Longines isn’t just the name of the biggest watchmaker in Saint-Imier today, it represents a factory and a critical shift in the industry to industrial-scale mass production. Ernest Francillon and Jacques David were critical to the development of the horology industry in the 19th century, abandoning the etablissage system and industrializing watchmaking, and becoming champions for the integration of manufacturing in the 20th century.
Although modern advertising is finely crafted, it can’t compare to the impact of the classics. To my eyes, the greatest watch advertisements came off the press of Auguste Fiedler of La Chaux-de-Fonds between World Wars I and II. His poster style advertisements mixed elements of German Plakatstil and French Art Deco movements, and are just as striking today as they would have been on the avenues of the 1930s.
Much has been written of the history of Jaeger-LeCoultre, but little has been said of the complex history that gave us this unusual name. How did an Alsatian immigrant to Paris come to be so closely connected to one of the most famous watchmaking families of the Vallée de Joux? This is the story of the partnership between Edmond Jaeger and Jacques-David LeCoultre, and those that helped them to become Jaeger-LeCoultre, including a group of French aviation pioneers and a Swiss daredevil with a famous family name.
It’s traditional to celebrate important anniversaries and to use the New Years season to look back. That’s what we’re doing today, with a look at some important events in horology from 1822, 1872, 1922, 1947, 1972, and 1997! From Edmond Jaeger and Bovet to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and a whole lotta quartz, a little bit of a grab bag here, and we hope you enjoy it!
On June 13, 1987, noted Parisian jewelers Pierre and Jacques Chaumet were taken into custody for bankruptcy, breach of trust, and fraud. The distinguished gentlemen would be convicted of all these crimes, losing control of the House of Chaumet, one of the most celebrated names in jewelry, as well as Breguet, which enjoyed a similar reputation in watchmaking. The story of the rise and fall of Chaumet is even more fascinating for what is not known about the case, however, and what it tells us about the modern aristocracy.
If you’ve listened to The Watch Files podcast or read much here at Grail Watch, you’ve undoubtedly heard me refer to industry folklore. Clever stories are often repeated in forums, articles, and conversations, but they are often not entirely true. Then there’s the industry marketing machine, pushing surprising narratives and a-list connections with little grounding in reality. Let’s take a moment to consider the ways that folklorists spot false information and apply these watch industry marketing.
This year, I’m going to take a look at the nominations for the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) awards and pick my favorites. Although my selections don’t usually make the cut, I’m going to enjoy making selections rather than try to pick the winners. I’ll also offer some historical perspective on the best entries.
Industrialization of watchmaking came to Switzerland in the late 19th century and is embodied by the huge Longines factory on the Suze river in Saint-Imier. But steam power came first, enabling the construction of factories across Europe and the United States, including Usine du Parc, home and namesake of Excelsior Park. This is the story of the rise and fall of steam power in Saint-Imier and the exceptional stopwatches made there. It is also the story of the end of steam and of the Excelsior Park factory, and the reasons for its failure.
On April 25, 1981, attendees at the European Watch, Clock, and Jewellery Fair in Basel got their hands on something completely new. IWC introduced the Porsche Design Titan chronograph, the first titanium watch available for sale. The revolutionary material caught the watchmaking world off guard, and the Titan helped IWC and their partner Jaeger-LeCoultre survive the quartz crisis. This is the story of the watches created by legendary designer Ferdinand Alexander Porsche and the radical utilitarian watch designs he created with IWC. It’s also a story of how materials and design can spark customer enthusiasm and sales.
Around 1900, a small watch factory was built at Rue des Roses 2. This little cottage with a factory wing was soon augmented by an ornate Beaux-Arts factory befitting a captain of watchmaking like Ernest Degoumois. This was then expanded for dial maker Fluckiger and both buildings were expanded or replaced in the 1950s. Then a modern office building was added in place of the original mansion on Rue du Stand, and this became home to Cartier Group in the 1980s. Thus, this single factory complex in Saint-Imier exemplifies the various architectural trends seen in 20th century watchmaking.