When you start talking about high-end watches, the word “Swiss” often ends up getting substituted in for phrases like “high-quality” and “reliable.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. Sure, Switzerland is the modern home of fine watchmaking, but there are plenty of fantastic watchmakers creating timepieces worth your attention in other places. We had our editors round up five of their favorite watchmakers that reside outside the Confederation, highlighting different types of watches and different approaches to watchmaking in general. And best of all? No passport required.
Cara Barrett – Uniform Wares (U.K.)
Uniform Wares is a British manufacture that I covered a while back. They are known for making minimalist watches with Swiss movements (so not exactly made all in the U.K.), assembled in London. I really like what they are doing as far as creating elegant and “affordable” timepieces for a range of wearers (most cost around $500). They are a major step up from fashion brands but are more accessible than watches coming from the usual Swiss manufacturers. But more importantly, they are on track to do some exciting things over the next few years – so stay tuned.
Jon Bues – Grönefeld (The Netherlands)
Bart and Tim Grönefeld are very much part of the Swiss watchmaking system, having trained and worked within it during their formative years. However, their current, eponymous project is based in their home country of the Netherlands, where they make what many experts consider to be the most “complicated” time-only watch in the world, the 1941 Remontoire. The Gronefelds’ watchmaking is innovative, yet relatively understated – until you turn the watches over, that is. Their fastidious finishing stands up to a close look with a loupe and the architecture of their movements is unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else. Plus, there are no two watchmakers better to share a beer with, and that’s gotta count for something.
Jack Forster – Grand Seiko (Japan)
Grand Seiko in particular, and Seiko in general, have for much of the later 20th century and right up to the present day, been companies that are living proof that you don’t have to be Swiss, or in Switzerland, to make an amazing watch. Grand Seiko lately has been very much coming out from under the shadow of Seiko overall, and what makes them so interesting is not just that they’re so incredibly well made – it’s that the philosophy of quality that informs them is so characteristically Japanese. Grand Seiko doesn’t aspire to resemble a great Swiss watch; instead, it strives to be the best possible Japanese watch, and for that reason, it doesn’t so much rebuke Switzerland in terms of quality, as it does stand on its own as evidence that if you have the strength of your convictions, you can make a wonderful wristwatch anywhere.
James Stacey – A. Lange & Söhne (Germany)
A. Lange & Sohne likely doesn’t require much of an introduction for most of you, but this relatively small German manufacturer makes some of the finest watches in the world. And while Germany has a strong history in watchmaking, Lange has become a worldwide pillar of haute horology since its relaunch inn 1994. You can always judge a brand by their entry point model, and with Lange’s fantastic Saxonia Thin 37mm, you get a true example of the brand’s strengths in a gorgeous and simple design that shines on-wrist. Want something a bit more distinctively Lange? While some may jump to the Datograph or Zeitwerk, the Lange 1 is the brand’s calling card in the world of unique watch design. Gorgeous, distinctive, and balanced, the Lange 1 is an oddball but dressy option that offers all of A.Lange & Söhne’s charm in a single piece. Characterized by their knack for creating beautifully subtle watches with incredible hand finished complexity quietly ticking inside, A.Lange & Sohne is the heart of German watchmaking.
Stephen Pulvirent – Sarpaneva (Finland)
Finland is best known for producing designers like Alver Aalto, telecom companies like Nokia, and ice hockey legends like Teemu Selänne. But, despite what you might think, there are watchmakers there too. Kari Voutilainen decamped to Switzerland, but Stepan Sarpaneva is still making watches right in the center of Helsinki. Sarpaneva’s watches have their own feel to them – there’s something distinctly rock n’ roll about them, with the signature moon grinning back at you from the often layered dials. He also has a line of slightly lower priced pieces under the brand S.U.F that are intended for the Finnish domestic market and play off local culture and use local materials. It’s cool to see someone making distinctive watches on their home turf that don’t try to look like traditional “luxury Swiss watches” at all.