What’s in a (Watch) Name?

All watches tell time, and some do a whole lot more. But the name of the brand can convey a distinction that sets its timepieces apart.

“A name is often the first impression someone has with a product,” Diane Beecher, chief executive and senior strategist at the Washington, D.C.-based Brand Consultancy, wrote in an email, “so it’s important that it lean into the personality of the product, the functional or emotional attributes of the product, or align with a product portfolio to create trust.”

“Naming,” she noted, “is equal parts strategy and creative and a critical component in building the reputation of the brand.”

A number of brands based their names on places, apparently hoping that some of the allure would rub off.

Oris watches, for example, were named for a brook near the company’s factory in Hölstein, Switzerland. “I like that we are named after a creek, which by its nature is always moving yet staying the same,” Rolf Studer, the co-chief executive, wrote in an email. “It gives the name Oris a certain bit of eternity.”

He also noted that, 119 years ago, the founders chose a name that “can be pronounced in most languages, and doesn’t mean something different in any other language. Plus it’s a fun-sounding name! In fact, there is a river closer to the manufacture by the name of Frenke, and I may be biased but Oris is a much nicer sound.”

At Montblanc, now owned by Richemont, the company’s founders in 1906 were “inspired by the highest mountain in Europe,” Vincent Montalescot, the brand’s chief marketing officer, wrote in an email. “The name would come to symbolize the founders’ vision of excellence and their pursuit of innovation and fine craftsmanship.”

And when Michel Parmigiani established his watch brand in 1996, he based it in one of Switzerland’s famous watch towns. And then borrowed the name for Parmigiani Fleurier.

With a Twist

Some names are based on places, but with a bit of a twist.

According to Felix Baumgartner, master watchmaker and co-founder of Urwerk, the name “was coined in late 1995 after a night of partying and drinking with my brother Thomas and Martin Frei to celebrate the birth of our concept: to create a watch company with a new way to tell time.” (Mr. Frei also is a co-founder.)

Urwerk, Mr. Baumgartner said, references the Mesopotamian city of Ur, where basic concepts of timekeeping were established; and, in German, ur also means the beginning or the source while werk means work.

“But what really made us fall for Urwerk,” he said, “was the idea that a Swiss-German name was going to conquer the French-speaking bastion of watchmaking, Geneva!”

Christophe Hoppé was similarly patriotic in 2011 when he named his watch company Bausele: the name stands for Beyond Australian Elements. And while parts are made in Switzerland, each of its debut models had “a unique piece of Australia in its crown, from the sun-kissed shores of Manly Beach to the rugged landscapes of the outback,” Mr. Hoppé wrote.

Sometimes European traditions produced a name. “There was a time when the bells of belfries and church towers sounded the Angelus,” an invitation to prayer that generally rang three times a day, wrote Bertrand Savary, chief executive of Angelus, founded in 1891 in Le Locle, Switzerland.

The bells “punctuated daily life in eras and places where indicating the time was a public and collective phenomenon,” he wrote. “Angelus, therefore, makes reference to the marking out of time.”

By Design

And sometimes the name was inspired by the watch’s design — like Hublot, the French word for porthole.

It initially was the name of a model that the brand MDM Genève introduced at the 1980 Baselworld trade fair. Ricardo Guadalupe, the current Hublot chief executive, said the watch’s design had a “yellow gold case with 12 titanium screws on the bezel, a minimalist black dial and a natural rubber strap, inspired by the nautical world.” The watch became such an icon, he wrote, the brand came to be known as Hublot in 2004.

Perhaps the most popular source of names for watch brands is people, even if the source isn’t as obvious as, say, Breguet, the brand founded in 1775 by Abraham-Louis Breguet, or Breitling, founded in 1884 by Léon Breitling.

The derivation of Gerald Charles, a brand founded in 2000, isn’t quite as straightforward. “Gerald Charles is the last brand founded by Mr. Gerald Charles Genta,” said Federico Ziviani, the brand’s chief executive, referring to the well-known designer of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus. “After selling his brand Gerald Genta in 1999, he was no longer allowed to use his name as Gerald Genta, so he decided to name his brand with his first and middle names, resulting in Gerald Charles.”

Frédérique Constant pays homage to the founders’ grandparents. “The brand was established by Peter C. Stas and his wife, Aletta Bax, in 1988,” wrote Jeffrey Cohen, president of the Citizen Watch Company of America, which acquired the brand in 2016. “The name was formed by combining ‘Frédérique’ of Frédérique Schreiner, who was Aletta’s great-grandmother and ‘Constant’ of Constant Stas, who was Peter’s great-grandfather.”

And the De Bethune name honors a historic figure. “By borrowing the name from the 18th century French Chevalier De Bethune, naval captain, researcher and specialist in techniques and materials,” wrote Denis Flageollet, who co-founded the Swiss brand in 2002 with David Zanetta, “I wanted to pay tribute to a man who embodied all my values 300 years before me.”

Art, Change and Excellence

Some brands were named for lofty concepts — like the Swiss brand ArtyA, which the founder Yvan Arpa said he chose in 2009 because he equates his creations with art. “Nobody needs a watch to tell the time anymore; time can be found everywhere,” he wrote in an email. “But high end Swiss watchmaking is much more than telling the time. It is a multisecular know-how of mechanical art wearable at your wrist.”

And the brand ID Genève, a champion of sustainability established in 2020, chose its name to indicate change. “ID stands for the word identity,” its chief executive, Nicolas Freudiger, wrote. “We want to be much more than just another watch brand, we are redefining the role of luxury for the decades to come. A new identity in the world of luxury, where the word waste won’t exist anymore.”

The name Seiko also boldly connects the brand with excellence. “In Japanese, ‘seiko’ means ‘exquisite,’ ‘minute’ or ‘success’,” wrote Brice Le Troadec, president of the Grand Seiko Corporation of America and global strategy officer at Seiko Watch Corporation in Japan.

And then there’s the watchmaker that reached for the stars in naming his brand.

The founder of Zenith, “Georges Favre-Jacot, was walking under the starry sky, having finished a meeting where his newest movement, the one he was most proud of, had just been finalized,” the brand’s chief executive, Julien Tornare, wrote in an email.

“It was the movement and corresponding line of models that would earn the company the Grand Prix at the Paris World Fair in 1900. He decided to name it ‘Zenith,’ as he felt the company was reaching new heights in its pursuit of perfection, towards the highest point one could reach in the sky.”

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