Use of the symbol came at a time of crisis in the watchmaking world. Quartz watches were beginning to come onto the market, and they were threatening to make the mechanical watch obsolete. Manufacturers were desperately looking for a way to get consumers to continue to buy their watches, despite the fact that the most basic quartz watch was far more accurate.

One idea was to emphasise the luxury components used in these watches, especially gold. To this end, in 1970 several watch companies started using the sigma symbol to indicate the use of gold on their watches. In the following year, the symbol was trademarked.

Despite the name ‘sigma dial’, the mark is not actually a sigma. It’s actually a unique trademarked symbol. In 1973, some of these companies formed ‘l’Association pour la Promotion Industrielle de l’Or’ (APRIOR). APRIOR’s purpose was to promote the use of gold parts in watches and to promote traditional watchmaking techniques. Members included Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, IWC, and Rolex. They were helped in this by the dramatic rise in the price of gold during these years.

The organisation ran marketing campaigns to educate consumers about the use of gold in watches, and they also encouraged manufacturers to use the sigma symbol. This was especially important for watches with white gold. Manufacturers were concerned that consumers were often not aware that white gold was used on their watches, as it looks similar to steel. Members of APRIOR were not required to use this symbol. It was simply an informal arrangement among watchmakers struggling to deal with the crisis of the time. Consequently, use of the symbol is not consistent.

APRIOR suggested that a sigma on the dial should indicate that the hour markers are made from solid gold, and a sigma on the case or bracelet signifies that these are made of solid gold. It appears that Rolex only implemented the first of these suggestions, but it is unclear whether this is the case for all watches produced.

There is some disagreement, but it’s generally thought that a sigma dial on a Rolex indicates that components such as the hour indexes, hands, logo, and crown are made of either yellow or white gold. Note that the sigma does not refer to the material of the watch itself. Therefore, you can get sigma dials on stainless steel watches as well as gold ones. The sigmas are usually printed in silver. Make sure to take note of any aging of the printing, as this will decrease the value.

The idea may have been inspired by Omega’s use of the designation “OM”, meaning “Or Massif” (solid gold in French). Omega had used this since the mid-‘50s to indicate that the dial was made of solid gold. It’s speculated that the APRIOR companies decided on using sigma instead of this, so as to avoid the confusion that it was the dial rather than the hour markers that were gold.

Rolex began phasing out their sigma dials around 1975, but it was only towards the end of the decade that they stopped producing them altogether. However, other manufacturers carried on using the symbol. For example, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin used the symbol until the late ‘90s. Watches have been found as late as the year 2000 using the symbol. However, despite all of this most examples of Rolex sigma dials are from the ’71-’75.

Despite these efforts, the sigma dials did not significantly impact sales, and manufacturers had to look for other ways of drawing people to their watches. They started to put more emphasis on the technical expertise that goes into mechanical watches. The reasons for the failure are not known, but it could be that the general consumer did not pay close attention to small details like the sigma symbol. Another reason may be that luxury materials were not as important to consumers as was thought at the time. Later in the decade, the release of the Patek ‘Nautilus’ proved that you could have a luxury watch in steel; a radical idea at that time.

You can get very detailed in your appreciation for small details like the sigma signs. In fact, this is what vintage Daytona hunting is all about. Very small details can radically increase the value of a watch. There is special terminology for variants of the sigma dial. The sigma dial itself is sometimes called ‘Goutte a Prior’, and a ‘tight sigma’ is where the sigmas are closer together. These are rarer than the models where they are further apart and this is reflected in the price at auction.

These dials are interesting to collectors because they symbolise a period of transition in the history of watchmaking, when traditional watchmakers were struggling to find their identity. It symbolises the spirit of perseverance that carried them through these years. Serious collectors love small details that tell a story like this. In addition to this, these dials are fairly rare. Consequently, it’s almost certain that a watch with a sigma dial will be worth more than one without the sigma.


Here is a selection of some of the most interesting videos online about watches