The average holiday hunter might be able to make do with Expedia, but what about hardcore watch enthusiasts seeking lessons in horological history, or that next rare luxury timepiece? That’s where we come in. Over our years on the road, we’ve compiled a list of must-visit watch spots in four of our favourite cities. While some are further off the beaten path than others, each of these destinations will make for a truly memorable time.
MB&F M.A.D. Gallery
The fantastical creations of MB&F on their own are enough to grab the attention of any self-respecting watch geek, but seeing these creations set among an assortment of fascinating artworks — ranging from kinetic sculptures to out-of-this-world Bandit 9 custom motorcycles — makes the M.A.D. Gallery a must. Its name stands for mechanical art devices, and everything on display has an ultra-cool industrial vibe.
F.P. Journe HQ
Unlike the many larger-scale watch brands in the region, Journe’s production of fewer than 1,000 watches per year allows him to maintain operations in the heart of Geneva. The entrance lobby alone is a sight to see, with a display of antique watchmaking tools, an incredible three-meter-tall astronomical clock from 1855 (restored by Journe), as well as a healthy showcase of offerings from the brand’s current collection.
Patek Philippe Museum
Spread out over four floors, the Patek Philippe Museum not only traces the history of the brand, but also the early beginnings of watchmaking itself. The Stern family displays a remarkable collection of historical timepieces, including every Patek Philippe Grande Complication created, as well as a vast number of early prototypes you cannot see anywhere else. The museum is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, and offers guided tours.
The Breguet Museum
Thanks to the dedicated work of Swatch Group CEO Nicolas G. Hayek prior to his passing in 2010, the Breguet Museum contains a collection of over 100 historical timepieces dating back to the company’s inception in 1775. Technical documents and client letters reveal a long-standing relationship with royalty.
Those with a fascination for independent watchmaking at its peak will thoroughly enjoy Laurent Picciotto’s boutique on Rue Saint Honoré. In business since the late ’80s, Laurent has a long-standing relationship with a broad swath of the industry, and over the years has been able to offer special-edition pieces only found in his boutique. His personal office is tucked away in the basement of the boutique, and if your timing is right, you may have a chance to say a quick hello to one of the most interesting and knowledgeable men in the industry.
Atelier Du Bracelet Parisien
Located a quick walk from the Breguet Museum is one of our favourite bespoke strapmakers in Europe. The tiny work- shop is packed to the rafters with exotic leathers—stingray, ostrich, and everything in between—in every hue imaginable, providing no shortage of options to match your top timepiece. If new-watch shopping isn’t on your agenda while in Paris, dropping a hundred or so euros on a custom watch strap would be a perfectly acceptable compromise.
National Maritime Museum / The Royal Observatory
Though Switzerland is still regarded as the watchmaking centre of the universe, Great Britain played a significant role in advancing early horology. Credit for that goes to early pioneers like John Harrison. You’ll find Harrison’s H1 through H4 marine chronometers — dating from 1735 through 1759 — on display in the Time and Longitude Gallery of the Royal Observatory, which is also the home of the prime meridian line — the defining line of longitude and home of Greenwich Mean Time.
The Burlington Arcades
London’s Burlington Arcades are one of very few places where you will find an incredible array of rare vintage timepieces within a few city blocks. Outfits like The Watch Club, Vintage Rolex, and Watchfinder & Co. all offer an extensive range of pre-owned and vintage watches from a variety of prestigious brands, including Patek Philippe, Rolex, Audemars Piguet, and others. Afterwards, pop into the flagship boutiques of some of your favourite luxe watch brands on Old Bond Street, right around the corner.
Bamford Watch Department
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Mayfair, the Bamford Watch Department HQ is the perfect place to drop in for some out-of the-ordinary watch geekery. The multi-level townhouse (known as “The Hive”) is home to the brand’s design and service departments, as well as an elegant lounge in which collectors and enthusiasts can view the latest custom timepieces, leather goods, and grooming products from one of the industry’s most disruptive and boundary-pushing players.
Matsumoto City Timepiece Museum
It’s well worth a quick detour to Nagano to experience this impressive mix of early Japanese and Western timepieces. The museum’s original collection was donated by Mr. Chikazo Honda back in 1974 and has been expanding ever since, thanks to further donations from collectors all around the country. It eventually required a larger facility, leading to the construction of this contemporary gallery in 2002. Note Japan’s largest pendulum clock, built into the new building’s corner.
The Seiko Museum
If you only have time for one pit stop, the Seiko Museum should be at the top of your list. Not only does the museum deliver a proper history lesson covering all things Seiko and the evolution of the watch industry in Japan, but it also takes things a step further with displays of early timekeeping artifacts, including sun- dials, as well as incense clocks dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
National Museum of Nature and Science
Japan’s national historical archives includes a permanent collection of clocks, sundials, and early wristwatches from all over the country. Donated by friends of the museum over the years, the collection is extensive and highlights a wide array of watch- and clockmakers from across the region. Alongside pieces from the still-going-strong Seiko and Citizen brands, many creations come courtesy of makers that are now long defunct. A select few antique Swiss gems are rolled in for good measure.