Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, died on March 24, 2023. Although many touching tributes are currently being published to this titan of the technology industry, most overlook what Moore himself called his greatest mistake: Intel’s attempt to corner the digital watch business. Intel bought Microma, a hot Silicon Valley startup, in 1972 but gave up the business just six years later. Moore continued to wear his “$15 million watch” for decades as a reminder of this failure – and to stay out of consumer products!
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
Regular Grail Watch readers might have noticed that I have begun using the archives of Europa Star rather heavily in my research. The editors noticed as well, and have invited me to be a contributing writer to that fine journal. My first piece was published today, and delves into the history of an iconic model, IWC’s Da Vinci. The archive brought me fantastic information and illustrations, as we will discuss today.
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.
Most enthusiasts could instantly name the watches pictured below, but they’d be wrong: This isn’t a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, its an Eska Sesame! By the 1980s, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s signature model was forgotten and the company was struggling to survive. Yet just a decade later, the Reverso would lead the entire industry back from the brink. This is the story of the fall of Jaeger-LeCoultre and the resurrection of the Reverso.