In 1904 Cartier created the first men's wristwatch for pilot Albert Santos-Dumont, who wanted a timepiece he could read without taking his hands off the yoke. A century later, men lust after vintage watches not as objects of practicality (we have cell phones for that), but as wearable history. Going vintage can seem daunting at first – all the jargon and the ever-present worry of being ripped off – but if you go in knowing just what to expect, you'll come out with the watch you've always wanted.
Switzerland's rise as the epicenter of watchmaking is part skill, part luck. In 1541 Geneva outlawed jewelry on religious grounds, forcing jewelers in the city to take up the nascent art of watchmaking. Many outfits rose to prominence, particularly Abraham-Louis Breguet and Perrelet, who made watches for French royalty. Fast-forward to the World War I era: While foreign competitors had their watchmaking factories seized by governments or bombed to rubble, factories in neutral Switzerland stayed safe. Now the Swiss account for half of the world's watch production by value, and the Geneva seal – awarded only to the highest-quality mechanical timepieces – is the gold standard by which a watch is judged.
Because the Swiss can't make all the good watches, we offer up some worthy outsiders:
Lange & Sohne (Germany)
Founded in 1845, shut down in 1948, then reopened in 1990, it makes pieces that are compared to Patek.
Despite claims to the contrary, Yuri Gagarin's 1961 Sturmanskie was the first watch in space.
Hamilton (United States)
Credit: Sebastien Bozon / AFP / Getty Images
The 128-year-old Pennsylvania company's watches were worn by GIs in World War II. Also: Elvis loved 'em.