The watch world established the “Holy Trinity” of Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and Vacheron Constantin decades ago, heralding these three brands as the pinnacle of watchmaking. Also known as the “Big Three,” each has its own unique, rich history, represents the highest level of watchmaking craftsmanship, and has created some of the most iconic and innovative watches of all time. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that they are on a shortlist of the best luxury brands in the world.
This article takes a look at some of these brands’ accomplishments, their most famous models, and, of course, their recent financial performance on Chrono24. Who do you think is the greatest among this watchmaking elite?
1. Vacheron Constantin: The Oldes
Let’s start off with the company that’s been around the longest. Vacheron Constantin is one of the oldest watch brands in the world. It has been in continuous operation since 1755. Over the last 250+ years, Vacheron Constantin has produced some of the world’s most exclusive, complicated, and prestigious pocket and wristwatches.
Vacheron Constantin is recognized as having created the first watch with a complication in 1790. Some of the brand’s other accomplishments include the world’s first non-magnetic timepiece in 1885; the famous “Grande Complication” pocket watch with 12 complications crafted for King Fuad I of Egypt in 1929; the world’s thinnest manually wound movement in 1955; and the world’s thinnest minute repeater in 1992. In 2015, Vacheron Constantin stunned the world with the reference 57260, the most complicated mechanical pocket watch ever made, with 57 complications. After more than 250 years in business, Vacheron Constantin continues its reign as one of the best watch brands ever.
Vacheron Constantin offers a wide variety of designs, from their Historiques and Harmony collections with traditional timepieces inspired by models from the brand’s history to the more modern watches in the Overseas and Fiftysix collections. Of the three brands we’re looking at today, Vacheron Constantin probably offers timepieces in the widest selection of shapes and sizes.
The Overseas collection is home to Vacheron Constantin’s array of modern luxury sports watches, many of which are worthy competitors to the Nautilus and Royal Oak. The most popular models from this collection include the Overseas Self-Winding and the Overseas Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin, which is also available in a skeletonized version.
The Historiques collection contains some of the most iconic models from the company’s history, now updated and re-created with modern watchmaking standards in mind. This collection offers the iconic American 1921 models with diagonal dials and a crown between 1 and 2 o’clock; the very thin Ultra-Fine 1955 models; and the Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955.
Value for Money
Of the Big Three, Vacheron Constantin offers the most affordable gateway into the realm of exquisite world-class watchmaking. One example is the Fiftysix Self-Winding. The list price for the Overseas Self-Winding is also lower than that of the popular Audemars Piguet Royal Oak ref. 15202 Jumbo Extra-Thin and the Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5711/1A.
When it comes to the financial performance of Vacheron Constantin on Chrono24, a quick analysis shows that, as expected, the Overseas models have been rapidly increasing in price over the last 12 months. Most Overseas are being sold above list price, with the popular color configurations demanding even higher premiums. Vacheron Constantin’s other collections have also seen a steady rise in price on Chrono24.
2. Patek Philippe: Highly Respected
Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, Patek Philippe was founded in 1839. The brand quickly earned a reputation for creating some of the world’s most exclusive and complicated watches; this sterling reputation persists to this day.
Patek Philippe is known for pushing the envelope when it comes to watchmaking. The brand has achieved an incredible number of industry firsts, including the first Swiss wristwatch in 1868, the patented double chronograph in 1902, and the world’s first split-second chronograph wristwatch in 1923.
Patek Philippe also created the world’s first perpetual calendar wristwatch in 1925. In 1962, the company launched a tourbillon movement whose timekeeping precision record for mechanical watches remains unbeaten. In 1996, Patek Philippe introduced the first annual calendar mechanism and annual calendar watch model, the ref. 5035. And in 2014, they created the Grandmaster Chime ref. 5175. Boasting 20 complications, this is one of the world’s most complicated wristwatches.
Patek Philippe’s most modern watches are the Nautilus and the Aquanaut. The former was designed by Gérald Genta and helped guide the development of the latter. Other than that, Patek Philippe’s collections generally feature more classically styled timepieces with remarkable designs. The brand is known for mixing things up with its watches, resulting in a wide selection of horological creations in its catalog.
The Nautilus is Patek Philippe’s most iconic and popular collection. The first Nautilus was introduced in 1976 and, as mentioned, created by famous watch designer Gérald Genta. The collection delivers a variety of different models, sizes, and complications.
The Aquanaut debuted in 1997 as a watch to attract a new target audience while being more affordable than its big brother, the Nautilus. Although this idea would need some time to take hold, it eventually did: The last couple of years have seen the Aquanaut line become incredibly popular. The Aquanaut Travel Time and Aquanaut Chronograph, in particular, are very sought-after models.
The Calatrava collection first hit shelves in 1932 and has been part of the Patek Philippe catalog ever since. As a simple yet stylish statement of perfection, this classic dress watch has become an industry icon.
The Complications and Grand Complications collections are perfect for those looking for the absolute best in watchmaking. The Grand Complications collection holds some of the world’s most impressive examples of haute horlogerie.
Value for Money
Patek Philippe is hard to beat when it comes to value for money. Although the brand is the most expensive of the Big Three, it offers unparalleled watchmaking craftsmanship. Patek Philippe’s history, movements, design, and finishing are as good as it gets.
It comes as no surprise that quite a few Patek Philippe models are going upward in value. The Nautilus, the Aquanaut, and quite a few of the Complications and Grand Complications models demand well above their list prices. The Nautilus and Aquanaut currently represent the pinnacle of modern sports watches and sell for up to three times their list prices. Complications and Grand Complications models are some of the best timepieces money can buy, period. Patek Philippe is, for good reason, widely loved by serious collectors and people looking to purchase the world’s finest luxury watches.
3. Audemars Piguet: The Most Modern
The final jewel of the Holy Trinity is Audemars Piguet. Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet founded their company in Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux in 1875. Headquartered in Le Brassus, Switzerland, this brand looks back on a rich history of almost 150 years and is best known for its iconic Royal Oak.
Audemars Piguet has quite a few industry firsts and records to its name and has never failed to impress. Among its achievements are the world’s first minute repeater wristwatch in 1892; a “Grande Complication” pocket watch with seven complications in 1899; the world’s first jumping-hour wristwatch in 1921; the first skeleton watch in 1934; the world’s thinnest watch with a 1.64-mm-thick movement in 1946; the world’s first automatic “Grande Complication” wristwatch in 1996; the first watch with a carbon case and a carbon movement in 2007; and, finally, the world’s thinnest automatic perpetual calendar in 2019.
Audemars Piguet is undoubtedly the most modern of the three brands we’re looking at today when it comes to design. Much of this comes from how they have embraced the success of the Royal Oak, further building upon it with the Royal Oak Offshore and Royal Oak Concept lines. But the recently introduced Code 11.59 collection also shows Audemars Piguet’s ability to offer something entirely different.
The Royal Oak collection is the brand’s greatest success by far. Introduced in 1972, the original model is the product of famous designer Gérald Genta. Audemars Piguet currently produces over 100 different Royal Oak models out of various materials and with different complications.
The Royal Oak Offshore launched in the early 1990s as a modern, masculine version of the classic Royal Oak. With their larger sizes, Offshore models are bold statements that deliver the same technical prowess and watchmaking excellence as the original Royal Oak.
The Royal Oak Concept line represents the absolute pinnacle of watchmaking. These timepieces combine modern futuristic aesthetics with the best in modern watchmaking, and as AP puts it, are “a platform for experimentation.”
Value for Money
Just like the other two brands in this article, Audemars Piguet offers incredible value for money. All of their watches are made with the highest level of craftsmanship. When it comes to affordability, you’ll find the 37-mm Royal Oak starting at around $36,000, making it the most expensive entry-level model of the three Holy Trinity brands.
Audemars Piguet models have increased tremendously in price. The Royal Oak is among the most sought-after watches globally, with most models selling well above their list prices. Some of the most popular models even have market values of two to three times that of retail.
Overall, it’s difficult to say who of Swiss watchmaking’s “Holy Trinity” is the best. Objectively, all three offer incredible luxury timepieces created with the highest levels of craftsmanship. Patek Philippe might be the most popular of the three. Still, Audemars Piguet’s catalog contains a true icon with the Royal Oak, and you could argue that Vacheron Constantin is under-appreciated compared to its two holy horological counterparts. No matter which company is your personal favorite, there’s no denying that these three magnificent brands represent watchmaking at its finest.