06/06/2024
 5 minutes

Top 5 Italian Watch Brands

By Donato Emilio Andrioli
Panerai-2-1

Top 5 Italian Watch Brands

Switzerland is not the only country that knows how to make a luxury watch. Italy also boasts a number of traditional brands and some younger brands that should be on every watch lover’s radar. In this article, we travel back in time to learn about the history of Italian watchmaking and what makes Italian watch brands so special. Then I’ll introduce you to the five best Italian brands in today’s watch world.

The History of Italian Watchmaking

Like their neighbors to the north, Italy too has a long tradition of watchmaking dating back to the 16th century. During this period, Italian watchmakers began to produce precise mechanical watches that not only kept the time but achieved high levels of artistry. Over the centuries, the art of Italian watchmaking continued to evolve, producing some of the most renowned brands in the world. Before I present the five most exciting brands among these, I want to first answer one important question.

What makes Italian watch brands special?

Italian watch brands and luxury watch brands are characterized by their creativity, passion for design, and great attention to detail. Combining traditional craftsmanship with modern technologies, Italian brands are known for creating unique, high-quality timepieces that often feature elegant designs inspired by the country’s rich cultural heritage. The following watch brands offer an impressive testament to this reputation for high craftsmanship and style.

Eine Uhr, die Sie so sicherlich kein zweites Mal sehen werden. Bulgari Octo Finissmo
A watch unlike any other you’ve seen: Bvlgari Octo Finissimo

Top 5 Watch Brands from Italy

Panerai

The only way to start this Top 5 list is with Italy’s most famous watch brand par excellence: Panerai. It was founded in Florence in 1860, when watchmaker Giovanni Panerai opened his shop on the Ponte alle Grazie in Florence, which was taken over 30 years later by his great-grandson Guido Panerai. The family business got its big break in 1938 when the Italian Navy commissioned the brand to design a diving watch for them. Due to an initial lack of expertise in the production of such a timepiece, the brand started with a Rolex base fitted with specially designed dials coated with the luminous material Radiomir. In 1950, the highly radioactive Radiomir was replaced by the less dangerous Luminor, leading to a new name for the watch. It was also around this time that the distinctive cushion-shaped case was given the now iconic half-moon crown protector. When Panerai produced a limited edition of the Luminor and Luminor Marina for sale to the public in 1993, the watches quickly became luxury items. Since 1997, Panerai has been part of the Richemont Group and their watches, including the Panerai Luminor, are still very popular today.

Unverkennbar im Look: Panerai Luminor
Unmistakable look: the Panerai Luminor

Bvlgari

Strictly speaking, Bvlgari is not just a watch brand, as the company, which was established in Rome in 1884, is primarily known for its jewelry, fashion, perfume, and leather goods. Alongside Cartier and Tiffany, Bvlgari is one of the largest jewelry manufacturers in the world. However, their luxury goods portfolio has also included watches since the 1980s. While the Serpenti collection is the star of women’s watches, the octagonal Octo is the poster child of the men’s watch collection. Originally designed by Gérald Genta, the Octo not only features an impressively unique design, but is also equipped with an in-house movement. Bvlgari’s watches are manufactured in Switzerland and, as such, feature the “Swiss Made” label.

Der Name ist Programm: Die Bulgari Octo Finissimo kommt hauchdünn daher.
What’s in a name? The ultra-thin Bvlgari Octo Finissimo gives new meaning to the term fine watchmaking.

Squale

There is a saying in Italy that I had to think of when writing this article: “Tutto il mondo è paese,” which means something like: “The world is a village.” While Squale is not technically an Italian company, but was founded in Switzerland, there was no question that this diving watch specialist would be part of my top 5. First, the brand is headquartered in Chiasso, in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. Second, Squale was an official supplier to the Italian Navy in the 1970s. Although the brand was officially founded in 1959, Squale founder Charles von Büren was already making watches under his name in the late 1940s. Throughout the 60s and 70s, Squale provided its cases to other manufacturers, including some well-known names such as Doxa, Sinn, TAG Heuer, and even Blancpain. In 1974, Squale began manufacturing its own watches. Probably the most iconic Squale watch is the 1521 50 Atmos, currently available in numerous models and featuring the legendary “Von Büren” case with the crown at five o’clock. Since 1982, the Squale brand has been owned by the Italian Maggi family. As you can see: Italian flair courses through the veins of this watch brand.

Squale steht für professionelle Taucheruhren
Squale is known for their professional diving watches.

U-Boat

U-Boat is an Italian watch brand that, like Panerai, is known for its large and striking timepieces. The brand was founded in 2000 by Italo Fontana (read our interview here), the grandson of Ilvo Fontana, who was slated to design robust watches for the Italian Navy back in 1942 (ultimately, the production never got underway). U-Boat watches stand out for their industrial design, robust construction, and unique aesthetics. Despite an undeniable similarity to Panerai, U-Boat watches are independently designed. Action stars and Panerai enthusiasts Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are also big fans of this Italian brand, which is no surprise given the large diameter of most U-Boat watches.

Durchmesser von 47mm sind bei der italienischen Uhrenmarke U-Boat an der Tagesordnung
47-mm diameters are typical for the Italian watch brand U-Boat.

Anonimo

I would like to conclude my top 5 list of Italian watch brands with a name you may not yet have heard: Anomino. Founded only in 1997, this relatively young watch brand is closely linked to Panerai. As a result of Richemont’s acquisition of Panerai, production had been relocated from Italy to Switzerland. At the same time, former Panerai exmployees founded a new company, Anomino Firenze. The shared roots of the two brands is still evident; like Panerai, Anomino’s small portfolio consists of robust diving watches with a tool watch character. I’m personally quite partial to the Nautilo, which is strikingly reminiscent of the Panerai Luminor.

Die Anomino Nautilo erinnert lose an die Panerai Luminor
The Anomino Nautilo bears a striking resemblance to the Panerai Luminor.

My Favorite Italian Luxury Watch

Now that you’ve gotten to know five of the most interesting Italian watch brands, I’d like to share with you my own preference as a watch lover from Italy. Even though the Octo Finissimo by Bvlgari is a peerless timepiece, my first choice would be a Panerai watch. I admire their history and find their diving watches are refreshingly distinct from the usual suspects released by Omega, Breitling, Tudor, or Rolex. If I could have my pick from the Panerai portfolio, I would go for the iconic Panerai Luminor.


What do you think about this article?


About the Author

Donato Emilio Andrioli

With the purchase of my Tudor Black Bay 41, I discovered a passion for mechanical watches. I am particularly drawn to iconic watches with long and exciting histories.

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