This is the story of a simple postcard that compelled me along a deep and complicated path of research and discovery! Titled Les Grandes Fabriques d’Horlogerie de St Imier, the historic 1900 postcard shows “the five great watchmaking factories” of this small town. Over the past year, I’ve been learning more about these companies, in which the Jeanneret family was intimately involved, including Excelsior Park, Francillon’s Longines, Fritz Moeri’s Moeris, Droz & Cie and Ernest Degoumois’s Montres Berna, Ferdinand Bourquin’s Leonidas, and more. This is the first in a series of posts on the great factories found in these engravings!
On January 12, 1979, the Swiss watch industry announced the thinnest watch ever made: The Delirium, developed by Ebauches SA for Concord, Eterna, IWC, and Longines, measured just 1.98 mm thick. It wasn’t a big seller, but was a PR exercise to show the world that the Swiss were innovating like the Japanese. And the novel design paved the way for another announcement four years later, the Swatch.
On Christmas Day, 1969, the Seiko Astron was launched; this was world’s first quartz wristwatch. Or at least that’s how the story goes. But the truth is much, much more complicated, as I have been researching and writing about for months. Only a few examples of that Cal. 35 SQ Astron were produced, and it was so expensive that not many were ever actually sold. And a raft of other watches (the CEH Beta 1, Longines Ultra-Quartz, various Beta 21 models, and even the Bulova Accuquartz) could make a credible claim. So what was the first?
A friend who lives in the Czech Republic recently mentioned that he loved the classic Eterna Majetek pilot’s watch. Since I had heard of the Majetek (and similar Longines Tartarugone), I decided to delve into these pieces a bit more. Here are my thoughts on these impressive classic pieces, as well as the new Eterna Heritage Military 1939 homage.
Once people realize I’m a “watch guy”, they tend to ask the same question: “What’s the best watch under $x price?” And most often, that price point is $1,000. There seems to be a psychological barrier to spending more than a grand on a piece of jewelry that has long since had its essential function taken away by electronic gadgets and computers.
Not everyone is into quartz watches. That’s understandable. But anyone who appreciates history and technology would be interested in the story of the first quartz watch. At the end of the 1960’s, which itself was something of a golden era for mechanical watches, two competitors raced to bring quartz clock technology to the wrist: Seiko won and came to dominate the market with low priced models.