When we talk about high-end or ‘haute horlogerie’ there are few brands that are more prominent than Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet.
Sure, there are brands that are more luxurious and more expensive, but no one quite combines heritage and craftsmanship like the holy trinity.
Why do we use the term holy trinity? Well, quite simply, these three brands are on pretty much everyone’s grail list. They epitomise quality, history and class like no other brands out there.
So, the holy trinity is incomparable to its competitors, but how do they compare head-to-head? Here’s the battle of the brands, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, and Audemars Piguet style.
- Founder(s): Antoine Norbert de Patek, François Czapek, Adrien Philippe
- Founded: 1839
- Flagship Models: Nautilus, Aquanaut, Perpetual Calendar, Calatrava
Patek Philippe is arguably the most well-known of the holy trinity, and arguably the top brand in the industry.
A family business, Patek Philippe prides itself in its independence, tradition and innovation. The brand is able to maintain high standards of craftsmanship and heritage whilst innovating and pushing the boundaries of the industry.
Patek Philippe may not be the most contemporary or bold, but they certainly ensure fine workmanship and quality at every stage. If watch brands were chefs, Patek Philippe certainly isn’t your Heston Blumenthal, more your Michel Roux Jr.
The heritage of the brand is linked with pocket watches, timepieces for royalty, and complicated movements. Indeed, Patek Philippe, during the 1920s, was also involved in making the most complicated timepiece, for a banker named Henry Graves Jr. This pocket watch later sold, in 2014, for $24m, which was the highest price paid for a watch.
Now under the ownership of the Stern family, Patek Philippe continues to innovate; it wasn’t until 1976 that Patek Phillipe really revolutionised the industry with a watch named the Nautilus.
Aside from their many complicated and massively innovative watches, the all-steel Nautilus proved to be the brand’s flagship model. Ironically, Patek Philippe pioneered some of the most complicated timepieces on the market and a stainless steel, non-complicated (in most cases) watch proves to be their biggest selling point. Mind you, this is indicative of all three brands and shows where we’re at in the watch industry in 2023.
In the modern day, Patek Philippe still proves to be the benchmark for watchmaking. The release of models such as the Aquanaut and 5270 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph, just to name two, prove that the brand is far from a one-watch brand.
Indeed, they satisfy pretty much all tastes for any type of watch collector. They offer highly complicated and incredibly rare Perpetual Calendars as well as stainless sports watches, and an array of dress watches too.
For many, Patek Philippe is the pinnacle of watchmaking, the desirable and the ‘I’ve made it!’ brand. That said they remain planted in their heritage, they ensure a level of exclusivity and tradition. It’s not easy to own one, that’s for sure. After all, you never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation.
Image Credit: Vacheron Constantin
- Founder(s): Jean Marc Vacheron, Abraham Vacheron and François Constantin
- Founded: 1755 or 1819 as Vacheron & Constantin
- Flagship Models: Overseas, Traditionnelle, Patrimony
Vacheron Constantin is undoubtedly the most overlooked brand of the holy trinity. It is a brand with a fascinating history, a collection of perfectly executed watches but with less clout than the other two brands. But why?
The heritage of the brand is not too dissimilar to that of Patek Philippe. The early days of Vacheron Constantin were defined by luxury pocket watches and royal clientele.
Vacheron Constantin then played a key role in the history of horology, when they were commissioned to make a watch for the Wright Brothers. They continued to make watches for royalty in the early part of the 20th century and began to make some of the greatest complicated watches such as their Tourbillon and proved their ultimate ability to make high-end, refined timepieces.
In 1977, Vacheron Constantin launched what would become their flagship model, the Overseas. The striking, sporty watch was like nothing Vacheron Constantin had made before. It marked a changing point for the brand, which happened at the same time as Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe, alongside their stainless-steel innovations.
The Overseas continues to be an important watch within the industry but doesn’t quite hold the same level of desirability as the Nautilus or the Royal Oak. Is the Overseas the next hot stainless-steel watch? Quite possibly. But I think that much like the brand itself, the Overseas is a quietly brilliant and modest watch. Although it is big in its form, its aesthetics are understated and refined, much like the other watches Vacheron make.
Vacheron Constantin, as a brand, is the most overlooked of the three. They make some of the best dress watches and complicated watches on the market and do so in such a refined and ‘Traditionnelle’ way.
The name ‘Traditionnelle’ for one of their lines, epitomises how Vacheron Constantin is viewed within the industry; pure and classic. It may not be as reputed as Patek Philippe or as bold as Audemars Piguet, but Vacheron Constantin earns its place at the top for its heritage and their continued level of craftsmanship.
Credit: Watches London
- Founder(s): Jules-Louis Audemars, Edward Auguste Piguet
- Founded: 1875
- Flagship Models: Royal Oak, Royal Oak Offshore
Audemars Piguet is undoubtedly defined by its flagship model, the Royal Oak. A man by the name of Gerald Genta, who incidentally also designed Patek Philippe’s flagship model, the Nautilus, designed the Royal Oak.
But historically, Audemars Piguet is far from a one-trip pony. Their heritage is defined by creativity and style. The Royal Oak has been an icon for the brand and arguably there is no one watch that defines a brand more than the Royal Oak.
Audemars Piguet, during the quartz crisis, proved itself as one of the key players in the industry. In the face of the quartz crisis, Audemars Piguet proved to be a big force in the industry and earned their reputation for being bold. Not only did they introduce a new Royal Oak line, but they also continued to make their complicated watches.
The only brands to do this at the time were Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet, who were saving and revolutionising the industry at the same time. Audemars Piguet pioneered the world’s thinnest automatic Perpetual Calendar during the quartz crisis.
The brand had a daring attitude, proving that it wasn’t only stainless-steel watches that would define the Swiss watch industry, but also complicated watches. They proved to be a bold watchmaker, showing themselves to be different but also being utterly refined in what they do.
Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet have been and always will be in competition with one another, directly or indirectly. The industry compares everything both brands do.
A Perpetual Calendar made by Audemars Piguet is compared to a Patek Philippe, they’re inextricably linked. In modern times, the brand is defined by the Royal Oak, a watch which is heavily engrained in pop culture and has proved to be one of the most important watches in the industry.
The Off-shore Royal Oak provides a larger and sportier version, but not a lot, even outside of AP, beats the standard Royal Oak. Audemars Piguet is the fun brand of the holy trinity, it may not have the best heritage or the most refined watches, but certainly holds its place as one of the best brands in the world.
Can you get better than the holy trinity in terms of innovation and craftsmanship? Well in many cases, yes. But you’d be far stretched to find three brands with hundreds of years of heritage, a forward-thinking mindset and who have done so much to better the industry.
Rightfully so, these three brands sit at the top of the tree and remain the benchmark for other brands. Many collectors have these three brands on their list of holy grail watches and for good reason. Not a lot beats the level of workmanship, heritage and quality of Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe.