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!
Updated July 2021 with more detail on the early history (Aubry, Graizely) from my “prequel” article, “Investigating the Origins of the Hebdomas 8-Day Watch“
Aubry, Graizely, and Schild
The earliest ancestor of the famous Hebdomas movement was invented in 1888 by Irénée Aubry of Les Emibois in the Swiss Jura neear France. This hamlet is so small, Aubry was often said to be from Muriaux or even Saignelégier, though he did most of his watchmaking in La Ferrière and La Chaux-de-Fonds. The patent, granted on January 10, 1889, was one of the earliest Swiss patents, number 88. Originally granted to Irénée Aubry, it was turned over to the firm of Aubry, Graizely & Godat of La Ferrière on April 30 of that year.
It is not clear whether Aubry formed this joint venture with Graizely and Godat to commercialize his invention or if this was a pre-existing firm. The first mention of the company is in the April 24, 1889 issue of La Fédération Horlogère, suggesting that Aubry may indeed have brought in the established Graizely brothers to help finance his invention. The firm donated a silver watch to a raffle to benefit the Swiss Colony of Paris in 1889, suggesting that production had already started by December 11 of that year.
Aubry, Graizely and Godat’s 8-day watch won awards at international exhibitions in Geneva (1896), Paris (1900), and Chicago (1902). It included 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.
Aubry moved to La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1894, followed by his partner Arthur Graizely a decade later. The pair continued to develop their 8-day watch, incorporating a horizontal balance bridge as early as 1894 that would be a signature of the model. Graizely and Aubry jointly produced 8-day watches in La Chaux-de-Fonds through 1912, when Aubry retired to Chez-le-Bart overlooking Lake Neuchâtel.
Graizely’s company, Graizely & Co., expanded quickly and focused on mass production at a landmark building at Rue du Parc 137 in La Chaux-de-Fonds. This high-profile factory also produced a different larger 8-day movement owned by Graizely alone, and this was known as the Octava. It is unclear when the Hebdomas name was applied to Aubry’s design, but it is likely to have occurred around 1906 or 1907, when it is first used in industry publications.
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 it was Schild who would take over Graizely’s company in 1913 after a threatened strike by workers.
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.
Schild & Co. suffered due to the Russian Revolution but was able to restart production soon after 1917. The Aubry family was less successful, with a succession of firms producing 8-day watches for a few years before collapsing. Although Aubry-Schaltenbrand, Aubry & Co., and Aubry-Gostely were active through the early 1930s, none would match the success of Schild & Co.
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
Additional Reference Materials
Aubry, Graizely, & Godat
A Visit to the Graizely Exhibit at the 1900 Paris Expo
From La Fédération Horlogère, November 8, 1900:
Mr. Arthur Graizely, la Ferrière.
Award at the Paris Exhibition, 1900
M. Graizely’s window is of a pretty effect; it is furnished with eight-day watches, a patented system, to the exclusion of all other parts in all styles and sizes, giving a very good idea of the manufacture, commercial relations, the importance of his works, a good running genre whose placement is very easy everywhere.
Beside simple thorns, silver or oxidized steel, models for England and for France, with winding indicator board on the dial, I see here pieces of an original decoration, most with enamelled or spangled dial, in colors, illustrated with small, nicely drawn patterns, with the balance visible. Here they are barley grains, sometimes embossed in good engraving; there, niels, still sought after (mainly in Belgium); further on, intaglio engravings, various nicely engraved subjects, or very interesting embossed and carvings in old silver. I also notice, although finding this genre somewhat heavy and unsightly, scalloped and bizarre shoulders. On the other hand, I would point out as being very interesting two watches for men, with oxidized steel boltiers adorned with chased silver appliques. One of these represents a Swiss crest in a beautiful relief, the other, equestrian attributes, a group worked with great taste.
A few classic styles, in silver, others in gold-plated, where the barley grain predominates, alongside a small number of Breguet-type cases, seriously complete this exhibition of watches from ten to eighteen. lines, sizes produced by M. Graizely.
In short, this showcase attracts the visitor especially by its dials, which are nicely decorated, which also allow the proper functioning of this movement to be examined, which is both well understood and well executed.
Schild Dubois Lawsuit
In 1924, a lawsuit was brought by Schild & Co. against James Dubois of Besançon, France over their trademark, “Octomas.” A court ruled that this infringed on “Hebdomas” and “Octava” and Dubois was required to cease using it.
Brand imitation and unfair competition.
In a lawsuit by the house of Schild and Co., in La Chaux-de-Fonds, against M. James Dubois, in Besançon, for infringement of the marks “Octava” and “Heéquence” by the mark “Octomas”, the civil court of Besançon condemned the house Dubois, defendant, to remove this mark, as being likely to induce the public In error. We will have the opportunity to come back to this case later, when we know the reasoned decision.