Defining The Hierarchy Of The Watch Tiers

Defining The Hierarchy Of The Watch Tiers

If you need to tell the time, there are so many ways you can nowadays. 

Ask your smartphone this question and you get the answer right away. However, before technology skyrocketed, wristwatches were the only way you could do this, and that too with style. Originally, watches were a sign of luxury and style that defined each individual. 

Back then, there were just a few luxury watches to choose from. However, if you’re looking to buy one now, you will be bombarded with hundreds of choices. 

When moving up to the luxury category, you might be confused as to which luxury watch will be the best deal. However, Price should not be a differentiating factor when choosing a watch.

Each watch tier caters to a certain crowd that you must know of! So today, we have curated a watch tier list to help you understand the roadmap of the watch hierarchy. 

A Quick Look At The Hierarchy Of The Luxury Watches!

Luxury Tier

  • Rolex Submariner, Rolex Yacht-Master
  • Omega Speedmaster ("Moonwatch"), Seamaster
  • Chopard Mille Miglia GTS Power Control, Happy Sport Series
  • Hublot Big Bang

Mid-Range Luxury Tier

  • Tag Heuer Carrera, Monaco
  • Longines Heritage, Longines HydroConquest
  • Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43
  • Bell & Ross BR 03-92

Entry-Level Luxury Tier

  • Grand Seiko, Seiko 5, Presage
  • Tissot PRX
  • Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical

Basic Tier

  • Casio G-Shock
  • Timex Legacy Tonneau
  • Orient Bambino
  • Swatch Sistem51
  • Apple Watch

What Defines The Tiers?

When defining a watch tier, we will classify each according to a few criteria. These criteria define the value that each watch brand holds when you purchase them, especially in the pre-owned market.

  • The first criterion is simply the brand reputation. With time the brand reputation may vary for watches, but the big players tend to hold their position well. Around the top, you will find brands that make watches in limited quantities. They are made from premium materials and cater to an elite class. As you move down you will find watches you have more mass-produced watches that are widely but also offer value for money.  
  • The second criterion is the historical presence that the brand has had to date. In the early days of watchmaking, there were only a few players in the market making them the first movers in some respect. Since they have over a hundred years of watchmaking expertise they will be placed at the top of the list. 
  • Some relatively newcomers can also work their way to becoming a prestigious brand. This brings us to the third criterion, which is watchmaking expertise. The more reliable the watch movement is, the more likely it will rank higher on the list. This applies to both industry leaders and relatively new brands. The next two are pretty straightforward. 
  • The fourth is the watch brand’s influence on the industry. Brand influence can range from endorsements to availability. Watches ranked lower on the tier are mass-produced watches. This does not mean they are bad. Brands near the middle or bottom of the tier produce fantastic watches but may not be able to hold their value well. On the other hand, watches higher on the list are usually made in limited quantities.
  • Finally, the king of all criteria is the price. The price, whether new or pre-owned, ultimately controls your choice. If you are looking for luxury, the higher up the tier list you move. These brands have great movements but a significant chunk of the price is tied to the name. On the other hand, if you want a reliable watch you move down the tier. Prices here are more competitive and you get more options to choose from!

Explore the Watch Tier Hierarchy

As we mentioned before, the watch tier hierarchy is a roadmap for enthusiasts and collectors to better understand the watch market. Let us simplify these tiers into 5 categories- Ultra Prestige, Luxury, Mid Level Luxury, Entry Level Luxury, and Basic Tier. 

Ultra-Prestige Tier

The ultra-prestige tier has watches that have great historic significance. They are usually more than a century or more old. Models from this category have a rich heritage in watchmaking that defines craftsmanship across generations. They are built to last and play a big part in shaping the industry as a whole. 

Watches in this tier are very exclusive and are produced in limited quantities. Their rarity is what makes them collector items. Along with the brand heritage and limited numbers they can reach exorbitant prices where the sky's the limit.

Most watches in the ultra prestige tier are hand-crafted and assembled.  They are a testament to the age-old tradition of making watches by hand, a skill that is very rare nowadays. On top of this, these brands have watches with impressive complications. They define technological innovations and mechanical complications in the world of horology. 

These watches are the most expensive ones you will ever come across, often reaching a hundred thousand dollars or more! Here are a few examples of watches in this category.

  • Patek Philippe: Synonymous in the luxury watch industry, Patek Phillipe is famous for intricate complications, such as the perpetual calendar and minute repeaters. The Grandmaster Chime is one of the most intricate wrist watches ever created by the brand. Come of them have a total of 20 complications. It comes in a reversible case crafted in white gold which further shoots up its value.
  • Audemars Piguet: One of the best-selling models from this brand is the Royal Oak, a luxury sports watch. The Royal Oak has an octagonal bezel and integrated bracelet design that has solidified its position in collectors’ hearts.
  • Richard Mille: The Richard Mille is made from high-end materials and finished with an avant-garde design. The RM 052 in particular has a titanium skull as a baseplate. It is made from titanium and carbon TPT which makes it the most durable watch to ever come out. 
  • Bovet: The Bovet Fleurier Amadeo® Virtuoso IX is highly sought after as it has a tourbillon, a big date, and dual time zone packers in a reversible case. As a result, you can use it as a wristwatch and a pocket watch. 
  • Vacheron Constantin: The Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Calibre 2755 is a part of their Traditionnelle collection. It features a tourbillon, perpetual calendar, and minute repeater. 

Luxury Tier

Watches in the luxury tier can be made from a mix of manual labor and machinery. You also get high-quality materials such as titanium in this segment of watches. You will find brands that also carry heritage and respect in the horology. Luxury watches can feature expensive complications too.

Brands in this category have unique in-house movements and lead by bringing new features. You get everything from water resistance to antimagnetic watches in this tier. These watches are expensive, but more in line with being attainable. Prices typically range from five to six figures in some cases. The pricing reflects the watch’s quality, craftsmanship, and innovation. 

Some examples include:

  • Rolex: Rolex is the most iconic brand within this tier. They are known to be robust and reliable. Although they have entry-level ones like Datejust, their flagship ones are the ones to have. This includes the Submariner and the Yacht-Master. They have gained a cult following since their first release and have slowly become benchmarks in the industry. 
  • Omega: Omega's reputation follows that of others in this tier. They are famous for their Speedmaster, known as the "Moonwatch". Omega’s partnership with NASA made it the first watch to go to space. Although not entry-level, their Seamaster series is also loved by enthusiasts as they were used in movies like James Bond.
  • Chopard: One of the most famous watches from Chopard is the Mille Miglia GTS Power Control famous for its racing heritage. It is a retro-inspired design with a power reserve indicator that resembles a fuel gauge. They also have a uniquely designed watch for women, the Happy Sport Series. What’s special about this one is that it has floating diamonds whiting the case to add a touch of luxury.
  • Hublot: The Big Bang is a perfect blend of “fusion art." from the company. It is made from materials, like ceramic, carbon fiber, and titanium. Hublot is famous for its high price and unique in-house movement. 

Mid-Range Luxury Tier

Watches in the mid-range luxury tier feature brands produce high-quality watches at more affordable price points. They are not handcrafted per se but have attention to detail and extensive quality control. They come in a wide range of designs that are traditional and modern. In some cases, they can include complications like chronographs, moon phase indicators, and dual time zones. 

The price range for mid-range luxury watches generally falls between $1,000 and $10,000. This makes them accessible to a wider audience. These watches represent quality and brand value but may not appreciate much with time. The mid-range luxury tier bridges the gap between high-end luxury and more accessible timepieces. 

Some examples of brands in this category are:

  • Tag Heuer: This brand has a long-lasting relationship with motorsports. Specifically, the Tag Heuer Carrera and Monaco lines have advanced chronographs loved by motoring enthusiasts. 
  • Longines: This brand focuses on elegance and tradition. It is famous for its Heritage collection. It also has a sportier line, the HydroConquest perfect for adventurers.
  • Breitling: The Navitimer is one of Breitling's most iconic models. It is a distinctive combination of a chronograph and a flight-specific slide rule bezel. The Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 in particular has the famous B01 movement with a 70-hour power reserve. 
  • Bell & Ross: Bell & Ross is renowned for its aviation and military-inspired watches. One of their most iconic ones is the BR 03-92. It has great water resistance and was loved by military personnel. 

Entry-Level Luxury Tier

This tier introduces the perfect way to enter the world of luxury watches. They are much more affordable than higher tiers. They do not skimp out on quality as you get premium designs and great functionality at a more digestible price

These watches are mainly mass-produced. They can be produced with volume in mind which makes them more affordable. Watches in the entry-level luxury tier are built to be durable and less complex. The movements are usually quartz or other high-end Japanese movements. You can find a good one for under $1,000. 

Watches in this segment can include:

  • Seiko: Seiko has an expansive range of models that cater to various tastes and budgets. The affordable Seiko 5 series is known to be one of the most reliable watches to exist. They also have a more expensive Presage line which can be a gateway to luxury watches 
  • Tissot: Tissot is known for innovation and value. Tissot blends traditional Swiss craftsmanship with modern technology to offer watches that last. Their PRX series is one of their best sellers. It is a good entry-level automatic watch for enthusiasts.
  • Hamilton: The Khaki Field Mechanical is a classic from Hamilton. This brand had strong ties to military watches reminiscent of U.S. military watches during World War II. It is simple, easy to read, and very durable. 

Basic Tier

The basic tier of watches is designed for the mass market. They are produced in high volumes and are widely available. These watches focus on functionality, affordability, and fashion in mind. They are not that exclusive which makes them perfect for those who require basic needs fulfilled with some style.

Affordability is a key feature of the basic tier thus they are priced under $500. This makes them highly accessible. This also attracts first-time watch buyers and those seeking a practical watch for daily wear without significant investment. Watches in the basic tier use quartz movements for their accuracy and low maintenance. This keeps the costs low, perfect for the average watch buyer. This category can also include smartwatches from different brands like Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, and so on.

Some watches in this category include:

  • Casio: Casio is a classic in the basic tier. They are famous for their G-Shock series engineered for durability and toughness.  They are shock resistant, water resistant, and boast long battery life.
  • Timex: Timex has built a reputation for producing reliable and affordable watches. They have additional features like Indiglo night light to enhance visibility in low-light conditions. They are simple and affordable. 
  • Orient: The Orient Bambino is a popular choice from the brand for the masses. It is a stylish automatic dress watch with a modernized design. It has a vintage charm and elegance that features Orient’s in-house automatic movement with a date display and hacking seconds.
  • Swatch: The Swatch Sistem51 is an automatic watch made entirely of Swiss components and assembled with machines. The "51" in its name represents the total number of parts in the watch. 
  • Apple: Although not a watchmaker, Apple has its premium line of watches with the Apple watch. They include features like heart rate sensors that cater to those who are health-conscious and lead an active lifestyle.

Which One Is A Good Pick For You? 

A good pick as a first-time luxury watch buyer would be a Grand Seiko –, or a Tissot PRX. The Tissot PRX is a great first watch as it blends luxury and affordability into one frame. Other options can be the Bell & Ross which has a unique square design with which you can stand out.

If you want to move up your game then you can look into the Omega Seamaster. Think of this watch as the holy grail of luxury watches. An Omega isn't just a watch, it is an investment that will last longer than you. Similarly, the Tag Heuer Carrera can also be a great watch to have in this category. Other brands like Hamilton are also a great pick. You can expect to mostly get automatic movements in this category.

Anything above this you enter the premium segments of watches that include options from Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Richard Mille, and so on. These can be heavy on the wallet but will be well worth the investment.

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