There is always this perception that only Switzerland makes the best watches in the world. This reputation is carefully built and inculcated by the Swiss over decades. It is not surprising as Swiss brands such as Rolex and Patek Philippe are synonymous with high quality watchs to both enthusiasts and laymen alike. However, as one explores further into the realms of watchmaking, then one soon realize that excellent watches are not only Swiss made, but hail from the world over. And the non-Swiss made watch is equally as alluring.
So, for today, we focus on six exceptional watches that are not made in Switzerland. They may be chosen for different reasons, but they are certainly exceptional in their own ways. So, without any further ado, let’s go!
The non-Swiss made Watch
A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1
First up, we have A. Lange & Söhne. The Glashütte-based company is perhaps one of the most revered watchmakers from Germany, although it is only revived little more than two decades ago after a long hiatus. The brand, within a short span of time, had managed to capture the heart and mind of collectors with its timeless design and exquisite workmanship. The Lange 1, we reckon, is one of the greatest testament to that.
The Lange 1 was first launched in 1994, together with three other iconic pieces (the Saxonia, the Arkade, as well as the Tourbillon “Pour le Mérite”) to great public and press acclaim. And since then, more and more accolades have been paid to the brand. Many collectors love the Lange 1 for its beautiful proportions, as well as its ultra fine finishing. It is pretty intriguing, considering the fact that the design seems awkward on paper: the amalgamation of an off-center dial, a subsidiary sub-seconds dial, as well as an outsize date display. May sound queer at first blush, but the result of this combination is harmonious. It is a beautiful timepiece which still remains timeless and classical despite being more than two decades old.
The finishing, as usual, is impeccable. The traditional finishing points are executed with great finese: the anglage, Glashütte stripes are exemplary. Many variants of the Lange 1 have been offered, and as a family, it remains the house’s most popular model. Some variants also include a ravishing guilloche dial, such as the Lange 1 20th Anniversary Edition, and the totally amazing Lange 1 Tourbillon Handswerkskunst.
The Lange 1 is definitely one of the best dress watches that is not produced in Switzerland. Their early advertisement clearly states, “The Swiss make beautiful watches. So do the Germans.”, perhaps says it all. The watches are extremely well-made, with gorgeous aesthetics.
Nomos Tangente Automatik
Next up, we have another contender from Germany. Similar to Glashütte Original and A. Lange & Söhne, Nomos is also another watchmaker that is from Glashütte.
Founded in 1990, Nomos is a watchmaker that aims to produce in-house made watches that are priced attractively. The designs are Bauhaus-inspired, in which it is rather minimalist and aesthetically pleasing to look at. The Tangente Automatik is the epitome of that.
When we first saw the Tangente, we immediately fell in love with it. The watch is very clean and simple, and we like how it is completely devoid of any other complications. In fact, the Tangente was so rudimentary that it was initially only available as a manual-winding movement. Then, in BaselWorld 2015, they launched the Tangente Automatik. Same minimalist dial. Same Bauhaus design. But with an in-house automatic movement. While we loved the manual-winding version, but we thought that the addition of an automatic variant makes it a more practical watch.
Besides its aesthetics, the other thing that had captured our attention would be its in-house movement. The Tangente Automatik features the all-new caliber DUW 3001, a self-winding movement that features a power reserve of approximately 42 hours. Despite the inclusion of a winding-rotor, the movement is only 3.2mm thick. The finishing is acceptable, although not exceptionally spectacular. It is expected, considering that Nomos is charging a reasonable price for this timepiece.
The Tangente Automatik is the perfect timepiece for someone who wants to start a watch collection. While it may not be a common choice, considering that others may choose to go for a more reputable watchmaker from Switzerland, we feel that your leap of faith can reap some unexpected surprises.
Grand Seiko Mechanical Hi-Beat 36000 GMT
In the past few years, seasoned collectors may have been introduced to the Grand Seiko collection. The Grand Seiko, using a simple analogy, is similar to the relationship between Lexus and Toyota. It was a department that was created by Seiko, in which its main purpose was to manufacture high-end watches that can beat the Swiss at their own game. The rest, as we all know, is history.
Over the years, thanks to the proliferation of the internet, the brand had gained some traction with watch collectors. Many had come to recognize the quality and price proposition of Grand Seiko watches, especially when it is being compared to a similarly priced Swiss-made watch. One example is the Grand Seiko Mechanical Hi-Beat 36000 GMT, a dual timezone timepiece that we have constantly wax lyrical about.
In our review article, we have commented that the Grand Seiko is “essentially a communal celebration of simplicity, style, functionality, and quality“. It is actually not that difficult to see why. The finishing, as typical in Grand Seiko watches, is superb. In terms of aesthetics, the watch is very clean and legible as well. Furthermore, it is very functional. It pretty much sums up what a watch should be.
Many may still be hesitant to purchase a Japanese timepiece, but we encourage you to take a closer look. Not many watches can match the Japanese in terms of their price and quality.
Bexei Dignitas Pure
When one thinks of Hungary, watchmaking is certainly not one of the first things that come to mind. This is not surprising, considering that they are more famous for music and performing arts. But do not let that deter you, because Bexei is one of the more interesting independent watchmakers that had burst into the watching scene.
Based in Budapest, the brainchild behind this company is a young chap named Aaron Bescei. The company features several lines of watches, in which most of them are designed and manufactured entirely by Aaron in his own atelier. It is pretty impressive.
The Dignitas collection consists of three different variants, in which each features a different complication. The “Pure”, as we reviewed here, is a simple three-hand timepiece that only tells the time.
The finishing of the watch, as one would expect, is exceptional. The attention to detail is simply stunning. We love how the movement is done beautifully. From the layout of the movement bridges to the the different levels of polishing and finishing, the execution is excellent.
In a nutshell, the Bexei Dignitas Pure offers an interesting proposition. The ability for customization, and the rather unexpected Hungarian origins make for interesting conversation starters.
Jean-Baptiste Viot in Paris Chronometer
Following our adventures in Central Europe with Bexei, we head back West to France to meet another independent watchmaker named Jean-Baptiste Viot.
J.B. Viot, as he is more commonly known, started off his career in horology with restorations, before venturing into assembling and adjusting watches like the Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendars for H-D-G (Haut de Gamme). He subsequently worked with Breguet (and Blancpain, after they were bought over by Swatch), before deciding to go into independent watchmaking (and restoration of antique clocks and watches).
The J.B. Viot in Paris Chronometer is currently the only timepiece that he produces. The watch is inspired by two things: classic timekeepers and prototype watches. Click here to read from one owner’s perspective on this timepiece, and why he acquired it.
Roger Smith Series 2
Finally, we have something that is quintessentially English: the Roger Smith Series 2. Roger Smith is a watchmaker that is based in the Isle of Man, and he is the disciple of the legendary George Daniels.
The Series 2 is one of the only two collections that he offers. The watch is based primarily on Daniels’ principles of watchmaking. Some of these principles include the co-axial escapement and the three part case construction. The watch is made in the English style of watchmaking by using large three quarter plates which are gilt-frosted finished. The bridges, are laid on different levels to give the movement some depth and a three-dimensional feel. While it is pretty different from the usual forms of finishing as seen on most of the Swiss and German watches, this is traditionally the way an English timepiece is finished.
When it comes to aesthetics, the watch truly reminds us of a typical English gentleman. It is so discreet and subtle, with a neat touch of classiness and elegance to it. It looks really beautiful, and the finishing is incredible. One interesting aspect is that the watch is relatively thick as Roger prefers watches are slightly thicker. Thin movements turn him off, as they “lack strength, life and a certain spirit”. This is an interesting perspective, considering that many watchmakers are constantly competing against each other to create the world’s thinnest watch and movement.
While we admire the Series 2 for its beauty, construction, and heritage, we also note the high asking price of £100,890. But there is a price for exclusivity, as only 10 pieces are crafted every year.
Bonus: moVas Oceaner 1
As a bonus, and in celebration of SG50, we feature a Singapore watch brand: moVas. moVas is a watch company that is based in Singapore, and their watches are designed, assembled, finished and regulated in Singapore. There are several collections, of which the Oceaner 1 is one of the latest to enter into the foray.
When we first saw the watch, we were rather impressed. The watch looks very well-built. Holding the watch confirms what we have thought: it is heavy and it feels very robust. The oft used term “built like a tank” comes to mind. Impressive.
The Oceaner 1 is fitted with the reliable Seagull’s Calibre 2100, an automatic movement that features a day and a date display. moVas did some tweaking on the base movement. by substituting the original rotor for a skeletonized PVD rotor, as well as “perlaging” the main plates on the movement.
While it may not be as impressive as the other watches that we have featured, but it is certainly one of the more interesting offerings from Singapore. It is a tough workhorse ready for diving or other rough work. To boot, it is very reasonably priced.
Well, we hope that this article have given you a better insight on options for a non-Swiss made watch.
In this article, we have explored some interesting designs, and some which are reasonably priced. And also some like the Roger Smith and A. Lange & Söhne, are making exceptional watches capable of competing with the best in the world. We also reckon that Japanese watchmaking, most notably Grand Seiko, can pose a huge threat to the Swiss.
Finally, we hope that you have enjoyed this article. Please share with us your thoughts on watches that are not made in Switzerland, and do have a great week ahead!