Who needs ice when you can have crystal? It may not seem like the obvious choice for a luxury material in comparison to blingy gems, but sapphire-crystal watches are the height of watchmaking art—and showstoppers in their own right. Sapphire crystal is the second-hardest naturally occurring material on Earth, after diamond; as a result, just carving and shaping the case requires handmade diamond-tipped tools. The painstaking process to cut, machine and polish one timepiece (sometimes 200 hours or more) is so precarious and difficult that a company can make at most a handful each year.
But for hardcore watch collectors an even bigger appeal is the 360-degree views of the serious mechanics reserved for this level of craftsmanship. These five brands—laser-focused on the future—are leading the pack in 21st-century watchmaking.