Le Brassus, 1875, in the heart of the Vallée de Joux, two friends, Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet establish a workshop from which to make movements. Audemars produced and assembled movements whilst Piguet ensured that the completed movements were correctly regulated. The two friends made the Audemars Piguet name successful by being the best at what they did, and over time, the company began to grow, quickly becoming one of the largest watchmaking employers in Switzerland. Quality control was where Audemars Piguet excelled, and this allowed them to produce some stunningly complicated movements. After the death of Audemars in 1918 and Piguet in 1919, the company continued to be one of the finest in watchmaking. The smallest minute repeater, the thinnest watch, the first skeleton watch; all these achievements boosted Audemars Piguet’s reputation as being one of the very best. When the stock market crashed in the 1930’s, however, many watchmakers were forced to the brink of collapse, and Audemars Piguet was one of them. The market for luxury goods had fallen flat virtually overnight. This make-or-break scenario gave Audemars Piguet a chance to try something daring. The up-and-coming off-the-wall design talent that was Gérald Genta was hired to design a piece so bold and unique that it could have very easily sunk the name of Audemars Piguet into oblivion. Taking inspiration from the 1862 battleship, the HMS Royal Oak, Genta used the octagonal portholes as the basis of his case design, integrating the bracelet into it seamlessly. Compared to the period watches of the time, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was a futuristic, dynamic, angular shock to the system. The biggest shock was not the watch itself, but the price. At its release in 1972, it cost more than every other Audemars Piguet watch and ten times that of the period Rolex Submariner, and so initial take-up was slow. This extreme pricing did, however, introduce a new level of super-premium luxury, being a product that only the most affluent could afford. Once the Royal Oak took, it took well, and in doing so it pulled Audemars Piguet out of the mire and back into financial success. The Royal Oak evolved into the Royal Oak Offshore in 1993, a modern evolution of the watch that changed history for Audemars Piguet. The large, bold and often colourful Royal Oak Offshore has recreated the niche for super-luxury watches by raising the price bar once again, and opening the floodgates for other, new, super-premium brands to follow in its footsteps. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore can be summed up partly by its use of exotic materials and by its inflated proportions, but mainly for its quality and watchmaking excellence that has run through the DNA of Audemars Piguet since its very beginning.
Baume & Mercier traces its watchmaking roots back more than 175 years to the Baume brothers who made fob watches as early as 1830. Since its inception as Frerers Baume (Baume Brothers), by Louis Victor Baume and Pierre-Joseph-Celestine Baume, the brand has changed hands many times, but it has never ceased operation. Few know that it is the 6th oldest watch company in existence. For those of you keeping track – number one is Blancpain (1735) followed by Vacheron Constantin (1755), Breguet (1775), Chaumet (1780) and Girard Perregaux (1791). Freres Baume officially became Baume & Mercier in 1918 when William Baume (grandson of Louis Victor Baume) joined the family business to that of jeweler Paul Mercier. By the time both Baume & Mercier retired from active roles in the company in 1937, the company had a well-established distribution network in five continents.
Baume & Mercier was purchased in 1964 by jeweler and watch manufacturer Piaget. The Piaget ownership contributed to the brand by adopting the Greek letter Phi and its associated Golden Ratio as symbols for Baume & Mercier. Piaget also provided technical expertise in the form of ultra-slim movements. Watches from this period are often found with Piaget movements. Also under the Piaget leadership, in 1973 Baume & Mercier introduced the Riviera, with its unique dodecahedral case. In production for more than 30 years this style has been integral to the brand’s success.
When Cartier launched their takeover of Piaget in 1988, control of Baume & Mercier came with it. Shortly thereafter, in 1993 all three brands were enveloped within the Vendôme Group, which was bought out by the Richemont group in 1998.
Founded in 1735 by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain, this House boasts a famous and oft-repeated slogan: “Since 1735, there has never been a quartz Blancpain watch. And there never will be.” This bold statement, however, is more than just a slogan; it is a guiding principle of this unique company, a sincere dedication to excellence, which has earned Blancpain numerous accolades over the years.
Although successive generations of the Blancpain family were able to transform what had been a tiny manufacturer into one of the most respected watch companies in the world – witness the company’s famous “Fifty Fathoms” model, circa 1953, which featured prominently in Jacques Cousteau’s award-winning film, The World of Silence – the influx of inexpensive quartz watches from Japan and China during the early 1970’s nearly doomed the company to extinction. It was only thanks to the intervention of Jean-Claude Biver, an Omega executive with a love of fine timepieces, that the company was reborn in 1983 and put on the path to recovery. Biver’s strategy was elegantly simple: a return to the production of classic mechanical watches in limited numbers, and an emphasis on creating innovative, and oftentimes highly complicated timepieces.
Breitling was founded by Léon Breitling in 1884 in St Imier with the specific purpose to develop chronographs and counters for scientific and industrial applications. In 1892, to face up to the unstoppable growth of his company, Léon Breitling decides to relocate his workshops to La-Chaux-de-Fonds, metropolis of the Swiss watch industry in those days. Louis Breitling dies en 1914 and leaves his son Gaston Breitling in charge. One year later, Breitling creates the first wristwatch chronograph. Later, he continues to make several significant developments in this area and supplying the first wristwatch instruments to aviators. By 1923, Breitling develops the independent chronograph push piece. Gaston’s son, Willy Breitling takes over control of the company in 1932 and in 1934 Breitling adds a second push piece to the chronograph enabling either cumulative or incremental time recording giving the chronograph its current configuration. In 1936 Breitling becomes the official supplier to the Royal Air Force. Breitling introduces the Breitling Chronomat in 1942 – the first chronograph to be fitted with a circular slide rule. The company also widens its professional clientele to include the American armed forces. 1954 sees the creation of the Breitling Navitimer, a wrist instrument equipped with the famous “navigation computer”. This exceptional chronograph becomes the favourite among the pilots across the globe. By that time, Breitling was already supplying the major international airlines with cockpit clocks. In 1962, the astronaut Scott Carpenter wears the Breitling Cosmonaute chronograph during his orbital flight aboard the Aurora 7 space capsule. Along with Büren and Heuer-Leonidas, Breitling invents the self-winding chronograph in 1969. This technical feat represents a major breakthrough for the entire Swiss watch industry. Will Breitling dies in 1979. The company was subsequently bought by Ernest Schneider. Breitling launches, for its 100th year anniversary, the Breitling Chronomat which would later become Breitling’s best selling line in the collection. In 1985, the Aerospace, a titanium multi-function electronic chronograph, attracts the attention of a large number of pilots and 10 years later, Breitling presents the Breitling Emergency, with a built-in micro-transmitter transmitting on aircraft emergency frequency. In 1999, Breitling ends the century with the ambitious bet of subordinating the totality of its production to the Swiss Official Chronometer Control. In 2000, Breitling opens in Grenchen, Switzerland, its new headquarters. A year later, with the introduction of the Breitling SuperQuartzTM , Breitling proposes a mechanism ten-fold more precise than the standard ones due to its electronic mechanisms which are the only that fulfill the criteria of COSC. Today, Breitling is still established in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the town where Léon Breitling opened his first chronograph factory 110 years earlier.
Joseph Bulova, a Czech immigrant, founded the company that bears his name in 1875. Only 23 years old at the time, Bulova opened a modest jewelry shop in New York City. Initially, Bulova sold mainly pocket watches and other jewelry, but over time he expanded his line of products. He was manufacturing and selling his own desk clocks and other timepieces by 1911, the year he incorporated the operation as J. Bulova Company. By that time, Bulova’s pocket watches had already attained a reputation for excellence, and New Yorkers bought them as fast as he could make them. Although wristwatches existed before World War I, it was returning veterans who made them fashionable. Once Americans became aware of their convenience, the market for wristwatches in the U.S. expanded quickly. In 1919, Bulova introduced the first full line of jeweled wristwatches for men. Over the next several years, Bulova added several other industry firsts, including the first ladies wristwatch line and the first line of diamond wristwatches. In 1926, the company sponsored the first nationally broadcast radio spot commercials, featuring the immortal “At the tone, it’s 8 p.m., B-U-L-O-V-A Bulova watch time” tag line. Bulova began selling the world’s first clock radio two years later. Meanwhile, the company’s name was changed to Bulova Watch Company, Inc., reflecting the growing role of Arde Bulova, Joseph’s son, in the firm’s management. By this time, Arde Bulova was firmly in charge of the company, and he ran it very much as a one-man show. Under Arde, Bulova grew to become one of the market leaders among U.S. watchmakers. By the mid-1950s, the company’s annual sales had reached $80 million. In 1954, Arde Bulova hired Gen. Omar Bradley, a World War II hero, as chairman of Bulova Research & Development Labs, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary involved in developing the company’s defense product business. Bradley was a close war-time friend of Harry D. Henshel, Arde Bulova’s brother-in-law and one of the company’s largest shareholders. When Arde Bulova died in 1958, Bradley was the logical choice to take over the chairmanship of Bulova, although it took a committee of 14 department heads to cover the huge range of responsibilities that Arde had refused to delegate in the past. Meanwhile, a new contender had risen to challenge Bulova’s dominant position in the watch industry. Throughout the second half of the 1950s, Bulova faced stiff competition from the Timex watch, made by U.S. Time Corporation. Priced far lower than Bulova products, Timex eroded Bulova’s market share enough to cause the company’s revenue to slip to $62.8 million by 1961. Under Bradley and CEO Harry B. Henshel, Bulova began to fight back. First, they began to institute modern management practices, replacing the old-fashioned methods of the autocratic Arde Bulova. More importantly, the company developed Accutron, the world’s first electronic watch. Accutron represented the first major revolution in clock technology in three centuries. Before it was available in commercial products, the Accutron timer mechanism saw important action in the space program. When the Accutron watch finally became available to consumers in late 1960, it was a huge success. Far more accurate than any other watch commercially available, the Accutron was the first to be sold with a written guarantee of accuracy to within one minute a month. Accutron technology became the standard for the next decade both on human wrists and in orbiting satellites. In 1963, Bulova introduced another line of watches, the Caravelle. The Caravelle was the company’s answer to Timex and the other cheaper watch lines that had been eating away at Bulova’s customer base for several years. Caravelle was priced much lower than the company’s other watches, and it was hoped that the line would catch on among younger buyers who would later graduate to more expensive models. With the addition of Accutron and Caravelle, Bulova was able to regain much of the momentum it had lost to Timex and the many nameless brands of cheap watches that had hit the market over the previous decade. The company also eliminated outlets that were selling Bulova watches at discount prices, a practice company officials felt tarnished the Bulova name and reputation for excellence. By fiscal 1964, the year the company shipped its 250,000th Accutron watch, Bulova’s revenue finally surpassed its pre-slump level, reaching a new high of $73 million. The next several years were good ones for Bulova. By 1965, sales had grown to $84 million, about 20 percent of which was generated by defense and industrial products, including timing mechanisms and fuses. There were 58 different Accutron models for the wrist and 11 Accutron desk and table clocks by that time. Bulova controlled an estimated 15 percent of the market for high-priced men’s watches. Throughout this period, the company also worked hard to increase its sales abroad. By 1967, 20 percent of Bulova’s sales were generated in foreign lands. Bulova watches were being sold in 89 countries by that year, up from 19 in 1961. The fact that most of Bulova’s watch movements were assembled in Switzerland added to its international flavor, and in 1967 the company acquired Universal Genève, a Swiss manufacturer of upper-end clocks and watches. Company sales leaped to $124 million for that year. Meanwhile, Bulova remained NASA’s timekeeper of choice. Timing devices built by Bulova saw action during the first moon walk in 1969, as well as on subsequent missions. By the beginning of the 1970s, Bulova had sold nearly 1.5 million Accutrons, and the company’s watches could be bought in 110 markets around the world. The company was operating 20 plants, 12 of them in the United States. Even at that time, Bulova was still the only manufacturer of jeweled-movement watches in the United States. In 1971, the company launched a joint venture with a Japanese outfit, Citizen Watch Co., to make Accutrons for sale in Asia. Bulova was offering four basic lines of watches by 1973, covering every price range: the low-priced Caravelle, starting at $10.95; the Bulova line, which cost $35 and up; the still booming Accutron, whose bottom price had dropped to $95; and the Accuquartz, introduced in 1970 as the first quartz watch sold in the United States.
Cartier was founded in 1847 in Paris by the jeweler Louis-François Cartier, who in 1899 handed the company over to his three sons. They would establish the company internationally, not the least by making the Cartier name a favorite among the crowned heads of Europe. Named “King of Jewelers, Jeweler of Kings”, the brand was quick to turn its attention to watches. Many have become modern-day icons, such as the Santos (1904), one of the first wristwatches, the Tortue (1912) and the Tank (1919). They were followed by other noteworthy creations, including the Pasha, the Santos 100, the Ballon Bleu and the Caliber. The Cartier family retained ownership of the firm until 1964. It is now part of the Richemont Group.
Corum, founded 1955 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, by Rene Bannwart, is an extraordinary horological brand with high-quality watch creations of unmistakable innovative design and which are equipped with sophisticated mechanical movements. Four pillars mirror the creative history of Corum: Admiral’s Cup, Bridges, Romulus and Artisans.
In 1887 at La Chaux- de-Fonds, Georges Eberhard a mere 22 years of age, founded the Manufacture d’Horlogerie Eberhard & Co. The Company specialized in the production of technical watches, launching the pocket chronograph, followed in 1919 by the first wrist chronograph.
In 1935, innovation centered on the double pulsating chronograph, offering the stop and start functions without having to reset to zero; 1938 was the year that saw the launch of the first chronograph with an hour counter. When 1939 arrived, it heralded a new revolution: the Company created a wrist chronograph equipped with an innovative fly-back device, enabling dual time keeping. These were the years when the Eberhard chronographs were plowing through the waves on the wrists of the Italian Royal Navy’s officers.
After the war, the first ladies model was launched, after which, at the end of the 50s, the first Extra-fort made its appearance, a real watch industry jewel with seconds hand re zeroing by means of a sliding push piece. Technical passion and the taste for a challenge brought together Eberhard and the “Frecce Tricolori” (Three-coloured Arrows), to which the Chronomaster was dedicated in 1984. The Company’s centenary (1887-1987) was celebrated with the Navymaster collection. 1992 was the year of the “Tazio Nuvolari” chronograph, created in honor of the greatest car racing legend of all time.
The Elgin Watch Company (also known as the Elgin National Watch Company) was the largest US watch company in terms of production. In fact, Elgin produced approximately one-half of the total number of higher-quality pocket watches manufactured in the United States. Total production over their 100 years of operation reached 60 million watches!
The company was founded in 1864 in Elgin, Illinois as the National Watch Company, and some of the organizers were J. C. Adams, P. S. Bartlett, D. G. Currier, Otis Hoyt, and Charles H. Mason, with financial backing from former Chicago Mayor Benjamin W. Raymond. The factory for the National watch company was completed in 1866, and the first movement produced was an 18-size B. W. Raymond which sold in April of 1867 for the astounding price of $115. This identical watch, serial number 101, was sold at auction in New York in 1988 for $12,000. In 1874, the company officially changed their name to the Elgin National Watch Company, and that name remained until they stopped producing watches in the early ’60’s.
Elgin was not known for making the highest quality watches, though some of their higher grades were exquisitely made timepieces. Together with Waltham Watch Company, they dominated the huge market for mid-grade watches. Elgin watches remain extremely popular with collectors today because they are plentiful, can be obtained at reasonable prices, and can be relatively easily repaired due to the large number of watches and parts available.
Elgin shipped their first wristwatch in 1910, and later manufactured the first wrist watch to be qualified for railroad service, the grade 730A B. W. Raymond. Throughout their history, the Elgin National Watch Company was known for horological innovations. In 1958, they introduced the “DuraBalance,” an ingenious design for a free-sprung balance (no regulator pins) which used spiral balance arms and small weights to govern the moment of inertia of the balance. They also produced the only American-made automatic wristwatch movements: grades 607, 618, 760, and 761. These movements featured bi-directional, full-rotor winding, and had two automatic winding gear ratios, which were automatically engaged as the mainspring tension increased.
The Enicar Watch Company was founded 1913 in La Chaux de Fonds Switzerland when Artiste Racine (Racine Watch Co.) spelled his name backwards and created a timeless brand that has been recognized for its high quality in over 90 years. When production of watches increased in 1914 mostly due to the successful export to Russia. Racine were among the first to use Radium in 1914 as a way to make his watch hands and dials readable in the dark. Due to the fast success and the associated expansion of the firm in the mid 20’s it was moved to Lengnau, here the firm started making their own movements instead of using ones from Adolphe Schild (AS). Racine focused this time on the production of both precise and robust military watches, which were soon recognized by civilian costumers under the name “sport”. From the mid-forties Enicar developed its first chronograph models. In the sixties and seventies they developed their own automatic movements and focused mainly on the sport watches.
Difficulties are there to be overcome, was the optimistic motto that the watchmaker Walter Vogt subscribed to when he started commercial watch production in Grenchen in 1912. At that time competition was fierce, and Vogt had thought that he could survive by introducing innovative products into the wide competitive field. The watches would of course have to have a powerful name. In 1914 it was found, and Vogt & Git became Fortis Watch.
From 1924 Vogt demonstrated his innovative spirit and appetite for risk in the late twenties and early thirties when he took part in the technical realization and marketing of John Harwood’s concept for automatic winding such as the Autorist and the Harwood Automatic.
After meeting little success in this venture, Walter Vogt and his sons returned to the tried and tested formula: rectangular and round water-resistant wristwatches and sporty chronographs. Watches such as the “Fortissimo” or the “Wandfluh” chronograph were built to the highest standards. In the fifties Fortis introduced a water-resistant chronograph-case with a one-piece movement-housing.
Since 1982 the brand has been in the possession of Prince Ernst August of Hanover (Germany), Peter Peter and the Vogt Family.
Fortis (watches) stepped into space in 1992 and the Fortis Official Cosmonauts Chronograph watch was chosen to be the official watch of the Russian-German space mission MIR 97 in 1997. Deeply involved in the world of aviation and space, Fortis launched the FORTIS 2000 collection called SPACEMATIC in the year 2000.
Model names: Autorist, B-42 Cosmonaut Chronograph, Brain-matic Cobra, Easy-math, Eden roc, Flipper, Fortissimo, Manager, Marine Master, Performance, Skylark, Space Station ISS, Spacematic, Stratoliner, Trueline, Wandfluh.
The Gallets, citizens of Geneva since 1466, have a long history of being goldsmiths and watchmakers. Initially, they began by manufacturing gold cases for pocket watches for men and necklace watches for women. As they were in close contact with watch manufacturers, they quickly learned the technology and the trade of producing watches. Geneva was considered to be the center metropolis for watches and this trade was passed on from one generation to the next. It was Leon L. Gallet who actually began the Gallet watch company and expanded it to the level of a thriving business. Gallet watches can be proud for achieving many milestones in the history of watches. Gallet watches were recognized as pioneers in 1895 as they were the world’s first producer of wrist watches for both men and women. This was then imitated and included in collections of other Swiss watch companies. They protected the idea of an improved protection of the mechanism of chronographs and later made chronographs as their specialty in wrist watches. In 1916, Gallet was the world’s first supplier of true wrist chronographs to the British Army. In this collection, Gallet retained the porcelain enamel dial, three piece case, and center button crown of the pocket watch collection. During the Second World War, it supplied watches to the armies of the Great Britain, Canada and the USA. It also developed a special chronograph model for the pilots of the US Air Force and named the watch as “the Flying Officer”. It continues to produce watches for military personnel. Since the time of Leon L. Gallet, Gallet watches have realized the huge potential in both European and American markets. Some of the earliest brands of Gallet were- Solar, Success, Bridgeport, Chancellor, Burlington, Commodore, Eureka, Continental, Mars, Security, National Park, Select, and The Governor. Jules Racine was the distributor for Gallet and Racine watches in the US until it was taken over by Gallet, Switzerland. Since 2004, Gallet company’s activities are concentrated near Zurich, Switzerland. Always looking to expand their business activities, Gallet watches have been a part of Asian markets since 1912. They still retain their Japanese clientele such as Seiko, Kingoro Tzana, Tamaya & Co., Hitsukoshi and Kobayashi. Singapore, Shanghai, India, Burma and China have been some of their other customers.
In 1791, the watchmaker J. F. Bautte created his first timepieces and soon built up a reputation for his ultrathin models. He established a factory in Geneva and, in an innovative move, housed all the watchmaking crafts of the period under one roof. In 1837, Jacques Bautte and Jean Samuel Rossel took over from the eminent Jean François Bautte, who left them an extremely valuable industrial and cultural legacy. In 1854, Constant Girard married Marie Perregaux. It was from the union of their two names that the GIRARD-PERREGAUX Company was born in 1856. In 1867, Constant Girard presented his Tourbillon with three gold Bridges after years of research into the functional use of gold in watch movements. This masterpiece was awarded the gold medal at the Universal exhibitions of Paris in 1867 and 1889, but declared ineligible in 1901 because it could not be equalled. In 1880, Constant Girard developed an extremely innovative concept for watches, the wristwatch, following an order by Emperor Wilhelm I of Germany for his naval officers. Two thousand were made, the first large-scale production of wristwatches in history. But the idea was considered outlandish and production was discontinued. It was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that the wristwatch became popular and enjoyed the industrial development that has made watchmaking one of the flagship industries of the Swiss economy. In the early 20th century, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin used a GIRARD-PERREGAUX watch to time the aeronautical trials of his airships. As wristwatches came into their own around 1910, GIRARD-PERREGAUX’s reputation spread far and wide. In 1928, Otto Graef, a German watchmaker and owner of MIMO (an International Maker of Gold Watches) bought out GIRARD-PERREGAUX’s share capital. In 1930, sales of wristwatches exceeded sales of pocket watches for the first time, proof that Constant Girard was far ahead of his time when he developed the wristwatch as early as 1880. The Second World War scarcely affected the company’s activities. It continued to develop GIRARD-PERREGAUX both in Europe and on the American continent, but concentrated on MIMO for the European markets. In 1948, to meet the needs of an internationally renowned company, construction work began on the building at 1 Girardet Place, La Chaux-de-Fonds. Restored in 1988, this building is still the Manufactory’s head office. In the 1950’s, GIRARD-PERREGAUX was one of the flagship companies in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a long-established watchmaking centre. An integrated factory, it was present on all the international markets and began to concentrate on developing its business in Asia. In 1966, GIRARD-PERREGAUX developed and manufactured the first high-frequency mechanical movement, with a balance making 36.000 vibrations per hour. In 1969, the factory designed and produced a quartz movement with a frequency of 32.768 hertz, which became the universally accepted standard for all watches with quartz movements, including those made in Asia.
Pocket watches in the late 1800s were large and heavy. Throughout his career, Dietrich tried to make his watches smaller, thinner and more comfortable to carry in a vest pocket, without sacrificing reliability or accuracy. The 1904 Gruen VeriThin pocket watch was a major breakthrough; although it had the same major parts as a traditional movement, Dietrich managed to rearrange components to achieve a much thinner watch. From this point on, Gruen specialized in thin, elegant pocket watches. Gruen was one of the first companies to make wristwatches – both men’s and women’s models were introduced in 1908, but the men’s models were a huge commercial failure; men at the time considered wristwatches effeminate and refused to wear them. During World War I wristwatches were used by the military, and after this men started to accept the idea of strapping a watch to their wrists. Most manufacturers, including Gruen, were careful to call these ‘strap watches’, since ‘wristwatch’ still sounded effeminate to male customers. Dietrich died suddenly in 1911. To honor him, Fred and George put their father’s name on the company’s most expensive watches. In 1917 the Gruen brothers built a new headquarter outside of Cincinnati, Ohio and named it Time Hill. The building was inspired by Medieval guild halls, and became an important symbol. “It has always been our aim,” Fred said, “… to foster those ideals of the ancient guilds, of quality and craftsmanship; to make useful things in a beautiful way, under ideal surroundings. We believe in applying art to industry as exemplified in all of our activities, from building a plant whose style of architecture suggests craftsmanship, to making the watches most beautiful, with greatest accuracy obtainable.” Wristwatches grew in popularity during the 1920s, but conservative American companies continued to make only pocket watches, while Gruen made both wrist and pocket watches. Wristwatches were still not considered appropriate for formal occasions, so Gruen ads tried to convince men that they needed both a wristwatch and a pocket watch. In the 1920s and ’30s, rectangular watches were fashionable. Gruen was one of the first companies to design movements specifically for wristwatches; it made rectangular movements for rectangular watches, while most competitors still used small, round movements. Gruen’s movements were larger because they filled the available space, and the watches were sleeker because the case designs didn’t need to disguise a round movement. This was carried even further in the famous Gruen Curvex. Curved watches became popular in the 1930s, and Gruen’s Curvex movement curved to fit the watch; Gruen’s watches could be thinner and more curved than competitor’s watches with flat movements inside. In 1935 Fred Gruen, now 63 years old, became Chairman of the Board and Benjamin S. Katz was brought in as President of the Gruen Watch Company. In 1935, Gruen was about $1.8 million USD (roughly $36 million USD today) in debt; nervous stockholders and investors were behind the change. Fred would retire in 1940, but continued to sit on the board for the rest of his life. After the success of the Curvex, Gruen launched a series of Veri-Thin wristwatches. Like the Curvex, the Veri-Thin was developed to fill fashionable watch case shapes. In the 1940s, Gruen started building Veri-Thin completely in the U.S., setting up a new factory in the Cincinnati area. After World War II, the American watch industry began to decline. Fred died in 1945, and his brother George died in 1952. During the 1950s the Gruen Watch Company developed serious problems, went deeply into debt, and eventually was broken up and sold. In 1953 the Gruen family sold their interest in the company. The same year, Gruen president Benjamin Katz was forced into retirement after a scandal, and in 1954 the company bought out his shares for $2 million USD. Over the years, other companies have sold watches under the Gruen name, but the original company ceased to exist in 1958.
Gübelin was founded in 1854 in Lucerne, Switzerland and has always been a family enterprise. Gübelin’s story began at a time that coincided with the beginning of the technical, medical and economic developments without which today’s world would be unthinkable. Jakob Josef Mauritz Breitschmid first opened his watchmaker’s shop at Pfistergasse in Lucerne in 1854, six years after the Constitution of 1848 established the modern state of Switzerland. Business was going so well that soon he was able to take on an apprentice by the name of Eduard Jakob Gübelin. After his years as an apprentice and as a journeyman in Paris, the young man returned to his master, married his daughter Bertha and in 1899 also bought the business. Breitschmid’s watchmaker’s shop was universally stocked and he himself was open to new ideas. He was a watchmaker heart and soul, but also a man in touch with the times. A look at the Berne Post Office archives shows that it was Breitschmid who installed the first telephone sets in Lucerne. While the world was going through the dramatic changes of the turn of the last century, Breitschmid and Gübelin spotted an opportunity and moved their shop to a location were the nobles and aristocrats were known to stroll Today, the head of the company is Thomas Gübelin. His father, Walter Gübelin, who had successfully managed the company since the end of the Second World War, handed over the business to his son in 1988. Overall, Thomas Gübelin continued the tradition established by his father, consolidated the company’s position as a Swiss family-run enterprise for Swiss and foreign clients, and did so by expanding the range of services which today are crucial to the company and its clientele, namely competence in design and service. The design applies as much to each individual item of jewellery as to the entire range of watch makes offered by Gübelin. Watches, jewellery and gems are intended as mementos of precious experiences, a reminder of significant moments. The individual care and attention is appreciated by anyone who walks into Gübelin after all service has always been one of the company’s strengths. And what Thomas Gübelin has initiated is to be continued one day, in the sixth generation, by his two children, Raphael and Sara, both of whom already work for the company.
In the year 1874, the Hamilton Watch Company came into existence as a result of yet another reorganization. The name, Hamilton, was selected to honor Andrew Hamilton, original owner of the Lancaster site on which the factory was situated. Hamilton was granted the land by William Penn’s heirs and is credited with founding the city of Lancaster with his son James. Hamilton Watch was founded by merging Keystone with the Aurora (Illinois) Watch Company. Aurora machinery was moved to Lancaster in summer of 1892. Among the leading business and professional men of Lancaster who founded the Hamilton Watch Company were J. W. B.Bausman, John F. Brimmer, Harry B. Cochran, Frank P. Coho, C. A. Fondersmith, George M. Franklin, John Sener, John C. Hager, J. F. McCaskey, H. M. North, Martin Ringwalt, J. Frederick Sener, William Z. Sener, James Shand, Peter T. Watt and H. S. Williamson. Charles D. Rood and Henry J. Cain of Springfield, Massachusetts represented the Aurora interests. The Hamilton Watch Company was founded in 1892 and set out to serve the railroad market with accurate timepieces. The rugged, precision watch that Hamilton produced became a favorite among railroad watch inspectors and personnel. In fulfilling the railroads’ requirements for accuracy, it also filled the needs of the general public for a timepiece of high quality. By the turn of the century it came to be known as “Hamilton – The Railroad Timekeeper of America. In 1927 Hamilton purchased the Illinois Watch Company of Springfield, Illinois and Robert E. Miller, vice-president, left Lancaster to become its general manager. The Hamilton-Sangamo Corporation was formed in 1929 by the Hamilton Watch Company and the Sangamo Electric Company of Springfield, Illinois to market a new line of electric clocks. The Hamilton-Sangamo Corporation was sold in 1931 to General Time Instruments, Inc. Trademarks of the E. Howard Watch Company were acquired by Hamilton in 1931. Although never extremely active in the manufacture of “Howard” watches, Hamilton has produced small quantities under this brand name. American soldiers during World War I preferred the smaller size and convenience of the wristwatch to the “old-fashioned” pocket watches. This trend caused a major shift in American watch production, with a new emphasis on producing wristwatch models for both men and women. During World War II, Hamilton ramped-up production of several models of chronometer to meet the US Armed Forces (particularly the US Navy’s) need for an extremely accurate timepiece which could be used for navigation at sea. Prior to WWII, such highly accurate instruments were only produced abroad. The first Hamilton chronometers were delivered to the Navy in February 1942, and at their peak Hamilton was making 500 chronometers per month! Hamilton Model 23 Military Chronograph was widely used during WWII as a navigator’s “stop-watch”. Based on the super-reliable 992B with Elinvar hairspring and mono-metallic balance, the Mod 23 adds a chronograph mechanism, making it one of the most complicated watches produced by Hamilton. Hamilton has always been on the forefront of horological innovation. The Elinvar hairspring was patented in 1931 and used in all movements thereafter. The name Elinvar was derived from the term “Elasticity Invariable” and was the first alloy to resist the changes in elasticity that occur with changes in temperature. In January 1957, Hamilton introduced the world’s first electric wristwatch, a breakthrough for the industry and the first basic change in portable timekeeping since the early 16th century. Powered by a tiny 1.5 volt battery guaranteed to run the watch for more than a year, the new watch completely eliminated the need for a mainspring. The electric current necessary to operate one 100-watt bulb for one minute could run an electric watch for 20 years. The Hamilton Electrics featured not only a revolutionary movement design, but also were known for their avant-garde styling, making them among the most collectible watches today. Also during the mid-fifties Hamilton embarked on a program of expansion and diversification. As a result, the company produced watches under three brand names – Hamilton, Vantage and Buren – in six plants in this country and abroad, manufactured sterling and plated silverware, fabricated and processed rare and exotic metals, and produced mechanical and electronic measuring devices and components. Hamilton also produced rocket fuel alloys, special metals for the Apollo program, missile timers and safety and arming devices for military applications. Hamilton continued to produce some of the finest American watches until 1969, earning them the distinction of being the only American watch company to survive global competition well into the 20th century.
The Latin word meaning the number ‘seven’ a week; seven days or the seventh day. These handsome pieces have the novelty of running 8 days with an open balance wheel and balance cock. The watch was made by the Swiss company Schild & Cie (not to be mistaken for Ebauche maker A. Schild & Cie). But the history of these unique watches goes back further indeed to 1888. The history of these timepieces with Arthur Graizely who bought an 1888 patent for an 8 day watch from Irenee Aubry. She was granted this patent in 1889, and it was purchased by Graizely, who founded the firm Graizely Freres (and brothers) and started production. Actually the watch patent was meant to run for 15 days but runs only for 8 days and therefore was given the name ‘Hebdomas’. In 1893 the firm won Gold medals in Chicago, in Geneva 1896, Paris 1900 and Milan 1906 – These medals or accolades can be seen boldly on the back movement. In 1915 the company was reorganized as Schild & Cie and the patents and trademarks were transferred from Graizely & Cie. Schild continued to produce these pocket eight day watches in a wide variety of shapes and designs alarms, then wrist versions.
It was in 1860, when Edouard Heuer established his first workshop in St. Imier, Switzerland. It gave birth to the world’s reference of the most reliable and prestigious sports watches. In 1869, Heuer invented and patented the first stem-winding system. In 1911, Heuer launched his first dashboard chronograph developed for automobiles called “Time of Trip”. Five years later, Heuer patented Micrograph, the world’s first wristwatch with chronometer function, capable of measuring 1/100th of a second. In 1920, for the first time, the company officially time-kept the Olympic Games competitions.
In 1933, Heuer introduced the Autavia, the dashboard timer used for automobiles and airplanes. Afterwards, the Monte Carlo and the Master-Time were launched. In the 1950-70s, Heuer timepieces were utterly popular in auto sport.
The Autavia chronograph was launched in 1962. Two years later, after Juan Manuel Fangio’s triumph during the “Carrera Panamericana Mexico” races, Jack Heuer launched Carrera chronograph watch paying tribute to this excellent race car driver from Argentina. Due to its exceptional success, the Carrera chrono converted into the company’s icon.
Again, in 1966, the Heuer company confirmed its status of pioneer in time measuring by manufacturing the world’s first chronograph, capable to measure the 1/1000th of a second.
In 1971, the Heuer Monaco watch became highly famous after Steve McQueen wore it in a movie “Le Mans”. That line was called “Steve McQueen Monaco Edition”.
The TAG Group Holdings SA bought the Heuer company and became TAG Heuer in 1985. The acronym TAG stands for Techniques d’Avant Garde.
In 1992, TAG Heuer turned into the official timekeeper of Formula 1 races, that rose its status even more. The year 1999 brought important changes: the TAG Heuer company was purchased by the LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy S.A.), a leading luxury goods company.
TAG Heuer opened its first shop in New York in 2002. Two years later, TAG Heuer introduced its revolutionary Monaco V4 with a belt-driven movement, and a newly patented world’s first chronometer, capable of measuring the 1/10,000th of a second.
At the same time, TAG Heuer introduced to the world its completely new haute couture collection, including the fine Diamond Fiction wristwatch, which has approximately 900 diamonds. It shows time by lighting an LED from behind of thousands of tiny diamonds.
Huguenin, Abram Louis:
– Son of Moise, born in Neuchatel in 1733.
– Went to Berlin in 1765 as Director of the royal clock factory at Berlin.
– On its failure in 1770 went to Courtelary and in 1775 to Porrentruy.
– Rastatt in 1778 as clockmaker to the Markgrave of Baden.
– At Bienne in 1792 and Berlin in 1804.
– Died 1804. .
In the 19th century, the factory became famous for creating a pocketwatch with “jumping” or fractionalized seconds. This innovation allowed for greater accuracy in measuring elapsed time. Reorganized in 2009, the Huguenin corporation continues this tradition of dedication to innovation.
Everything began when Florentine Ariosto Jones, an American engineer and watchmaker, decided to travel to Switzerland and found the “International Watch Company” in 1868. With a highly qualified Swiss crew and the most modern machines from overseas, he expected to make high-quality mechanisms and watch parts for the American market.
Later, he met Johann Heinrich Moser, a watchmaker and a manufacturer from Schaffhausen that made pocket watches for, among others, the empire of tsars. Moser, a pioneer in the industry, had just installed in Schaffhausen a hydraulic station run by the Rhin waters. This station provided cheap energy but to very few people. It was just what Jones needed and he settled the company IWC there.
Jones, besides being an excellent businessman, was an excellent watch designer. His first mechanic pocket watches with “Jones caliber” presented exceptional characteristics.
Some years later after its foundation, the ownership of the “American” watch factory was taken by Swiss hands. At the same time the philosophy of the product “Probus Scafusia” (the confirmed excellence of Schaffhausen) would arise maintained unalterable till our day.
Johannes Rauschenbach-Vogel bought the company in 1880. Four generations of the Rauschenbach family owned IWC, with varying names. Only a year after the sale, Johannes Rauschenbach died. His son, Johannes Rauschenbach-Schenk, was 25 years old when he took over the IWC company and ran it successfully until his own death on March 2 of 1905.
The manufacture showed IWC’s spirit of innovation already in 1885 with the first pocket watches with digital indication according to Mr. Pallweber patent. Soon, IWC developed pocket watch mechanisms that even today and once revised would reach the precision of a chronometer. Nowadays these IWC watches are extremely rare and sought after collector’s items.
After the death of J. Rauschenbach-Schenk in 1905, his wife, two daughters and their husbands, Ernst Jakob Homberger (director of G. Fischer AG in Schaffhausen) and Dr. Carl Jung (psychologist and psychiatrist), became the new owners of IWC. Following the death of his father-in-law, Ernst Jakob Homberger had a considerable influence on the Schaffhausen watchmaking company’s affairs and guided IWC through one of the most turbulent epochs in Europe’s history.
During the 1930’s, IWC presented the first watch especially designed for aviators with antimagnetic mechanism. In 1940 the Big Pilot’s watch marked another important milestone for IWC. Towards 1948, the Mark 11 appeared armored against magnetic fields. This protection would be later used by the Ingenieur and nowadays by many IWC watches.
Hans Ernst Homberger was the third and last of the Rauschenbach heirs to run IWC as a sole proprietor. He had joined his father’s company in 1934 and took control of IWC after his death in April 1955. In 1957 he added a new wing to the factory and in the same year set up a modern pension fund for the staff. He bought new machines to meet new demands and continuously brought his production technology up to what were considered the very latest standards.
Nearly the end of the forties, during the hard competition among Swiss manufacturers to create the first automatic mechanism that allowed to wind up the watch both sides, IWC was right ahead. IWC’s patented automatic spring has not been improved to our days.
The IWC 1955 Ingenieur equipped with it was the most advanced of its time. Edmund Hillary climbed the highest mountains with it. Today it has become a classic object of desire for collectors.
The Yatch Club or the Ingenieur SL from the sixties and seventies were even more robust. The growing popularity of water sports made IWC launch the Aquatimer in 1967. It was water-resistant to 200 meters and had and internal revolving ring to indicate the time of immersion.
1969 saw IWC present its first quartz wristwatch. The Da Vinci quartz watch was fitted with a Beta 21 caliber movement. Due to an industry crisis, IWC avoided heavy investment in this technology and went back to produce what it was best at – mechanical movements of great technical refinement.
In 1978, IWC introduced the world’s first titanium watchcase and bracelet, which at the time was thought impossible because of the difficulty of working with titanium which required an oxygen-free environment.
It began in 1833, when thirty year-old Antoine LeCoultre set up a watchmaking workshop in the small Swiss town of Le Sentier. He focused his efforts on high-quality timepieces, but for his suppliers to manufacture the quality he needed required him to develop levels of accuracy better than currently existed. He did just that; using his newly invented ‘millionometer’, he was able to measure one micrometer; one-millionth of a meter.
In 1847, using his unparalleled tolerances, LeCoultre designed a push button system that not only changed the function of the watch, but also eliminated the need for a key to wind it. This incredible dedication to innovation was not overlooked; LeCoultre was awarded a gold medal for his work at the Great Exhibition held at the Crystal Palace in 1851.
Antoine’s son, Elie LeCoultre, exhibited the same desire for perfection when he expanded his father’s workshop to bring manufacturing in-house. The scene was set; from 1870, the LeCoultre factory began to produce its own complicated movements, and by the end of the nineteenth century had produced over 350 different types of movement. Such was the quality of the components that another Swiss brand, Patek Philippe, had LeCoultre produce their movement blanks.
The introduction of Edmond Jaeger, a Parisian watchmaker with a penchant for ultrathin movements, marked the next milestone in the Jaeger-LeCoultre journey. In 1903 he set Jacques-David LeCoultre, Antoine’s grandson, the ultimate challenge; to produce a movement he had designed that, if LeCoultre could make it, would be the thinnest movement in the world. After four years of work, LeCoultre finished it, the caliber 145, a world record at 1.38mm thick. The challenge evolved to incorporate the manufacture of the world’s smallest movement too, which became the caliber 101, and weighed less than a gram.
By 1937, the friendship had become a partnership, and the Jaeger-LeCoultre name was born. With Jaeger’s groundbreaking designs and LeCoultre’s manufacturing prowess, Jaeger-LeCoultre would go on to become one of the world’s greatest watchmakers. So impressive are Jaeger-LeCoultre movements that many other respected watch manufacturers use them in their own watches; Audemars Piguet, Panerai and Cartier, to name but three.
Such is the prowess of Jaeger-LeCoultre when it comes to revolutionizing movements, that they even made a clock that is powered by as close as is possible to perpetual motion. Using a mix of temperature-sensitive materials, Jaeger-LeCoultre designed a set of bellows that expanded and contracted at the slightest temperature change, which powered their Atmos clock. Variation of a single degree was enough to charge the clock for two days.
Longines Watch Company was started in 1832 by Auguste Agassiz. Agassiz opened a workshop in St Imier, Switzerland. He operated what today would be called a “Home Business”. Workers would work on watches out of thier own homes, whigh Agassiz would later sell.
Sometime between the years of 1854 and 1866 Agassiz handed down over the operation of the watchmaking business to his nephew Ernest Francillon. Realizing the lack of consistant quality coming from the manufacture of watches in so many locations, Francillon soon built a factory in Les Longines near St. Imier and consolidated all of the areas watchmaking under one roof. The Longines name was born.
The company began producing chronographs in 1879. They later produced aviator watches and cockpit instruments.
The company registered its “Winged Hourglass” trademark in May of 1890.
In 1912 the company produced the first automatic timekeeping device. From that day Longines has long been associated with time-keeping at major sporting events.
In the 1950’s Longines purchased the Wittnauer watch company and marketed a number of very similar lines of watches in the US under both brand names.
The first master of watch making is likely to Samuel-Olivier Meylan, who in 1740 went to the city Rolle to study the art of watch making. His inexhaustible patience, diligence hard work and love to perfect gave its result: he was the creator of watch masterpieces. In 1748 he returned to the Valle de Joux and opened his own workshop. Besides the production of watches, Samuel-Olivier Meylan created a pocket watch with a musical mechanism, installed on the drive box. The brand began to manufacture expensive and elitist watches with complicated mechanisms, and the name Meylan associated with luxury and perfection. Another brilliant heir of watch home Meylan – Philip Samuel Meylan is the creator of unique watches, equipped with a transparent cover which is decorated with engraving of flowers. He also originated the idea of creating ultra – flat for that time inverted mechanism called Bagnolet, which means “look at watch”. It is also equipped with a musical mechanism and setting the indicator of tunes, can get certain pieces of music.
Minerva Watches began their history in 1858 in Villeret, Switzerland when it was founded by Charles-Yvan Robert and Hyppolite Robert. In 1878, Charles and Georges Robert followed in the footsteps of the founding generation. The managing triumvirate was completed in 1885 when Yvan Robert joined the partnership. The characteristic V-shaped trademark with an arrow splitting the letters R, F and V, stood for Robert Freres Villeret. The company name changed several times, becoming Fabrique Robert Freres in 1898, then Fabrique des Faverges in 1902, Fabrique Minerva in 1923 and eventually in 1929 it became Minerva SA.
Movado Watch is a renowned watch company whose name denotes “always in motion” in Esperanto. The company started its expedition in 1881 and later went onto become a leading brand in watch manufacturing. It was a small workshop in La Chaux-de-faunds, Switzerland, from where it saw the light of the day. It was the gifted Achille Ditisheim along with the group of his six employees who initiated the grand move to establish Movado Watch.
Initially, the entire fleet of Movado watches was fabricated, accumulated and manufactured by means of hand. Shortly after putting the valiant act on the roll, their stiff effort and grit got the huge and anticipated dividends. By the year 1899, they were rewarded with nearly six “first-class Official Rating Certificates” in their category. The subsequent years came with even better results and they were honored with the ‘Silver Medal’ at the Universal demonstration in Paris.
By the year 1905, the Movado name had put the company into the reckoning and it had started reaping benefits by the name. To meet the customer’s demand and expectation, it embarked onto the path of practicing distinction in the design and utility of the products at disposal. Later years saw them prevailing over their arch rivals at some grand exhibitions: be it the 1910 trade fair in Paris, Rome, Brussels or Rio de Janeiro. They convincingly brought the glory for themselves by launching of 8 Ligne wristwatch collections. The bringing in of the “Polyplan watch” in the year of 1912, almost created havoc and stunned the entire watch community. These watches were so outstanding that they are exceedingly hunted nowadays at any watch auction.
Movado Digital Watch was launched in the year 1930. At the same time, the Calendomatic, exhibiting month and day markers on the dial, was rolled into the market in 1946 to capture the whole market at one go. The unique “Museum Watch” which displayed a solo dot at the number 12 on the dial, took the market by storm. This inimitable characteristic of the watch symbolized innovation unheard of before. It was profoundly accepted as well as preferred to be put as an enduring set in the “Museum of Modern Art” in the year 1969. It was the result of the teaming up with designers of the likes of Andy Warhol, who collaborated with the production process of “one-of-a-kind watches”, which are now an integral feature of museums, galleries, and watch collections.
Founded at La Chaux De Fonds Switzerland in 1848 by 23-year-old Louis Brandt who assembled key-wound precision pocket watches from parts supplied by local craftsmen. He travelled throughout Europe selling his watches from Italy to Scandinavia by way of England, his chief market. After Louis Brandt’s death in 1879, his two sons Louis-Paul and Cesar, troubled by irregular deliveries of questionable quality, abandoned the unsatisfactory assembly workshop system in favor of in-house manufacturing and total production control. Due to the greater supply of manpower, communications and energy in Bienne, the enterprise moved into a small factory in January 1880, then bought the entire building in December. Two years later the company moved into a converted spinning-factory in the Gurzelen district of Bienne, where headquarters are still situated today. Their first series-produced calibres, Labrador and Gurzelen, as well as, the famous Omega calibre of 1894, would ensure the brand’s marketing success.
Louis-Paul and Cesar Brandt both died in 1903, leaving one of Switzerland’s largest watch companies – with 240,000 watches produced annually and employing 800 people – in the hands of four young people, the oldest of whom, Paul-Emile Brandt, was not yet 24. Considered to be the great architect and builder of Omega, Paul-Emile’s influence would be felt over the next half-century. The economic difficulties brought on by the First World War would lead him to work actively from 1925 toward the union of Omega and Tissot, then to their merger in 1930 within the group SSHI, Geneva. Under his leadership, then that of Joseph Reiser beginning in 1955, the SSIH Group continued to grow and multiply, absorbing or creating some fifty companies. By the seventies, SSIH had become Switzerland’s number one producer of finished watches and number three in the world.
Weakened by the severe monetary crisis and recession of 1975 to 1980, SSIH was bailed out by the banks in 1981. Switzerland’s other watchmaking giant ASUAG, principal producer of movement blanks and owner of the Longines, Rado and Swatch brands, was saved in similar fashion one year later. After drastic financial cleansing and a restructuring of the two groups’ R&D and production operations at the ETA complex in Granges, the two giants merged in 1983 to form the Holding ASUAG-SSIH. In 1985 the holding company was taken over by a group of private investors under the strategy and leadership of Nicolas Hayek. Immediately renamed SMH, Société suisse de Microélectronique et d’Horlogerie, the new group achieved rapid growth and success to become today’s top watch producer in the world. Named Swatch Group in 1998, it now includes Blancpain and Breguet.
The concern known today as Officine Panerai was established in Florence in 1860 –one year before the formation of the modern Italian state. At the time, its founder, Giovanni Panerai, established an office combining the functions of a watchmaking school, a repair workshop, and a sales showroom. Eventually assuming the nameOrologeria Svizzera, the company soon became an influential point of sale for Swiss watches.
The late nineteenth century saw Panerai enter a transitional period under Giovanni and his son, Leon Francesco. Father and son worked with recognized watch industry leaders from the Swiss horology heartland to establish supplier ties that became the basis for the Italian firm’s sales growth and eventual watch production model. Movements, cases, specialized parts, and entire watches traveled from Swiss specialists to Panerai’s offices as needed.
Under Leon Francesco’s guidance, Panerai diversified to become a research and development operation with core competencies in mechanical engineering, component fabrication, and instrument design. This was no aberration; for most of its history, Panerai’s professional tool and hardware fabrication would represent an important source of revenue for the company.
By the turn of the twentieth century, Giovanni’s grandson, Guido, had established the firm, then known as Guido Panerai & Figlio, as an official supplier to the Regia Marina, the Royal Italian Navy. Initially, the contracts focused on the company’s burgeoning capabilities as a diversified design bureau. Timing and contact triggers for mines, submersible navigation tools, and mechanized computing devices represented the bulk of Panerai’s early military contracts.
Critically, the turn of the twentieth century also set Panerai on a convergence course with the military watchmaking identity for which it became legendary. Between 1915 and 1916, Panerai worked to develop a self-sustaining source of illumination for the military equipment that was becoming central to the firm’s business model. Marie and Pierre Curie’s 1898 discovery of radium had opened a new field of technology designed to harness the gamma emissions of the new element. Panerai’s proprietary radium compound, composed of zinc sulphide, radium bromide, and mesothorium, was trademarked as “Radiomir.”
On a parallel plane of the watch industry, one of Panerai’s Swiss manufacturing partners, Rolex, was making its name in the waterproof watch sector. Rolex’s 1926 development of the “Oyster” case became a defining moment in the history of the watch industry. Previously, “waterproof” (today known as “water resistant”) watches were unreliable, awkwardly packaged, and economically impractical. With the development of Rolex’s Oyster, waterproof watches became a practical proposition for consumer pocket and wrist models.
The arrival of waterproof watches also created a new sales proposition for one of Panerai’s largest patrons: the Italian military. Italy’s World War I success with combat swimmers combined with interwar development of the “Davis Rebreather,” a pioneering portable underwater breathing device, to spawn a new class of maritime combatant: the underwater demolition specialist, or “frogman.” Waterproof timers were essential to the success of the new concept, and in Radiomir and the Rolex Oyster, Panerai held both keys to the Regia Marina’spuzzle.
By mid 1930s, discussions between Panerai and Italian naval authorities had reached a critical mass. World War II was beginning to loom on the horizon, and Italian deployments to North Africa accelerated the military timetables for delivery. Working with Rolex in Geneva, Panerai arranged for delivery of fully assembled Ref. 2533 Oyster-cased pocket watches, complete with movements. By special consent of the Swiss firm, Panerai was permitted to modify the cases, movements, and dials to suit the demands of its military end-user.
Between 1936 and 1938, the Panerai, Rolex, and Italian authorities collaborated to refine the model that would become the definitive Panerai military tool watch. The 3646. Between 1938 and 1956, these watches formed the backbone of Panerai’s deliveries to the Italian Navy. All of the Panerai watches were assembled by Rolex, and Panerai’s Italian office modified them to suit military requirements. Soldered-on wire lugs, waxed leather straps, high-visibility dials with a two-piece “sandwich” construction, enlarged bezels, and a shatter-resistant crystal composed of a revolutionary thermoplastic compound, Plexiglas, became the signature contributions of the Italian contractor.
World War II was the crucible in which Panerai watches’ military legacy and combat heritage were forged. The Italian amphibious commandos, having been consolidated under the unit banner “Decima Flottiglia Mezzi d’Assalto,” went to war equipped with Panerai watches and instruments. Combat operations with manned torpedoes (maiale), limpet mines, and explosive speedboats (barchini) succeeded in sinking Allied combatant and transport craft in the Mediterranean theater. Panerai’s distinctive combat wristwatches accompanied all Decima personnel.
Both the Panerai timepieces and Italian frogmen became influential in elite tactical circles. The German navy adopted the Panerai, dubbed the “Kampfschwimmer,” as the timekeeper of choice for its own elite amphibious units. Understandably unable to source the Panerai product, the British Admiralty nevertheless worked to emulate both the Italian “Gamma” swimmers and their Panerai dive watches. In September of 1943, almost two years after the December 1941 Decima raid on Alexandria that crippled the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant, the Royal Navy conducted a virtually identical operation – down the watch specifications – that disabled the German battleship Tirpitz in its Norwegian berth.
The modern era of elite tactical warfare and amphibious special forces had been born, and Panerai watches were to remain inextricably linked to this seminal moment in military history.
Between the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 and the full frost of the Cold War in the 1950s, Panerai produced a limited number of watches that gradually dovetailed the end of its military relationship with the groundwork for its eventual consumer success. During this period, the company continued to experiment with new lug designs, new cases, new models, new forms of locking crowns, and new chemical compounds for its signature illuminated dials.
As Italian Fascism receded in the face of Allied onslaughts and milquetoast Italian enthusiasm for Mussolini’s ethos, Panerai foresaw postwar openings for new domestic and foreign military contracts. While few of these efforts came to commercial fruition, they swelled a company product catalog that would underpin Panerai’s millennial emergence as a consumer phenomenon.
Design studies for an aborted chronograph project, the 1943 “Mare Nostrum,” helped to set the stage for the brand’s eventual civilian debut. Wartime Italian efforts to improve upon the in-and-out wear vulnerability of Rolex’s screw-down crown led to the first schematics of the “device protecting the crown,” a practical locking mechanism that would become the company’s most iconic design element. In the wake of the war and growing awareness of gamma radiation’s health impact, Panerai moved to reformulate its glowing dial paint.
The new luminescent chemistry, which was based on a beta ray emitter, tritium, debuted in prototype form in 1949. The material was as notable for its name as its composition. Panerai’s trademarked name for the substance, Luminor, would live on long after the paint of the same name was phased out. It is important to note that until the consumer era, the names Radiomir and Luminor exclusively referred to luminescent paint compounds, not case designs.
During this period of low volumes and frequent experimentation, Panerai also accelerated its development of a case to replace the original shape inherited from Rolex’s pocket watch line. In time, the Italians replaced the soldiered wire lugs with integrated lugs machined into a one-piece case. The postponed upgrade to the Rolex screw-down crown first saw the light of day as a physical prototype in 1950, and the system was protected by patent in 1956. That year, Panerai incorporated the new crown in one of its last major developments as a military timepiece supplier.
In conjunction with the Egyptian Navy, for which Panerai had previously developed tactical watches in 1953, the Italian contractor delivered a transitional model that incorporated distinctive elements from past and future Panerai products. The 60mm “Big Egiziano” featured a case that 21st century buyers would consider analogous to a modern Luminor Submersible, complete with rotating and calibrated bezel, integrated lugs, and a device protecting the crown.
However, by special request of the Egyptian authorities, the watch also bears the distinction of being the final application of Panerai’s original Radiomir radium compound. Delivery of the “Big Egiziano” was a crossroads moment for Panerai, and it marked the twilight of the company’s role as a significant contractor for tactical watches.
The end of the nineteen fifties also marked the end of Panerai’s manufacturing arrangement with Rolex. From 1956, when the Rolex relationship officially ended, until 1972, the company’s instrument arm entered a period of decline. That year, Giuseppe Panerai, Guido’s son and the family scion who oversaw nearly the entire tactical watch program, died.
A former Italian naval officer and engineer, Dino Zei, became the first non-Panerai to lead the company since its 1860 inception. From 1972 through the early 1990s, Zei directed the company to focus on remaining opportunities in the fields of dive tools, aerospace components, and radio equipment. With the exception of prototyping several pioneering titanium dive models, watchmaking activities effectively ceased.
1993 marked the dawn of the modern era for Officine Panerai. Having assumed that name during the early Zei era, the one-time watchmaker realized that its military legacy could secure it a niche in the resurgent market for upscale mechanical watches. Having witnessed Rolex’s emergence on the strength of its dive models, Panerai raided its back catalog of tactical products and prototypes to deliver the first branded consumer watches in the firm’s 133-year history.
The three 1993 model-year watches unveiled on the Italian warship Durand De La Penne bore names from Panerai’s military heritage. The first, a production simulacrum of the 1943 Mare Nostrum prototype, amounts to a footnote in modern Panerai history. However, the other two models, bearing the “Luminor” imprint, became the basis for Panerai’s breakthrough consumer product. Now a specific case design rather than a luminous paint, the name Luminor became synonymous with the 44mm case diameter, the Panerai crown protector, and the integrated lugs of the later military models.
Initially, public reaction to the Panerai lineup was tepid. The limited commercial profile of the parent company, nearly non-existent distributor base, and minimal marketing combined to relegate the watches to immediate closeout items at the few vendors who took a chance. Like the similarly outsized Audemars Piguet Royal Oak of the same year, Panerai’s debut struggled to attract early adopters. Unlike AP, however, Panerai could leverage no existing clientele, dealer network, or advertising budget to right the ship.
Instead, the tonic for Panerai’s marketing malaise came in the form of unpaid endorsements. Actor Sylvester Stallone, who discovered the brand while shooting the action film “Daylight” in Rome, purchased a Luminor Marina and wore it on camera. Enamored of the look, Stallone placed a succession of mass orders for custom “Slytech” branded Luminors.
These watches, which constituted Panerai’s first volume orders, also proved to be a publicity boon for the company. Multiple unsponsored film appearances and sightings on the wrists of Stallone associates, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, raised the company’s public profile sufficiently to jump-start initial consumer demand.
By 1997, Panerai had a pulse. The company’s incipient growth and emerging general market demand for mammoth dive watches convinced the Vendome Group – now Richemont, S.A. – to take a low-risk gamble on Panerai. For approximately $1.5 million U.S., Officine Panerai joined the Vendome fold. In doing so, it gained access to significant marketing, product development, and distribution resources.
The company, which was first called Patek Philippe & Co, was founded in 1851 by a Polish watchmaker by the name of Antoni Patek and fellow watchmaker Adrien Philippe of France. The first watch to be created however was in 1837. Philippe is best known as the inventor of a winding mechanism that does not require a key. In 1932, two men by the names of Charles and Jean Stern bought the company and called it Patek Philippe, S.A. Since then, the company has persisted as a family-owned entity. In 2009, company control was transferred to the fourth generation when Philippe Stern turned the company over to his son, Thierry Stern. Currently, it is the oldest watch company that is family-owned.
The history of Rolex is inextricably linked to the visionary spirit of Hans Wilsdorf, its founder. In 1905, at the age of 24, Hans Wilsdorf founded a company in London specializing in the distribution of timepieces. He began to dream of a watch worn on the wrist. Wristwatches were not very precise at the time, but Hans Wilsdorf foresaw that they could become not only elegant, but also reliable. Rolex first concentrated on the quality of the movements. The relentless quest for chronometric precision rapidly led to success. In 1910, a Rolex watch was the first wristwatch in the world to receive the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision, granted by the Official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne.
Four years later, in 1914, Kew Observatory in Great Britain awarded a Rolex wristwatch a class “A” precision certificate, a distinction which until that point in time had been reserved exclusively for marine chronometers. From that date forward, the Rolex wristwatch was synonymous with precision.
Rolex moved to Geneva, a city renowned internationally for watch making. Montres Rolex S.A. was registered in 1920. In 1926, the creation by Rolex of the first waterproof and dustproof wristwatch marked a major step forward. Given the name “Oyster”, this watch featured a hermetically sealed case which provided optimal protection for the movement. It is one thing to claim a watch is waterproof. It is quite another to prove it. In 1927 a Rolex Oyster crossed the English Channel, worn by a young English swimmer named Mercedes Gleitze. The swim lasted over 10 hours and the watch remained in perfect working order at the end of it. In 1931, Rolex invented and patented the world’s first self-winding mechanism with a Perpetual rotor. This ingenious system, a true work of art, is today at the heart of every modern automatic watch. The year 1945 saw the birth of the Datejust, the first self winding wrist chronometer to indicate the date in a window on the dial. A watch of great distinction, the Datejust was equipped with a Jubilee bracelet created especially for it and a fluted bezel, making it immediately recognizable as a Rolex. It is the pillar of the Oyster collection. Initially for men, it became available in various models for women in the course of the following decade. In 1953, Sir John Hunt’s expedition, in which Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Mount Everest, was equipped with Oyster Perpetuals. Launched in 1953, the Submariner was the first divers’ watch waterproof to a depth of 100 meters (330 feet). Its rotatable bezel allows divers to read their immersion time. In 1956, the Oyster Perpetual Day-Date made its debut. Available only in 18 ct gold or platinum, it was the first wristwatch to display the date and day of the week spelt out in full in a window on the dial. With the President bracelet, originally created especially for it, the Day-Date continues to be the watch par excellence of influential people. Launched in 1963 as a new-generation chronograph, the Cosmograph soon gained the name that became the mark of an icon: Daytona. Designed as the ultimate tool for endurance racing drivers, the Cosmograph Daytona was robust, waterproof and featured a tachymetric scale on the bezel for calculating average speed. In 1985, Rolex became the first watch making brand to pioneer the use of 904L for the cases of all its steel watches. Most commonly used in high technology and in the aerospace and chemical industries, its excellent anti-corrosion properties are comparable to those of precious metals and it offers a final polish of exceptional sheen.
Cyma Was Founded 1891 in Tavannes by Tavannes Watch and F. Henri Sandoz. Frederic Henri Sandoz was basically a businessman not just an artisan. To move forward in his profession he left home town of Le Locle and the Sandoz & Co. he had founded there. In the nearby town of Tavannes he started a new company for the production of both simple and complicated watches, including chronographs. In 1890 he registered a patent for a chronograph. he developed further patents among them a stem-winding mechanism and a chime movement. The new workshops grew to over 1000 square meters and forty employees. Fredric upgraded his manufacturing facility with the high tech machine-tools of the day which allowed him to complete more than 40 watches a day a large amount of production for the times. Many of these time pieces went to the market under the Cyma trademark. Towards 1892 the company entered into a cooperative agreement with Schwob Freres of La Chaux-de-Fonds. The company continued to grow after 1900. Around 1905, daily production increased to over 1000 watches. Cyma then developed markets in the far east and elsewhere which provided a large increase to the growth of the company. In 1938, Cyma had over 2000 employees and 2200 machines with a daily production output rate of over 4000 watches and movements. Cyma was a large innovator of technology designs in such as area – for example. The shock-proof models with a protective cover were provided to the military in 1915. After the initial design by waterproof design upgrades. In the 1930’s Cyma offered chronographs equipped with Valjoux movements. The first automatic movement occurred in 1943 with the introduction of the caliber 420, which had a swing arm that only wound in one direction. This movement was fitted into the square-cased “Water sport” model. Another collector’s item is the “Auto rotor” self-winding caliber 485. After 1957 Cyma only used ETA calibers movements. Around 1966 Tavannes-Cyma stopped production and all design, trademark and manufacturing went to Chronos Holding.
Seiko officially began in 1881 when Kintaro Hattori, a 21-year-old Tokyo businessman opened a jewelry store, K. Hattori & Co., Ltd in Tokyo’s Ginza district. He chose jewelry after keenly observing: “On a rainy day, every retail shop will have less customers. However, jewelers can make good use of these slack days by repairing timepieces and thus not waste precious time.” The first Seiko watch would not be built until years later, but the remarkable efficiency for which Seiko is now renowned was presaged by this early philosophy. Years spent repairing watches and clocks laid the foundation for the eventual establishment of the Seikosha clock manufacturing plant in 1892. Pocket watches were added to the companies’ product line in 1895.
Disaster struck in 1923 when a massive earthquake struck Tokyo destroying the Seikosha factory. With production in 1924 down to 10% of 1922 levels, the first wristwatch bearing the Seiko brand name was introduced. Following World War I, the wristwatch had replaced the pocket watch as the timepiece of choice and amid destruction and reconstruction K. Hattori & Co., Ltd found its niche.
In 1930, building upon its expertise with micro-mechanics, the company branched out into the manufacturing of camera shutters, eventually becoming one of the world’s largest suppliers of camera products, although they were never marketed under the company’s own brand. Today the Seiko has further diversified into printers, optics and electronics.
In 1934, following the death of Kintaro Hattori, his successor, son Genzo Hattori, shifted the company’s business model to allow private plants to develop and manufacture watches and clocks to be marketed by K. Hattori Co. and carrying the Seiko name. In 1936, the company sold more than two million watches and clocks, nearly two thirds of Japan’s total production of watches and clocks.
In the 1950s, Seiko watches began to attract international attention, and the brand began marketing its products in the United States. The first Seiko automatic watches were introduced in 1955. By 1959, Seiko was producing three million watches a year.
In the 1960s, Seiko enlarged its presence in the US by successfully positioning itself between cheaper American brands such as Timex and more expensive Swiss brands at an average price tag of around $50.00.
The event which propelled Seiko to dominance was the introduction of the world’s first production quartz watch in 1969.
The Swiss watch and clock industry came to be in the 16th century in Geneva, when jewels were banned and goldsmiths turned to creating watches. By the end of the century Genevan watchmakers had earned a reputation for excellence, and many of them moved to the Jura Mountains.
Watchmaking in Jura flourished thanks to a goldsmith named Daniel Jeanrichard, who applied the division of labor to the watchmaking industry. The increase in efficiency and standardization led to the exportation of 60,000 watches from Geneva. From 1770 to 1842 inventors in Jura developed new watches that included the fly back hand, the date, and self-winding movements.
The mass production of watches took off during the middle of the 20th century, and standardization led Swiss watchmakers to the forefront of the industry. After the end of World War I the wristwatch was introduced, which pushed the industry forward even more quickly.
For more than four centuries now, the commitment to tradition, craftsmanship, and creativity have allowed the Swiss watchmaking industry to maintain leadership in the world watch market
Tavannes Watch Company has a vast history spanning from 1891 to now. Although not the most recognized name in the industry today, the brand that was actually the 4th biggest watch manufacturer in the world in the 20’s and 30’s!
Named after the small Swiss village in which Henri-Frédéric Sandoz founded the company, Tavannes watches were sold all over the world.
They ran strong until about 1966, and at that time concentrated their business model on selling movements to other watch brands until 1982. After that, they got out of watch mechanics and focused solely on the production of specialized numeric command machines for the watch industry.
Chs Tissot & Fils was founded in Le Locle, in the Jura region of Switzerland in 1853 by the locally born & bred father-son duo of Charles-Félicien Tissot and Charles-Émile Tissot. As with most Swiss watch companies founded in that era, Tissot began life as a comptoir, an assembler of parts procured from individual makers in the region. In that first year, the company delivered between 1100 and 1200 watches to the region around Le Locle.
By 1858, the younger Tissot, Charles-Émile, was off to Russia, and with the blessing of the Czar, was selling Tissot brand pocket watches all across the Empire. Between 1860 and 1875, Tissot produced spare parts and watchmaking tools, among other small items, as well as finished watches.
Also notable, throughout the period of the late 1800s, Tissot was the recipient of numerous awards and prizes in several industrial exhibitions. Among the prizes taken were the Diploma of Honour in Zurich in 1888, the Grand Prix and Gold Metal in Antwerp in 1890, the Grand Prix in Paris in 1900, and First prize for Chronometers and for Marine Chronometers in the Neuchâtel Observatory Competition in 1907. Charles-Émile’s son Charles was firmly established in Russia by the late 1880s. His son Paul was born in 1890, and daughter Marie in 1897. Paul and Marie were both to become instrumental in the running of Tissot, Paul handling general business affairs with his father, and Marie doing the day to day running of the company.
As ownership of the company changed, being passed from father to son (and behind the scenes, daughter), the name changed as well. In 1865, the company became Charles- Émile Tissot & Fils. In 1917, the name changed again, to Chs. Tissot & Fils – SA. In 1918, Tissot reorganized their ébauche workshops, taking it from a fabrique to a manufacture. It was making the ébauches for its movements in its own factory and began to mass-produce them.
1930 and the newly minted partnership with Omega saw Tissot under the banner of SSIH, and in 1976, the name Tissot Marché Suisse SA appeared. Ultimately, in 1982, Tissot was doing business under the formal name of Tissot SA.
In 1905 Wilsdorf launched his own company in England and started producing high quality watches. Then in 1908, he registered the “Rolex” brand in La Chaux-de-Fonds Switzerland. The company remained in England fifteen years approximately and in 1920 moved to Geneva. It was not until 1946 that Hans Wilsdorf first opened Tudor. Wilsdorf chose the name Tudor because he wanted to honor the Tudor period of England. The Tudor watches used the Tudor Rose signed on the dial which is the heraldic emblem of England and takes its origin from the Tudor dynasty. Ending 1960’s Tudor changes its famous Rose sign for the actual Shield sign. The main difference between Rolex and Tudor could be seen already in the 40’s when the first Rolex Tudor Oyster was introduced: Inside the screwed-in Oyster case, instead of a Rolex manufactured movement, there was a movement supplied by Ebauches SA, ETA. Throughout the years, Rolex Tudor Chrono models stands out since the brand manufactures them from the beginning with valjoux movements that were modified and improved for Rolex Tudor watches (similar to those manufactured for Rolex chronographs) including exotic dials such as the Rolex Tudor Montecarlo series with diverse colors and designs. Rolex Tudor chronograph movements evolved from manual to automatic, with deeper cases and plastic crystals. Moreover, Rolex Tudor manufactured ladies’ and men’s watches with the same size as Rolex: 13mm (ladies’), 17mm (mid size), 19mm (men’s date) and 20mm (men’;s date just). Sport watches like the Rolex Tudor Submariner were also manufactured in black like the Rolex Submariner and also with blue dial. Throughout the years, some models such as the Rolex Tudor Ranger or the Rolex Tudor Ranger II have stood out for its outstanding arabic numbered dial on 3, 6 and 9 and the special orange hands like the Rolex Explorer II “Steve McQueen” and its particular dials signed in red. Other famous watches produced were the Rolex Tudor Alarm and the Rolex Tudor Day Date with its exceptionally size for that time. The majority of these watches has been made in Stainless Steel but we can find them in 14KT and 18KT Yellow Gold or two tone. Rolex Tudor also joined Rolex in the manufacture of the watches nowadays known as Vintage, with cases, dials and hands similar to Rolex’s. Rolex Tudor always took advantage of their direct connection to Rolex in order to improve their sales. In addition, Rolex Tudor was conceived from the beginning as the “second” brand, which results in more moderate prices than its bigger, more famous brother. Rolex Tudor watches are sold through official and authorized Rolex retailers but the Tudor brand is not currently available in the United States. Still, it continues to be sold in Europe, Asia, Canada and Latin America. The French Navy used Rolex Tudor watches for its divers, the first Rolex Tudor Submariners were purchased from the Marine Natioinale in the late 60`s. In addition, the same model was used by the US Navy for its UDT and the Navy Seals. Rolex signed bracelets and crowns were part of the Tudor models up to 1990’s. In 1997 Rolex signed a contract with the famous golf player Tiger Woods to advertise the Rolex Tudor Prince Chronograph. The first Rolex Tudor Chronograph Tiger Woods model came out with a variety of colored displays. Therefore, Rolex Tudor became a pioneer in exotic colored dials. One example could be the classic Rolex Tudor Tiger Woods model with soleil and red-signed black dial.
Vacheron and Constantin’s origins can be honestly traced back to 1755, when the 24 year old Jean-Marc Vacheron joined the ranks of the Cabinotier of Geneva. Cultured, well read, and a respected member of the intelligentsia of the time, young Jean-Marc quickly established a reputation for producing timepieces of the highest grade. Vacheron’s reputation extended to the Royal Courts of Europe, where their creations impressed even the Court Timekeeper and Royal Watchmakers. An all too seldom mentioned character in this fascinating story is that of Georges-Auguste Leschot. He joined Vacheron-Chossat in 1839. Georges-Auguste Leschot was one of the genius pioneers of the mechanization of serialized production, along with predecessor F. Japy in France (originated the ebauche approach to watchmaking in late 1700’s), and contemporaries P.F. Ingold, Americans A.L. Dennison, the Pitkin brothers, E. Howard, and Custer. It is interesting to note that Ingold’s attempts to mechanize production in the watchmaking industry were met with strong resistance in both France and England. Ingold himself was Swiss, and studied with Breguet in Paris, before attempting, unsuccessfully, to start machine assisted production lines in his own company. Prior to Leschot’s work at Vacheron, virtually all parts were rough cut, formed, and finished by hand. This lack of fine precision essentially forced the custom creation of every single piece, even if the design was fundamentally unchanged. There was no interchangeability of parts, even for the same model. Essentially, every finished piece was a one-off. This was a problem of production and execution, not of design. Efforts had already started, a few decades before, to create machines that could produce, reliably and consistently, precision parts that could then be used in serial production. G-A. Leschot’s breakthroughs were in designing machines that could produce parts that were of sufficient quality and precision that they were interchangeable in the same caliber. They did, however, still require hand finishing to be usable on an interchangeable basis. The production and cost efficiencies realized were such that Vacheron and Constantin quickly became a major supplier of components and ebauche to other watchmakers. They also remained a dominant manufacture due to the resulting cost efficiencies. That Leschot played a critical role in Vacheron and Constantin’s survival and growth during those glory years cannot be over-emphasized. It can be reasonably argued that Leschot’s machines was a key factor in the success of the Swiss bar movement design. No less a landmark work than Karl Marx’ Das Kapital makes reference to Vacheron and Constantin for successfully introducing machine work into the watchmaking process. Suffice it to say that Leschot and Vacheron played pivotal roles in the industrialization of watchmaking, hitherto a cottage industry, and blazed the path for future watchmaking titans Omega and Longines. G-A Leschot was the creator of a number of other mechanical and machining breakthroughs, including a process for drilling with a bit tipped with a crown of black diamonds. During the latter part of the 19th century, Vacheron and Constantin underwent a number of name and individual ownership changes, but always with a Vacheron and a Constantin at the helm.
Vulcain was founded in 1858 by Maurice Mitisheim, who had specialized himself in watch complications. Not only was he a skilled watchmaker, he was a careful businessman and his watch business grew. Wrist watches was decades away, pocket watches where Mitisheim’s sole product in the 19th century.
The company began to manufacture wristwatches in the 1920s and 1930s. The 1940s were marked by innovation, receiving numerous patents for their watch movement designs. However, it was the Vulcain Cricket mechanical alarm wrist watch introduced in 1947 that marked a turning point in the company’s history. Vulcain’s accuracy was recognized when it won the international Chronometry Competition in 1948 at the Neufchatel Observatory.
When U.S. President Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson sported their Vulcain Cricket watch, it literally put the small watch company on the map. The popularity of Vulcain grew dramatically as a result of these U.S. presidents wearing their Crickets. However, storm clouds were forming on the Swiss watchmaking horizon. Like virtually every other watch company, the advent of quartz technology impacted Vulcain as well.
The small company remained fiercely mechanical and refused to adopt quartz technology. Vulcain chose to be a mechanical movement holdout in the 1970s and 1980s, but the availability of more affordable quartz watches, coupled with their inherent accuracy, doomed the small company. After operating for more than 100 years, Vulcain ceased operation and closed its doors.
In 2001, Bernard Fleury, the director of Production et Marketing Horloger SA, saw a market niche for the return of the mechanical alarm watch and purchased the brand and rights to the name. It also sought out watchmakers who had worked for Vulcain. However, this time new technology would be employed in the form of 3D computer modeling software that is now commonplace in the design of new Swiss watches. With amazing speed, a new line of Cricket watches was introduced in 2002 and the Vulcain brand relaunched with much fanfare at the Basel show that year. Even established watch company directors paid the Vulcain booth a visit to speak with its director and Vulcain’s watchmakers.
Today, the company is located in Le Locle near the western Swiss border. It continues to build on its unique mechanical alarm design, and demand for their fine watches continues to grow.
Until the mid 19th century, watch making was a cottage industry with watch parts being manufactured at different locations and then assembled together by hand. The process was imprecise, time consuming, and resulted in a product that was unaffordable for a majority of people. The Waltham Watch Company began its operations at the site in 1854 and, through innovation, introduced a system of interchangeable parts. The Company developed machinery that could make watch parts so precisely that they were interchangeable with one another. This innovation served to catapult productivity and place the Waltham Watch Company on the international forefront as the first company to mass produce a complete watch under one roof. This mass production led to relatively affordable prices and the accessibility of watches for a broader population. The Waltham Watch Company thus served to expand America and the World’s time consciousness.
The Property functioned as a watch factory until the 1950s. The First Republic Corporation of America purchased the Property in 1961 as a multi-tenanted light manufacturing and warehousing facility. Panametrics, a manufacturer of precision instruments, grew to become the largest tenant and occupied 75% of the complex before being acquired and relocated by General Electric in 2004. Since then, the Property has remained mostly vacant.
The complex was listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places in 1989. The monumental character and historic significance of the Watch Factory is such that it adorns the seal of the City of Waltham.
The beginnings of the A. Wittnauer Company seem almost like a fairy tale, the quintessential immigrant’s dream come true in a time of war and poverty. A young man from from a far off land with a dream that he would eventually have his name of the dashboards of pilots and pioneers & on the wrists of actors and astronauts. This dream would continue even after his death as his sister, the first female CEO of a watch manufacturer, took the reins of the company in the midst of the worst economic depression America had ever seen. Yet despite the triumphs of the Wittnauer family and brand, they have faded into obscurity amid a complicated history.
The year was 1872 and at just sixteen years old, Albert Wittnauer journeyed from Switzerland to New York to work for his brother-in-law, Eugene Roberts, who ran a watch importing business focused mostly on high end pieces such as Vacheron & Constantin and Jaeger LeCoultre. Albert dreamt of creating his own watch brand that would suit the American market: an affordable Swiss watch that was still of high quality despite a lower price. Eight years later in 1880 the first Wittnauer watches were being made. In the same year F. Eugene Roberts & Co became the exclusive sales agent for Longines in America, a partnership that would last nearly 125 years. Ten years after the first Wittnauer watch was produced, Eugene bestowed the title of “A. Wittnauer Company” upon Albert’s new venture.
The company went from strength to strength as Albert’s brothers, Louis and Emile, joined him from Switzerland to help run the family business now residing on Maiden Lane, the heart of New York’s jewellery and watchmaking industry in its day. Albert was as skilled a hirer as he was a watchmaker, employing Ferdinand Haschka (who later became the head watchmaker for Tiffany & Co) and Charles Johns (who went on to create a perpetual calendar chronometer that would feature at the 1939 World’s fair). Unfortunately, one by one the three brothers passed away and in 1916 (four years before she would be allowed to vote) their sister Martha, a homemaker with no watch or business knowledge, became CEO of A. Wittnauer. Despite her lack of formal business training, Martha would lead the company for twenty years, surviving a World War and the Great Depression. Under her leadership, the original goal of producing high quality, low price watches remained at the forefront of the company’s objectives.
In 1916, Wittnauer manufactured the “All-Proof”, which was heralded as the world’s first shock and waterproof antimagnetic wristwatch. Fitting of the era the advertisements were not shy in extolling the virtues of the All-Proof claiming it had been “dropped 3400 feet from an aeroplane – exposed to rain for 30 hours and still running perfectly” and later there were claims that All-Proofs had been thrown from the Empire State Building, taken to steaming Amazon jungles and brought to the highest elevation of the Himalayas, Alps and Andes. You can just hear the radio announcer reading that aloud, can’t you? Not all of the All-Proof’s claims were complete hyperbole, as it was worn by Jimmie Mattern, a American pilot who had twice attempted to circumnavigate the world, who praised his Wittnauer for surviving his crash landing. This very same watch was also worn by Neil Armstrong during the Gemini 8 mission as he wanted to honour Mattern’s pioneering spirit.
During Martha’s tenure as CEO, the company was chosen to be the official timer for the first national radio station in America, the National Broadcasting Company, and to be part of the instruments for several aeronautical adventures including Amelia Earhart’s voyage across the Atlantic. Martha was the first woman to be elected into the Horological Society of America and managed to keep control of the company well into her seventies. In 1936 A. Wittnauer was sold to Hella Deltah, a pearl manufacturer. Capitalising on the long partnership and history with Longines, the company was renamed Longines-Wittnauer. This is the point where some misconceptions formed, with some believing that Longines purchased Wittnauer, whose watches were poor quality Longines movements or that Wittnauer watches were using cases from Longines etc. From what I’ve researched there seems to be no truth to these rumours, as the company wasn’t purchased again till 1969 by the Westinghouse Electric Company. This unfortunate belief that Wittnauer was the “lesser” sibling to Longines was the first step in the diminishment of their history of quality pieces. Perhaps this relationship was clearer back then and it’s only as time has marched on and records/intents forgotten that our perspective has changed.
Over the next fifty years or so, the Longines-Wittnauer Company made some really fantastic looking watches. Whilst it may not be to everyone’s taste I think the Futurama 1000 is a beautiful watch that evokes the “future-thinking” design inspiration of the late sixties. How can you not love the weirdness of a curved rectangular case mixed with a retrograde display and magnification bubble for the date? The dial looks like a combination between an old camera light meter and a radio frequency selector. Whilst I’m not a big wearer of gold coloured watches, I think there is a certain something about the beautifully hideous watch. Made in 1970, the Wittnauer 2000 is a fascinating piece: a perpetual calendar from a brand not known at all for complicated watches. This inexperience with such a complication is noticeable however when you realise that the calendar only went up to the year 2000, giving it a useful life of just thirty years. You just have to admire the charm in something so self-defeating. Well I do at least. The look of this piece is really unique, with the day wheel at 12 o’clock above an odd grid layout of dates with the same layout mirrored at 6 o’clock for the months and years. Whilst it is mostly a decorative piece, there are a few 2000s going on Ebay for a wide range of prices. In some of their sports chronographs Longines-Wittnauer used the iconic Valjoux 72 movement, the same movement that was used in Rolex Pre-Daytonas and LeCoultre and Heuer chronographs. How anyone can say that this watch is of “less quality” than a Longines is beyond me, as Longines themselves made a chronograph featuring the exact same movement which they dubbed the Cal. 30CH. Also let’s not forget that a Wittnauer chronograph was chosen to be tested by NASA to be used in the Gemini & Apollo missions and whilst the Wittnauer didn’t pass the tests neither did Breitling, Rolex and Hamilton. In fact, a Longines-Wittnauer chronograph was in the final three beside Rolex and Omega.
Zenith was born in 1865, the vision of a 22-year old named Georges Favre-Jacot. He created the concept of a Manufacture by bringing all the artisan watchmakers, that used to work from their homes, under the same roof thus immensely improving quality control and cutting design and manufacturing times.
Throughout it’s long history, the Zenith watch company has won over 1500 watch industry awards and created over 50 calibers, but it wasn’t until 1969 that Zenith introduced the legendary “El Primero” chronograph movement, setting the standard for mechanical excellence. It was the first chronograph caliber with integrated automatic winding and is also the fastest chronograph in existence, beating at 36000 alternations per hour (compared to the more typical 28000) making it also the most precise in the world. The Zenith El Primero is also the only mechanical chronograph that can measure short time intervals to 1/10 of a second.
Ironically, at the same time that Zenith introduced it’s greatest movement, quartz arrived to the watch world, an invention that would almost destroy the traditional swiss watch industry in the subsequent years. Zenith takes on the quartz challenge, preserving its precious tooling and waiting for the inevitable comeback of the mechanical movements. While many watch manufacturers ceased to exist during this rough years, Zenith was able to persist in part thanks to supplying its El Primero movement to other prestigious watch makers, the most famous being the Rolex Daytona.
In 1999 Zenith was acquired by the luxury giant LVMH group (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) and has since experienced a renewed popularity thanks to the introduction of some stunning new watches.