When people think of watches, they automatically assume they come from Switzerland. Sure, this may be about 95% true, but there are a handful of companies that come from different parts of the world. Let’s take France for example.
France is the home to some amazing watchmakers, but not as well-known as the famous Swiss makers. However, that doesn’t make these watchmakers unknown. France is a country full of luxury fashion brands, which includes watches. This is a country that has vast creative resources, a passion for fashion, and more. Additionally, they were a significant player in the pre-Quartz crisis watch industry.
Even though most watches made today use parts from a variety of countries, the brands on this list identify as French and use components that come from Switzerland and East Asia. They don’t show certain traits as German watches do, but they offer watches that range from artsy to rugged military-style.
Here’s a quick list of the top 10 French watch brands on the market today:
- Bell & Ross
- L. Leroy
Top 10 French Watch Brands
Cartier was founded in 1847 when Louis-Francois Cartier took over the former master’s workshop. They were a local company until 1899 when his son moved the brand in Paris to the Fashionable Rue de la Paix. It was then that Louis was able to further increase the reputation of the company by adding new designs to their line. At this time, the mystery clock was created, which was a watch with a transparent dial.
This was also a company that struggled through the Great Depression. However, when France recovered after World War II, their company was prosperous. When Louis and his brother die, their heirs decided it was best to sell the company. It was then purchased by Cartier Paris and they also took over the London and New York operations in the mid-70s. Richemont then purchased Cartier in 2012, which is a Swiss-based holding company. Today, they are a semi-independent entity.
We found the Men’s W6701011 Watch to be one of the most vintage-looking. It reminds us of something that you would find in France. This is a sophisticated timepiece with a white dial and Roman numeral markers with blue hands. It contains an automatic movement with a synthetic sapphire crystal covering the dial. The whole watch is set in stainless steel and is water-resistant up to 99 feet.
We also found a similar watch for a woman. It’s the W51007Q4 from the Tank Franchise. It features an automatic Cartier Calibre 057 Quartz movement under a silver-grained dial with Roman numeral markers and sword-shaped blue hands. It has a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal covering the dial and a solid 18k gold and steel case & bracelet. This is an elegant timepiece that’s water-resistant up to 100 feet.
Dodane was founded in 1857 by Alphonse Dodane and his father-in-law Francois-Savier Joubert. They constructed their factory on the Swiss border because the nearby river allowed them to use hydraulic power for their machines. After a couple of years in that location, they moved operations to the Haut Doubs region of Eastern France because it allowed them better access to rail transportation.
During the time of World War I, bomb-targeting technology wasn’t as advanced as it is today. It was almost impossible to drop a bomb on an exact location. Dodane helped with this issue by creating a reverse chronometer for use in special bomb targeting mechanisms. Unfortunately, it came too late to be used in World War I, but it gave them a reputation for producing high-quality chronographs. They were then able to create 100,000 timepieces each year since 1983 and continue to be one of the primary suppliers of watches for both French and German militaries.
Their M36113 Type 21 1957 Chronograph watch seems to be their most popular. It features a DD42021 Caliber movement with a steel case and black dial. The dial contains luminous hands and a rotating bezel as well as a date display. There is a sapphire crystal covering the dial for optimal protection and it’s securely attached to your wrist by a black rubber bracelet with a folding clasp.
Pequignet was founded in 1973 by Emile Pequignet but is now owned by Philippe SPruch and Laurent Katz. Emile established his company in Morteau, France, and turned to horses and exotic countries for watchmaking inspiration. You can clearly see this trend in his MOOREA, SAKKARA, and MASSAI collections. When he retired, he wanted to find a successor who would maintain the independence of the firm. In 2004, Zenith took control of the company.
In 2006, Didier Leibundgut, the marketing director for Zenith, decided to dedicate his time to opening an in-house laboratory to transform the brand into fine watchmaking. In 2010, they created their own mechanical movement called the Calibre Royal. Unfortunately, he was unable to build the business for sale. The massive investment put into trying to turn the company into a fine watchmaking manufacturer almost went bankrupt and was subsequently sold to two private investors. They were more successful in creating the line’s first in-house movement, which is now part of the Manufacture Collection.
We looked through their website and found the Royal Saphir to be one of our favorites. This unisex timepiece features the Calibre Royal EPM01 21600 movement with 39 jewels. The dial is black-tinted sapphire with a 5N metallic insert. There’s a date and moon disc visibility with luminova index markers and hands. The dial is covered by a sapphire crystal and the case is set in rose gold.
ZRC was founded in 1904 in Geneva by Edmond Zuccolo and Joseph Rochet. It has made quite the name for itself due to its exceptional materials, assembly precision, and unmatched quality. In 1917, the company won the Geneva Grand Prix for its innovation within the industry. It wasn’t until 1960 when they developed their first watch that would turn into its most famous, which comes from the ZRC Grands Fonds 300m, which has been approved by the French Navy. In 1964, they released a watch that would meet the requirements of use by underwater divers.
Fast forward to 2004. They celebrated 100 years of customer trust and excellence. To mark this event, the grandson of Joseph Rochet made a keynote address. In 2014, his great-grandsons, Georges and Charles Brunet launched a new reissue of their most popular watch, which is now known as the ZRC GF300. All of their watches are designed to be waterproof and resist underwater pressure.
One of the most unique watches we found on their website was the GF-3000 Titanium. This timepiece features a SELLITA SW200-1. It contains 26 ruby wheels, which is what the Incabloc shock protection was used with. The watch has a Monobloc case made from Titanium grade II 316L. The bezel is unidirectional and the glass covering the dial is 5mm padded sapphire that’s also anti-reflective. The whole timepiece is water-resistant up to 5100 meters and the band is comfortable to wear.
Breguet was founded in 1775, making it one of the oldest watch brands in the world. It was founded by Abraham-Louis Breguet in Paris and he created the first automatic watch movement in 1780. In 1780, British King George III himself was carrying a pocket watch by Breguet. Other famous individuals who wore the Breguet watches were Queen Victoria, Napoleon, Tsar Alexander I of Russia, and even Winston Churchill.
The remaining heirs to Breguet sold the company to the Brown’s, a British family. They were one of the world’s most renowned watchmakers until the 1970s until the quartz crisis happened. They suffered from many other companies. In 1992, they moved the operations to Switzerland and in 1999, the Swatch Group purchased the company. Even though the company is now in Switzerland, they ultimately come from French roots and still use the French sense of design with their watches.
If you’re looking for a sophisticated watch fit for the office, the Classique 9068 would be a great option. It features a self-winding movement with 25 jewels. The case is made from 18k white gold and has a sapphire caseback. The bezel contains 88 diamonds that equal 0.060ct. You can also purchase the watch in rose gold with ruby cabochon on the crown or white gold with blue sapphire cabochon on the crown. There is a date display at the 3 o’clock position and the timepiece is water-resistant up to 30 meters.
If you’re looking for more of a dainty watch, the Classique 8606 is your best bet. This watch is made from 18-carat white gold with 64 diamonds around the bezel equalling 1.06 cts. This gorgeous timepiece has a natural mother-of-pearl dial with blue hands and Roman numeral markers. The caseback is made from sapphire and you can get the watch with a gold or yellow gold bracelet.
Yema was founded in 1948 by Henry Louis Belmont after he graduated at the top of his class from the National Watchmaking School of Besancon in 1931. It wasn’t until 1963 when he created the first Yema Superman. It was a watch developed for diving professionals as well as the French Air Force for their pilots. In just a few short years, another watch was put into production, but this one was specifically for sailing. There are 6 different variations of this model. A year later, another watch was introduced that was specifically for Formula 1 Racing.
After these watches were introduced, Yema became the leading French watch exporter for three consecutive years with over 500,000 watches sold each year across 50 countries. In 1982, French Spaceman Jean-Loup Chretien wore a Yema Spationaute 1 on his wrist, making it the first French watch in outer space. Since then, they have made multiple investments into their research & development for an in-house self-winding mechanical movement, the MBP1000.
We found the Yema Superman Maxi to be one of the more unique watches on their website, mostly because we’ve never seen one like this before. It contains an in-house Caliber Yema2000 movement under a two-toned matt black dial. The dial has oversized beige markers with superluminova C1 under a 2.60mm-thick double dome sapphire crystal that’s scratch-resistant and gives the timepiece a vintage look. The case is finished with a 316P stainless steel bracelet with secure lock and the whole unit is water-resistant up to 990 feet.
7.Bell & Ross
Bell & Ross was founded in 1992 by Bruno Belmaich and Carlos Rosillo in Paris, France. They weren’t a company focused on the boutique watch industry, rather, high-quality diving and aviation watches. It wasn’t until 1997 that they actually gained a reputation with the release of the Hydromax 11 100 M. This watch broke the world record for water resistance in a watch. It could reach up to 11,000 meters. This is by far one of the best diving watches we’ve seen with such a high depth ability.
You will find that most of their watches feature a square watch face rather than a circular one. These can be less comfortable to wear, but they are more of a contemporary style if that’s a feature you’re looking for in a watch. Additionally, the design of square watch faces is better for extreme water-proofing than circular ones are.
The Bell & Ross BR 05 is a unique square-faced watch. It’s powered by a Bell & Ross automatic-self-wind with a skeleton blue dial. The case is constructed of durable stainless steel and has an anti-reflective sapphire crystal protecting the dial. There are sophisticated silver hands and markers on the skeleton dial and the entire timepiece is water-resistant up to 100 meters.
If you’re looking for a cure but elegant women’s watch, check out the BR S Diamond Eagle watch. This watch has a modern aesthetic. It’s powered by the Swiss Caliber BR-CAL, 102 Quartz movement. The dial is a gorgeous midnight blue color with a metallic tint and 7 diamonds representing the Aquila constellation. There is also a beautiful diamond-decorated bezel that totals 0.99 ct. The case is satin-brushed stainless steel with an anti-reflective sapphire crystal. This watch is water-resistant up to 100 meters as well.
- Leroy was founded by Charles Le Roy in 1785. He was one of the leading companies in Paris after the Revolution to create carriage clocks and other clocks that were intended for officers in the Napoleonic campaigns. In 1805, he was declared “Watchmaker to Her Imperial and Royal Highness, Madame the Mother of the Emperor”. He was able to produce high-quality watches that could be traditional, decimal, chiming, or “A-tact”.
Between the years of 1828 and 1957, there were more than 1200 certified chronometers signed by Leroy and the Leroy 01 was the winner of the Grand Prize at the Paris Universal Exhibition. Additionally, he was known for installing the first system for transmitting time signals by radiotelegraphy at the top of the Eiffel Tower. In 1990, all production and development moved to Switzerland and was acquired by Miguel Rodriguez in 2004.
This Osmior Chronographe Monopoussoir Automatique is a unique unisex watch in our opinion. This classical high horology-style watch is sure to beautifully complement any style you choose. It features a chronograph 60-minute counter and a small seconds hand. It has a self-winding L411.2 movement with a black dial and gold steel hands. The Arabic numbers give this timepiece a vintage look and the sapphire anti-reflective coating keeps it all protected. The watch is water-resistant up to 50 meters and has a rose gold sapphire case back.
This is one of the newest French watch brands. They were founded in 2017 by Leopoldo Celi and they specialize in watches that allow users to swap certain features. Their name comes from a reference to the elusive nature of time. They are inspired by a vintage aesthetic. They also utilize Swiss workshops to create their timepieces using only the best components.
Leopoldo Celi devoted much of his free time to creating watches. Between 2015 and 2017, he created a vision that would shape his product based on his learning and experiences gained while working with luxury goods. It was then that he made the decision to partner with various creative and entrepreneurial individuals who had the same ideas as him.
We were kind of disappointed to see that most of their watches look exactly the same, so we picked the Chronostase because it was one of the only different ones. It has a 1960s inspired shape with a polished and brushed 316L steel finish. There is a small date window at the 6 0’clock positions and is operated by a Sellita SW200 elaborate Swiss-made automatic movement. The silver dial and luminescent hands are encased by a sapphire crystal glass. Additionally, most of the features on the watch can be changed including the bezel, strap, and more.
Baltic doesn’t have much about their history on their website, but we did find out a couple of cool facts. The name comes from the Baltic Sea where their father’s origin comes from. Their company strives to offer their customers timeless pieces of only the highest quality. They also perform direct distribution to reduce their overhead, which makes them more accessible through social media.
Additionally, they strive to be transparent about their production practices. All of their watches are manufactured in three regions which include France, Hong Kong, and Italy. Once these components are created, they go to the alterer in Besancon, France to be assembled and adjusted.
The Biocompax 002 is a watch that we really enjoy because it reminds us of the sea. It features a gorgeous blue dial with gold hands and markers. The markers are moved by a seagull ST1901 movement and sit under a high-domed hesalite glass. The watch itself is composed of 316L stainless steel with an Italian calf leather strap. Lastly, this elegant and sophisticated watch is just over $600, one of the cheapest on the list.
We hope that you found some of these French watch brands to be to your liking. We know that there aren’t many of them, but the ones that are still in production create some of the most elegant and sophisticated timepieces we’ve ever seen. You will never have to worry about poor-quality products coming from these brands. Sure, they’re located in France, but they use a lot of Swiss products to ensure maximum durability and style.