Spend some time looking at old watches and you’re bound to stumble across an unusual watch with an off-center dial, fancy exposed balance, and 8-day power reserve. The dial will likely say “Hebdomas” and “8 Jours” and not much more. Is this some exotic high-end watch or a mass-market pretender? That’s the story I’m telling today!
Aubry, Graizely, and Schild
The earliest ancestor of the famous Hebdomas movement was invented in 1888 by Iréné Aubry of Saignelégier in the Swiss Jura near France. The patent, granted on January 10, 1889, was licensed to the Graizely brothers of La Ferrière and soon entered production. It was initially named “Octava” or “Octodi” to capitalize on the 8-day power reserve, and won awards at international exhibitions in Geneva (1896), Paris (1900), and Chicago (1902).
Aubry specified a massive mainspring barrel mounted to the center of the movement and spanning the entire diameter. This pushed the balance from the top plate to a novel location: It was exposed below the dial! This makes the Graizely/Aubry 8-day watch one of the first “open heart” designs, and remains a signature of the famous movement to this day. Indeed, one can argue that it was the inspiration for modern classics like the Lange 1, “Petite Heure Pinute” from Jaquet Droz, and Glashütte Original Pano.
Arthur Graizely was an excellent watchmaker in his own right, and he enhanced the Aubry design significantly over the next decade. Most significant to our story was his adoption of a decorated balance bridge, shown in an October 9, 1901 patent. He also focused on mass production, implementing basic interchangeable components to reduce manufacturing cost.
This novel new product gained the attention of a watchmaker from Grenchen, Otto Schild. He set up his own watchmaking company around the turn of the century and the two firms entered into a joint venture to mass-produce 8-day watches. Initially called Graizely & Co in 1901, the new firm registered the “Hebdomas” trademark in 1906.
Graizely was a pioneer in wristwatches, mounting his 12 or 14 ligne pocket watch movement in a bracelet. This “marriage” watch rotated the Lépine movement 90 degrees from the typical pocket watch, placing the crown at 3:00 and the exposed balance at 9:00. Apart from the hinged lugs and traditional flourishes, Graizely’s century-old Hebdomas pocket watch would be at home in a modern haute horology catalog!
The “Hebdomas” name was chosen to reflect the traditional Latin and Greek name for the Holy Week. It emphasized the extraordinary quality of this watch that would require winding just once per week. Although the term traditionally suggests seven days rather than eight, it was more evocative to buyers at the time.
Graizely and Schild suffered during World War I, and the old firms were dissolved and reorganized at the end of the war. By 1915, the design, factory, and brand were owned by a new company, Schild & Co of La Chaux-de-Fonds. Otto Schild expanded rapidly after the Great War, building a large factory in the town
Graizely & Co built a large factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1905, just one block away from the factory Movado built that same year. This building would be the site of mass production of Hebdomas movements for decades. It was claimed that 1000 workers were producing 1000 examples each day by 1918. Schild & Co would occupy this building, located at 137 Rue du Parc in La Chaux-de-Fonds, through their insolvency in 1979 and perhaps a few more years after that.
Although Otto Schild originally came from Grenchen, home of two other famous Schild movement companies, Schild & Co of La Chaux-de-Fonds was never connected to A. Schild, Ebauches SA, Eterna, or ETA. The name continues to cause confusion to this day, and must have been a point of contention in the 1940s. In 1944, Schild & Co established the new Orator brand, and this is the name used on many Hebdomas movements produced over the next few decades. Schild also produced electric clocks under the Reform Electric brand at that time, and some 8-day clocks use the Reform name as well.
Otto Schild guided the many brands of Schild & Co through the 1950s, though the Hebdomas 8-day movement played a lesser role in the company. Most references to the company focus on Reform branded electric clocks and Orator watches, including ladies ring watches and conventional dress watches. The company introduced an electric watch in the 1960s as well. By this time, the Hebdomas pocket watch must have seemed hopelessly out of fashion and was no longer listed in the catalog.
But a pocket watch resurgence later in the decade caused Schild to dust off the old design. At the Basel Fair in 1968, the company (now known as Schild SA) re-launched “the famous 8 Day pocket watch” looking much like it always had. Apart from some groovy numerals and an oval minute track, the new Hebdomas was largely unchanged. Coincidentally, one of the factory workers in La Chaux-de-Fonds was a young Italian watchmaker named Vincent Calabrese. Remember that name, and not just because he founded the AHCI and created the Corum Golden Bridge!
The Hebdomas movement continued in production through the 1970s, sold mostly as a pocket watch. Some examples were skeletonized and cased in gold to compete with the popular Audemars Piguet skeleton pocket watches, and most featured antique-styled raised relief case backs with nymphs and animals. A few complicated models were also produced with day and date subdials and a moon phase indicator in the main dial. These had existed for decades, but were not always offered as interest in expensive pocket watches waxed and waned.
It is claimed that Schild & Co were insolvent by 1979, but the company continued in business into the 1980s. But times must have been tough, since the company relinquished their famous address in La Chaux-de-Fonds and their most well-known product early in the decade. The Hebdomas trademark passed to Fibeg SA of Bienne in 1986, but this company was liquidated as well in 1998.
Hebdomas from Xantia: 8 Days or Less
In 1982, Europa Star ran a full-page story announcing that Xantia was now the producer of the Hebdomas 8-day watch. Founded in Evilard by Edmund Knutti in 1962, Xantia a producer of mass-market watches through the 1970s before pivoting to become a private label watch manufacturer in the 1980s and 1990s. The company began making cheap Roskopf watches in Bienne but jumped to digital LED and LCD watches in the mid 1970s. For a time, Xantia was a leader in Swiss alternatives to the rising competition from Japan and the United States, and the company became a distributor and partner to Armitron and Quasar.
Xantia was located in Bienne, and this became the new home of Hebdomas after 90 years in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
It is not clear why Xantia would want an old fashioned product like the Hebdomas 8-day pocket watch in their collection, but they made the most of the acquired brand in the 1980s. Along with the familiar 8-day pocket watch, Xantia produced a Hebdomas wristwatch, pictured below as part of Europa Star’s coverage of BASEL 91. This watch is nearly identical to Graizely’s original, right down to the hinged lugs. These Xantia models were produced in volume for a decade and are the most common Hebdomas watches seen at auction today.
Xantia also produced other unrelated watches and sold them under the Hebdomas brand. Among these was the Hebdomas Jumping Hours Ref. 4001, which ironically used an automatic A. Schild movement left over from the 1970s. It had hinged lugs similar to the contemporary IWC Da Vinci, as did a simpler automatic watch sold as Hebdomas Ref. 4002, Ref. 5002, and a skeleton model called Ref. 3201. Other Xantia Hebdomas models used Valjoux movements: Cal. 7751 in the Ref. 918 and Cal. 88 in the Ref. 919.
But the most interesting and important non-8-day Hebdomas watch came from the mind of Vincent Calabrese, who you will recall worked at the factory back in 1968. His 1989 “Baladin” combined a jumping and wandering hours concept, with the minutes indicated by an arrow on a disc and the hours appearing just inside this through an aperture. He substituted the letters T, S, N, and M for 3, 6, 9, and 12. Calabrese licensed the Baladin to Italian brand Pinko, which also sold such watches in the 1990s. Perhaps Xantia was responsible for the development and production of Pinko’s line as well. By 1997, the Baladin was part of Calabrese’s own watch line, and he has continued to use the concept in recent years.
Xantia also produced watches for many other brands, notably Anne Klein and Swiss Army. The complicated history of the Swiss Army brand is a story for another time, but a series of corporate actions brought Xantia, Swiss Army, and Victorinox together in 2000 and 2001. With nearly a million Swiss Army watches being produced each year, Xantia’s private label watch operations were no longer a focus for the global company. Jean-Pierre Loetscher, head of this division, arranged a management buyout in 2006 and Xantia continues to be a private label producer to this day.
Most sources claim that the Hebdomas 8-day movement went out of production in 1993 or 1996, and the end of Xantia’s line appears to be the 1998 liquidation of Fibeg SA. Although I can’t be sure, the location of this company (Bienne) and the dates it was active closely match Xantia’s stewardship of the Hebdomas movement. And Fibeg appears to have been the registered owner of the Hebdomas trademark. So it appears that Xantia exits the Hebdomas story in the mid to late 1990s.
Hebdomas Clocks and Watches Today: Kolber and Aerowatch
The end of Xantia’s Hebdomas production did not stop new Hebdomas watches from appearing. A 2002 Europa Star story featured the familiar design and brand name on a watch from Kolber.
The Geneva-based Kolber had focused on fashionable Swiss Made watches since 1983, and the fancy Hebdomas represented a major change in course for the company. Although much cheaper than Xantia’s gold-cased offerings, Kolber’s Hebdomas pocket watch still cost CHF 2,000, more than twice what most of their products sold for. This does not appear to have been successful, with Kolber announcing a focus on “affordable luxury” just two years later. By 2005, Kolber’s GM reiterated that the company was focused on watches “priced between 200 and 800 Swiss francs.”
Still, the venerable Hebdomas lives on. In 2019, Europa Star again featured a Hebdomas pocket watch on their website. Aero Watch was founded in 1910 in La Chaux-de-Fonds but was relocated to Saignelégier in 2001 under the management of Denis Bolzli. The company, now called Aerowatch, specializes in attainable but exotic watches, many of which use historic movements. And one of their Lepines pocket watches uses the historic Hebdomas movement with the calendar complication! Priced at $7,800 with a solid silver case, the watch returns the Hebdomas to production and reaches the higher price range once again.
It is appropriate that this impressive and recent Hebdomas watch would come from the little village of Saignelégier. After all, this is the home of Iréné Aubry, who invented the movement there in 1888!
Collecting and Selecting a Hebdomas Watch
You can’t keep a good watch down, and the Hebdomas movement just keeps on going. From the initial Graizely watches in 1889 to the mass-produced Schild watches in 1918 to Xantia in the 1990s, perhaps a million examples were produced over more than a century. And the basic design has remained surprisingly constant, though I have found little technical information about the movements. I suspect that most watchmakers could clean and refresh a Hebdomas movement, and would probably relish the chance to get their hands on one.
Because they have been produced for so long with a constant design, it can be difficult to identify the age and manufacturer of a Hebdomas watch. The model pictured above and below dates from the 1990s and was made by Xantia, but it is nearly identical to watches that came out of the Schild workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds in the 1920s! The numerals and hands often differed in the same year, and a variety of flowers are found printed in the white space of the dial. It is difficult to read much into the brand name either, since “Hebdomas” has become something of a generic term for the watch.
One of the only significant differences in various Hebdomas movements is that the earliest examples (before 1920) used a pin rather than the stem to set the time. Later examples also include a movable stud for adjustment, and this is visible on the dial of course. The engraving on the barrel is another telltale trait, with Schild models using a distinctive cross-and-medallions design and Xantia’s having a floral-and-ribbons motif. Decorated relief casebooks usually come from the 1970s while skeletonized examples are usually more recent. Beyond that, one must trust in the patina, documentation, or case engravings to identify one from the other.
Regardless, do not pay top dollar for any Hebdomas watch without knowing much about it. Pocket watches routinely sell for $400-$500 in decent running condition, and very few command more than $1,000. Complicated models are worth more, as are those with precious metal cases. Hebdomas wristwatches are generally more valuable than pocket watches and often command over $1,000 in good condition.
- Hebdomas.net: The History
- Ranfft: Orator, Schild & Cie SA, Manufacture d’Horlogerie, La Chaux de Fonds
- Uhrenpaul: Schild & Cie, La Chaux de Fonds
Year: 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, 1990's
Source: Antiquorum, Auctionata, Chrono24
Tags: 8-day, Aerowatch, Arthur Graizely, Baladin, Bienne, Hebdomas, Kolber, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Otto Schild, Schild & Co, Vincent Calabrese, Xantia