If you ask anyone about the best brand of watch, they will most likely tell you that it’s Rolex. The brand has long been the epitome of luxury, and wearing the watch is a not-so-subtle reminder to the world that you have the best of the best. Or is it?
The Rolex brand is recognized as the number one Swiss watch brand globally, so it is difficult — though not impossible — to find a watch better than a Rolex. However, there are prestigious watches that are more reliable and more expensive than Rolex. There are also watches that last longer and have a higher resale value.
Whether it’s Omega, Patek Philippe, or Vacheron Constantin, there is a watch that may fulfill your needs better than the Rolex. Read on to find out which one suits you best.
Rolex and Quality
Rolex originally emerged in a world that was used to pocket watches (source). Wristwatches were still considered a bit of a fad and not something that wealthy men would wear, most preferring antique heirloom pocket watches.
Pocket watches had long been assumed to retain more longevity than wristwatches since wristwatches often faced increased daily wear and tear from external elements. Not many men considered them to be strong or reliable enough to use daily.
When Rolex founder, Hans Wilsdorf, started to make watches that would be suitable for men, he made them as accurate as possible, rivaling the pocket watch despite being a fraction of the size. The next step was to make it as reliable as possible.
In 1922, Wilsdorf created the first waterproof and dustproof wristwatch — The Submarine. While the watch was not a success, it became a prototype, and Rolex created an even better version — The Oyster.
The design was unique as it featured a clamshell shape that would protect the watch’s innards without making it too bulky. It would be displayed in fish tanks to emphasize its waterproof qualities.
It first came to light as a reliable, waterproof watch in 1927 when a young British woman, Mercedes Gleitze, swam the English channel while wearing a Rolex Oyster. Despite swimming for 10 hours, she arrived at the finish line with a perfectly functional watch.
Thus, the rise of Rolex began.
With its newfound fame, Hans Wilsdorf continued to build Rolex as the epitome of reliability. The watch would be tested in harsh conditions through adventurers, and its self-winding technology made the watch one of the best.
Rolex continued to grow and has now become a world leader in luxury watches. But what exactly makes Rolex watches so special — and expensive?
First, Rolex uses a unique type of steel that no other company utilizes. Even though it is another type of stainless steel, there is no other watch manufacturer in the world who uses 904L as compared to the more commonly used 316L.
Far more rust and corrosive resistant, the 904L steel even polishes better than classic steel. Rolex started using the steel in 1988, and by 2003, all Rolex watches were made with this steel despite its expense and the special machinery needed to work it.
Another point that makes Rolex unique is that its research department focuses on the science behind its watches. And several other departments within the company focus solely on making Rolex watches better, more reliable, and more beautiful.
Rolex creates its own combination of oils and lubricants, controlling every step of the design. Science really does allow Rolex watches to last for generations. If you’re interested in how to maintain your own watches to prevent high maintenance costs, you can read my post on watch maintenance.
While Rolex gets its steel from outside the company, all gold and platinum are actually made in their own foundry. Rolex manipulates 24k gold to create unique versions of gold, white gold, and Everose gold — Rolex’s answer to rose gold.
Second, Rolex watches are assembled by hand. Even though machines are used to set up certain points within the watch, specially-trained technicians put together each piece. These watches are rigorously tested to ensure the best product possible.
The company prides itself on its quality control. It is understandable, considering the costs involved in making the watch and the guarantee that Rolex gives its customers.
With the amount of testing, the company ensures that its customers get the most reliable product possible. Not only do the watches undergo many tests for chronometer certification, but simulation tests also occur to mimic everyday usage.
Third, Rolex continues their history of waterproof watches by testing them in pressurized tanks. Depending on whether it’s a Submariner (See it on Amazon) or Deep Sea watch, these watches can undergo testing in pressure tanks that can create pressure equal to 12,000 meters deep.
The watches are then tested again to see if any aspects succumbed to the pressure, wrestling in leaks. Less than one in a thousand watches fail this test. Needless to say, Rolex has proven that they know exactly how to make the best, most reliable watch.
But where does that leave other watch companies? Is there no one who can compete with Rolex excellence?
Luxury Watches and Haute Horology
Rolex might be the most recognizable watch brand in the world, but that does not mean that they are the only luxury brand. Rolex creates beautiful watches, but they are not considered the height of haute horology.
Horology is the art of making clocks and watches. While Rolex watches may be beautiful and luxurious, they cannot always match watchmakers with longer histories and more exclusivity.
Omega watches are well-known and respected. Omega watches may not be as expensive as Rolex watches, but they are known for their reliability and precision. Founded in 1848, Omega watches have identified a fine balance between modern and historical.
While Rolex’s claim to fame has been in the sea, Omega prefers to take to the skies. American astronauts have worn Omega watches for decades, and they can proudly say that their watches have been to the moon and back (source).
Omega has had many famous brand ambassadors throughout history, from John F. Kennedy and Mao Zedong to Chad le Clos and George Clooney in our current century.
In 2015, Omega received the Master Chronometer (Like this Omega Seamaster Professional 300M) certification, which indicates that they meet the highest industry standard of magnetic resistance, performance, and precision.
But how do Omega watches measure up against Rolex?
What makes Omega better than Rolex?
Omega has a longer history than Rolex and has been part of quite a few historical events. Both John F. Kennedy and Mikhael Gorbachev wore the watch for their inaugurations, and Buzz Aldrin had his Speedmaster watch on when he took his first steps on the moon.
When you wear an Omega watch, you wear a unique piece of history. Omega watches are also one of the few watches that have been approved by NASA for space travel.
The Speedmaster Professional is the only watch model that has been approved for Extravehicular Activity (EVA) when astronauts leave the controlled environment of their rocket or space station to conduct repairs or tests in the open atmosphere.
Rolex may be the winner when it comes to mechanical watches, but Omega also manufactures quartz watches known for higher accuracy (source).
Even though both companies offer a five-year guarantee and get their chronometer certification from Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC), Omega’s quartz watches take the edge over Rolex’s purely mechanical mechanisms.
Without a doubt, Rolex watches are the most recognizable watch brand in the world, but Omega comes in second. Omega watches are also more affordable, though their resale value is not as profitable as a Rolex watch.
Patek Philippe watches are not made for one person. The brand uses a multi-generational marketing strategy to convince buyers that this watch will last through the years.
Patek, Czapek, and Cie were founded in 1839 by Antoine Patek and François Czapek, and they were joined by Jean-Adrien Philippe in 1851 when he became a partner in the business. Eventually, Czapek left, and the company became Patek Philippe (source).
In 1932, the company was then bought by Charles and Jean Stern, but the name was retained, and the Sterns continue to own the company to this day.
When the company began, they created customized watches for the wealthy, setting their products apart from their “mass-produced” counterparts. The company is based in Switzerland, and they manufacture some of the most expensive watches in the world.
In fact, the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva houses one of the most valuable collections of watches globally.
What Makes Patek Philippe Better than Rolex?
In 1868, Patek Philippe created the very first wristwatch. The company retains the longest history of watchmaking and today are recognized as leaders in innovation.
Patek Philippe watches are far more exclusive than Rolex. Since Patek Philippe watches are bespoke, you cannot buy them in a shop. A buyer would need to contact the company to obtain a timepiece of their own.
While both Rolex and Patek Philippe watches have an excellent resale value, generally, Patek Philippe watches sell for more due to their exclusive nature. They are leaders in elegance, and a Patek Philippe watch is both an expression of wealth as well as individuality.
In fact, one of the most expensive watches in the world is the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref., which sold at auction for $31.19 million. Patek Philippe (link going to Amazon) is the first of the “Big Three” watchmakers, in company with Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet (source).
Vacheron Constantin is a brand so exclusive that not many would recognize the name. As the oldest watchmaking company in the world, Vacheron Constantin has been making watches since 1755.
Founded by Jean-Marc Vacheron, Vacheron began as a humble business by the 24-year-old watchmaker. After moving from father to son to grandson, Barthélémy Vacheron was joined by François Constantin in 1819 to create the company we now know.
The company prides itself on its motto of “Do better if possible, which is always possible.” They have survived through the French Revolution to be regarded as the oldest watch manufacturer in business today.
Vacheron Constantin also has a unique history with women. In 1889, they were the first manufacturer to create a lady’s wristwatch. Made of gold and diamonds, the company has always focused on the luxury market with a keen understanding of delicacy and beauty.
What Makes Vacheron Constantin Better than Rolex?
Both Rolex and Patek Philippe watches are known for their many complications. However, Vacheron Constantin is a master in combining innovation and beauty.
Watch complications are the extra mechanisms within a watch that provide information beyond the second, minute, and hour hands. Examples of complications are calendars, sunrise and sunset indicators, moon phases, and signs of the zodiac.
Vacheron Constantin currently holds the world record with their Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260, which is undoubtedly the most complicated watch globally. The timepiece contains 57 complications and remains unchallenged.
For a timepiece that does so much more than tell the time, Vacheron Constantin is a clear choice. The watches have been worn by the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius XI, giving them the historical edge over Rolex.
In terms of exclusivity, Vacheron Constantin watches are far harder to find. Rolex produces 2000 watches a day, while Vacheron Constantin only makes 20,000 watches a year. Their uniqueness makes them the second member of the “Big Three” in watchmaking.
Audemars Piguet also has a long history starting in 1875. The Swiss company was established by another pair of innovators, Jules Audemars and Edward Piguet.
Audemars and Piguet learned the watchmaking art in Vallée de Joux, a country region of Switzerland that is known for its unspoiled beauty and for centuries of watchmaking and metallurgical excellence (source).
In 1899, Audemars Piguet created their first complication-filled watch, the Grande Complication pocket watch, which included a perpetual calendar, a split second hand, and an alarm.
Audemars Piguet continued to innovate and create through the years, building itself a presence and history in the luxury watch market.
Some of the company’s more notable achievements include the release of the slimmest self-winding tourbillon wristwatch in 1986 and the launch of the Tradition d’Excellence in 2000, a collection of timepieces known for their innovative design combined with traditional elements.
What Makes Audemars Piguet Better than Rolex?
Audemars Piguet is a watch brand that wants its wearers to know the beauty and intricacy of watchmaking. A lot of their watches have exposed mechanisms for that very purpose, along with artistic engravings and other touches that Rolex watches lack.
Anyone who wears an Audemars Piguet watch is knowledgeable in horology and understands the art of watchmaking, including the value that these watches hold. However, Rolex watches are generally more accurate as Audemars Piguet does not have the same precision standard.
Audemars Piguet is the final pillar in the holy trinity of watches, and any watch connoisseur will recognize the value of the brand. However, since they lack a mass market, they do not carry the same demand as Rolex.
That does not mean that they lack value, but, as with Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, these watches are meant to be kept as family heirlooms.
Breguet watches have a very long history and are only overtaken by Vacheron Constantin by a few decades. The company was founded in 1775 by Abraham-Louis Breguet. Born in Switzerland, Breguet moved to France and started his company there.
While Breguet may not be the oldest watch manufacturer in the world, Breguet has contributed quite a lot to the horological field.
Breguet invented the à tact watch in 1798, a watch that allowed wearers to tell the time without looking at the watch. This was done by placing a hand on the outside of the watch that would indicate hours and minutes together.
He also invented the self-winding mechanisms that many luxury watches have today. Breguet’s best-known invention, however, is the tourbillon regulator, an invention he patented in 1801.
The tourbillon regulator is an invention that negated the effect of gravity on watches. Gravitational forces often disturb a watch’s accuracy, and Breguet’s creation made watches a lot more reliable and accurate (source).
Breguet made many contributions to horology, and the watches are still considered some of the best luxury watches available today.
What Makes Breguet Better than Rolex?
Breguet has a long history of horology, and, while it does not belong to the “Big Three” of watchmakers, the company creates beautiful watches that can be appreciated by watch collectors all over the world.
Unfortunately, Breguet watches do not have the same resale value as Rolex or brand recognition. They are the sixth best known Swiss watch brand. Still, they are appreciated by watch connoisseurs for their unique look and history.
All of these watches have long histories of innovation and artistic impression. When choosing between a Rolex and a high-end luxury watch, the question has to be asked: “Why do you want a watch?”
A simple fashion watch such as Daniel Wellington (Link going to Amazon) is enough for some people. However, people wanting reliability, luxury, heritage, and well-built watches a Rolex, Omega, or equivalent are in scope.
If your watch is for others to see and admire, then buy a Rolex. If you cannot afford a Rolex but want some level of prestige, buy an Omega. If your watch is for your enjoyment, to share with watch collectors and appreciators, then the choice comes down to any of the “Big Three.”
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