It's certainly very interesting to see people's likes and dislikes and the "ranking" that people give to the various brands.
For years people used to call Patek, AP, and VC "The Big Three." Many years ago VC was considered the best finished and finest of the three. It also has the distinction of being the oldest continuous watch manuafacturer, having continuously made watches since 1755. However, in the last 50 years or so that perception has changed and many people see Patek as the finest watch from the big three. I think each brand has a great deal to offer. I think maybe on the finishing side of things, Patek may techinally be a bit finer than AP or VC (and I own 2 VC's and Patek isn't really my favorite brand). However, today all watches are so finely finished that it will not affect time keeping. Back in the day, the purpose of finishing parts as finely as possible was to reduce friction, which reduced accuracy of a watch. I think at times AP might fall into second place in the big three due to some of the highly complicated and technical movements they have produced over the years, and maybe also because VC went through a period when they kind of lost their way in terms of having a very disorganized collection, and not having a really recognizable design for a sports watch the way PP and AP did.
As for the Royal Oak, love it or hate it, was the original luxury sports watch in steel. Once it started to catch on, PP followed with the Nautilus, VC with the 222 (which evolved into the Phideas and then the Overseas), and IWC's Jumbo SL Ingenuir. It should be noted that the Royal Oak, the Nautilus, and 222 were considered by some as entry level watches for theses brands. Also, the original RO, Nautilus, and 222 used a very thin JLC movement cal 922, which JLC never used in any of its own watches. Patek stopped using that movement many years ago and has used in house movements in their Nautiuls for many years...although the original with JLC movement are among the most collectible.
Lange is a great brand, and their quality is said by people far more interested and knowledgeable about watch finishing to be as fine as Patek if not better. I like their Lange 1, but I find many of their other designs a bit dull. I've heard from several people F.P. Journe is on par with Lange, but that F.P. Journe tend to have lots of problems and spend a lot of time going back and forth for repairs.
JLC and Piaget are probably two of the finest and most under apreciated watch brands. Both make all of their own movements and have supplied movements to other great brands. It should also be noted that for some time AP owned 40% of JLC, although they have since sold it or the bulk of it.
There are lots of smaller independent brands that make nice watches. Although, I'd be afraid that some brands are so small that if the founder died, or the company closed, you could have trouble getting service or parts years from now. Also, since they have a small following the 2nd hand market could be quite weak resulting in poor resale value if you ever choose to sell or trade one.
In the end, there are lots of great brands. Patek, AP, VC, Lange, JLC, and Piaget are held in high regard, but there are plenty of great watches from Rolex, Cartier, IWC, GP, Blancpain, Breguet (which some think is on par wiith the Big Three), Zenith, and a bunch of others. As I've said before no one watch can be everything to everyone, so luckily there are lots of choices to fit different tastes, needs, and price points.