The French are great in many fields—in fashion, the arts, cinema, museums and cheese. That list is incomplete, however, with watchmaking a field often missed because fellow French-speaking European nation Switzerland gets all the glory. What most people don’t know is that there was a time in its history when France was the celebrated country for watchmaking… That is, until the borders changed and their top horologists emigrated elsewhere, particularly to Switzerland.
Although that is how things turned out, L’hexagone is still home to a few companies that still boast of long history of horology and are renowned all over for their distinct Frenchness. From Paris to Besançon, where Switzerland is almost just a stone’s throw away, there are brands that will ring a bell, and others that may just pique your interest.
Today, Breguet is a Swatch-owned watch brand headquartered in Vallée de Joux in Switzerland. But unknown to many, the high-end timepiece brand was actually founded in the beautiful city of Paris by Abraham Louis Breguet in 1775. The then young Breguet, at the prime age of fifteen, learned the ropes of watchmaking in Versailles thanks in large part to the connections of his father. After learning from watch masters, Breguet finally opened his first ever shop in Quai de l’Horloge. Breguet’s atelier in the 1st arrondissement of Paris catered to the most revered French noblemen and ladies, including Napoleon Bonaparte and his younger sister and the Queen of Naples, Caroline Murat.
His years of running his watchmaking business produced some of those year’s groundbreaking watch innovations which, up until now, is recognized as a Breguet trademark. In fact, Breguet pioneered some of the most important inventions in the history of horology, including the invention of the tourbillon and the first ever wristwatch in 1810. Also, the terms Breguet-hands, Breguet-spiral, and Breguet-numerals are easily part of today’s watchmaking jargon, making Breguet one of the most influential watch brands in the watchmaking industry.
Honorable Mention: BREGUET Tradition Automatic Skeleton Dial
Easily one of the most revered timepieces in the Breguet collection is the Tradition Automatic Skeleton Dial in 18 kt Rose Gold. Its intricate design is a marvel on its own; while its heavy-duty functionality that includes scratch resistant sapphire crystal and a water resistant technology is something a self-acclaimed watch enthusiast cannot miss.
BELL & ROSS
Considered as one of the younger watch brands in industry is Bell & Ross, which was founded in 1992 in Paris. The story of Bell & Ross started with a team of watch designers and aeronautical control panel specialists who all worked hand-in-hand to create the perfect professional timepiece—a timepiece that can withstand the most extreme temperature and the harshest environment possible. In order to achieve this goal, the brand took inspiration from military and aeronautical specifications. The result? A time telling instrument that boasts of the highest quality and functionality.
Every Bell & Ross timepiece is a testament of the commitment of the company to produce a utilitarian watch which its user can constantly call an ally to assist him on his missions. The brand’s trademark simple colors, shapes, and four oversized Arabic numerals on the dial is a reflection of the brand’s motto which prioritizes the essential over the superfluous—a guiding principle that should be followed often. Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen, proud wearers of the Bell & Ross brand, will definitely agree.
Honorable Mention: Bell & Ross Aviation GMT
Bell & Ross’ Aviation GMT Black Dial Automatic is a classic example of a high functioning watch. As a matter of fact, true to its brand’s core, this watch meets the four basic principles of legibility, functionality, precision and reliability. This means, the watch was created with a purpose in mind. This time, its luminescent hands were designed for night reading purposes and its 100-meter water resistance feature for water adventures.
Dietrich is the eponymous brand of Emmanuel Dietrich. Dietrich, who was born in France’s historic watch capital, Besançon, is a self-proclaimed passionate lover of timepieces. Growing up in the ancient city, Dietrich was influenced by its culture of skillful watchmaking technique and elegant designs. After earning his diploma from Ecole Boulle in Paris, he went on to design for some of today’s leading horological brands for 20 years.
Wanting to magnify his artistic endeavor and create the perfect balance between feelings, aesthetics, forms, and practicability, Dietrich launched his brand in 2010. Regardless of having just less than a decade under its belt, the brand was able to catapult to to the top with Dietrich’s refreshing style and unique functions and use of materials. Overall, the brand exudes a bold but delicate elegance that the watchmaking industry currently needs.
Honorable Mention: Dietrich OT-3
If you want to grab attention, the Dietrich OT-3 is the right watch for you. Its unconventional design that features a sapphire glass and a bright yellow night luminescent hands and indexes is a sure way to start a conversation. A timepiece that can add to your fashion A-game and at the same time, a conversation piece, is a must-have, trust us. If you are not yet convinced, its water resistance to up to 50 meters and comfortable nylon wristband are added bonus.
Born in Bourges, France in 1768, Louis Moinet has made history upon his completion of the 20-years-in-the-making ‘Le Traité d’Horlogerie’, recognized as one of the greatest watchmaking encyclopedia of the century and ‘compteur de tierces’, the world’s first ever chronograph.
At 20, Moinet left for Italy where he studied architecture, sculpture and painting until he returned to Paris after five years. With Moinet’s keen interest on watchmaking, an art he was truly passionate about, he devoted his spare time to practicing his watchmaking skills for ten years. Not long after, Moinet became the President of the Chronometry Society of Paris, until he met and worked with Abraham-Louis Breget, a distinguished horologist at the time. Louis Moinet, throughout the course of his career, has created impeccable watches for important figures in history such as Napoleon Bonaparte, Thomas Jefferson, and King George IV of England. Up to this day, Louis Moinet’s eponymous high-end watch brand remains to be an expert in producing the world’s finest tourbillons which features a combination of the classic and contemporary design and technology.
Honorable Mention: Louis Moinet Tourbillon Derrick No.04/12
One of the brand’s iconic timepiece is the Louis Moinet Vertalis Tourbillon Derrick, an exclusive limited edition 30-meter water-resistant timepiece which is presented in an astounding 47mm 18-carat white gold case with 59 different components and a Louis Moinet signature crown guard. Decorated with two anti-glare sapphire crystals in front and caseback and a hand-sewn strap made with Louisiana alligator leather presented in a folding clasp, the design of Louis Moinet’s Derrick exudes modernity and elegance approved by every stylish and discerning watch enthusiast. With its intricate engineering and ingenious design, any gentleman is truly lucky to acquire one of the 12 limited edition timepieces.
VAN CLEEF & ARPELS
Van Cleef & Arpels was established in 1896 by Alfred Van Cleef and Salomon Arpels. The family-owned company sells jewelry, perfume, and watches. Its first boutique was opened in 22 Place Vendôme in 1906 and since then, the company has expanded to an international reach as it opened boutiques at locations in the US, Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Australia.
Part of Van Cleef & Arpels’ heritage is its enduring tradition of creating exceptional pieces which evoke femininity and enchanting, ethereal themes. The skillful hands of the company’s home-grown jewelers, stone-setters, and watchmakers make sure every timepiece from Van Cleef & Arpels maintain its world-renowned trademark of beauty and elegance.
Honorable Mention: VAN CLEEF & ARPELS Poetic Complications
From the Poetic Complications Collection of this luxurious brand comes Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantée Watch, a truly enchanting timepiece with 40mm white gold case and bezel with white diamonds, guilloché enamel dial with white gold and diamond hour markers, It also features glossy white alligator strap with gold diamonds in its buckle. Once spotted, the Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantée Watch is undoubtedly a captivating creation, especially with its sculpted white gold ballerina with round and pear-cut diamonds and white gold tutu which, interestingly, indicates the hours and minutes.
Equipped with a retrograde time on demand design created exclusively for Van Cleef & Arpels, the Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantée Watch makes for an elegant and sophisticated watch for females of all ages.
Since 1893, Boucheron has been making the most iconic watches around. Founded by Frederic Boucheron, this family-owned French company has an unparalleled heritage in the ever-competitive world of jewelry- and watch-making. As the jeweller for the royalty, Boucheron pieces have been worn by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and her daughter Queen Elizabeth II.
Boucheron is known to be an wise innovator among jewelers, and it is among the first companies to introduce wristwatches. Created at the sunniest corner in Place Vendôme, every jewelry and timepiece from Boucheron is famed for timeless craftsmanship and defining style which evolves along with changes in lifestyle and fashion while keeping its own identity.
Honorable Mention: BOUCHERON Epure white gold and cabochon watch
A modern take on one of Boucheron’s classic timepieces is the Boucheron Epure White Gold and Cabochon Watch. The 38mm round white gold case with white lacquered dial and cabochon outercase and dial are distinctive features of Boucheron’s Epure collection. The watch has a date window at 6’clock brought by the mechanical automatic movement developed from the Manufacture Girard-Perregaux to ensure that your timepiece shows the precise time. Its signature cabochons and double gadroons scream elegance and sophistication. Buying this specific Boucheron timepiece not only provides the satisfaction of wearing a piece of art on your wrist, but is also a worthy investment that can be passed on to generations.
As rich in history as it is in innovation and design, Cartier is easily recognized as the world’s leading purveyor of the finest watches. Founded at the heart of France in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier, the company remained to be family owned until it was acquired by South-African born entrepreneur Johann Peter Rupert in 2012. It is the long tradition, excellent craftsmanship, and unique style of the brand which has forged its identity as the home to the most-coveted luxury watches throughout the world.
Holder of a Royal Warrant from British monarchs, Cartier has catered to King Edward VII of England during his coronation in 1902, and, more recently, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge have been seen wearing the famed Cartier Ballon Bleu Watch.
With years of experience in watch-making, it is clear to see why Cartier is one of the most respected watch brands in the world. Purchase anything from Cartier, and you’ll know it is of excellent quality worthy of every penny.
Honorable Mention: CARTIER Ballon Bleu de Silver Opaline Dial
The Cartier Ballon Bleu Watch is a 42mm round face-shaped watch with scratch-resistant and eye-catching sapphire cabochon on the crown. It features a silver opaline face with sword-shaped hands and readable Roman numeral hour markers and it comes in a large stainless steel case with a stainless steel bracelet. Unique and timeless, Ballon Bleu de Cartier adds a dash of classic style to a bold and attractive dress watch which is a perfect addition to complete every man and woman’s wardrobe.
France’s worldwide acclaim does not start and end with fashion. In fact, the French has made significant contributions to the world of watchmaking. The country has produced the most esteemed watch collections from various timepiece ateliers. Limited edition pieces from the collections of Bell & Ross Aviation and Louis Monet’s Derrick are easy choices that immediately appeal to discerning watch collectors. From the industrial vibe of Dietrich’s OT-3 watch and the enchanting feminine design of Van Cleef & Arpels watches, down to the classic designs of Breguet Tradition, Boucheron’s Epure and Cartier’s Ballon Bleu, these watches complete the wardrobe of anyone with both modern and classic sensibilities. Consider in detail the best timekeeping pieces offered by the very best French watch brands we’ve listed down on this list and you’ll never be disappointed.
Featured image credit: Robb Report