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.
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.
Yesterday I talked about the Nappey Jumelles Times, the first dual timezone watch to use two separate movements in a single case. Although that model was quite obscure, today’s watch is much more famous. Ardath took Nappey’s formula and made it famous, producing a line of Long Distance watches that lasted a decade, including special models for Muslims and homemakers, and a cool sports model that reappeared in the 1990s!
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.
Almost all clocks turn “clockwise”, with the hands moving from the top of the dial to the right. But for the last few decades a few oddball watches have used hands moving in the other direction! This corner of horology is not well understood, so I decided to take a stab at documenting this revolution. It begins conceptually with the digital mechanical watches of the 1970s. Then Beuchat, a fashionable French brand of the 1980s, produces the first such watch. Swiss quartz behemoth Ronda pitches in, bringing forth an odd watch from the venerable house of Juvenia before today’s Klokers gets it right.