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.
Biver’s strategy was a success. Today, the Blancpain workshop and headquarters retains the charm of a tranquil farmhouse, yet within this unassuming factory are created some of the world’s most complicated, desired and expensive watches. Graduates from the finest Swiss watchmaking schools are recruited into the ranks of the House following their apprenticeship to a Master Watchmaker. In keeping with tradition, watchmakers employed by Blancpain do not work in assembly line fashion; rather, each watchmaker will personally build “their” watch from beginning to end.
Production is extremely limited, with fewer than 10,000 watches per year being produced. Needless to say, each watch is individually numbered and recorded in the company’s archives. Boxes, straps and buckles are of the highest possible quality, in keeping with the company’s strict emphasis on quality. As for the movements, they are designed and crafted completely in-house, and based exclusively on high-quality ebauches that are provided by their sister company, Frederic Piguet. Since Piguet and Blancpain share the same building, it might be said that a Blancpain watch features an in-house movement.
Where the company distinguishes itself the most, however, is in its adamant devotion to the mechanical wristwatch. Since the company’s rebirth, only mechanical watches, in round watchcases, are produced. These are not “trendy” watches, but rather, classical in their styling and timeless in their elegance. Among the company’s most recognizable products are Ref. 1106, a manual wind wristwatch with 100 hour winding reserve; the Fifty Fathoms, a contemporary version of the company’s classic diving watch; an 18K “Half Hunter” wristwatch featuring a hinged sapphire crystal back; and the “1735” which combines the six complications offered by the company into one watch. The “1735” is an automatic chronograph with split-second chronograph, tourbillon, perpetual calendar with phases of the moon, and minute repeater — a masterpiece that took more than six years to design and build.
It is also a fitting tribute to the company’s founder, and an equally appropriate symbol of the company’s ongoing mission – to create the very finest timepieces for discriminating collectors.
In 1875 Joseph Bulova, a 23-year-old Czech immigrant, opens a small jewelry shop on Maiden Lane in New York City. By 1911 Bulova begins manufacturing and selling boudoir and table clocks as well as fine pocket watches. These pieces are sold in unprecedented numbers. Bulova sets up its first plant in 1912 dedicated to the production of watch components and their assembly into jeweled movements in Bienne, Switzerland.
During World War I, the convenience of wristwatches (as opposed to pocket watches) is discovered and Bulova introduces the first full line of men’s jeweled wristwatches.
In 1923 the name Bulova Watch Company, Inc. is adopted. Bulova perfects a new concept in the watch industry with total standardization of parts. Every part of a Bulova watch is made with such precision (standardized to the ten thousandth part of an inch) that it is interchangeable with the same part in any other Bulova watch. This revolutionizes the servicing of watches in the industry.
In 1926 Bulova produces the nation’s first ever radio spot commercial, “At the tone, it’s 8 PM, B-U-L-O-V-A Bulova watch time.” In honor of Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic solo flight from New York to Paris in 1927, Bulova ships 5,000 Lone Eagle watches, packaged with pictures of Lindbergh. The supply is sold out within three days. During the next few years Bulova sells nearly 50,000 of these commemorative watches. 1927 is also the year Bulova Watch Company goes public on the American Stock Exchange.
Branching out from the wristwatch business, Bulova introduces the world’s first clock radio in 1928 and Bulova engineers and patents a new principle in the construction of automobile clocks a year later. Bulova begins manufacturing the first electric clocks via mass production. The collection includes wall and mantel clocks, and clocks for use in stores, windows, office buildings and terminals. In 1931 Bulova conducts the watch industry’s first ever million dollar advertising campaign. Throughout the Depression years, Bulova supports retailers by offering Bulova watches to buyers on time-payment plans. Joseph Bulova, founder of Bulova Watch Company, dies in 1935.
In 1941, continuing its tradition of advertising firsts, Bulova airs the first television commercial: a simple picture of a clock and a map of the United States, with a voice-over proclaiming, “America runs on Bulova time.” 1941 also marks the year that the Bulova Board of Directors adopts a resolution to manufacture products for national defense at actual cost. Throughout World War II, having perfected the skill of creating precision timepieces, Arde Bulova, Joseph’s son, works with the U.S. government to produce military watches, specialized timepieces, aircraft instruments, critical torpedo mechanisms and fuses.
In 1952 Bulova begins developing Accutron, the first breakthrough in timekeeping technology in over 300 years. Accutron, the first fully electronic watch, promises to keep time to within 2 seconds a day. Recognizing a new trend in the watch industry, the self-winding and shock-proof watch, Bulova adds more of this type of watch to its line. Also added this year is the Bulova Wrist-Alarm, an entirely new kind of watch. A few years later, Bulova introduces the “Bulova 23,” a self-winding, waterproof , 23-jewel watch with an unbreakable mainspring, made entirely in the United States.
In 1955 an A.C. Neilson Co. Survey reveals that Americans see more national advertising for Bulova products than for any other products, in any other industry, in the world. Bulova completes negotiations to co-sponsor the Jackie Gleason Show, a one-hour live television show airing Saturday nights from eight to nine o’clock. This is the first time in history that any watch or jewelry allied industry has made a sponsorship commitment of such magnitude.
In the 1960s, NASA asks Bulova to incorporate Accutron into its computers for the space program. Bulova timing mechanisms eventually become an integral part of 46 missions of the U.S. Space Program. In 1961, Accutron, the first watch to keep time through electronics, is introduced. It is the most spectacular breakthrough in timekeeping since the invention of the wristwatch. This revolutionary timekeeping concept of a watch without springs or escapement is operated by an electronically activated tuning fork. The Accutron watch goes on to become a presidential gift to world leaders and other dignitaries. President Johnson declares it the White House’s official “Gift of State.” An Accutron watch movement is part of the equipment placed on the moon by Apollo 11 astronauts, the first men on the moon. A Bulova timer is placed in the moon’s “Sea of Tranquility” to control the transmissions of vital data through the years.
In 1970 the Bulova Accuquartz men’s calendar wristwatch becomes the first quartz crystal watch sold at retail in the United States. Designed in 18 karat gold, it retailed for $1,325! In 1979 Bulova becomes a subsidiary of Loews Corporation.
The Corum adventure started in 1955, in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. When the co-founders of the company, Simone Ries and René Bannwart, joined Gaston Ries’ watchmaking workshops, they knew that their new firm would benefit from this solid experience. Their alliance quickly established creativity and traditional craftsmanship as the order of the day.
Shortly thereafter, the company carved out a significant niche for itself, one that remains theirs alone to this day, with a classic model that quickly became an international best-seller: the $20 Liberty Eagle watch, which is made from a genuine U.S. $20 gold piece. In the Corum workshops, genuine mint-state Liberty eagle ($10) and double eagle ($20) coins are carefully cut in half, and in between the obverse and reverse of the coin, a high-quality movement is carefully inserted. Although other companies had made this style of watch since the 1920’s, it was always as dress pocket watches. Corum’s breakthrough was making it as a wristwatch.
It would be a bit misleading, however, to say that such a procedure can be accomplished like clockwork, for in reality, completing a Corum gold coin watch requires numerous steps and many painstaking hours of meticulous hand-finishing. In fact, machining the inside of the case, so that a movement can be fitted, can in and of itself take several hours of patient work.
Today, Corum can be justly proud of the fact that it has one of the richest collections in its field. Corum watches are immediately recognizable as such, and although a few of the movements are based on ebauches, these ebauches are often reworked by Corum’s in-house watchmakers. A vast range of original designs, which with their infinite variety, define the Corum style – always in the forefront of time. From the “Golden Bridge” to the “Limelight”, “Coin Watch”, “Romulus” and “Admiral’s Cup”, Corum’s products reveal a progressive attitude that is quite rare in today’s watchmaking world. Rather than merely resting on its laurels, hoping to maintain the value of its tradition, at the cost of new ideas, Corum continually debuts new designs. Their attitude might best be summed up as follows: “To create is to construct, and to construct is to live”.
This motto has become the keynote of Corum’s policy. True creation cannot be compared to merely re-inventing old models that have proved reliable in the past. Time moves on, each second thrusts us onwards into the future, and it is a mistake to claim to have mastered time without having the courage to move forward constantly…to offer the wearer a watch that reflects his or her own vitality.
Since December of 1998, Corum has been jointly owned by the Bannwart family and the Al Fardan Group in Doha, Qatar. Following several months of negotiations, American businessman Severin Wunderman, a well-known figure in the watch industry, has personally acquired a majority interest in the company.
In the meantime, the master watchmakers at La-Chaux-de-Fonds continue to produce the magnificent timepieces – including such masterpieces as the Minute Repeater and Minute Repeater/Tourbillon – for which they are rightly famous. And they do so in an environment which rewards creativity and treasures craftsmanship – a perfect marriage of tradition and progressive thinking.
The City of Elgin was founded in 1835 along the banks of the Fox River and is one of the oldest cities in northern Illinois. By the late 1850’s Elgin had become a large manufacturing and retail center for the surrounding area. Elgin, the watchmaker, was founded in 1864 and the tail end of the Civil War. The Elgin founders lured away seven key employees from the Waltham Watch Company. The bait used was a $5,000 a year salary for 5 years, a $5,000 bonus and one acre of land on the company’s newly acquired 35-acre site! Ironically, Elgin lost several of these same employees to the Illinois Watch Co. a few years later.
The first movement was delivered from the factory in1867 and was named in honor of their President, Benjamin W. Raymond. It was an 18-size, key wind, full plate, with quick train and straight-line escapement arranged to set on the face and was adjusted to temperature. At that time watches took six months to complete and the B. W. Raymond model sold for $117, a handsome sun at the time. Several years ago this watch was bought at auction by the City of Elgin for $15,000.
Elgin was originally called the “National Watch Company”. This name never stuck and in 1874 was changed to the “Elgin National Watch Company” since most of the watch trade and public were calling them “watches from Elgin”. They kept that name until the late 1960s when they stopped producing watches and changed their name to the “Elgin National Industries”.
Elgin and most other watch companies sold their movements to wholesalers who sold them on to jewelers. A customer would pick out the case of his choice, add the dial and then the jeweler would put them together. Only about 10% of the cases sold were solid gold. Over its 100-year history, Elgin went on to produce over 50 million watches. Elgin produced its first wristwatch around 1910, leading most other American watch companies by many years.
Elgin was founded on the idea of mass-producing high quality pocket watches using machine made, interchangeable parts. Up until around 1850, watches were made mostly by hand, which meant that to fix a broken part, you had to find someone with the tools and skill to make a new part. Elgin realized that there was a large market for good watches that could be sold and repaired relatively inexpensively by using factory made replacement parts that didn’t require hand adjusting.
During the First World War the United States Army had the Elgin factory train more than 350 men to make the precision repairs required in the battlefields. During the Second World War, all civilian work was stopped and Elgin made military watches, chronometers for the U.S. Navy, fuses for artillery shells, altimeters and instruments for aircraft and sapphire bearings used in the aiming of cannon.
Elgin never made the very highest quality watches in the world, nor did they make the very cheapest, but together with Waltham (the American Watch Company), they dominated the vast middle ground of the watch market in the United States.
Today, collecting Elgin watches is quite popular. Because Elgin produced so many watches and produced so many spare parts, they can still be easily bought and fixed, so even a 100 year-old Elgin can be used, with care, on a daily basis.
In 1791, Swiss watchmaker Jean François Bautte created his first timepieces and soon built up a reputation for his ultrathin models. He established a manufactory 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 J. F. Bautte, who left them an extremely valuable industrial and cultural inheritance.
In 1854, Constant Girard married Marie Perregaux. It was from the union of their two names that the GIRARD-PERREGAUX Manufactory 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 (International Manufactory 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 of Constant Girard’s farsightedness when he developed the wristwatch as early as 1880.
On June 12, 1874 Dietrich Gruen applied for a patent on an improved safety pinion, which was granted on December 22. He was 27 years old. In 1876 he formed the Columbus Watch Manufacturing Company in the basement of a downtown Columbus, Ohio bank building. In his Columbus workshop, Dietrich modified, finished and cased raw movements that were imported from Switzerland. Dietrich introduced 16-size watches as an alternative to the heavy and thick 18-size and larger watches that were prevalent at the time. He also introduced the first stemwind watches sold in the U.S. market. In 1882, in collaboration with a number of new partners, the company was reorganized as the Columbus Watch Company. After a series of disagreements with the other partners, Dietrich Gruen and his son Fred left the Columbus Watch Company in 1894, shortly before the business went bankrupt. Dietrich had lost his share of the company to the investors, and was faced with the prospect of staying on as a salaried employee at the company that he had founded. He chose to leave rather than bear this indignity. After the departure of the Gruens the firm was reorganized, refinanced and renamed “The New Columbus Watch Company.” The New Columbus Watch Company survived until 1903. The contents of the factory, including all the tooling and stocks of movements, were eventually purchased by the Studebaker family, moved to Indiana (along with many key employees) and used to start the South Bend Watch Company. Some early South Bend watches were sold with signed Columbus movements in them.
In 1894, Fred Gruen and Dietrich Gruen decided to try to start a new watch company. Using money borrowed from friends and relatives, Dietrich and Fred formed the partnership “D. Gruen and Son.” These first Gruen watches are of very high quality and are beautifully made. Both 18 and 16 size versions were manufactured, each in both open face and hunter styles, and in 18- and 21-jewel versions. In 1903 Gruen introduces its “VeriThin” line of watches. In 1908 Gruen introduced both men’s and women’s wristwatches. These proved popular only with women. Gruen was one of a very few companies to take wristwatches seriously this early, seeing their potential in spite of disappointing early sales to male customers. Gruen made both wrist and pocket watches for the military during World War I. Most had silver cases, which would tarnish but would not corrode under adverse conditions. To satisfy U.S. military regulations, these watches all have luminous dial markings and hands. In 1911 Dietrich Gruen dies suddenly and Fred Gruen takes control of the company. In 1921Gruen introduces “the Cartouche” wristwatch calling it “the logical wrist watch shape”.
Up until 1922 there had actually been three Gruen companies: D. Gruen, Sons & Company; The Gruen National Watch Case Company of Cincinnati; and The Gruen Watch Manufacturing Company of Biel, Switzerland. In 1922 all three businesses were merged to form the Gruen Watch Company, with Fred as President. In 1925, Gruen introduced the men’s Quadron. These were rectangular watches containing very high-quality 15-j or 17-j tonneau-shaped movements. In 1928 Gruen releases “the Techni-Quadron”. The famous Techni-Quadron “doctor’s watches” are so-called because the large seconds dial was handy for timing a patient’s pulse. 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. In 1935 Gruen introduces the most famous Gruen wristwatch- “the Curvex”. These watches are one of the greatest examples of 1930s streamlined design. In 1937, the “the Ristside” or “driver’s” watches is introduced.
In 1938, continuing the success of their VeriThin pocket watches, Gruen also launched a series of Veri-Thin wristwatches. Contemporary Curvex and Veri-Thin movements often are closely related, and can share many parts. By the 1940s, most Gruen wristwatches were either Veri-Thin or Curvex models. Although Gruen did not manufacture watches for the U.S. military, they offered the public a collection of eight military-style watches, to be used as personal watches. In 1949, the company introduced their first watches made entirely in the U.S., a line of 21-jewel men’s models called the “Gruen 21”. The movements are marked “Cincinnati” or “US” instead of the usual “Switzerland.” Fred Gruen retired in 1940 and died in 1945, and his brother George died in 1952. In 1953 the Gruen family sold their interest in the company. With the changeovers in management and the loss of the Gruen family’s involvement, the company lost focus and direction.
In 1953, the Gruen Watch Company had its highest sales in its entire history. By 1958, the company (which had changed its name to Gruen Industries) faced massive legal problems, laid-off most of its employees, and sold off its properties. Gruen Industries was so deeply in debt, and had already borrowed so much money, that they were unable to secure additional financing. The company was falling apart, having seriously neglected the watch business as they pursued other activities.
Under new ownership, the Gruen watch business moved to New York, continuing to produce mechanical watches for about another 15 years. All of the pre-1958 factory records, of no interest to the new owners, were destroyed. Rolex eventually purchased the Precision Factory and now it’s a Rolex administration building. According to the Cincinnati Business Record, this incarnation of the Gruen Watch Company failed in 1976.
An interesting fact you may or may not know: International Watch Company (IWC) is possibly the only major Swiss watch company whose founder was an American! During the 1860’s, three manufacturers dominated the American watch industry: Elgin, Howard and Waltham. Combined, these firms produced upwards of 100,000 pocket watches. Times were changing in the industry as pocket watches went from being a status symbol that only the wealthiest individuals could afford, to an everyday item available to the middle class. As a result, production methods had to be improved; for example, most parts for watches were still being made by hand. Costs were also high because the pool of available, qualified watchmakers was relatively small. In Boston, Massachusetts, Florentine Ariosto Jones, who had worked in the American watch industry for a number of years, keenly observed the failure of Aaron Lufkin Dennison, a leader in the watch business, whose efforts to move production to Switzerland to benefit from lower wages and Swiss watchmaking know-how, failed miserably. Undaunted, Jones took over the failed enterprise and soon set up his own company in Switzerland. His plan was to assemble watches in Switzerland and import them into the United States, hence the name International Watch Company.
Fortuitously, Jones made the acquaintance of one Johann Heinrich Moser, a watchmaker whose hometown of Schaffhausen was conveniently located near the Rhine. Following Moser’s advice, a dam was built in order to harness the mighty river and generate hydro-power to drive the machines used in manufacturing facilities throughout Schaffhausen. A watch factory was built in Schaffhausen to take advantage of the cheap hydro-power and production commenced in 1868. Despite the company’s unique business plan, the enterprise was doomed from the start. For one thing, Jones had trouble selling the watches in America, due to a high tariff on imported finished watches. An even worse problem: Jones was undercapitalized and encountered technical problems with the machines. By 1875, he was scrambling to find new investors, amid allegations by disgruntled stockholders that the company was on the verge of collapse. Inevitably, the company filed for bankruptcy and Jones was forced to relinquish control of his company.
A Swiss consortium acquired IWC’s shares and put another American, Frederick Seeland, at its helm. Although the company’s fortunes improved somewhat, the improvement was not deemed sufficient enough. As a result, the company was put up for sale again. This time, one of IWC’s stockholders, Johannes Raschenbach-Vogel, bought the company at auction for 280,000 francs. Technical achievements and increased sales soon followed with the production of the first pocket watches with digital time indication, as well as development of the famous Calibre 52 movement, which at the time was quite revolutionary in its concept and construction.
Although the company experienced significant growth, following World War I, the company’s fortunes again hit rock bottom under the proprietorship of Ernst Homberger-Rauschenbach. Fortunately, a major modernization effort paid off when the advent of World War II resulted in increased military demand. It was thus during World War II that IWC created the first oversize anti-magnetic pilot’s watch, followed by the famous Mark X, featuring its new in-house movement, Calibre 83. In 1944, IWC had a close call when the Allies mistakenly bombed Schaffhausen. As luck would have it, the factory narrowly escaped destruction.
In the aftermath of the war, International Watch Company lived up to its name and became a company of international scope. Exports to the United States increased and the brand became best known for its specialty watches, such as the Mark XI and Ingenieur – the first automatic IWC with a soft-iron inner case that protected the movement against magnetic fields – as well as for its elegant dress watches. Needless to say, vintage IWC’s from the 1940’s and 50’s are highly collectible today and in great demand, as they are somewhat under-priced compared to other high-end watch brands of that era.
In closing, the company’s philosophy is best summed up by IWC’s current CEO, Michael Sarp, who recently stated: “We shall produce watches of the highest quality with unique technical and design characteristics and thus continue to experience the pleasures of innovation.” If you should have an opportunity to examine an IWC, you will quickly realize that Mr. Sarp speaks the truth.
Today, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso is one of the most famous watches ever produced, but the company actually got its start producing ebauches for other companies. A little known fact about Jaeger-LeCoultre is that in addition to producing movements for its own watches, the company has also produced movements for famous watch houses such as Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet, and IWC. As a matter of fact, in the early part of the 20th Century, Jaeger-LeCoultre even supplied ebauches to the great firm of Patek Philippe. Then as now, Jaeger-LeCoultre was considered one of the finest watchmakers in Switzerland.
The year was 1833 when thirty-year-old Antoine LeCoultre, son of Vallee de Joux watchmaker Jacques LeCoultre, opened a small factory in the town of Le Sentier. Amazingly enough, the current Jaeger-LeCoultre factory is only a few feet away from the site of the original factory. In any event, LeCoultre soon proved himself to be a gifted watchmaker, but an even more brilliant inventor. In 1844, LeCoultre revolutionized the watch industry with the invention of the millionometer, an instrument with which measurements of up to one thousandths of a millimeter could be made accurately. As a result, precisely finished components could be manufactured, resulting in greatly improved accuracy in timekeeping. Likewise, the metric system became the universal measuring standard in watchmaking, while other systems were rendered obsolete.
LeCoultre’s motto — “we must base our experience on science” – was particularly true when it came to manufacturing precision movements and tools. The artistry came later at the hands of a master watchmaker, who assembled, decorated and regulated the movements. In short order, LeCoultre became the leading supplier of movements, parts and tools to the watchmaking industry in Switzerland.
LeCoultre movements were so highly regarded, in fact, that until 1910, the company provided Patek Philippe with most of its raw movements. It was only in later years that Patek Philippe built its own movements from scratch. In the meantime, other companies had come to rely exclusively on LeCoultre’s products, from which they would create finished watches. LeCoultre’s success was so great that between 1900 and 1919, 40,000 raw movements were produced.
In 1925, the grandson of the firm’s founder, David LeCoultre, merged his company with that of Edmond Jaeger, the exclusive supplier of watch movements to Cartier. This is when the modern company known as Jaeger-LeCoultre first came into existence. Incredibly enough, up to this point, Jaeger-LeCoultre had not sold any watches under its own name. The merger, however, prompted further technical innovations, not the least of which was a case made from stainless steel, as well as the creation of the smallest mechanical movement in the world, which weighed less than one gram.
The year 1931 saw the introduction of the Reverso, a wristwatch that could be turned 180 degrees within the case, thereby protecting the crystal and dial. It was a fantastic creation and one that was enthusiastically received by the public. Unfortunately, the worldwide economic crisis and World War II conspired to prevent the Reverso from achieving its full potential. Changing fashions coupled with the advent of waterproof watches might have forever doomed the watch to obscurity, had it not been for an Italian dealer who visited the factory in the 1960’s and noticed a number of unused Reverso cases sitting in a watchmakers’ drawer. The Italian dealer bought the cases and fitted them with movements. The finished watches were an instant sell-out and the rest is history. Today, the Reverso is by far Jaeger-LeCoultre’s most popular model.
Another interesting story concerns David LeCoultre’s bid for Patek Philippe. In 1932, Patek Philippe was in major financial straits and looking for a white knight. LeCoultre, whose company manufactured movements for Patek, wanted to acquire a majority interest. He came close to finalizing a deal, but the Stern brothers, whose company supplied the dials used in Patek Philippe watches, ultimately acquired the company. Although Patek Philippe has certainly prospered under the Stern family’s management, it is nonetheless interesting to contemplate what effect a Patek Philippe/Jaeger-LeCoultre merger may have had on the Swiss watch industry.
Needless to say, the company has continued to thrive, introducing such innovations as the Memovox, Futurematic, Atmos Clock and strikingly original movements such as the world’s thinnest automatic with a thickness of just 2.35 mm, just to name a few. The thin automatic movement in particular was an incredible success, as both Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet featured it in wristwatches advertised as being the world’s slimmest self-winding timepieces. During the 1970’s and early 1980’s, Jaeger-LeCoultre produced a 36 jewel, self-winding calibre for Patek Philippe. Once again, both companies had come full circle.
On a final note, it is worth noting that Jaeger-LeCoultre is one of the few companies in Switzerland that still produces its own movements, cases, dials, hands, and bracelets. Virtually every single component in a Jaeger-LeCoultre watch is hand-finished, produced in-house, and this in turn results in strict quality control. As a result, Jaeger-LeCoultre watches are recognized as being among the very finest hand-crafted watches available and evidence of this can be seen in the fact that Jaeger-LeCoultre regularly produces such masterpieces as the Reverso Tourbillon and Reverso Minute Repeater. There is also the Master Control series of watches, which boast 1,000 hours of testing and assembly at the patient hands of a master watchmaker.
In any event, if you are contemplating the purchase of a Jaeger-LeCoultre wristwatch, you’ve made an excellent choice. It’s a highly prestigious and respected brand with a long and wonderful history, as well as a proven track record.
The Longines story starts back in 1832 when Auguste Agassiz opened a small workshop in St. Imier. One of Auguste’s sisters married Marc Francillon, a shopkeeper from Lausanne and in 1834 they had a son, Ernest Francillon. At that time watch-making in the area used the skills of people working away from the workshop, often at home. In 1866, Ernest Francillon constructed a factory on fields at “Es Longines”, near to St. Imier, and brought all of the watch-making skills under one roof – this was the first “Longines factory”.
Anyone concerned with the history of Longines of Saint-Imier is bound to plunge into the most thrilling adventures, which have become the stuff of legend of modern times. Longines developed aviators’ watches and cockpit instruments. Longines led the field as time-keepers to the world of sports, developing precision stop watches for athletes. Longines was at the Olympic Games and ensured that athletes’ performances were accurately recorded.
But it is not merely to its top-quality range that this watch-making firm owes its greatness and importance. By the time Longines was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the registration of the brand name and logotype – the winged hour-glass – in 1967, the Saint-Imier watchmakers had made 15 million watches and sold them all. For all these reasons, therefore, Longines is a virtually inexhaustible mine of reasonably priced collectors’ items, ranging from pocket chronometers to classic wristwatches.
Movado, a company whose name means “always in motion” in Esperanto, began its life in 1881 in a small workshop in La Chaux-de-faunds, Switzerland. Founded by talented watchmaker Achille Ditisheim and his team of six employees, all watches were manufactured and assembled by hand. By 1899, their hard work and determination had paid off. They were awarded six first-class Official Rating Certificates in their class, and in the following year, they were awarded the Silver Medal at the Universal Exhibition in Paris.
By 1905, the company had settled on its now famous name, Movado, and began in earnest its now famous pursuit of excellence in design and function. They won the 1910 Grand Prix Exhibitions in Paris, Rome, Brussels and Rio de Janeiro for their introduction of 8 ligne wristwatch movements. The introduction of the Polyplan watch in 1912 took the watch community by storm, and these watches are highly sought after at auction today.
In 1947, American designer Nathan George Horwitt created the first Museum Watch. It featured an uncluttered dial, with a simple gold dot marker at the 12:00 position. He likened the design to that of a sun-dial, like recognizing the sun at its zenith at high noon. Movado later teamed up with designers and artists such as Andy Warhol to create one-of-a-kind limited edition watches, which reside in museums, galleries, and collections today. Movado is returning to its roots today. It has re-introduced the KingMatic series, which was originally introduced in the 1950’s, and featured the first automatic movement and sweeping second hand, both driven from a central rotor. Today, the KingMatic features an all stainless steel case, stainless steel or leather bracelet, sapphire crystal, automatic movement, and is water resistant to 50 meters.
Today, seven out of ten people throughout the world are familiar with the Omega watch brand – a truly amazing rate of awareness to which few other watch brands can lay claim. The reason behind this success is said to be the reliably fine quality of every Omega watch. From its modest beginnings in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1848 the assembly workshop created by 23-year-old Louis Brandt gradually gained renown. Louis Brandt assembled key-wound precision pocket watches from parts supplied by local craftsmen.
After Louis Brandt’s death in 1879, his two sons Louis-Paul and Cesar took over control of the business. In 1880, the two brothers rented a floor in a Bienne building to set up a modern watch production unit. Among the names they chose for their watches were “Helvetia”, “Jura”, “Celtic”, “Gurzelen”, and “Patria”. With the introduction of the “Labrador” lever movement in 1885, the watches achieved a precision of within 30 seconds a day. The company’s banker, Henri Rieckel, suggested the name “Omega” for the new watch. The overwhelming success of the “Omega” name led to it being adopted as the sole name for all the watches of the company from 1903.
Louis-Paul and César 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 was Paul-Emile Brandt. The Omega name made its sports debut at the international ballooning contest for the Gordon Bennet cup in 1909. Britain’s Royal Flying Corps decided to choose Omega watches in 1917 as their official timekeepers for its combat units, as did the American army in 1918. Omega had their first victory at the observatory timing competitions in Neuchâtel in 1919 with their chronometers winning the competition. 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 SSIH. By the seventies, SSIH had become Switzerland’s number one producer of finished watches and number three in the world.
In 1957, the “Omega Speedmaster” was created. After rigorous evaluation and testing, NASA decided to use the “Speedmaster Professional” chronograph wristwatch in 1965 as it’s official timekeeper. In 1967, the one millionth chronometer was certified. On 21st July 1969, astronaught Neil Armstrong became the first man to step on the moon. As he made the famous steps quoting “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, he was wearing his Omega Speedmaster Professional chronograph. In 1972, Omega received their two-millionth chronometer certificate.
The severe monetary crisis and recession of 1975 to 1980, SSIH was bailed out by the banks in 1981. In 1985 the holding company was taken over by a group of private investors. Immediately renamed SMH, Societe suisse de microelectronique 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. Dynamic and flourishing, OMEGA remains one of its most prestigious flagship brands.
About Patek Philippe
The Company known today as Patek Philippe was founded in Geneva in 1839, by an exiled Polish Nobleman, Count Antoine Norbert de Patek, and his compatriot Francois Czapek. The earliest watches were signed Patek, Czapek & co. until 1845 when Czapek left the partnership. Several years later the company was joined by French watchmaker , Jean Adrien Philippe, who later became the inventor of their famous stem-winding and hand setting mechanism, a modern and reliable concept. From May 1845 to January 1851 the firm was known as Patek & Co; Philippe lent his name to the company in 1851 when he became a full partner.
Among the reasons for their initial success was the high standard of watch making and practicality of Philippe’s new stem-winding system. From the middle of the 19th century, Patek Philippe assumed a leading role in the Swiss watchmaking industry by raising the standards of workmanship and time keeping through the introduction of technical improvements (the free mainspring, the sweep seconds hand), in addition to implementing improvements to regulators, chronographs, and perpetual calendar mechanism. As early as 1867 the Paris Exhibition, Patek Philippe displayed watches featuring functions that were to become the standard for complicated watches at the beginning of the 20th century; namely a perpetual calendar, a repeater, and a chronograph with split-seconds.
The two most complicated watches of all time were made by Patek Philippe. The first, made for Henry Graves Jr. New York, was completed at the beginning of the century, and the second, the Caliber 89, the world’s most complicated watch, completed in 1989 (hence the name) to mark the firm’s 150th anniversary. In 1932, Patek Philippe changed hands, and its new owners became Charles and Jean Stern. Today the third generation of this family still owns and manages the company. Shortly after World War II, Patek Philippe established an electronic division, and in the 1950’s the company pioneered quartz technology, filling several patents and winning multiple awards. Today, Patek Philippe SA, Geneva, is still a family company, owned jointly by its president, Mr Henry Stern, and his son and Vice President, Mr Philippe Stern.
Although Patek Philippe is rightly famous of the leading manufacture of mechanical horology, the firm is also the forefront of the industry as producers of industrial and electronic timekeepers, with its highly accurate master-clocks installed in power stations, hospitals, airports, and other public buildings and factories. The firm clientele has included many of the famous figures across history, including royalty such as Queen Victoria, as well as distinguished scientists, artists, authors and musicians, including Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Charlotte Bronte and Tchaikovsky. Today, clearly most of the firm’s production consists of wristwatches, but Patek Philippe retains the ability to produce pocket watches,and clocks to order, from highly complicated movements to those decorated with enamelled miniature paintings and engravings. The company continues to patent new inventions and improvements in horology and plays an important role in maintaining the quality , prestige and reputation of the Swiss watchmaking.
In 1908, Rolex was founded by Mr. Hans Wilsdorf, a German National Citizen. Initially the company was named Wilsdorf & Davis as Wilsdorf founded company together with his brother in law. At the time, mostly pocket watches were produced by Swiss watch manufacturers as manufactures still had difficulty to produce accurate and reliable movements in such small size that they would fit in a wristwatch. Wilsdorf was a perfectionist who improved the standards for watch making as he did strive for smaller and more accurate movements that transformed style and fashion from larger pocket watches to smaller more practical wristwatches. Aegler, a small Swiss company agreed to supply Wilsdorf with movements small enough to be worn on the wrist. Wilsdorf’s production included a variety of case designs: casual, formal and sporty.
In 1910, Rolex sent their first movement to the School of Horology in Switzerland. It was awarded the world’s first wrist watch chronometer rating. Wilsdorf recognized two major requirements for watches: 1) To keep accurate time, and 2) To be reliable. With the Chronometer Award, ‘accuracy’ of timekeeping was considered to be under control and Wilsdorf started to work on improving the reliability of his watches. One of the main problems at the time was, that dust and moisture would enter in the watch case and progressively damage in movement. To solve, one would need to develop a completely dust and waterproof watch case. Dust and water would enter watch cases via the casebook and via the crown. Wilsdorf developed a screw crown and casebook mechanism that revolutionized the watch industry.
The first waterproof watch was cleverly advertised around the world. At the time, the public was rather skeptical if the watch would be really waterproof. However, after seeing a watch in an aquarium in the shop window, many people were convinced. Around the world one could see windows of watch shops with an aquarium and submerged Rolex watches. This campaign created an enormous brand awareness for Rolex. Since then, Rolex has continued to be at the forefront of the watch making industry. Today, almost every watch manufacturer followed Rolex and offers waterproof watches. The Rolex Prince, developed in 1928 became a best seller with its dual dial and rectangular case. In 1931 Rolex invented the “Rotor” – a semicircular plate of metal that with gravity, would move freely to wind the watch. Thus, the Rolex “Perpetual” (automatic) movement was born. Rolex’s star has risen much higher since those days of the First World War. “People want to own a Rolex because it shows that they made it.”. It is something to which you aspire and then treat yourself after a successful venture or a windfall.
Industry watchers say that what distinguishes Rolex from other premium timepieces is its signature look–a big, round face paired with a wide metal band–that’s become as familiar on a basketball court as at a black-tie reception. Identifiable from across a room, the Rolex look has an unrivaled, near-universal appeal. Sportsmen value its ruggedness, adventurers its reliability and royalty its elegance.
But the best-known Swiss watchmaker has always been something of an outsider in Geneva. Perhaps it’s because the company didn’t start out Swiss. As mentioned, Rolex was founded in London, in 1905, by the 24-year-old Wilsdorf, a German who became a British citizen after taking an English bride. It was an era when national borders tended to define men’s ambitions, but Wilsdorf thought big from the beginning. In 1908, before anyone had uttered the term multinational, Wilsdorf trademarked the word Rolex, a name that’s easily pronounced in different languages and short enough to fit on a watch dial. It’s said that Wilsdorf dreamed up the word while riding a London bus, having been inspired by the sound a watch makes as it is wound. Rolex didn’t leave England until after the First World War, when an import tax hike of 33 percent made receiving its Swiss-made movements prohibitively expensive.
The company’s first decade was driven by its founder’s relentless obsession with precision. “Wilsdorf wasn’t content merely to invent the first wristwatch. He wanted to invent the first truly accurate wristwatch, one that you could actually run your life by.” Validation came in 1914, when London’s Kew Observatory certified a Rolex wristwatch to be as precise as a marine chronometer. It was the first time that a watch had received “chronometer” status–a classification that, even today, is held by a relative few timepieces.
Still, improved accuracy didn’t immediately transform the wristwatch into an essential item in the common man’s wardrobe. Dust, heat and moisture had a way of wreaking havoc with a wristwatch’s intricate mechanical movements, and the earliest models required too much maintenance to be practical. Rolex’s big breakthrough came in 1926, when Wilsdorf developed a case that was impervious and waterproof. The secret was a revolutionary double-locking crown that screwed down on the case like a submarine hatch to create an airtight seal. Recalling his difficulty in prying open an oyster at a dinner party, Wilsdorf christened his creation the Rolex Oyster.
Nearly 70 years later, the Oyster Perpetual has proved undaunted by the worst possible conditions. It has survived the depths of the sea with Jacques Piccard and the summit of Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary’s Sherpa. It has retained its accuracy in subzero arctic temperatures, the scorching Sahara and the weightlessness of outer space. It has shrugged off plane crashes, shipwrecks, and speedboat accidents, broken the sound barrier, and been ejected from a fighter jet at 22,000 feet. Some of the most colorful recommendations are the cautionary tales: the Englishman who inadvertently laundered his Oyster in a scalding cycle, then rinsed, spun and tumble-dried it; the Australian skydiver who dropped his from 800 feet above the outback; or the Californian whose wife accidentally baked his in a 500-degree oven. In each case, the recovered Rolex was running perfectly.
By the advent of the Second World War, the Rolex name had become so prestigious in Britain that pilots in the Royal Air Force rejected inferior government-issued watches and used their paychecks to nearly deplete England’s supply of Oyster Perpetuals. The compliment was duly returned: any British prisoner of war whose Rolex was confiscated had only to write to Geneva to receive a replacement. Yankee GIs returned home with a new trinket on their wrists. And so Rolex’s romance with America began.
Before leaving Geneva, every Rolex watch must travel through a high-tech obstacle course of quality-control checks. Every dial, bezel and winder will be checked and double-checked for scratches, dust and aesthetic imperfection. The microscopic distance between its hour and minute hands will be painstakingly calibrated to ascertain that they are lying perfectly parallel. An ominous-looking air-pressure chamber will verify that each watch is waterproof to a depth of 330 feet. (The Submariner and Sea-Dweller divers’ models are guaranteed to 1,000 and 4,000 feet, respectively.) And every watch will engage in a precision face-off against an atomic-generated “überclock” that loses but two seconds every 100 years. Only after successfully passing dozens of checkpoints does a watch receive the Rolex seal.
Such attention to detail limits Rolex’s production to about 650,000 watches a year, based on industry estimates. “That might sound like a lot,” insists Lister of Christie’s, “but it’s very far below market demand.” But, as André Heiniger once said, “We’ve never wanted to be the biggest, but certainly one of the finest in the field.”
About Tag Heuer
It was in 1860 that Edouard Heuer founded his watchmaking workshop in St-Imier, a village in the Swiss Jura region. It soon became an international reference for sports and prestigious watches. Edouard Heuer was passionate about precision. When he founded his workshop in 1860, he had only one aim: taking time measurement to greater heights. Since then, the company has always been in the avant-garde of watchmaking, whether in terms of technology, the choice of materials or design. From the first patent for a chronograph mechanism in 1882 to the 1998 launch of the Kirium Ti5 in grade 5 titanium and carbon fiber; from the first chronograph measuring 100ths of a second (1916) to the first analog display quartz chronograph (1983), not forgetting the first automatic chronograph with a microrotor (1969), Heuer wrote some of the greatest chapters in watchmaking history. This mastery is reflected in the impressive number of patents making TAG Heuer one of the key references in Swiss Made watch-making know-how. For 141 years, the company has confirmed its initial vocation: producing watches that constantly push back the frontiers of precision, reliability and aesthetics. That is why the TAG Heuer philosophy is symbolized by the slogan “Swiss Avant-Garde since 1860”.
The brand is founded on solid historical values with the emphasis on innovation and a passion for sports. Since November 1999, it has been owned by the world’s foremost luxury group: LVMH (Louis Vuitton–Moët Hennessy). With Zenith, Ebel, Chaumet, Benedom and Fred, TAG Heuer is now part of the world’s fourth largest watchmaking enterprise at the heart of the LVMH Watch & Jewellery branch. Official timer to the World Ski and Formula 1 Championships, the brand constantly derives new technologies, expertise and its own highly distinctive spirit from this activity. TAG Heuer is also heavily involved in the world of sailing, and partners many sportsmen in disciplines such as athletics.
The American Waltham Watch Company was founded in 1850, one of the largest watch makers of the 19th Century. The company was founded on a relationship between three men, in Massachusetts USA. Mr David Davis, a Mr Dension and a Mr Howard. It was based on a dream that they could produce watches that were of good quality, yet were not made from some of the more expensive materials usually found on watches of the era. Mr Howard had originally server as an apprentice to a man called Aaron Willard Junior circa 1829, and a few years later on, in 1842 Mr Howard formed a clock and Balance Scale Manufacturing company with Mr Davis. Mr Howard and Mr Dennison then combined there ideas and with some funding, completed their first watch in 1850.
But problems were apparent. The company was trying new ideas, things like using Jewels, making dials, and producing steel with a mirrored finish. The problem was as always, that things like this cost money, and all of it required brand new machinery and thus put the company under a great deal of financial stress. The other thing discovered is that although each watch was made in the same press and made in the same way to the same style, each individual piece had it’s own individual problems and mistakes to be corrected before the time piece could be classed as complete, and it took months to adjust the watches to the point that they were better than any other timepieces on the market. During this time Mr Howard had perfected and patented many different varieties of automatic watch making machines that could easily and efficiently make precision watch components.
In September 1853 the name was changed to “Boston Watch Company” and a factory was erected in Waltham, Massachusetts in October 1854. The movements produced at this building are marked #1,001 to #5,000 and were marked with the engraving of “Dennison, Howard & Davis,”, “C.T.Parker”, and “P.S. Bartlett”. Times were hard and the Boston Watch Company failed in 1857. In May 1857, the company was shuffled and became “Appleton, Tracey & Co.”, and the watches produced in this time carried the serial numbers between, 5,001 and 14,000 ,model 1857. The C.T.Parker movement was re-introduced as Model 1857 and was sold for $12, 399 were made. In 1855 brass watches were being sold for $1. Also at this time 598 chronometers were made, and by January 1858 the P.S.Bartlet watch was made.
In January 1859, the Waltham Improvement Company and Appleton, Tracey & Co. merged to form The American Watch Company. As Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the USA, in 1860, and the US was plunged into Civil War, the Company had problems, as over the next year business was at a standstill. As there seemed to be no market for watches, bankruptcy seemed inevitable, but expenditures were cut to the lowest possible level thus keeping the factory in operation through those difficult years.
To this day the Waltham name is synonymous with quality and craftmanship, and remain to this day, very desirable timepieces. Also an interesting fact is that, according to the biography by Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln himself carried an American Waltham wristwatch, the ‘William Ellory’ Model, produced by Waltham in 1863.
In 1865, under the guidance of Georges Favre-Jacot, one of the most mythical manufacturers of quality watches was born. A 22-year old visionary, he was the first to create the very concept of a watchmaking manufacture. He brought all artisan watchmakers together under one roof, providing them with heat and light, allowing them thus to dedicate themselves entirely to the design of their timepieces. He was one of the first watchmakers to understand the importance of the principle of interchangeable parts.
One evening, Georges Favre-Jacot perfected a movement which he considered almost perfection. He went out into the silver night and lifted his eyes towards the heavenly sky. And the cosmos spoke to him. He saw a gigantic constellation turning around the Pole star, similar in its complexity to the movements of the pivots and the wheels on their axes. He decided then to call his new movement after the word that designates the highest point in the universe, Zenith. He adopted the star as a symbol, a shining good luck charm, a celestial guide towards a promising destiny.
Not only is Zenith one of the oldest horological companies but one of a handful that still produces its own mechanical movements. The first Zenith wristwatches were produced in 1915, just a few years before founder Georges-Emile Favre-Bulle dies at the age of 73. In a 1929 precision contest at the Kew Observatory (England), a Zenith watch wins the first prize with a daily rate of 0.6 seconds. Since its beginning, Zenith has been recognized with more than 1500 awards and over 50 calibres to its name, making it the Swiss brand most rewarded for precision.
In 1969 Zenith won renown for introducing the world’s first automatic chronograph movement, the El Primero. Oscillating at 36,000 alternations/hour, the El Primero was able to measure short time intervals to a tenth of a second, an unsurpassed world record. In 1995, Zenith launched a new generation of ultra-thin chronographs, the Elite, recently voted best mechanical movement by the professional press.
To Americans, the name Zenith is less well known than it is to the rest of the world. Because of Zenith Electronics Corporation, Zenith watches weren’t available in the United States for many years. If Americans wanted a Zenith, they either bought a Movado, which sported a Zenith movement, or imported the watch from sellers overseas. With the demise of Zenith Electronic Corporation in the late 1990s, Zenith watch finally developed an authorized dealer network and started doing business in the United States.
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|Vintage Watch History|