Chronographs are so popular that cheap fashion watches today often feature bogus subdials with non-functional hands and pushers. But once upon a time, a chronograph was a simple tool seen more as an advanced stopwatch than a true complication. What was once a utilitarian tool for soldiers became an upscale choice for doctors, then an iconoclast choice for young people, and now a sign of fine watchmaking.
Automatic watches were hot in the 1950s, and chronographs were cool in the 1960s. But bringing these technologies together was not at all straightforward! Three different automatic chronograph movements were launched in 1969, and the story of their creation reflects the state of the industry at that time as well as the inevitability of technological progress.
What exactly does “Montbrillant” mean? Although the word has been associated with Breitling for over a century, the answer might surprise you! Montbrillant is not a person or even a place, really. It’s an idea, and represents brilliant marketing a century in the making!
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?
On October 24, 1994, Walter Lange introduced the first watches to bear the A. Lange & Söhne name in nearly 50 years. Once the top name in complicated pocket watches, the famous Glashütte watch brand was destroyed by allied bombs on the last day of the war in Europe and disappeared behind the iron curtain. Now, with the help of Günter Blümlein and IWC, A. Lange & Söhne has returned to its place at the height of the watch market. But there is also a dark past that has not been widely told.
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.
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 November 7, 1984, Gérald Genta finally went too far. His audacious new watch collection was a scandal at the prestigious Montres et Bijoux and he was forced to remove it from the fair. But history shows that Genta was right again, and his designs laid the foundation of today’s luxury watch industry.
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!