Underrated Watch Brands – 3 of the Best

Not underrated brands

The 6 Most Popular Brands for Luxury Watches, the headline at 1stdibs.com announces. Are they measuring the number of searches or sales? Former New York Times advertorialist Karen Quarles ain’t sayin’. But she is naming names: Patek Philippe, Cartier, Rolex, OMEGA, Piaget and Breitling. Hmmm. What about underrated watch brands? And where are . . .

Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet; Aramis and Porthos to Patek Philippe’s D’Artagnan? Either their buyers don’t like claiming first dibs on 1stdibs, or VC and AP are AWOL.

Add Rolex to those three horological Musketeers, toss in an alpha OMEGA and let Cartier sashay in the door (awwwww freak out!) and I reckon you end up with the six of the world’s best known watch brands. Justifiably so.

But there’s life beyond the big boys. At least three watch brands deserve a place alongside these exalted watchmakers in the pantheon of horological perfection. Brands that have as great a claim on quality and style as Patek and pals. Specifically . . .

Jaeger-leCoultre

Reverso (courtesy justcollecting.com)

I’m not sure why JLC doesn’t get the kudos they deserve. Their history is long and illustrious. Their watches are as meticulously and ingeniously constructed as anything The Holy Trinity manage to materialize. Jaeger-leCoultre even has a signature move: the Reverso.

If I had to guess why JLC gets short shrift amongst well-heeled horological homies, I’d say it’s down to their marketing chops, or lack thereof.

Jaeger-leCoultre Knife watch - underrated watch brands

For example, the very Swiss brand recently created the $30k Master Ultra-Thin Knife as a tie-in to the British AF Kingsman movie. JLC “limited” production to 100 pieces. There’s not one example on chrono24.com or eBay; it’s still for sale at full retail elsewhere. The thinnest watch in Jaeger-leCoultre’s entire arsenal is a magnificent achievement – and a crass, ill-advised flop.

Underrated watch brand - Jaeger-Le Coultre

More generally, JLC’s products are too handsomely conservative (except for the occasional whacked-out, price-on-demand showboat) to garner the kind of attention that commands a super-premium price. Which makes Jaeger-leCoultre one of the underrated watch brands – a high horology bargain.

Grand Seiko

https://youtu.be/w6T_X7MXg40

We’ve highlighted the joys and deficits (especially relative to Rolex) of this astounding Japanese watchmaker’s wares. Grand Seiko’s peerless quality and born under punches branding (a Seiko?) create a strange combination of horological feast and famine.

Suffice it to say, Grand Seiko also does themselves no favors in the marketing department, from their bland as toast website to their refusal to use anything other than alphanumerics to identify their timepieces.

This Watchfinder video argues that buyers should celebrate GS’s underdog, under-the-radar status – view it as a non-status status symbol, if you will. That’s a tough sell for a luxury watch brand. To the point where GS will always be one of the three most underrated watch brands.

Sinn

https://youtu.be/I2Ec93qXzjs

If you want a “tool watch” – a no non-nonsense timepiece that can withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – consider an original Sinn. They are some of the most legible and durable watches made by hand of man.

Sinn’s list of protective technologies includes tegimented steel (banishes scratches) and copper sulfate dehumidification capsules (prevents fogging). This in addition to using rock solid, easily serviced Swiss-made movements.

Sinn 104 St Sa White on Fine Link Bracelet

Sinn’s sin: 162 SKU’s. They’re all great watches, but overchoice is a serious problem for this underrated brand. The German watchmaker lacks a single “grail” model, a “must have” timepiece that doesn’t get lost in the mile-long shuffle. Which watch? There’s your trouble. And, of course, your opportunity.

Ball Engineer Master II Skindiver HeritageIf you buy a traditional timekeeper from one of the many underrated luxury watch brands, you will suffer worse depreciation than if you buy a watch from one of the universally recognized top tier luxury watch brands. But the price of entry for underrated watch brands – especially for pre-owned models – is a genuine money saver, relatively speaking. And you have the satisfaction of not running with the crowd. Win win?

Cuervo Y Sobrinos - underrated watch brands

Honorable mention: BALL Watches – despite their strange inability to get their products to market – and Cuervo Y Sobrinos – maker of some of the most stylish and exquisitely crafted luxury watches money can buy.

8 comments

      1. Two months back my local Costco had the Glycine Sub with metal band for under $300. I agree, it’s a great watch for the price

      2. Another brand with a bewildering number of SKUs… so many things! I recently became aware of the Combat Sub Vintage. It’s quite nice!

  1. JLC is always an interesting company, they’re technically incredibly sound that people have relied upon their movements. The reverso is small and outdated, but the build quality is amazing. Their other watches are boring, weird or both. It’s an odd company that does so much right and so wrong at the same time. The Polaris is so superior to the Rolex OP, but yet the Polaris seems so much more underwhelming.

  2. JLC and GS are overrated as underrated within the watch community, much based on decoration over technical features.

    Sinn does IWC better than IWC for much less money, but the prices are creeping up.

    The Swatch group brands that sell at $1,000 and less are massively underrated, and generally as good as non-Rolex/Swatch/Seiko group watches costing thousands.

    Zenith is massively underrated.

    1. The powermatic 80 is excellent. I think you can get more complications for less than 5k in a great watch today and Swatch group is the one that could do it. Sadly, people won’t buy it because they think it’ll be cheap (the classic “middle ground” syndrome). GS’s problem is that they put the spring drive in Seiko’s and the designs are meh.

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