That bias has deep roots into the history of watchmaking, with Swiss manufacturers being number one for several good reasons, but there’s no real justification for not opening up to other countries like France when it comes to watch manufacture.
Despite the shy attempts from other countries like UK or US to revive their once flourishing watchmaking industries, France actually has what it takes to make a real impact in the world of modern watchmaking.
They’ve got a few renowned French watch brands already, with many lesser known ones creating exquisite timepieces that are a real match to Swiss ones, and probably the most important argument is that they’ve actually been the center of haute horologie way before the Swiss took that position.
So, if you’re interested in what the French have to offer, let’s have a look at some of their best watch brands from this country, some that you may know, and others that you should know.
ZRC is a French watchmaker that has designed and created timepieces for both the French military and the French Navy for a long time now.
Despite not being well known outside the country, the country’s military reliance on their watches should say a thing or two about their overall quality and craftsmanship.
The company was founded back in 1904, so their history, know-how, and heritage are rich, with an emphasis on dive watches, which they developed in close collaboration with various French Navy units.
Their watch collection is not huge, but it is impressive, as are their prices. They’re not extremely expensive, but don’t go below a few thousand dollars either.
Serica is a micro brand based in Paris that crafts tool watches, with a superb way of blending that utilitarian nature with fresh designs.
Their catalogue offers the classic sports watches category, GMTs, and field oriented ones, but with a unique approach to the overall aesthetic that makes them stand out from the global market.
Their collection also includes divers, and their prices are quite attractive, even for those with lesser budgets.
BRM is probably the most colorful of the bunch, in both the real sense, with a playful choice of color palettes, but also regarding designs. They only offer a few watch collections, the most special ones featuring race inspired chronographs, or golf-inspired designs.
Some of the BRM watches are big, bold and colorful, with busy dials, while others go even further and come in shapes that resemble racing car engines. There’s the occasional elegant golf watch, but that’s also characterized by a unique and artistic boldness.
The editions are limited to about 2,000 watches every year, and you can even customize your own timepiece on their website, possibly making your particular model a very rare one.
Fugue is a very young watchmaker. The French brand was founded only in 2017, but that doesn’t make it less than bigger names. What’s most interesting about them is their very forward designs, ditching the traditional and embracing independent thinking and uniqueness.
Even more interesting is their timepieces’ modularity, allowing the buyer to customize his piece to his heart’s content, giving him or her the possibility to choose even the watch head, which comes separate from the case. That’s very unusual of a watchmaker, but who are we to judge?
That customizability might be something many people would actually enjoy, should they know about a brand like Fugue.
11. L. Leroy
L. Leroy is one of the oldest French watchmakers, with its history going back to 1747 when Basile Le Roy became an apprentice in the workshops of master watchmaker Joseph Quétin, during the Age of Enlightenment. The company was founded years later, in 1785, honoring the name Le Roy.
The watches in the company’s collection are high end chronometers and are renown for being among the most precise in the world. They also offer exquisite looking tourbillons, and handsome skeleton watches that remind of French cathedrals with their stained glass windows, true works of art made by hand in Besançon, France.
Part of the brand’s signature, the Roman numerals are present even on their dive watches, while their dress collections include royal blue dauphine hands and precious metals.
If you’re looking for a special luxury watch, you won’t go wrong with one from the French watchmaker L. Leroy. Just make sure your budget is up for the task, as none of their offerings are cheap.
Dodane has become famous for its Type 21 flyback chronograph, a pilot’s watch developed for the French Ministry of Defense during the 1950s. Since then, they’ve expanded to offer the newer and more modern Type 23 to the French Air Force.
The brand was founded back in 1857, and has only manufactured pilot watches and flyback chronographs for the military, along with cockpit instruments for both civilian and military aircraft.
They still offer a reissue of their original Type 21, and that makes their entire collection. You’d think it’s a lot less than what most other watch brands offer, but when your watches are tried and tested by institutions such as the French Air Force, your credibility as a brand grows a lot.
9. Alain Silberstein
Based in the same Besançon, the center of France’s watchmaking history, Alain Silberstein is a rather peculiar watch manufacturer.
It strays away from the traditional sense, with bold, asymmetrical, and very colorful timepieces, inspired in his designs by a blend between the Bauhaus style, Deco, pop and modern art.
The wildness of his creations isn’t for everyone, that’s for certain, but it does bring a fresh take on the idea of a watch.
Alain Silberstein watches are extravagant, unconventional, unexpected, and should be treated as works of art instead of as standard watches that can be worn everyday. They aren’t your everyday timepieces, that’s for certain.
Based near the Swiss border, in Charquemont, France, near the Jura mountains, Herbelin is a family run watch company with a decently long history, started back in 1947 by Michel Herbelin.
Despite their early start though, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the brand became famous, after they released their Newport Yacht Club timepiece.
Their collection of watches is elegant, impressive and well worth checking out, but the most important fact is that all of their timepieces are assembled manually, so you can be sure of the attention to detail is crafted into every piece.
The brand’s style focuses on dress watches with a classic, yet unique look, and most of their offering goes towards women, but they do have plenty of men’s watches, only with a smaller case size than most men are used to.
Merci isn’t a 100% watch brand, as it manufactures all sorts of other goods as well, from clothing and accessories to home decor items. When it comes to watches, they focus on simplicity and minimalism, often bordering the field watch aesthetic.
Their first watch, the LMM-01, only came to life in 2017, so one could say the brand is young in crafting timekeeping machines, but the result was cherished enough in the world of collectors and watch enthusiasts everywhere, which gives Merci the credibility it needs in the industry.
Since then, their collection expanded just a little bit, today offering several variations of the LMM-01, with both Swiss mechanical and quartz movements and affordable price tags.
What’s interesting is that you can have the same watch in virtually every style, from field and military themed to dress and even sporty.
Yema is a French brand with a rich history, starting its journey into watchmaking back in 1948 and specializing into nautical timepieces.
They have become pioneers of the field, with their durable tool watches having been the choice of explorers of all kinds during the years.
And with Yema becoming the official watch supplier for institutions such as the French Sailing Federation or the French Space Agency, it’s no wonder they’ve grown into a successful company.
Though today they mostly offer reissues of watches they’ve made in the past, they’re still going strong due to their history and already established image.
Though a relatively new watch brand, founded only in 1974, Pequignet has managed to rise to fame through their exclusive in-house caliber, Calibre Royale, which has brought it numerous awards and fame all over the watchmaking world.
Based in the French town of Morteau, in the famous Besançon region, Pequignet manages to keep their watch collections classy and elegant while also incorporating the best of their engineering know-how and stunning details into their movements, adding various complications into one single main plate, a feat that makes their watches extremely thin.
That and the beauty of their dials makes Pequignet a notable watch brand, one that’s less known outside of Europe, but worthy of attention.
Baltic’s watches are simple and satisfyingly modern, while taking inspiration from watches of old. It all started with a collection of vintage watches that the founder of the brand, Etienne Malec, inherited from his father, sparking and fueling his passion.
The brand assembles the watches in Besançon, the center of French watchmaking, and source parts and movements from specialty factories in Hong Kong.
Their collection is mostly oriented towards tool watches, with dive and chronograph watches being the focus, something that enthusiasts from all over the world have come to love in this brand.
While their timepieces take design cues from vintage watches, their style is never boring and repetitive, giving them an edge over other brands, especially when you think that most of their pieces are below $1000 in price.
Though part of the Swiss Swatch Group from 1999 and with its headquarters in Switzerland, Breguet is at its heart a French brand. It has been since 1775, when it was founded in Paris by Abraham-Louis Breguet.
It’s one of the biggest and oldest names in watchmaking, one that has had a huge impact on what the industry looks like today. Breguet is well known for its tourbillons, which should come as no surprise, since it was the company’s founder, Abraham-Louis Breguet, who invented the tourbillon.
But that’s not the only invention of the brand, as it’s also credited for the manufacture of the first wristwatch in history, plus several other stylistic features, like the Breguet spiral, the Breguet hands, or the Breguet numerals, that the industry has adopted as standard nomenclature.
Their collections are incredibly exquisite, featuring unique designs and timepieces so refined that even the French Royal Family was a big fan of Breguet.
The French luxury brand Cartier is well known all over the world, both for its elegant jewelry and their sophisticated timepieces. For some, they’re more of a status symbol than a simple luxury brand.
The company was founded back in 1847, and their long history comes with plenty of examples of exquisite craftsmanship, with more than a few timepieces that have become iconic along the years. Their watches have been worn by some of the most famous people in the world, from Hollywood A listers to artists, and even astronauts.
When the Cartier Santos was released back in 1904, it became the first pilot’s watch and paved the way for wristwatches to become the de facto choice for men all over the world, winning a place that belonged to pocket watches.
While many other watchmakers focused on functionality, Cartier placed an emphasis on looks, a move which has brought them an important advantage, which is also the reason that prominent individuals have favored them over other brands.
1. Bell & Ross
A younger watchmaker, Bell & Ross was founded in Paris only in 1992, but it has quickly conquered the watch world with its unique designs, taking inspiration from the analog flight instrument dials used in airplane cockpits.
Just take a look at their iconic BR03 and you’ll know why the world loves this brand. Their signature square case with the four oversized Arabic numerals is instantly recognizable.
Among their numerous watch collections, you’ll find the obvious pilot watches, but also divers, tourbillons, dress watches, and even the more traditional round shaped cases. Beyond the tool and flight instrument watches, there are also some very elegant collections as well, fit for any business meeting.
They even have a special Skull line of watches, with pieces that bring homage to the World War II airborne troops.
If you ask us, French watchmakers are definitely on par with their Swiss neighbors, so there’s no reason to overlook them. Even more so, digging past the famous brands and into the lesser known ones might prove to be a very fruitful endeavor, as there’s almost always a hidden gem somewhere that might suit your style and budget.
We hope we’ve given you an idea of what watch brands you might find if you go past the most well known names of the industry.