A luxury watch is more than utilitarian—it’s a piece of art that will last through the generations
Photographs: Courtesy of Designers
Collectors appreciate the precision and inner workings of a luxury timepiece, but those who are less horologically inclined may wonder why certain watches cost more than cars. Fine craftsmanship, the history of the brand, complexity of the movement (the internal mechanism of the watch), technology and limited availability all come into play, says Robert Weintraub, manager of Manfredi Jewels in Greenwich. Some independent watchmakers create bespoke timepieces for customers, while others work with unusual materials and craft everything by hand, producing a portable style statement with lasting value. “If you take care of it, a luxury watch is an heirloom to be passed on to the next generation,” says Weintraub. “It’s with you all the time. And as long as it is properly serviced and cared for, it will still look fantastic a hundred years from now.” Here’s what makes some of the most exclusive brands tick.
1. Montblanc Villeret
Representing classicism at its best, the Montblanc Villeret collection dates to 1858, when these watches were made under the name Minerva. The watchmaker still follows traditional practices, with only about 200 watches handmade each year. “This is the closest you can get to the way watches were made back in the day,” says Weintraub. Even the hair springs are made in-house and all micromechanical refinements are performed by hand. Machinery from the 1940s is still in use, and craftsmen finish tiny pieces using wooden dowels to beautify the edges. Bespoke watches are a specialty, and the company employs several artists who sketch custom dials, creating full color drawings for clients so they can approve their one-of-a-kind designs.
2. Richard Mille
Perhaps the ultimate sports watch, Richard Mille blends watchmaking tradition with futuristic techniques. His brand “ambassadors” include Bubba Wilson, Rafael Nadal, Yohan Blake and Pablo MacDonough with watches designed for these sports stars to wear in action. Mille’s watches are inspired by race cars; with each one, the movement is bolted into the case, much like an engine is bolted into the chassis. Known for his use of exotic materials, including cases made of NTPT carbon and sapphire, Mille makes 1,500 watches per year. Designs are often retired, so there are a select number in circulation explains Weintraub. Prices start at $85,000.
3. Laurent Ferrier
Founded by the former creative director of Patek Philippe, Laurent Ferrier makes only 140 watches each year, each with components finished and decorated by hand. The Galet Micro-Rotor currently at Manfredi is the only one available in North America. “I was amazed at the beauty and simplicity of this watch,” says Roberto Chiappelloni, owner of Manfredi. On the flip side of its elegant, understated dial, the watch’s beautiful automatic movement features a gold, fan-shaped micro rotor that’s suspended by a bridge opposite the winding stem. Its technology is impressive, fitted with a double direct-impulse escapement (the heart of the watch) for a smoother transfer of power. Designed for long-term efficiency, the watch is housed in a handmade wooden box with a loupe, polishing cloth, a travel case and five-year international warranty; from $46,500.