La Chaux-de-Fonds is sometimes called “Watch City” because it is home to so much watchmaking history. It is said that “Chaux-de-Fonnier” factories produced half of the world’s watches in the first half of the 20th century! It’s no surprise that some historic sites are forgotten, but the Palais Invar deserves a closer look: It was one of the most recognizable buildings in La Chaux-de-Fonds for most of the 20th century, housing brands like Montre-Invar, Alpha, Venus, Le Phare, Sultana, and Jean d’Eve, and it was home to the first Salon Suisse de l’Horlogerie in 1933.
I’ve recently written about the odd but surprisingly frequent practice of casing two movements into a single watch. From Nappey to Ardath to respected brands like Hermes and Cartier, many companies have used twin movements in a single watch. But what about squeezing in three, four, or more movements? The development of compact and inexpensive quartz movements made that possible in the 1980s, and this has lead to the creation of many novel oddballs.
Although unconventional time displays are popular today, very few watches had so-called retrograde hands to display the time until the 1990s. Sector displays first appeared in pocket watches as early as 1650 and were wildly popular in the early 1900s thanks to the Sector pocket watch from Record. But it was not until the Le Phare Sectora, LIP Secteur, and Wittnauer Futurama of the 1970s that this complication appeared on the wrist. These watches are rarely seen or discussed today, but were truly groundbreaking even as the quartz revolution challenged watchmaking.