Behind all the adventure and romance of watch marketing are pragmatic business realities: Often, the brands you know are subject to the motivations and decisions of corporate owners who can impact everything from design decisions to price positioning. Although Swatch, Richemont and LVMH are the most prominent luxury conglomerates, controlling multiple prestigious brands, the watch industry has other important players worth being aware of.
Some might own only a couple of notable watchmakers alongside brands in other segments, while others like Citizen rival the Swiss big boys in scope and importance. Understanding them and how certain brands are related can help make sense of the larger watch industry and put your favorite products into perspective. Don't be surprised if you find some brands below you didn't know had a common boss.
The Citizen name means much more than inexpensive solar-powered watches, and the Citizen Group is unusual in a few ways. It owns more watchmakers than LVMH, and it's the only Japanese brand that's proactively taken this approach to expansion. In addition to its own Citizen-branded watches and the prolific movement maker Miyota, it controls once-American brands Bulova and Accutron, as well as some Swiss luxury watchmakers with significant knowhow and production capacity.
Frederique Constant, Alpina and Ateliers de Monaco are all related parts of a Swiss group that joined Citizen in 2016. High-end watchmakers Arnold & Son and Angelus are, similarly, sister brands under Citizen since 2012. Along with the latter two came the movement maker La Joux-Perret, which is known for providing prestigious brands with complicated and expertly finished movements in the Swiss tradition. The relationship between Japanese Citizen and its Swiss subsidiaries has manifested in interesting ways, such as the Citizen Mechanical 0200 automatic watch.
Paris-based Kering owns a range of luxury brands such as Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, but it's relevant to watch enthusiasts for two high-end watchmakers: Ulysse Nardin and Girard-Perregaux. This makes watches only a relatively minor part of Kering's portfolio, but UN and GP important historic brands that make the group notable. Some of its fashion and jewelry companies like Gucci and Boucheron also occasionally make watches.
While many of the Fossil Group's fashion brands nominally make watches, there are only a couple that matter in the watch world. What makes the Fossil Group noteworthy are the historic watchmaker Zodiac and the movement maker STP. With the group's financial backing, STP has become one of the few alternatives to ETA and Sellita for supplying third-party watchmakers with basic Swiss-made mechanical movements. (You'll also find them in Zodiac watches.)
The bulk of the group's watch offerings are in the inexpensive, fashion-oriented and smartwatch range. They include Fossil-branded watches and those from Danish watchmaker Skagen. The brand Michele takes a similarly fashion-oriented approach to women's watches, albeit with a higher average price point.
Formerly called China Haidian, the Hong Kong-based Citychamp Watch & Jewlery Group Ltd. is focused primarily on watches with a portfolio consisting of a couple each of Swiss, Chinese and British watch brands. Naturally, it's the historic Swiss watchmakers Eterna and Corum that get watch collectors' attention. Both these brands are significant and have been owned by the group since 2011 and 2013, respectively.
Although the brand name Rotary can be found on some vintage watches, the three modern British sister brands Rotary, Dreyfuss & Co. and J&T Windmills are today not terribly relevant. Ebohr and Rossini are mostly unknown outside of China, but they make a high volume of affordable watches often powered by Japanese automatic movements.
Seiko is a major watch industry force, but it stands out from the groups above. This is because the most notable watch "brands" under its umbrella are its own spinoffs — despite some degree of separation in marketing and management. Specifically, Grand Seiko and Credor are inextricably associated with Seiko itself. (These, along with Seiko's dizzying array of sub-brands and collections, are elucidated in depth in our Seiko Brand Breakdown here.)
Seiko also owns two other companies, Orient and Pulsar: Orient was an independent Japanese brand making mechanical watches (which it still does) until acquisition by Seiko Epson in 2009; and Pulsar was a sub-brand of watchmaker Hamilton until it was acquired by Seiko in 1978.
Like its watch collections, Seiko's corporate organization is vast and somewhat confusing. The Seiko Group variously comprises Seiko Holdings, Seiko Instruments and Seiko Epson, each with multiple subsidiaries (imagine a complex tree structure). Ranging from eyeglasses to semiconductors to department stores, the company has the capacity to produce every component needed for its watches. This includes quartz and mechanical movements used in its own watches as well as those sold to third parties.