The name “Jaquet Droz” has had many different meanings since the birth of Pierre Jaquet-Droz 300 years ago. For two decades after its formation in 1961, the Coopérative de Fabricants Suisses d’Horlogerie and SAH were leading producers of Swiss watches, commanding a double-digit share of exports and revenue. Was this a success or a failure? And why does the modern haute horology company consistently skip any mention of this history?
The world of watchmaking has many aspects, from marketing to production to design to art, and companies have a mixed mastery of each. But something magical happens when it all comes together, and expresses the highest level of watchmaking. These pieces inspire and delight, rising above the simple function of time-telling or even product. To me, this is the essence of haute horology!
Blancpain is billed as “the world’s oldest watchmaker”, but the history of the company is far more complex. Founded before 1735 in Villeret, the modern Blancpain traces its heritage to 1981, when Jean-Claude Biver purchased the name to be a mechanical rebuke of quartz watches. Blancpain and movement specialist Frédéric Piguet would be acquired by what is now the Swatch Group in 1992, with Biver leading the renaissance of mechanical watchmaking.
Zenith was “the first manufacture”, one of the greatest watch companies in Switzerland, and the economic force behind Le Locle. Then it was purchased by an American electronics company and ordered to destroy its mechanical watchmaking assets. This is the story of the mighty Zenith, brought low, and returning thanks to a machine tools baron, a humble watchmaker, and two other famous brands.
Hajime Asaoka’s more-affordable watches define the current trend of “must-have” limited-edition watches. Launched in 2018 for the domestic market as Chrono Tokyo and 2019 as Kurono Tokyo, these watches are an international sensation. In this article, I walk through every Chrono and Kurono watch through 2021.
At Baselworld in 2005, Rolex introduced one of the most radical products in its history: The Cellini Prince was a high-end rectangular watch with a transparent caseback showing off a highly-decorated rectangular movement. The Cellini Prince was unlike anything else in the catalog, but did not find its way into the hearts of Rolex buyers and the line was cancelled in 2015. It’s time to give this model a closer look!
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.
H. Moser & Cie. is a confident brand that has come into its own: The Swiss Alp Watch is a serious matter, and it exemplifies all that is right with Swiss watches in recent years. Here’s a survey of the complete line now that the “Final Upgrade” has been released.
Photovoltaic cells were invented in the 1940s, and Patek Philippe produced a novel clock that used them. Once integrated circuit technology improved enough to build a quartz watch, American inventor Roger Riehl created the first solar-powered watch. His Synchronar paved the way for the solar digital watches that brought the technology to the masses in the 1970s. Then there was Uranus, with their wild calculator watch!
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!