Thursday, August 30, 2007

High Accuracy Timepieces

This is a list of model currently available only (2005). This list excludes GPS and radio-controlled watches, which cannot retain their accuracy in an autonomous way. Prices are from manufacturer (except for Mühle). Retail prices could be less. If not otherwise noted, accuracies are from manufacturer specifications. Thanks to Bruce Reding for informations and the way he shares his watch enthusiasm, and to Ppaulusz for informations about ETA movements.

5 s/year :
Citizen Chronomaster "The Citizen" : classical design with perpetual calendar. Caliber A660. 32768 Hz quartz, thermocompensated (?) 1 150 - 4 500 €

10 s/year :
Citizen "The Exceed" : classical design. 940 - 1 550 €
Longines Flagship VHP : classical design with perpetual calendar. Caliber L546 (ETA Thermoline movement 252.611).
Piquot Meridien Octantis : Marine Chronometer certified by the Besançon National Observatory in France. Perpetual calendar. ETA Thermoline movement. 1 185 - 1 738 €
Seiko "Grand Seiko" : classical design. 32768 Hz thermocompensated quartz. 1 150 - 3 700 €
Seiko Dolce & Exceline : women and men assorted watches. Not all models of this line have the 10s/y accuracy. 390 - 900 €

15 s/year :
Breitling SuperQuartz : Aerospace, B-1, and Colt models. As far as I know, no official accuracy claim from Breitling, but their chinese representative gives an accuracy of 15 s/year. This value seems conservative, as these watches use an ETA Thermoline movement, which is said to be rated at +/-0.02 second per day (less than 10 s/year).

20 s/year :
Mühle Marine Chronometer : Desk marine chronometer actually built by Hanseatic Instruments. 4.19 Mhz quartz, temperature stabilized. The manufacturer claims an accuracy of 0.01 s/day (3.65 s/year), but my model loses 16 s/year (+/-1s). Nevertheless it could be adjusted without opening the case with an oscilloscope and a small screwdriver. 2000 €
Omega Constellation Perpetual Calendar : thermocompensated quartz, caliber 1680 (ETA Thermoline movement 252.511).
Seiko Brightz Chronograph : Caliber 7J21. 700 - 900 €
Seiko Spirit : classical design with perpetual calendar. Models SBQLxxx & SBQKxxx. Caliber 8F32 & 8F33, 196 608 Hz quartz
Seiko Brightz SAGM007 & 009. classical design with perpetual calendar. Caliber 8F32. 600 - 780 €
Seiko Diver Scuba 200 m : diver watch with perpetual calendar, from Prospex line (Sport watches). Models SBCMxxx. Caliber 8F35, 196 608 Hz quartz. 200 - 230 €
Seiko Alpinist : perpetual calendar and 24 h hand, from Prospex line. Caliber 8F56, 196 608 Hz quartz. 300 - 350 €

based on article by Alexander Read (

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sanity check please!

Most of you probably know the Otto Frei Shop, one of the main watch tools and parts seller on the internet. What you probably don´t know, is what they have to say about customers questions. Read it and take you own conclusions...

"Email is such a pain and I have great frustration in it. Phone calls are 100% better, faster, real time answers. Now international calls are a problem and sometimes the connection can be bad so I understand email can have its place. However, I have no interest in free email for watch parts nothing in this world is free. The frustration is with email in whole as a drain on resources and the wasted exchanges with no orders. Multiple emails are quite common, then when you get the order is it worth all the time you spent? No, it is not. If you want me to treat you as a professional then you better order like a professional. So if you don't want to pay the phone company to call us 510-832-0355 you can pay for my time spent answering your email. We Do Not Offer Stock Checks On Watch & Clock Movements Parts By Email For Free [written in BIG RED LETTERS]. Go ahead send your request to us. Then, I will send you to this page and will tell you which stock check you need to purchase.

$15.00 A Simple 5 Minute Stock On Watch Parts Via Email
If I can read your email, check stock and with a reply all in five minutes or less of my time the charge is $15.00
My goal is to make $124,800 dollars a year. If I work 8 hours a day, 5 day a week, 52 weeks a year the would be 124,800 minutes worth of working. I would have to be paid $1.00 per minute or $60.00 a hour. In order to be paid $1.00 per minute, I would have to be bring in much more than that per minute. If any of your are business owners or have a mind for busines you know that you are very lucky to make after cost two to ten cents from every dollar you take in. I consider the rate of $3.00 per minute to be more than a fair exchange for my time.

$30.00 A 10 Minute Stock On Watch Parts Via Email
If I can read your email, check stock and with a reply all in ten minutes the charge is $30.00"

Hard to believe?? I know!!! Check it at

My goal is also to make at least 124.800 dollars a year, however, if you are going to charge people for inquiries, I think it is better to move on to another business. I wonder if he realized that this inquiry stuff is bothering all shop owners.. (comment and title by Robert-Jan, fratellowatches, with whom i fully agree!)

Watch Brands History - Article 6 (Patek Philippe)

The Company known today as Patek Philippe was founded in Geneva in 1839, by an exiled Polish Nobleman, Count Antoine Norbert de Patek, and his compatriot Francois Czapek. The earliest watches were signed Patek, Czapek & co. until 1845 when Czapek left the partnership. Several years later the company was joined by French watchmaker , Jean Adrien Philippe, who later became the inventor of their famous stem-winding and hand setting mechanism, a modern and reliable concept. From May 1845 to January 1851 the firm was known as Patek & Co; Philippe lent his name to the company in 1851 when he became a full partner.

Among the reasons for their initial success was the high standard of watch making and practicality of Philippe's new stem-winding system. From the middle of the 19th century, Patek Philippe assumed a leading role in the Swiss watchmaking industry by raising the standards of workmanship and time keeping through the introduction of technical improvements (the free mainspring, the sweep seconds hand), in addition to implementing improvements to regulators, chronographs, and perpetual calendar mechanism. As early as 1867 the Paris Exhibition, Patek Philippe displayed watches featuring functions that were to become the standard for complicated watches at the beginning of the 20th century; namely a perpetual calendar, a repeater, and a chronograph with split-seconds.

The two most complicated watches of all time were made by Patek Philippe. The first, made for Henry Graves Jr. New York, was completed at the beginning of the century, and the second, the Caliber 89, the world's most complicated watch, completed in 1989 (hence the name) to mark the firm's 150th anniversary. In 1932, Patek Philippe changed hands, and its new owners became Charles and Jean Stern. Today the third generation of this family still owns and manages the company. Shortly after World War II, Patek Philippe established an electronic division, and in the 1950's the company pioneered quartz technology, filling several patents and winning multiple awards. Today, Patek Philippe SA, Geneva, is still a family company, owned jointly by its president, Mr Henry Stern, and his son and Vice President, Mr Philippe Stern.

Although Patek Philippe is rightly famous of the leading manufacture of mechanical horology, the firm is also the forefront of the industry as producers of industrial and electronic timekeepers, with its highly accurate master-clocks installed in power stations, hospitals, airports, and other public buildings and factories. The firm clientele has included many of the famous figures across history, including royalty such as Queen Victoria, as well as distinguished scientists, artists, authors and musicians, including Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Charlotte Bronte and Tchaikovsky. Today, clearly most of the firm's production consists of wristwatches, but Patek Philippe retains the ability to produce pocket watches,and clocks to order, from highly complicated movements to those decorated with enamelled miniature paintings and engravings. The company continues to patent new inventions and improvements in horology and plays an important role in maintaining the quality, prestige and reputation of the Swiss watchmaking.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Outsiders Who Saved Omega and the Swiss Watch Industry

In 1982, there weren’t many vital signs of life remaining in the emaciated body of the Swiss watch industry. In one year alone, the sales of Swiss watches dropped by 25 per cent. The giant of Swiss Watch Manufacturing, Allgemeine Schweizer Uhrenindustrie AG - Société Suisse pour I'Industrie Horlogére (ASUAG-SSIH), owner of a number of memorable Swiss brands including Omega, was hemorrhaging money so badly that its bankers intervened to ensure that at least something remained of their investment.

The somewhat smug and superior Swiss horological establishment was in the depths of an horror-logical nightmare from which it couldn’t awaken. End of Days was in sight, and Switzerland’s rich watchmaking tradition and splendid history of innovation were in danger of being swept aside by some piddling piezoelectric material that vibrated at a particular frequency when captured within an electric field, namely quartz technology.

The Japanese quartz invasion, and, to a lesser extent, the emergence of the American jewel-free, throw-away watch company Timex, delivered a blow of atomic proportions to the Swiss. So many solid and cherished brands were vaporised overnight.

Like many manufacturers at the time, the doyens of ASUAG-SSIH were in a state of suspended shock at the devastation caused by the quartz onslaught. When the bankers stepped in and took control of the conglomerate, one of the first things they did was employ ‘outsiders’ to lead the rescue attempt, believing, with some justification, that the job couldn’t be done by industry insiders. This, as you can imagine, went down about as badly as would serving a plate of squid rings for lunch after a brit milah ceremony!

One of the great champions to right the wrongs of the Swiss watch manufacturing industry was an individual who knew precious little about horology and mass production of timepieces. Nicholas Heyek was engaged to develop a turn-around plan for ASSUAG-SSIH, a plan that ultimately led the Swiss out of the dark winter of despair into the sweetness and light enjoyed by the industry today.

Lebanese-born entrepreneur Hayek was the owner of a business consulting firm - Hayek Engineering Ltd. of Zurich. He carved the moribund conglomerate into three separate divisions covering the manufacture of movements and watch parts, finished timepieces, and manufactured products that leveraged the organisation’s key capabilities.

Another outsider, Pierre Arnold was chosen to head the organisation. Arnold’s only experience of mechanical timepieces was that of wearing one on his wrist. Before he joined the organisation he headed the Federation of Migros Cooperatives, a multi-billion dollar flagship of Swiss retailing.

Perhaps the most galling choice of all was the appointment of a medical doctor to run the watch division of ASSUAG-SIH. Radical surgery was necessary if the patient was indeed going to survive, and, apart from cutting deeper into the fat of the organisation, one of the most significant medicaments Ernst Thomke prescribed was to sell ‘ebauches (watch movements) on the international market. This hitherto unheard of practice was greeted by some of the more conservative insiders as tantamount to treason.

But, by far the most important decision made by this farsighted medico was to wage the horological equivalent of the Battle of Midway against the Japanese to recapture territory owned traditionally by the Swiss. Thomke established five rules of engagement for the coming hostilities. In creating a watch for the lower end of the market he decreed that the watch:
1. must have style
2. must be cheap to make
3. must be priced competitively
4. be durable, and
5. establish a technological lead.

Thomke’s vision lead to the ultimate creation of the Swatch in 1983, a brand that clawed back much of the ground lost to the Japanese. The Swatch was a brilliant fusion of style and technology. It mirrored the fashion preferences of the day and offered a quartz movement under an analogue dial. The number of parts used to produce the watch were reduced to around 60 percent of those employed in similar models. Great economies were achieved by robotics and single assembly lines.

Swatch has been the dominant lower-end brand of the last two decades releasing literally hundreds of designs, creating ersatz exclusivity and collectiblility by producing limited editions, and branching out into merchandising a range of fashion accessories marketed through Swatch stores.

In 1985, ASUAG-SSIH underwent a name change to SMH and Nicholas Hayek was chosen to lead the new entity. His appointment was greeted with the now-customary hauteur by the Swiss horological establishment who couldn’t quite get it into its head that outsiders offered a freshness of vision that was in very short supply within the industry.

Perhaps taking heed of Thomke’s surgical approach, Hayek excised nearly fifty percent of the company’s workforce and rationalised the number of brands produced by SMH. This allowed him to target the organisation’s energies into building up the brand power of important marques like Omega, Rado, Longines, Hamilton, Certina, Tissot, and Mido while milking the Swatch cash cow for all it was worth.

Swatch bankrolled the renaissance of many of SMH’s best known brands including our beloved Omega, and certainly has earned the right of a rename of SMH to the Swatch Group. Hayek’s claim that what rescued the Swiss watch industry was the very un-Swiss concept of the Swatch stands up well to scrutiny. Swatch signalled that functionality and time-telling were no longer the primary selling points in a watch.

Swatch was not so much marketing time-telling as it was fun, fashion and accessories. Heyek said, 'We were convinced that if we could add our fantasy and culture to an emotional product, we could beat anybody. Emotions are something nobody can copy.' Heyek went on to invent the Smart Car for the Mercedes group, known affectionately as the Swatchmobile. The same combination of fantasy, culture and emotion has made the Smart Car ubiquitous in Europe.

What is also indisputable is that without the vision, insight and vigor of three industry outsiders – an engineer, a retailer and a doctor - the mass production of Swiss mechanical timepieces and Switzerland’s role as the somewhat conceited high priestess of horology may have been but a fading memory of the past.

by Desmond Guilfoyle 2006

Monday, August 27, 2007

Watch Brands History - Article 5 (Timex)

Timex Group B.V. is an American watch company. Timex's U.S. headquarters are located in Connecticut, and it has substantial operations in China, the Philippines and India and full scale sales companies in Canada, the UK, France and Mexico.

The company began in 1854 as Waterbury Clock in Connecticut's Naugatuck Valley, known during the nineteenth century as the "Switzerland of America." Sister company Waterbury Watch manufactured the first inexpensive mechanical pocket watch in 1880. During World War I, Waterbury began making wristwatches, which had only just become popular, and in 1933 it made history by creating the first Mickey Mouse clock under license from Walt Disney, with Mickey's hands pointing the time.

During World War II, Waterbury renamed itself U.S. Time Company. In 1950 the company introduced a wristwatch called the Timex, which revolutionized the time-keeping industry. The wristwatches allowed people to easily tell the time, and were also simply designed, inexpensive, and durable. These improvements played into what was to become one of the most celebrated TV advertising campaigns of all time.

Timex wristwatches first were promoted in print. Such ads depicted the timepieces attached to the bat of baseball legend Mickey Mantle (1931–1995), affixed to a turtle and to a lobster's claw, frozen in an ice cube, and twirling inside a vacuum cleaner. Then in the mid-1950s, John Cameron Swayze (1906–1995), a veteran newscaster, began presiding over a series of television commercials in which the wristwatch was subjected to intricate torture tests. A Timex might be crushed by a jack-hammer, tossed about in a dishwasher, or strapped to a diver who plunged off a cliff. After this mistreatment, Swayze held the still-operating wristwatch up to the camera. He then declared that it "takes a licking and keeps on ticking"—a catch-phrase that entered the pop-culture vocabulary. The success of the ads resulted in Timex wristwatch sales surpassing the five million mark by 1958. By the end of the decade, one in every three wristwatches sold in the United States was a Timex.

Across the decades, thousands of viewers wrote the company, proposing scenarios for future torture tests, like the Air Force sergeant who offered to crash a plane while wearing a Timex. By the end of the 1950s, one out of every three watches bought in the U.S. was a Timex. The ad campaign ended in 1977, with a "failure" that had been planned in advance. In the commercial, an elephant stomped on—and completely crushed—a Timex, at which point Swayze informed the television audience, "It worked in rehearsal."

Timex survived the 1970s and 1980s and came back strongly. The company remains profitable and competitive and the Timex brand continues its dominance. Its primary market remains the United States and Canada, although the Timex brand is sold worldwide due to its ability to capitalize on its strong brand image and reputation for quality. In addition, Timex Group sells many other brands addressing all segments of the watch market, such as Guess, Nautica, Opex and, in a successful foray into the luxury watch market, Versace. In addition to its regular watch lines Timex also manufactures the well received Timex Datalink series of PDA-type watches, and GPS enabled watches, heart rate monitor exercise watches and similar high tech devices.

Today, Timex Group products are manufactured in the Far East and in Switzerland, often based on technology that continues to be developed in the United States and in Germany. To date it has sold over one billion watches.

based on and

Sunday, August 26, 2007

France Gets Chronometer Certification

When COSC decided in 2003 that it would only award ‘chronometer’ certification to watches made in Switzerland, German jeweller Wempe wasted no time in setting-up the German equivalent at a refurbished observatory in Glashütte, Saxony. It even improved on the Swiss ‘ISO 3159’ standard by testing the cased-up, finished watch in five positions, rather than the bare movement.

But what about France? Admittedly, buoyant pockets of haute horlogerie on a par with Glashütte are far harder to come by, but up until the Eighties, the Bensaçon Observatory, founded on the campus of the Franche-Comte University in 1878, was issuing its own certificates to French precision timekeepers. And luckily for some – Bell &Ross perhaps? Michel Herbelin? Chaumet? – service will soon be resumed. A capital spending program by the university aims to set up, by the end of the year, equipment and procedures capable of processing several thousands of watches per annum. And what’s more, it will offer a distinct advantage over COSC, allowing testing not only of the basic movements, but also complications with additional modules, encased movements and even watches attached to their bracelet – all at a cheaper cost per watch, with a quicker turnaround (approx three weeks).

The French certification will carry the abbreviation CCOB (Certificat de chronometrie de l’Observatoire de Besançon), however it is not yet known whether movements that satisfy the –4/+6 sec/day criteria will still be stamped with Besançon’s historic seal of approval, a viper’s head.

from QP Magazine, 22 August 2007

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Remarkable Bulova Accutron

The very brief technical superiority of the Accutron watch is, perhaps, one of the best known facts about the design. The Accutron improved immensely upon the early "electronic" watch, which replaced the mainspring with a battery but established rate with a convention balance and balance spring. The Accutron was, in turn, quickly supplanted by "quartz" designs, which established rate by applying battery current to a quartz crystal and, using the resulting vibration as a reference, powered the analog gear train with a stepper motor. In the conventional wisdom, the much higher quartz frequency made the tuning fork of the Accutron obsolete. What is overlooked in this explanation is that the Accutron did something that has, to my knowledge, never been done before or since. It took the bold step of actually powering the movement with its own escapement. It was as if the balance wheel of a conventional, mechanical watch were used to power the gear train. This was a remarkable idea.

On first examination, one of the most startling aspects of the Accutron is how much traditional, high grade watchmaking is involved in its design and execution. It uses an extremely well-made, traditional, machined brass ebauche with a highly jeweled gear train.

The electronics
By contemporary standards, the electronics of the Accutron are simple, even primitive. Almost as if acknowledging the basic mechanical nature of the design, all electronics are neatly isolated from the rest of the movement in a pair of plastic "kidneys" joined by a simple pair of wires. The coils to activate the tuning fork are integrated into the kidneys. One kidney serves largely as a battery compartment, and the other kidney contains a discrete transistor, one resistor, a capacitor, and a few hand-soldered connections. How simple!

The tuning fork
The tuning fork is a relatively traditional piece, measuring 25 millimeters in length (right). On its left arm, it carries a small post, and, attached to the post, a tiny, square-jeweled pawl (inset, 1) and return spring (2).

Having hit upon the, then novel, idea of establishing rate with an electronically vibrated tuning fork, the engineers had next to consider translating that reference into--movement of the movement. How would a frequency standard derived from the minuscule vibrations of a tuning fork actually translate into both timing and powering the hands of a watch?
A traditional escapement might alternately arrest and release the power of the mainspring at relatively consistent rates. As with later quartz watches, a frequency stabilized circuit might stop and start a stepping motor. But there was no mainspring in the Accutron. Stepper motors, and the circuitry to drive them were then unavailable at anything approaching prices suitable for a wristwatch. The not so obvious answer was to turn it all around and go direct. . .

Bulova engineers arrived at the remarkable and bold decision to quite literally power the gear train of the watch with the vibrations of the tuning fork. The vibrating arm of the fork would oscillate an attached pawl back and forth and the pawl would advance a micro-toothed wheel--tooth by tooth. A second pawl anchored to the ebauche, would serve as a ratchet to prevent reverse movement of the drive wheel. It is here that the Accutron finds itself unique among timekeepers. The frequency standard itself is also the motive force of the movement.


To this day, the 40 year old Accutron stands as an interesting and important contribution to horology. The aerie smoothness of the seconds hand (those are micro teeth on the drive wheel) and the audible hum of the tuning fork are unique among wristwatches. The Accutron is a much more than decent piece of work in traditional horological terms. Compared to most contemporary quartz-referenced wristwatches, the caliber 214 is magnificently constructed. Available in a variety of case styles--including the most-favored SpaceView model, which reveals the technology through the dial, the Accutron caliber 214 is a worthy addition to any collection of timepieces.

based on article by Walt Odets, at

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Nickel in Watches Causes Allergic Reactions

In the watchmaking industry nickel is used together with stainless steel. The latter is a material watchmaking companies use to create water-resistant cases. However both nickel and watchmaking have a lot of other tangency points as well.

Nickel Throughout History
An alloy made of nickel, copper and zinc, named "nickel silver," for more than 150 years has been used to crate plates and bridges in some of the most qualitative watches. The nickel silver, which includes about 15 - 20 percent Ni, was the one to replace the brass.
The composition was also the one to be used in the production of cases for inexpensive watches. Before that only silver was used. Over time the watch industry passed on to make watches of stainless steel.
Today pure nickel is used in electroplate watch parts, including bridges and plates that are made of brass. This is done to prevent oxidation of watch parts. Using a thin layer of nickel is all that is needed to protect the parts and maintain their shiny metallic appearance.
Throughout the history nickel was also used to create balance springs and pendulum rods. It is worth mentioning that Charles-Edouard Guillaume (1861-1938) in 1920 was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics. The Swiss International Bureau of Weights and Measures worker was the one to discover anomalies in nickel-steel alloys.
His observation led to the discovery of Invar (ferronickel that comprises about 36% nickel. Invar has a very low coefficient of expansion) and Elinvar (variation of Invar).
The discoveries of the new alloys were of great use mainly in precision pendulum rods, watch balance springs, as well as thermostats, length standards.

What causes allergies to nickel?
If a sensitive skin of a person is in direct contact with a certain object containing nickel, there is a possibility that the allergic reaction occurs. If taking into consideration watches than it is necessary to mention the possible contact of skin with the case or bracelet of the watch.
Another reason for an allergic response of one's skin refers to the fact that nickel is liberated quite easy from its alloy and onto the skin. It liberates in the form of positively or negatively charged particles. Positive ions can be transported by a fluid, which serves as an electrolyte. Very often the electrolyte is sweat, however the particles can be transported by water from the sea or from a swimming pool.
The stainless steel, which is used to make watch cases, is the one that liberates nickel ions in different amounts. The amount of liberated ions depends on the nature of the alloy as well as the proportions of the individual components. Note that stainless steel made for medical purposes practically does not liberate nickel ions.
People that are are allergic to nickel should avoid wearing costume jewelry made of nickel silver. The allergic reaction often shows up in the form of dermatitis.
A very important factor linked with liberation of nickel ions concerns the condition of metal surface that comes in contact with skin. Surfaces that are rough or porous hold back the electrolytic fluid thus turning into active zones where allergenic cations are produced. Afterwards the resulting metal corrosion produces even higher concentrations of the metal ions. When examining the case-back of a chrome-plated watch attacked by sweat, one may notice how much corrosion has taken place. In such a way the wearer of a watch can understand why the skin became sensitive.
Besides stainless steel watches and bracelets, it is also important to take into consideration the bi-color watches, meaning those that are made of gold and steel. These can also cause problems to a sensitive skin. Just like stainless steel, gold has different electric potentials, which is why sweat transports ions faster. Thus, an increase in corrosion represents a great risk of allergy. There is a close connection between the rate of corrosion and the rate of allergies.
Those who are allergic to nickel obviously should avoid wearing watches containing any nickel at all. An alternative for such watches might be some models from Swatch. The company produces watches made of synthetic materials. Another alternative can be luxury watches made of pink or yellow gold. It is worth mentioning that white gold quite often includes nickel the amount of which can cause allergic reaction of skin. Sensitive skin can also be affected by gold-plated watches. However, an allergic reaction may occur when such watches are worn for quite long periods of time. This is because the thin layer of gold wears off, thus exposing the skin to the metal that contains nickel.
Allergic reactions from nickel has raised serious concerns in the European Community, which is why it started drafting a legislation that the goal of which was to control materials such as nickel.
Thus a certain number of countries have started taking measures regarding different objects made of metals that might include nickel. Denmark was the first to sign a legislation in June 27, 1989, which prohibits both import and production of a wide list of products that liberate quantities of nickel higher than 0.5 microgram/cm2 over one week.
The problems linked with applying new standards are not insurmountable, due to the fact that some suitable materials are already in use today. However, the watchmaking industry needs to invest huge sums to use sustainable materials in watches. Despite the difficulties in that watch companies must face they should be aware of newly proposed regulations and get ready for their implementation.

Taking Care
Since the directives have not come in force yet, watch lovers should take into consideration several precautions in order to lower the risk of nickel allergies from their favorite watches. The first thing to remember is that is it necessary to remove the watch while preparing for sleep so to lower the time of contact between the watch and the skin.
Then it is important to regularly wipe the case suing a clean, dry cloth. One can use a cloth that is slightly damp in case the watch is water-resistant. In order to prevent the accumulation of irritating nickel ions, cleaning a watch with a damp cloth represents a basic measure of good hygiene.
Most watchmakers are often surprised to find out that a lot of watch owners are do not take the necessary measures when it comes to cleaning a watch that often comes in direct contact with their skin.
The last but not the least it is important to know that after perspiring heavily, any watch model should be removed from the wrist and then carefully washed. Thus the risk of allergies from contact with metals containing nickel will be considerably reduced.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

New manufactures: is verticalization on a roll?

Between 2008 and 2010, ETA will officially begin its progressive diminution of supplies of ébauches or movement blanks to companies outside of the Swatch Group. Having had a few years to prepare for this cataclysmic event, Swiss watch companies are seeking alternatives – the most logical of which is verticalization.

Numerous watch companies in Switzerland and elsewhere purchase movement blanks (a mechanical watch movement without the regulating organs - dial, hands, the balance and the balance spring), add a module of their own creation and/or decorate the movement, assemble the watch with the addition of the regulating organs purchased elsewhere, and voilà, a new watch is ready to be sold under the brand name X.

The balance spring conundrum
There are also a handful of watch companies that are referred to as ‘manufactures’, meaning they don’t purchase parts from specialist suppliers for their watches. Perhaps it would make some sense to clearly define the term ‘manufacture’: in the strictest terms of the definition, a ‘manufacture’ is a watch company that has the capacity to manufacture each and every component used in the production of a mechanical wristwatch – i.e. the case, dial, hands and movement, which includes its most essential and complex element, the heart if you like … the balance spring.
Obviously, a mechanical watch won’t work without a balance spring and, in Switzerland there is only one major supplier. The balance spring is made from a metal alloy Elinvar (elasticité invariable - elastically invariable) that resists magnetic fields and doesn’t react to variations in temperature and there is only one foundry that produces Elinvar and that’s in Germany. The foundry’s production schedule of Elinvar is a major mystery to outsiders because not only is the alloy very rarely manu-factured, but it appears to be totally impromptu, as if every decade or three someone suddenly remembers to make some. When it is made, however, very little is produced because just 3 grams of Elinvar makes 1,000 balance springs … therefore 1 million balance springs requires a mere 3 kilos of this very special alloy.
For many years now, Nivarox-Far, a company within the Swatch Group, has enjoyed a near monopoly on the production of balance springs since it manages to obtain most of the Elinvar available. Which means that even if a watch manufacturer makes their own movement, they are dependent on Nivarox to supply the balance spring. Consequently, when Nicolas G. Hayek decided in 2002 that he was going to give priority of supplies of movements and movement blanks to his own watch companies, non-Swatch Group companies were obliged to put on their thinking hats to find a solution to their supply problem.
Through force of circumstance, for those with sufficient financial clout, becoming a ‘manufacture’ seemed the logical move - albeit it an extremely expensive and demanding one. For those companies without the financial resources to follow the verticalization path, they will remain dependent on whatever supplies they can lay their hands on in the forthcoming years.

Given the extensive costs of machines and the specialized technology and know-how in the production of balance springs, it is also generally accepted that those brands who purchase their balance springs from a specialist producer can still be considered a ‘Manufacture’ if all the other components are produced in-house.
The watch companies of the ‘old school’ referred to as a ‘manufacture’ are Audemars Piguet, Girard-Perregaux, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, A. Lange & Söhne, Patek Philippe, Piaget, Rolex, Vacheron Constantin and Zenith. However, of these only Jaeger-LeCoultre, Rolex, A. Lange & Söhne and Ulysses Nardin are believed to have the capability of producing their own balance springs, although one must doubt whether Rolex can produce sufficient for the 800,000 or so timepieces they manufacture a year.
Of the ‘new boys on the block’ that can be considered a manufacture it is generally accepted that Chopard, Franck Muller, Frédérique Constant, Maurice Lacroix, Parmigiani-Vaucher, Roger Dubuis and François-Paul Journe, who is currently seriously investing in the necessary machinery, and most recently Bovet, can produce at least some, if not all, of their own balance springs and movements.
Much has been written in Europa Star about Chopard, Journe, Franck Muller, Parmigiani-Vaucher and Roger Dubuis and there’s more in this issue from the pen of Pierre Maillard. Consequently, let’s take a look at Bovet, Frédérique Constant and Maurice Lacroix the latest brands to move into the ‘manufacture’ category.

With the acquisition of the Château de Môtiers in the Val-de-Travers, Bovet, under the leadership of Pascal Raffy, has moved back to its roots and with the purchase in August of this year of three manufacturing structures, Bovet’s move to becoming a ‘manufacture’ is now no longer a dream.
By acquiring STT Complications SA (ex-Progress Watch, production and development of tourbillons), STT Mechanical Movements SA (calibres), STT SPIR-IT (balance springs) STT Watch U Licence (brevets) as well as Aigat (stamping) and placing them under a single roof in Tramelan under the name Dimier 1738, a name belonging to the Bovet patrimony, Raffy has ensured that his company can now become totally self-sufficient and is, by definition, a ‘manufacture’. Additionally, Bovet is a partner of Aubert Complications based in Le Lieu (VD).
Bovet now has, via the 60 highly skilled employees and the 2000 m2 workshops in Tramelan, the essential know-how of quality workmanship in the manufacturing of haute horlogerie movements at its fingertips. Few watch companies have achieved their objectives in such a short period of time, but given the opportunity for the acquisitions and enough finance for the purchase … miracles can be achieved.
“As a client of these companies since 2004,” Pascal Raffy explains, “I knew the quality of their products and it was a unique opportunity to enter the very close circle of genuine manufactures of Swiss Haute Horlogerie. It was also a way to guarantee our total autonomy in terms of supply of manufactured movements, answering not only the highest criteria, but also guaranteeing a vertical growth of our production, indispensable for an ambitious and prestigious watch company. I will assume the development of manufacturing, focussing on the highest quality of products, but in keeping a limited production in terms of volume. Excellence, exclusivity and respect of delivery terms are for me essential preoccupations.” With Dimier 1738, Bovet is opting for verticalization of its production and has become an instant ‘manufacture’ with the aim of creating an exclusive Bovet movement, a top-of-the-range calibre that will be presented in 2008.

Frédérique Constant
Founded in 1988, Frédérique Constant is another independent watch company that has enjoyed a remarkable growth of between 25-30% annually. With a recent annual production of more than 45,000 watches a year and increasing orders, during the summer the company moved to new premises in Plan-les-Ouates on the outskirts of Geneva. Measuring 3,200 square metres and divided over four floors, the specially designed and constructed building is home to around 70 employees in the sectors of movement component production, calibre assembly, watch assembly, and extensive quality control. Numerically-controlled machines of the latest generation are located in a large atelier in the basement, where all component manufacturing is concentrated. Calibre and watch assembly, as well as state-of-the-art quality control is primarily organized on the first floor. The building is also the brand's international headquarters.
With its slogan ‘Live your passion’, Frédérique Constant will continue with the passionate development and production of exciting new collections and aims to produce and sell over 55,000 pieces this year. Current plans, including the recent acquisition of the Alpina watch brand, seems to have ensured that the company can confidently manage growth now and in the future.
To commemorate the official inauguration of the new Frédérique Constant building, a new limited edition of its classic Heart Beat Manufacture wristwatch, with the brand’s own manufacture movement, has been developed. The Heart Beat Manufacture ‘Plan-les-Ouates’ is in 18 carat white gold and is equipped with the original FC-910 Frédérique Constant manufacture Calibre first unveiled in 2004. The dial of the watch, with classic Roman numerals, is of the same anthracite colour as the new building. The Heart Beat Manufacture ‘Plan-les-Ouates’ is a Limited Edition of just 188 pieces.
“From the start of the company, Frédérique Constant’s mission has been to manufacture classical Swiss watches at sensible prices,” explain Aletta and Peter Stas, COO & CEO of Frédérique Constant. “We position ourselves with a Swiss quality product in the mid-price segment. As a young company, our overheads are considerably lower than most of the competition and the resulting lower costs are passed on to consumers. The new manufacture in Plan-les-Ouates has been developed for maximum efficiency and we expect that the new work-environment will continue to enhance our competitive position.
“In addition to its watches in the middle-price range, Frédérique Constant offers some timepieces in the Haute de Gamme segment. In 1999, we introduced our Highlife Tourbillon in 18 carat gold at 48,000 Swiss francs. While this model was created as a ‘talking piece’, over 100 of them have now been sold. We had a similar experience with the Heart Beat Perpetual, also a timepiece at a substantially higher price than most of the Frédérique Constant collection. Lastly, the Heart Beat Manufacture, the watch that is equipped with our own movement has a retail price ranging from 5,000 to 15,000 depending on the model and is now selling 1,200 pieces a year.
“With new investments in CNC and milling machines, we are increasing our capacity to manufacture small series of rare timepieces. It is important to note that these new high-end timepieces are entirely developed and produced in-house. These timepieces are produced in addition to the regular Frédérique Constant collection in the mid-priced segment, which remains our main focus.”

Maurice Lacroix
Founded in 1975, Maurice Lacroix is one of a small number of genuinely independent Swiss watch manufacturers. Since its beginnings, watches have been produced in its state-of-the-art workshops in Saignelégier, and as the company has developed both nationally and internationally (Maurice Lacroix watches are available in some 3,700 retailers in more than 60 countries), so the workshops have expanded to add to the production capacity.
Although there have been changes within the industry and therefore within the company over the last 30 years, watchmaking tradition, skilled craftsmanship and passion, as well as a devotion to design and perfection have remained at the heart of what has become a highly creative watch company and today, Maurice Lacroix produces more than 150,000 watches a year.
At Baselworld this year, Philippe C. Merk, Maurice Lacroix’ CEO, presented the brand’s first ‘own Manufacture’ Calibre ML 106 hand-winding chronograph movement along with the ‘Masterpiece Le Chronographe’ that houses it. As Merk stated, “This heralds the start of a new, promising era for the brand.” The ML 106 Calibre Chronograph movement is the first one completely designed and developed in-house, which means, using the earlier definition, Maurice Lacroix has joined the ranks of the exclusive club of Swiss ‘manufactures’.
Since the beginning of October, workshops for the manufacture of highly complex watch movement components have been set up under the name La Manufacture des Franches-Montagnes SA in Montfaucon, very close to the Maurice Lacroix watch atelier at Saignelégier in the Swiss Jura Mountains. The production based on the latest CNC technology is primarily intended to encompass low-volume individual parts, thus giving the brand’s timepieces their own unique and detailed styling.
Understandably, Maurice Lacroix will continue to work with external suppliers, but the in-house manufacture makes it possible for the brand to act independently in times of greater demand and to better control its production of complex mechanical watches.
With the establishment of the Manufacture des Franches-Montagnes SA, Maurice Lacroix completes the last logical step in its manufacturing verticalization and as a ‘manufacture’ ensures the development of innovative addit-ional functions and complicated mechanical movements in its Masterpiece Collection.
Verticalization or die? You pays your money and make … your own watch?

By D. Malcolm Lakin
Source: Europa Star December-January 2007 Magazine Issue

The Moon Watch: The History of the Omega Speedmaster Professional

Few things in American history have generated more interest and pride in our country than our nation's space program. The wrist worn Omega Speedmaster Professional (S.P.) has played an interesting role in America's conquest of space.

Not only did this chronograph become famous for being the first watch worn on the moon, but the story of its selection by NASA to become the wrist timing device of the astronauts is a story of worksmanship,
repeated testing and a study in American politics.

First manufactured in 1959 by Omega Watch company in Biene, Switzerland, the S.P. is a chronograph capable of measuring elapsed time in seconds, minutes and hours. The black anodized multi-dial face with luminous markers is housed in a stainless steel waterproof case. There are 150 separate parts and the chronograph is anti-magnetic and shock protected. There is a tachymeter outer scale used for calculating speeds or unit per hour production.

In the early days of the space program during Project Mercury, wrist timing devices were used for manned space flight as a backup to the on-board timing devices. There was no watch that was "standard issue" during Project Mercury. It was the astronaut's choice to wear/not wear a wrist timing device, and to choose the make/model he thought best. Astronauts Shepard, Grissom and Glenn wore no watch. Scott Carpenter wore a Breitling Navitimer.

The Speedmaster Professional was first flight tested in space by Walter Schirra aboard Sigma 7, October 1962. The Omega ran flawlessly and was used as backup to the on-board clock. On-board timing devices in the Mercury capsule were internal to the spacecraft and wristwatches had not undergone rigorous testing, as the astronaut never left the protected environment of the spacecraft.

On the last Mercury Mission, Gordon Cooper wore both the Omega chronograph and a Bulova Accutron Astronaut in order to compare the accuracy of the manually-wound Omega to the then new electronic Bulova. The Omega was used to time the firing sequence of the retro rockets for re-entry.

However, with the Gemini and Apollo programs, astronauts would also need wrist timing devices to help them with EVA activities, such as spacewalks, photographic timing exposures, and timing fuel cell purges. Such a watch should be able to operate in the vacuum of space where there exists wide variances in temperature and pressure.

The primary requirement for the wrist timing device was to provide the capability to perform short interval timing and backup for the main spacecraft timing device. Initially, a manually wound watch was required, as the "self-winding" watch mechanisms depend upon the action of an inertial pendelum in a gravity environment for performing the winding function. Consequently, these devices would not function in the reduced gravity environment encountered in space flight. [Eds. comment -- this last statement is simply wrong -- automatic watches will work fine in space]

In 1962, NASA began the search for a wristwatch that could be worn by the Gemini and Apollo astronauts. NASA purchased watches from several companies which were then subjected to a number of rigorous tests. The watches were placed in vacuum chambers with conditions closely matching the space environment. Temperatures varied from 200 degrees above 0 F to 0 F. They were exposed to accelerations of 12g's -- twice as much as could be expected in spaceflight, and a vibration table shook the watches violently. The watch was also to be waterproof, shock proof and anti-magnetic. The only watch that survived this testing was the Omega Speedmaster Professional. It is significant to note that this was a standard, production line model which was purchased over-the-counter, incognito at a Houston jewelry store.

In 1965, NASA chose the Omega Speedmaster Professional as the official chronograph for the space program. With the first Gemini flight (GT3) with astronauts Grissom and Young, the Speedmaster Professional became part of the standard equipment issued to the astronauts. The watch was worn on the outside of the pressure suit with the use of a large black velcro band. It was worn during the first walk in space by an American, Edward White, in 1965. Two watches were worn by each Gemini astronaut as a matter of preference for timing different tasks.

Two years before the first lunar landing, a memo by Donald K. (Deke) Slayton, then director of Flight Crew operations at NASA, indicated a need for "a wrist chronograph that would be qualified for use in a hostile environment existing on the lunar surface." He pointed out the difficulties in temperature protection and pressure suit garment interface needed by astronauts on the lunar surface. He once again suggested that in order to measure elapsed time, c chronograph would be best suited forthese purposes.

Due to its performance and reliability, the Speedmaster Professional was selected again as the official chronograph by NASA for project Apollo. Each astronaut wore one chronograph for spaceflight as a standard issue. Most, however, wore two during spaceflight. One watch was set on Mission Elapsed time (MET) and the other was set on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Houston time. The watch became very popluar with the astronauts and was often used in their everyday lives as well as their work in the space flight simulators.

However, the use of Swiss chronographs in the American space program met with political resistance by a number of American watch makers, specifically the Bulova Watch Company. In the early days of the space program, Bulova did not make a chronograph, but nonetheless, it exerted considerable pressure on NASA to use Bulova products. There were various meetings with NASA officials in order to promote the use of their products. In 1964, Senate hearings involved the domestic watch manufacturing industry and their use in space and defense projects. Senator Symington from Missouri, Margaret Chase Smith from Massachusetts, and Senator Stennis from MIssissippi were present at these meetings. The former assistant secretary of defense, Marx Leva, was retained by Bulova as their legal council. James Webb, the administrator of NASA at that time, was aware of these meetings and helped shape NASA's response to them.

As the official chronograph for all Apollo missions, the Speedmaster Professional was worn by Frank Borman and crew on man's first journey to orbit the moon during Christmas of 1968. It was strapped to the outside of the space suit of Buzz Aldrin when he and Neil Armstrong made man's first lunar landing during the historic Apollo 11 mission in July 1969. The two hours and forty minutes that Armstrong and Aldrin were alloted on the surface of the moon, outside the lunar module, were timed by this chronograph.

There has been interesting discussion as to who in fact wore the first watch on the moon. Buzz Aldrin states that shortly after landing, there was a failure of the timer in the lunar module and he was unable to get it restarted. According to his best recollection, Neil Armstrong left his chronograph on board the Lunar Module as a backup. Thus, the first watch worn on the moon was worn by Buzz Aldrin. This watch was later stolen from his personal belongings, and has never been recovered.

During Apollo 13 in April 1970, an on-board explosion of an oxygen tank in the service module left no electrical power in the Command Module (CM) or Service Module (SM) except for emergency re-entry power. This left the on-board computerized timing devices inoperative. The crew had to use the Lunar Module for survival and had to power down everything in the Lunar Module. The Lunar Module was designed to provide approximately two days of electrical power. The crew and NASA had to devise a way to make this last the five days it would take to return to earth. The only electricl equipment turned on in the Lunar Module was a radio receiver, not even a transmitter. This left the crew of Jim Lovell, Fred Haies, and Jack Swigert without the use of on-board computers and their associated timing devices. Commander James Lovell thus had to use his Speedmaster Professional for both the timing and interval of thrust for critical engine burns as they rounded the moon and set a course for home. Thsi contributed not only to saving the lives of the crew, but the vessel as well.

The last manned lunar landing Apollo 17 was scheduled for December 1972. As this date approached, the Bulova Watch Company became increasingly concerned that its products be used for this last manned lunar mission. Letters were sent to the special assistant to the President at the White House from Bulova indicating their displeasure with the use of Swiss chronographs in the American space program.

Thus it was decided by the Administrator on NASA, James Fletcher, that if a suitable Bulova chronograph could be found, it would be used on the last Apollo mission. The astronauts responded by stating that if forced to wear the Bulova time piece, they would also wear the Omega as "insurance." Bulova had insisted that chronographs chosen by NASA follow the policy of the "buy American" regulations estalished by the Senate. Both Omega and Bulova wished to comply with this, however, as of 1972, Bulova did not manufacture a US made chronograph.

In August of 1972, sixteen companies were notified by NASA that the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) planned to establish a Qualified Product List (QPL) for possible future procurement of astronaut watches. This list included: the Breitling Watch Corporation, the Bulova Watch Company, the Elmore Watch Company, the Elgin National Watch Company, the Forbes Company, S. A. Girard-Perregaux Company, The Gruen Watch Company, the Hamilton Watch Company, Heuer Time and Electronic Corporation, the LeJour Watch Company, the Longines-Wittnauer Company, the Omega Watch Company, the American Rolex Company, Seiko Watch Company, and Zodiac Watch Company. Both Bulova and Omega were eager to comply with the "Buy American Act" which meant 51 precent of the products must be made or manufactured in the United States.

In order to comply with this act, Omega had the stainless steel cases for the Speedmaster Professional manufactured in Luddington, Michigan by the Starr Watch Case Company. The crystals were shipped from Switzerland to the Starr Watch Company where they were installed (the Starr Watch Co. is no longer in business). The completed case and crystal were then shipped to the Hamilton Watch Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for inspection and testing. The case and crystals were then shipped to Switzerland where the movements were installed and the entire watch was subjected to final inspection and environmental testing.

The Bulova Watch Company submitted 16 chronographs for testing at this time. It was later learned that these watches were manufactured in Switzerland and that Bulova had purchased these chronographs through their subsidiary in Switzerland, Universal Geneve. The 16 chronographs were disassembled by Bulova in their research laboratory and a new crystal, a new machine case, specifically manufactured pin, a new crown and stem, a new face and dials and certain gaskets, washers and screws were replaced on each watch. The original movements and the back of each watch were retained.

When confronted with the fact that these watches were, in actuality, Swiss chronographs, Bulova stated that they had invested $23,000 of research and development funds in developing and tooling the process. Thus, by utilizing these R&D costs, the watches were found to qualify under the "Buy American Act."

The testing process was done in two stages. First, there were several general requirements needed to become "Flight Qualified." If a watch met these criteria, it was then subjected to a series of specific and regorous "space flight environmental tests" to determine final suitability for spaceflight. The general requirements were that the watch be a chronograph, anti-magnetic, waterproof, and shock-resistant. The case must be finished for non-reflective characteristics, and the crystal of the chronograph must be anit-reflective so that the dials could be easily read under light levels ranging from three foot-candles to direct, unfiltered sunlight. Accuracy requiremnets both in the face up and face down positions should be plus or minus 6 seconds in a 24 hour period.

The watches were then subjected to the specific environmental tests which included vacuum testing, oxygen atmosphere testing, low temperature, acceleration, random vibration test, electromagnetic induction tests, and a humidity test. The specific test parameters are listed in Table 1.

Table 1.
1. Vacuum testing
The chronograph shall be subjected to a vacuum of 1x10^-6 Torr or better for a total of 72 hours. During the first 10 hours of testing the temperature of the items shall be increased to 160 (+/-10) degrees F. The temperature shall then be returned to 78 (+/-10) degrees F for the remainder of the test.

2. Oxygen Atmosphere/Temperature Test
The test items shall be placed in atmosphere of 95 +/-5 percent oxygen at a pressure of 5+/-0.1 psia and a temperature of 155 +/-5 degrees F for 72 hours. Gas samples extracted from the chamber area shall be analyzed for organic and CO content per test number 6 of D-NA-0002.

3. Low Temperature
The test items shall be lowered to 0 +/- 5 degrees F. This temperature shall be maintained for 10 +/-0.5 hours. The test items shall be allowed to return to ambient before functional testing.

4. Acceleration
The test items shall be subjected to 20's +/- 2 g's in each direction of the three (3) perpendicular axes.

5. Random Vibration
The test items shall be installed in a fixture and submitted to 7.8 g's RMS for 5 +/-0.1 minutes, as defined in figure 2 in each of 3 axes. The test fixture with the test items shall then be submitted to 3.2 g's for 12 +/-0.1 minutes as defined in figure 1, in each of the 3 axes [Eds. Note: Figures not provided].

6. EMI Test
The test items shall be subjected to all applicable requirements of Mil-STD-461A, if an electromechanical movement is employed.

7. Humidity Testing
The test items shall be submitted to a humidity test per MIL-STD-810B, Method 507, Procedure I, except minimum temperature shall be 68 deg F and maximum temperature shall be 120 deg F.


These tests were completed by November 1972, and the Deputy Administrator of NASA, George Low, in his letter to the Assistant to the President at the White House, Jonathan C. Rose, stated the results of the spaceflight qualification test. To my knowledge, this information has never before been made public. "The Bulova chronograph stopped three times during the humidity test, and stopped again during the acceleration test. Based on our criteria, the Bulova chronograph therefore, has not been qualified for use on the Apollo 17 mission... We will continue to use the Omega watch in the Apollo program.

The issue was finalized by a letter from Dale Myers, Associate Administrator for manned Space Flight, to Dr. George Low, the deputy director of NASA, on November 13, 1972. "The special Bulova chronographs purchased by MSC for possible application for Apollo 17 and Skylab, have failed their qualification tests both in humidity and acceleration. I have instructed the Manned Spacecraft Center to take no further action with respect to chronograph testing or other companies watches. I consider the Bulova watch issue closed."

Following the lunar landing, the space program continued, and 1975 marked the first handshake in space between the American and Soviet crews during the Apollo and Soyuz mission. The American and Russian crews were BOTH wearing the Speedmaster Professional.
The topic of astronaut timepieces was quiet for several years until 1976 when Bulova became interested in supplying time pieces for the Space Shuttle missions. Bulova had numerous public and private officials contact NASA in order to gain their objectives.

Senator Jacob Javits from New York contacted the Administrator of NASA, Robert Frosch, to lobby on Bulova's behalf. Once again, NASA initiated a competetive solicitation. A new deadline was extended several times so Bulova could participate.

In September 1978, astronaut chronograph watches wishing to be considered for the space shutter program underwent yet another round of prescribed space flight environmental testing. This included vacuum, low temperature, pressure, vibration, acceleration, salt-fog, humidity and shock testing. Responses to the NASA procurement requests were recieved from the Bulova Watch Company and the Omega Watch Company in Bienne, Switzerland. Bulova submitted a proposal offering one type of chronograph, sold to NASA for $1 each. Omega submitted 3 proposals for 3 separate models. The chronograph determined to be in compliance with the environmental requirements, achieving the highest technical score, and offered at the lowest price would be purchased. The technical evaluation team determined that, of the chronographs submitted by Bulova for space flight environmental testing, no single watch was exposed to all environmental tests. Also, one watch failed in salt-fog testing and all 3 watches exposed to vacuum testing failed to sho adequate sealing. Accordingly, the Bulova chronographs were determined to be in non-compliance with the specified environmental requirements.

Once again, the Omega chronograph was superior to the other chronographs tested. The Speedmaster Professional met all environmental requirements, had the highest technical score, and was offered at the lowest price. Therefore, the Omega was accepted for procurement. It is significant to note that this was the identical model which had been submitted in 1962. The watch was offered to NASA at the cost of $0.01 per watch.

In April 1981, STS-1, the first shuttle mission, was launched with Commander John Young wearing the Speedmaster Professional.

Now that the shuttle flights have become operational, there are no longer requirements by NASA for specific watches to be worn during shuttle missions. Withthe exception of extravehicular activity, all astronauts are confined within the pressurized environment of the shuttle. Nonetheless, the S.P. continues to be used by many of the shuttle astronauts.

In 1989, Omega commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing by issuing a limited edition of the Speedmaster Professional. The commemorative watches were limited to 2,000 pieces. In 1989, with the Soviet Union's improved attitude toward the West, the Soviet Union selected Omega as the watch supplied to all cosmonauts.

Through the years, this watch has become a collector's item to some and a momento to others. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin mentions in his book "Return to Earth" that when donating several items to the Smithsonian Institution, his Omega was one fo the few things that was stolen from his personal effects. General Stafford, who has flown 4 space missions, is now the chairman of the board of the Omega Watch Corporation of America. Frank Borman and other Apollo astronauts continue to wear their Speedmaster Professionals for daily use and as a momento of their space accomplishments. Many of the Apollo astronauts were given the gold model of the S.P. by Omega upon return from their missions.

The S.P.'s are on display in several museums, e.g. the Michigan Space Center, Jackson, Michigan (McDevitt's from Gemini), and the Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C. (Tom Stafford's from Apollo 10).

This is then the history of this interesting and historic watch. The manufacture of this chronograph gives meanign to the words quality, craftsmanship and teamwork. It withstood vigorous and repeated testing and surely must be one of the most thoroughly tested watches in history. It was the only watch "Flight Qualified by NASA for all Manned Space Missions" and was used during Projects Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz, and the Space Shuttle. As the only piece of space equipment available for wear to the public, the Speedmaster Professional provides the opportunity to own a small piece of history.

But perhaps the greatest legacy of the Speedmaster Professional is that it has withstood the test of time. For even now, some 30 years after it was first introduced, it is still the only watch flight-qualified by NASA for extravehicular space activity.

Written by Alan A. Nelson entitled "The Moon Watch: A History of the Omega Speedmaster Professional" - February 1993 issue of the NAWCC Bulletin.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

New Criteria for "Swiss Made" Label

The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH) has recently voted by handsome majority for strengthening criteria for the 'Swiss Made' label. According to the secret ballot, there were 52 votes 'for' and 8 'against' reinforcing of the federal law on the 'Swiss Made' label featured by watches.

The brand name is one of the major factors implying the product's quality and prestige in watchmaking, while the 'Swiss Made' label holds the second position by its importance. It is used as a valuable distinction that should not disillusion the customers. 'Swiss Made' indicates the watch's origin and serves as the customer's guidance when he is making his choice.

At the moment, 'Swiss Made' is basically relevant only to watch movements whereas customers acquire a finished timepiece. In fact, in 1992 the watch industry witnessed two amendments to the law specifying that the casing-up and final inspection must be carried out in Switzerland, but it almost did not change the situation.

The reinforcement of the Swiss Made label is expected to cause supply problems. It will require several years and suppliers, the same as watch brands, will have to adapt to the new criteria. The leading watch companies, with their weight within the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry equal to their presence in the watchmaking market, had already supported the idea of stricter criteria.

The provisions voted by the assembly are relevant to both the timekeeping mechanism and the finished watch. The new project has suggested a value criterion for finished watches. So, what are the basic rules for the Swiss-Made mechanical watches to be worth featuring the 'Swiss made' label, according to the new ordinance? Consider the following:
1) the Swiss-Made mechanical watch must have at least 80 percent of its production cost relevant to operations conducted in Switzerland. For electronic watches, the rate makes up 60 percent.
2) the watch's technical construction and prototype development must be fulfilled in Switzerland. Production cost does not include raw materials, gems and batteries.
3) under the old ordinance, 50 percent of the movement's value must be relevant to Swiss-made parts. For the mechanical movements, the FH proposed to increase this proportion to a minimum of 80 percent, and to 60 percent for electronic movements.

Prior to the assembly, the International Watch Museum in La Chaux-de-Fonds held a special meeting devoted to the issue. One of the specialists present at the meeting mentioned that it is difficult for customers to tell the difference between Swiss, Made in Switzerland, Swiss Made, and Swiss manufacturers as there was a drift in the terms' usage. For customers, 'Swiss Made' generally implies water-resistance, service and repair provided for a certain period of time. The majority of customers do not know how precisely to determine how much of their timepiece's value is of the Swiss origin.

Another participant of the meeting stressed that there should not be any doubts whether the Swiss production is able to meet the higher demands after reinforcing of Swiss-Made criteria. The industry will make new investments just as some companies that have already done it.

The FH is ready to present its proposals to the federal authorities. It will be followed by negotiations with the European Union. At present time representatives of the watchmaking industry interested in the issue hope that Swiss Made will finally reflect quality worthy of the Swiss name.


Watch Brands History - Article 4 (Blancpain)

Founded in 1735 by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain, this House boasts a famous and oft-repeated slogan: "Since 1735, there has never been a quartz Blancpain watch. And there never will be." This bold statement, however, is more than just a slogan; it is a guiding principle of this unique company…a sincere dedication to excellence, which has earned Blancpain numerous accolades over the years.

Although successive generations of the Blancpain family were able to transform what had been a tiny manufacturer into one of the most respected watch companies in the world - witness the company's famous "Fifty Fathoms" model, circa 1953, which featured prominently in Jacques Cousteau's award-winning film, The World of Silence - the influx of inexpensive quartz watches from Japan and China during the early 1970's nearly doomed the company to extinction. It was only thanks to the intervention of Jean-Claude Biver, an Omega executive with a love of fine timepieces, that the company was reborn in 1983 and put on the path to recovery. Biver's strategy was elegantly simple: a return to the production of classic mechanical watches in limited numbers, and an emphasis on creating innovative, and oftentimes highly complicated timepieces.

Biver's strategy was a success. Today, the Blancpain workshop and headquarters retains the charm of a tranquil farmhouse, yet within this unassuming factory are created some of the world's most complicated, desired and expensive watches. Graduates from the finest Swiss watchmaking schools are recruited into the ranks of the House following their apprenticeship to a Master Watchmaker. In keeping with tradition, watchmakers employed by Blancpain do not work in assembly line fashion; rather, each watchmaker will personally build "their" watch from beginning to end.

Production is extremely limited, with fewer than 10,000 watches per year being produced. Needless to say, each watch is individually numbered and recorded in the company's archives. Boxes, straps and buckles are of the highest possible quality, in keeping with the company's strict emphasis on quality. As for the movements, they are designed and crafted completely in-house, and based exclusively on high-quality ebauches that are provided by their sister company, Frederic Piguet. Since Piguet and Blancpain share the same building, it might be said that a Blancpain watch features an in-house movement.

Where the company distinguishes itself the most, however, is in its adamant devotion to the mechanical wristwatch. Since the company's rebirth, only mechanical watches, in round watchcases, are produced. These are not "trendy" watches, but rather, classical in their styling and timeless in their elegance. Among the company's most recognizable products are Ref. 1106, a manual wind wristwatch with 100 hour winding reserve; the Fifty Fathoms, a contemporary version of the company's classic diving watch; an 18K "Half Hunter" wristwatch featuring a hinged sapphire crystal back; and the "1735" which combines the six complications offered by the company into one watch. The "1735" is an automatic chronograph with split-second chronograph, tourbillon, perpetual calendar with phases of the moon, and minute repeater -- a masterpiece that took more than six years to design and build.

It is also a fitting tribute to the company's founder, and an equally appropriate symbol of the company's ongoing mission - to create the very finest timepieces for discriminating collectors.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Watch Brands History - Article 3 (Bulova)

In 1875 Joseph Bulova, a 23-year-old Czech immigrant, opens a small jewelry shop on Maiden Lane in New York City. By 1911 Bulova begins manufacturing and selling boudoir and table clocks as well as fine pocket watches. These pieces are sold in unprecedented numbers. Bulova sets up its first plant in 1912 dedicated to the production of watch components and their assembly into jeweled movements in Bienne, Switzerland.

During World War I, the convenience of wristwatches (as opposed to pocket watches) is discovered and Bulova introduces the first full line of men's jeweled wristwatches.

In 1923 the name Bulova Watch Company, Inc. is adopted. Bulova perfects a new concept in the watch industry with total standardization of parts. Every part of a Bulova watch is made with such precision (standardized to the ten thousandth part of an inch) that it is interchangeable with the same part in any other Bulova watch. This revolutionizes the servicing of watches in the industry.

In 1926 Bulova produces the nation's first ever radio spot commercial, "At the tone, it's 8 PM, B-U-L-O-V-A Bulova watch time." In honor of Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic solo flight from New York to Paris in 1927, Bulova ships 5,000 Lone Eagle watches, packaged with pictures of Lindbergh. The supply is sold out within three days. During the next few years Bulova sells nearly 50,000 of these commemorative watches. 1927 is also the year Bulova Watch Company goes public on the American Stock Exchange.

Branching out from the wristwatch business, Bulova introduces the world's first clock radio in 1928 and Bulova engineers and patents a new principle in the construction of automobile clocks a year later. Bulova begins manufacturing the first electric clocks via mass production. The collection includes wall and mantel clocks, and clocks for use in stores, windows, office buildings and terminals. In 1931 Bulova conducts the watch industry's first ever million dollar advertising campaign. Throughout the Depression years, Bulova supports retailers by offering Bulova watches to buyers on time-payment plans. Joseph Bulova, founder of Bulova Watch Company, dies in 1935.

In 1941, continuing its tradition of advertising firsts, Bulova airs the first television commercial: a simple picture of a clock and a map of the United States, with a voice-over proclaiming, "America runs on Bulova time." 1941 also marks the year that the Bulova Board of Directors adopts a resolution to manufacture products for national defense at actual cost. Throughout World War II, having perfected the skill of creating precision timepieces, Arde Bulova, Joseph's son, works with the U.S. government to produce military watches, specialized timepieces, aircraft instruments, critical torpedo mechanisms and fuses.

In 1952 Bulova begins developing Accutron, the first breakthrough in timekeeping technology in over 300 years. Accutron, the first fully electronic watch, promises to keep time to within 2 seconds a day. Recognizing a new trend in the watch industry, the self-winding and shock-proof watch, Bulova adds more of this type of watch to its line. Also added this year is the Bulova Wrist-Alarm, an entirely new kind of watch. A few years later, Bulova introduces the "Bulova 23," a self-winding, waterproof , 23-jewel watch with an unbreakable mainspring, made entirely in the United States.

In 1955 an A.C. Neilson Co. Survey reveals that Americans see more national advertising for Bulova products than for any other products, in any other industry, in the world. Bulova completes negotiations to co-sponsor the Jackie Gleason Show, a one-hour live television show airing Saturday nights from eight to nine o'clock. This is the first time in history that any watch or jewelry allied industry has made a sponsorship commitment of such magnitude.

In the 1960s, NASA asks Bulova to incorporate Accutron into its computers for the space program. Bulova timing mechanisms eventually become an integral part of 46 missions of the U.S. Space Program. In 1961, Accutron, the first watch to keep time through electronics, is introduced. It is the most spectacular breakthrough in timekeeping since the invention of the wristwatch. This revolutionary timekeeping concept of a watch without springs or escapement is operated by an electronically activated tuning fork. The Accutron watch goes on to become a presidential gift to world leaders and other dignitaries. President Johnson declares it the White House's official "Gift of State." An Accutron watch movement is part of the equipment placed on the moon by Apollo 11 astronauts, the first men on the moon. A Bulova timer is placed in the moon's "Sea of Tranquility" to control the transmissions of vital data through the years.

In 1970 the Bulova Accuquartz men's calendar wristwatch becomes the first quartz crystal watch sold at retail in the United States. Designed in 18 karat gold, it retailed for $1,325! In 1979 Bulova becomes a subsidiary of Loews Corporation.


A Brief History of Atomic Clocks

1945 -- Isidor Rabi, a physics professor at Columbia University, suggests a clock could be made from a technique he developed in the 1930's called atomic beam magnetic resonance.

1949 -- Using Rabi’s technique, NIST (then the National Bureau of Standards) announces the world’s first atomic clock using the ammonia molecule as the source of vibrations.

1952 -- NIST announces the first atomic clock using cesium atoms as the vibration source. This clock is named NBS-1.

1954 -- NBS-1 is moved to NIST’s new laboratories in Boulder, Colo.

1955 --The National Physical Laboratory in England builds the first cesium-beam clock used as a calibration source.

1958 -- Commercial cesium clocks become available, costing $20,000 each.

1960 -- NBS-2 is inaugurated in Boulder; it can run for long periods unattended and is used to calibrate secondary standards.

1963 -- The search for a clock with improved accuracy and stability results in NBS-3.

1967 -- The 13th General Conference on Weights and Measures defines the second on the basis of vibrations of the cesium atom; the world’s timekeeping system no longer has an astronomical basis.

1968 -- NBS-4, the world’s most stable cesium clock, is completed. This clock was used into the 1990s as part of the NIST time system.

1972 -- NBS-5, an advanced cesium beam device, is completed and serves as the primary standard.

1975 -- NBS-6 begins operation; an outgrowth of NBS-5, it is one of the world’s most accurate atomic clocks, neither gaining nor losing one second in 300,000 years.

1989 -- The Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded to three researchers -- Norman Ramsey of Harvard University, Hans Dehmelt of the University of Washington and Wolfgang Paul of the University of Bonn -- for their work in the development of atomic clocks. NIST’s work is cited as advancing their earlier research.

1993 -- NIST-7 comes on line; eventually, it achieves an uncertainty of 5 parts in 10 to the 15th power, or 20 times more accurate than NBS-6.

1999 -- NIST-F1 begins operation with an uncertainty of 1.7 parts in 10 to the 15th power, or accuracy to about one second in 20 million years, making it the most accurate clock ever made (a distinction shared with a similar standard in Paris).


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Watch Brands History - Article 2 (Rolex)

In 1908, Rolex was founded by Mr. Hans Wilsdorf, a German National Citizen. Initially the company was named Wilsdorf & Davis as Wilsdorf founded company together with his brother in law. At the time, mostly pocket watches were produced by Swiss watch manufacturers as manufactures still had difficulty to produce accurate and reliable movements in such small size that they would fit in a wristwatch. Wilsdorf was a perfectionist who improved the standards for watch making as he did strive for smaller and more accurate movements that transformed style and fashion from larger pocket watches to smaller more practical wristwatches. Aegler, a small Swiss company agreed to supply Wilsdorf with movements small enough to be worn on the wrist. Wilsdorf's production included a variety of case designs: casual, formal and sporty.

In 1910, Rolex sent their first movement to the School of Horology in Switzerland. It was awarded the world's first wrist watch chronometer rating. Wilsdorf recognized two major requirements for watches: 1) To keep accurate time, and 2) To be reliable. With the Chronometer Award, 'accuracy' of timekeeping was considered to be under control and Wilsdorf started to work on improving the reliability of his watches. One of the main problems at the time was, that dust and moisture would enter in the watch case and progressively damage in movement. To solve, one would need to develop a completely dust and waterproof watch case. Dust and water would enter watch cases via the casebook and via the crown. Wilsdorf developed a screw crown and casebook mechanism that revolutionized the watch industry.

The first waterproof watch was cleverly advertised around the world. At the time, the public was rather skeptical if the watch would be really waterproof. However, after seeing a watch in an aquarium in the shop window, many people were convinced. Around the world one could see windows of watch shops with an aquarium and submerged Rolex watches. This campaign created an enormous brand awareness for Rolex. Since then, Rolex has continued to be at the forefront of the watch making industry. Today, almost every watch manufacturer followed Rolex and offers waterproof watches. The Rolex Prince, developed in 1928 became a best seller with its dual dial and rectangular case. In 1931 Rolex invented the "Rotor" - a semicircular plate of metal that with gravity, would move freely to wind the watch. Thus, the Rolex "Perpetual" (automatic) movement was born. Rolex's star has risen much higher since those days of the First World War. "People want to own a Rolex because it shows that they made it.". It is something to which you aspire and then treat yourself after a successful venture or a windfall.

Industry watchers say that what distinguishes Rolex from other premium timepieces is its signature look--a big, round face paired with a wide metal band--that's become as familiar on a basketball court as at a black-tie reception. Identifiable from across a room, the Rolex look has an unrivaled, near-universal appeal. Sportsmen value its ruggedness, adventurers its reliability and royalty its elegance.

But the best-known Swiss watchmaker has always been something of an outsider in Geneva. Perhaps it's because the company didn't start out Swiss. As mentioned, Rolex was founded in London, in 1905, by the 24-year-old Wilsdorf, a German who became a British citizen after taking an English bride. It was an era when national borders tended to define men's ambitions, but Wilsdorf thought big from the beginning. In 1908, before anyone had uttered the term multinational, Wilsdorf trademarked the word Rolex, a name that's easily pronounced in different languages and short enough to fit on a watch dial. It's said that Wilsdorf dreamed up the word while riding a London bus, having been inspired by the sound a watch makes as it is wound. Rolex didn't leave England until after the First World War, when an import tax hike of 33 percent made receiving its Swiss-made movements prohibitively expensive.

The company's first decade was driven by its founder's relentless obsession with precision. "Wilsdorf wasn't content merely to invent the first wristwatch. He wanted to invent the first truly accurate wristwatch, one that you could actually run your life by." Validation came in 1914, when London's Kew Observatory certified a Rolex wristwatch to be as precise as a marine chronometer. It was the first time that a watch had received "chronometer" status--a classification that, even today, is held by a relative few timepieces.

Still, improved accuracy didn't immediately transform the wristwatch into an essential item in the common man's wardrobe. Dust, heat and moisture had a way of wreaking havoc with a wristwatch's intricate mechanical movements, and the earliest models required too much maintenance to be practical. Rolex's big breakthrough came in 1926, when Wilsdorf developed a case that was impervious and waterproof. The secret was a revolutionary double-locking crown that screwed down on the case like a submarine hatch to create an airtight seal. Recalling his difficulty in prying open an oyster at a dinner party, Wilsdorf christened his creation the Rolex Oyster.

Nearly 70 years later, the Oyster Perpetual has proved undaunted by the worst possible conditions. It has survived the depths of the sea with Jacques Piccard and the summit of Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary's Sherpa. It has retained its accuracy in subzero arctic temperatures, the scorching Sahara and the weightlessness of outer space. It has shrugged off plane crashes, shipwrecks, and speedboat accidents, broken the sound barrier, and been ejected from a fighter jet at 22,000 feet. Some of the most colorful recommendations are the cautionary tales: the Englishman who inadvertently laundered his Oyster in a scalding cycle, then rinsed, spun and tumble-dried it; the Australian skydiver who dropped his from 800 feet above the outback; or the Californian whose wife accidentally baked his in a 500-degree oven. In each case, the recovered Rolex was running perfectly.

By the advent of the Second World War, the Rolex name had become so prestigious in Britain that pilots in the Royal Air Force rejected inferior government-issued watches and used their paychecks to nearly deplete England's supply of Oyster Perpetuals. The compliment was duly returned: any British prisoner of war whose Rolex was confiscated had only to write to Geneva to receive a replacement. Yankee GIs returned home with a new trinket on their wrists. And so Rolex's romance with America began.

Before leaving Geneva, every Rolex watch must travel through a high-tech obstacle course of quality-control checks. Every dial, bezel and winder will be checked and double-checked for scratches, dust and aesthetic imperfection. The microscopic distance between its hour and minute hands will be painstakingly calibrated to ascertain that they are lying perfectly parallel. An ominous-looking air-pressure chamber will verify that each watch is waterproof to a depth of 330 feet. (The Submariner and Sea-Dweller divers' models are guaranteed to 1,000 and 4,000 feet, respectively.) And every watch will engage in a precision face-off against an atomic-generated "überclock" that loses but two seconds every 100 years. Only after successfully passing dozens of checkpoints does a watch receive the Rolex seal.

Such attention to detail limits Rolex's production to about 650,000 watches a year, based on industry estimates. "That might sound like a lot," insists Lister of Christie's, "but it's very far below market demand." But, as André Heiniger once said, "We've never wanted to be the biggest, but certainly one of the finest in the field."


Watch Brands History - Article 1 (Omega)

Today, seven out of ten people throughout the world are familiar with the Omega watch brand - a truly amazing rate of awareness to which few other watch brands can lay claim. The reason behind this success is said to be the reliably fine quality of every Omega watch. From its modest beginnings in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1848 the assembly workshop created by 23-year-old Louis Brandt gradually gained renown. Louis Brandt assembled key-wound precision pocket watches from parts supplied by local craftsmen.

After Louis Brandt's death in 1879, his two sons Louis-Paul and Cesar took over control of the business. In 1880, the two brothers rented a floor in a Bienne building to set up a modern watch production unit. Among the names they chose for their watches were "Helvetia", "Jura", "Celtic", "Gurzelen", and "Patria". With the introduction of the "Labrador" lever movement in 1885, the watches achieved a precision of within 30 seconds a day. The company's banker, Henri Rieckel, suggested the name "Omega" for the new watch. The overwhelming success of the "Omega" name led to it being adopted as the sole name for all the watches of the company from 1903.

Louis-Paul and César Brandt both died in 1903, leaving one of Switzerland's largest watch companies - with 240,000 watches produced annually and employing 800 people - in the hands of four young people, the oldest of whom was Paul-Emile Brandt. The Omega name made its sports debut at the international ballooning contest for the Gordon Bennet cup in 1909. Britain's Royal Flying Corps decided to choose Omega watches in 1917 as their official timekeepers for its combat units, as did the American army in 1918. Omega had their first victory at the observatory timing competitions in Neuchâtel in 1919 with their chronometers winning the competition. The economic difficulties brought on by the First World War would lead him to work actively from 1925 toward the union of OMEGA and Tissot then to their merger in 1930 within the group SSIH. By the seventies, SSIH had become Switzerland's number one producer of finished watches and number three in the world.

In 1957, the "Omega Speedmaster" was created. After rigorous evaluation and testing, NASA decided to use the "Speedmaster Professional" chronograph wristwatch in 1965 as it's official timekeeper. In 1967, the one millionth chronometer was certified. On 21st July 1969, astronaught Neil Armstrong became the first man to step on the moon. As he made the famous steps quoting "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind", he was wearing his Omega Speedmaster Professional chronograph. In 1972, Omega received their two-millionth chronometer certificate.

The severe monetary crisis and recession of 1975 to 1980, SSIH was bailed out by the banks in 1981. In 1985 the holding company was taken over by a group of private investors. Immediately renamed SMH, Societe suisse de microelectronique et d'horlogerie, the new group achieved rapid growth and success to become today's top watch producer in the world. Named Swatch Group in 1998, it now includes Blancpain and Breguet. Dynamic and flourishing, OMEGA remains one of its most prestigious flagship brands.


From Ebauches SA to ETA SA: 75 years of Swiss movements

ETA, which is nowadays part of Swatch Group, is the largest Swiss manufacturer of movements, including the expensive mechanical movements appreciated by the amateurs of high horology. Behind these three rough letters, more romantic denominations like Valjoux, Unitas, and Peseux denote some hidden treasures, one would like to discover.

ETA was not established in one day. The birth of such an industrial concentration actually even required the energetic intervention of the Swiss Confederation itself. Curiously this enthralling history is difficult to reconstitute. Only many partial documents exist (see bibliography), but there is not a single comprehensive account relating its history since the creation of Ebauches S.A. in 1926 until today’s Swatch Group.

Please read the following essay: you will discover there hopes and dramas, splendid successes and treacherous cowardice; a summary of Switzerland’s soul and of life itself.

Chapter 1. Genius’ stroke: establishing of a private limited company (SA):

1921: Clock and watch makers are by nature individualistic: entrenched at their "bench”, at the practice of watch making, each single one tends to keep his individual know-how secret and intends to manage his business by himself. In fact, when a crisis occurs, as now at the beginning of 1921, he shall try and manage individually to market his own products at more or less discounted prices and by more or less legal ways: most criticisable behaviour being the "chablonnage", i.e. the export of all the unassembled parts of a movement, avoiding all federal laws prohibiting the sale of Swiss movements out of the Confederation. Obviously the chablonnage is an unfair competition against the manufacturers of complete watches, the famous "Manufactures", which, at this beginning of the 20th Century, have started marketing in increasing number their own watches under their own brand: Omega, Zenith, Longines, etc, etc.

1924: In a trial to “discipline” the profession, these “Brand” manufacturers create in 1924 the FH Federation of Swiss Watch Manufacturers. The situation is complex, establishing & implementing the right strategy difficult. The movement, the famous Swiss movement, which now the whole world envies, is the basic problem, comprising so many different parts from so many basically different production methods & sources. There are the “Ebauches”, manufactured by large companies with hundreds of employees. There are the lever “assortiments”, the balance wheel, the balance-spring, the various jewels, the mainspring: all these small parts being manufactured by a multitude of micro-companies, sometimes a simple workshop at the corner of a barn.

1926-1927: The solution is to create the “Union of the Annex Branches of the Horological industry “UBAH”, in 1927. The objective is to encourage the self-discipline and to narrowly supervise quality, costs & prices, in order to avoid the self-destructive cycles of price collapse followed by price inflations & vice versa. Step by step, the application of “UBAH’s” philosophy slowly grabs in.

Meanwhile, the “Ebauches” makers’ struggle is complicated by the sheer size of the financial issues. In January 1925, 26 Ebauches manufacturers try to find some unity. That was a waste of time and effort, as one year later one of them unilaterally lowers its prices drastically. At this stage, the Swiss banks’ involvement is necessary (heavily implied in the financing of these large factories they obviously favour market stability). Mandate is given to the Swiss Fiduciary Limited Company of Basle to find a proper solution.

The Swiss banks do not have a reputation of audacity. However they are willing to actively support a stroke of genius: December 27, 1926, in Neuchatel, it is not an association, not a manufacturers’ union, it is a Limited Company of private law. And with the assistance of the banks it is rich, very rich, and hence powerful.

Ebauches S.A. was born out of the willingness for cooperation with the Swiss Banks of the then three biggest manufacturers: AD. MICHEL SA, Grenchen, created in 1898 by Adolphe Michel and Jean Schwarzentrub, A. SCHILD SA, also in Grenchen, created in 1896 by Adolf Schild-Hugi, and FHF “Fabrique d’Horlogerie de Fontainemelon SA”, Fontainemelon, created in 1793 by Isaac and David Benguerel, associated with Julien and François Humbert-Droz. At this stage, these three factories manufacture more than 75 % of the Swiss Ebauches. A. SCHILD SA, for example, employs more than 2100 people.

When Ebauches SA invites to its table of negotiation, it is not for idle talks, it is to speak about mergers, which it can easily finance. One after the other, numerous small manufacturers yield to Ebauches SA’s offers. In 1927, nine companies are bought off: Hora, Sonceboz and Charles Hahn, the manufacturer of the “Landeron” stop watches’ movements. In 1928 ten others follow, amongst which: Felsa, Venus, Root, Bovet, Optima. In 1929, eight more, including Urania and Postala.

As a positive result of this concentration, those & the “Brand Ebauches manufacturers” are able to agree upon and sign in Bern on December 1, 1928 the “convention de chablonnage” which regulates in a drastic way the export of “chablons”.

But that was a bit too early.

The still independent Ebauches manufacturers, called the “dissidents”, feeling unconcerned, do not follow the rules and export “chablons” at an increasing rate, provoking a glut on the market, just at the moment when the 1930 depression entices the United States of America, then first market of export for Swiss watches – otherwise the cantor of liberalism - to increase by 300 to 500 % their customs duties, leading watch making individualism to prevail again.

With the result that, in December 1930, the “convention de chablonnage” is voided.

Chapter 2. From the Holding Company to the Super Holding Company.

1930: at the beginning of the Thirties the situation of the Swiss Watch Industry is dramatic indeed. Bankruptcies follow one another, nearly 20 000 watch makers are unemployed. Watch Industry related Swiss Banks and Associations then decide to take a further calculated gamble, recognising that the strategy, which governed to the creation of Ebauches S.A., was correct. Simply, it had not been carried out fully, i.e. until the complete concentration of the Ebauche manufacturing. Following action plan is accordingly decided:

1. Creation of a Super Holding Company with equal financial participation between the Watch Industry and the related Swiss Banks,
2. Take over of the majority of the shares of Ebauches S.A. by the super holding
3. Financial participation of the Swiss Confederation,
4. Concentration of the other essential movement parts, i.e., lever assortment, balance wheels, balance-springs and acquisition by the super holding of the majority of the shares of all related companies

Thus on August 14, 1931 the Super Holding: the "Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie A.G.", in short "ASUAG", is created - also a Limited Company by Private Law -, and its first President is nominated: Mr. Hermann Obrecht.

The first and urgent task for the ASUAG is to secure the necessary financing: carrying out the foreseen concentrations requires a lot of financial means. The analysts are precise: ASUAG misses 13,5 million (1931) Swiss francs to accomplish its task. Times to activate item three of the above action plan: obtaining the financial participation of the Swiss Confederation.

It is very unusual that a State helps out financially a private law limited company. But the situation is exceptional: there are an impressive number of clock and watchmakers unemployed. Also, the watch industry, in Switzerland, is considered differently as any other industry: it is a National Treasure, which convey in the whole world an image and values, whose repercussions for the country largely exceed the export sales turnover of the Swiss watches alone!

September 11, 1931, upon lengthy negotiations, the Swiss Confederation joins ASUAG as a shareholder with an investment of 6 Mio CHF, granting simultaneously a free loan of Mio 7,5 CHF, refundable per annual instalments of Mio 1 CHF as from 1934.

From now on the ASUAG has the necessary power to reach its goals very quickly.

1932 the sub-holding "Fabrique d'Assortiments Réunies SA" "FAR", uniting all lever assortments' manufacturers, as well as the sub-holding "Fabrique de Balanciers Réunis SA", "FBR", uniting all balance-wheels' manufacturers, are created. The same year Ebauches S.A. takes over Manzoni, Moser, Peseux, Fleurier, ED Kummer S.A. (Atlantic watches) and two mixed factories (movements and complete watches) which deserve a special mention: A. REYMOND S.A. and ETERNA.

Auguste Reymond created his Watch Factory in Tramelan in 1898. The company grows rapidly and establishes itself as a Brand Manufacture in 1906 by manufacturing its own Ebauches firstly in Les Bioux, then later in Tramelan. In 1918 the company is incorporated as A. Reymond S.A. or ARSA. In 1926 it purchases the factory Unitas Watch Co, also in Tramelan. At the time of the merger with Ebauches S.A. in 1932, the company will be divided into two: ARSA for the watches, Unitas for the Ebauches.

A similar procedure is adopted for Eterna. Joseph Girard and Urs Schild had joined in 1856 to manage a factory of Ebauches in Grenchen. In 1870 the company occupied more than 300 people and the Eterna mark started being used as from 1876. Upon Urs Schild's death, Max Schild takes over and the company named Schild Frères Cie in 1891. In 1929 it produces more than 2 million parts and employs more than 800 people. At the time of the affiliation with Ebauches S.A. in 1932, the name Eterna will be reserved for the watches (Eterna SA) and the Ebauches manufacture will become ETA S.A.

1933, in spite of all these considerable efforts, 22 companies remain "dissenting", including nine Ebauches factories. The Swiss Confederation then legislates: in March 15 1934 the Federal Law called "Decrees of the Federal Council tending to protect the Swiss Watch Industry" is published and enacted. Henceforth it is prohibited to start any new watch making company without a licence and it is prohibited to export "chablons" outside of the prevailing legal agreements.

The Swiss Watch Industry is under control as from now on.

The merging of companies into the related holding companies shall continue but at less constant space. Fortunately the economic situation is improving and the demand for watches starts to increase again. There will be all the same, amongst others, the absorption of Champagne in 1938, of Derby, Precimax, Gigantic in 1941, of Glycine in 1942 and Valjoux in 1944. Mythical Valjoux S.A., to which Swiss Chronographs owe so much, was called Reymond Frères at the time of its creation in Bioux, in the Valley of Joux, by John and Charles Reymond, in 1901. Explaining the origins of the initials R engraved on the movements. The company specializes from its start in the creation and the manufacture of the mechanisms of stop watc*hes and manufactures its own Ebauches since 1910. In 1929, John's sons Marius and Arnold take over and incorporate the company as Valjoux S.A. In 1942 the company manufacture at least 60 000 complete Ebauches yearly, before passing under control of Ebauches S.A. in 1944.

Chapter 3. Golden age to the premises of the great crisis

Between 1945 and 1960 the Swiss Watch Industry shall benefit of fifteen years of a trend of continuous growth. The annual production of watches and movements is more than doubled, increasing from 18,8 to 41 million units. The protective measures prohibiting the establishment of new Ebauches factories are extended at the beginning of the years 1950, then softened thereafter and abrogated on January 1st, 1966. But what probably saved the watch making industry in the years of crisis shall now provoke some negative results : the remaining independent “Brand Ebauches Manufacturers” experience the greatest difficulties in competing against the power of the trust Ebauches S.A. They shall start disappearing gradually, starting with the Ebauches Angélus, Excelsior, Universal, Movado...

At the beginning of the 1960s Switzerland will be confronted with a strong push of foreign competition as the watch making industry was rebuilt in the majority of the countries where it had seriously been impaired during WWII. France and Germany regain a strong position in their respective own market. The United States of American as well as Japan are increasingly successful in exporting their watches, thanks to companies of significant size (Timex, Seiko, Citizen, Orient) producing cheap watches per million units. In Switzerland, the watch making industrial fabric is very thinly spread out: there are more than 3000 watch making companies, 80 % of them counting less than 20 employees!

Now has come the time for further concentration on the level of the finished watches. The ASUAG, again with the assistance of the Swiss banks, launches a further concentration campaign

1966 Chronos Holding is created with the buy-out of Cyma in Tavannes and a participation in Gruen. 1968 the Synchron group is created, gathering Ernest Borel, Doxa and Cyma. In 1971 ASUAG creates a new sub-holding, General Watch Co (GWC), in order to manage the newly bought-outs companies and brands: Certina*, Edox, Eterna, Mido, Oris* and Technos. (*which shall abandon their own Ebauches manufacturing facilities). The same year it buys out Longines, already owner of Record and Rotary.

The concentration on the movement manufacturing level also continues: in 1967 Ebauches S.A. buys-out Durowe, Germany and Sefea, in Annemasse, France.

All goes then for best, the production equipments turn to full mode, in 1974 Switzerland shall manufacture and export more than 84 million watches.

However, the future perspectives are dark, very dark indeed. The upsurge of the Quartz is the generally accepted sole reason for the crisis, which will strike head-on the Swiss Watch Industry as from 1975.

But Swiss Quartz was developed relatively early: in 1974, already a good number of the exports were already Swiss Quartz Watches. In fact the Swiss Watch Industrialists probably did not expect the impressive & sudden fall of the average prices, which led to a brutal disaffection for the mechanical watch. Because the nature of the watch business had changed: in fact the speedy rules of the electronics industry prevailed on those, by nature more sedate, of the precision mechanics industry.

But quartz is not alone responsible: in 1973, the first oil crisis provokes the 1974 start of a planetary economic recession. Simultaneously, the Swiss Franc’s value starts increasing considerably against all major world currencies: within a few years it will gain 70 % of its 1973 value.

The situation becomes dramatic: between record-breaking year 1974 and 1983, the number of watches and movements manufactured in Switzerland shall decrease from 84,4 million to a mere 30,2 million: a steep downturn of almost 65 %. Hundreds of companies shall disappear; tens of thousands of jobs are destroyed. The ASUAG can only apply defensive solutions out of despair: in 1978 ETA and Schild merge, the Synchron group is dissolved, Borel, Doxa, Cyma are sold. In 1980 the number of “calibres”, i.e. movement types, manufactured by Ebauches S.A. is drastically reduced from 136 to 40. The same year ASUAG loses more than 44 Mio CHF. In 1982, all Ebauches manufacturing companies owned by ASUAG are merged into ETA SA, Oris is sold back to its previous owners, and the losses exceed Mio 156 Mio CHF.

We are now at the very edge of the precipice and oblivion.

But now I must introduce here a new actor, another giant with clay feet: the “Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère”, shortly called SSIH.

Chapter 4. From alpha to omega

The SSIH was born on February 24, 1930 through the association of “Louis Brandt and Frères S.A., Omega Watch Co” in Biel/Bienne, and of the “Fabrique d'Horlogerie Charles Tissot et Fils Charles” in Le Locle. No need for any further introduction for those well known manufacturers. They merge their assets in this difficult period, in order to rationalize their Ebauches manufacturing and coordinate their marketing and sales policies. However, they both miss a type of movement, which becomes very fashionable at the beginning of the 1930s: the chronograph (stop watch). At this point in time, Marius Meylan managing director of “Lemania Watch Co”, which had been created in 1884 by his father-in-law Alfred Lugrin, located at the Eastern part of the famous “Vallée de Joux”, approaches the SSIH, resulting in the 1932 Lemania buy-out by SSIH.

The SSIH shall quickly become a major player of the Swiss Watch Industry. In 1948, Omega’s Centennial, the SSIH employs 1600 people and has an output of more than 500 000 watches. Within the following years the SSIH shall not cease growing: 3000 staff at the beginning of the years 1960, more than 7000 at the beginning of the years 1970 with an output of more than 10 million parts. This growth is generated in good part by the integration of the following companies: Marc Favre in 1955, Eigeldinger & Cie in 1957, Rayville S.A., manufacturers of the Blancpain watches in Villeret, in 1961. SSIH’s interest in Rayville SA is concentrated on their remarkable ladies’ movements and not the Trade Mark Blancpain, whose marketing is quickly abandoned. In 1961 still, SSIH purchases Cortebert’s the industrial manufacturing capacity, in 1965 occurs the buy-out of Langendorf Watch Company, the manufacturers of “Lanco” watches. In 1969, as a means to try and fight back the worldwide onslaught of Timex and Seiko in the field of economic watches, SSIH takes over Aetos, a sizeable economic lever manufacturer, and two years later the “Economic Swiss Time Holding”, short ESTH (created in 1967), the largest Swiss manufacturer of “Roskopf” pin lever watches, encompassing Agon, Buler, Continental & Ferex. The buy-out of Hamilton in both Switzerland & U.S.A., between 1971 and 1974, shall be considered as the indisputable proof of the supremacy of Swiss Watch industry on its American equivalent.

But for the SSIH, as for the whole Swiss Watch Industry, times have changed radically: in 1975 the sales fall by more than 20 %, in 1976 by more than 30 %. The following year, Tissot has to abandon its own Ebauches manufacture, and in 1979 the sales drop again by more than 20 %. Compared to 1971, this leads to a manpower reduction of 2000 people. And the 1980 results are alarming: a drop of 63,6 %! The Swiss Banks are again complied to intervene: the three most concerned constitute a steering committee and hire a specialized management consulting company: Hayek Engineering AG, owned and managed by a so-called Nicolas Hayek. The suggested solutions are brutal indeed: Rayville/Blancpain is dissolved, Buler, Lanco, ESTH are sold. Even Lemania is yielded to a group of shareholders, including Piaget. In 1982 the Blancpain trademark is sold for only 18,000 CHF to a certain Jean-Claude Biver, who was in charge of the jewellery watches at Omega...

Then, Nicolas Hayek decides to make a take-over move of both agonising Titans...

Chapter 5. Fusion and rebirth

The idea of merging ASUAG and SSIH together had been envisioned since the Swiss Federal Council had 1980 favoured the signing of a cooperation agreement between the two Titans. 1981, SSIH yield its own quartz sector to ETA. Nicolas Hayek’s strategy is based on matter-of-fact marketing logic in form of a pyramid: at the base there are the cheap watches manufactured in very great quantities. To secure an essential base to this level there is ETA, therefore the ASUAG. It is thus ETA and its boss Ernst Thomke who leads the realization of the Swatch concept, as successfully as everybody knows. At the top of the pyramid there are the exclusive & expensive watches, which must correspond to a trademark with strong & long worldwide established notoriety: it will be Omega thus the SSIH.

The merger shall take place between 1983 and 1984. The new group, called ASUAG-SSIH, employs more than 12,000 staff and makes more than 1,5 billion Swiss francs sales turnover. It comprises a "finished products" segment with the trademarks Omega, Longines, Eterna, Rado, Hamilton, Certina, Tissot and Mido. The "movements and components" segment is constituted by ETA, which gathers from now on all the companies of Ebauches SA, and is responsible for the manufacturing of the Swatch and Endura’s “Private Label” watches. In the industrial field, two other segments complement the organization.

In 1984 the situation starts to improve: ASUAG-SSIH makes a small benefit, 26,5 million CHF, compared to 173 million losses one year earlier. However, Omega, expected to be a statue of profitability at the top of the pyramid, is still loosing money. Eterna, ARSA, Atlantic are sold off.

Then, in 1985, all of a sudden the drama reaches its peak: Nicolas Hayek, heading a group of investors, repurchases 51 % of the capital of ASUAG-SSIH, incorporates it into the “Société Suisse de Micro-électronique et d’Horlogerie SA”, in short SMH, and becomes its Chairman.

The new company shall become the formidable success story, known to everyone. Sales turnover and benefit increase regularly; in 1992 Blancpain is repurchased together with its affiliated Ebauches Manufacture Frederic Piguet SA. In 1997 Calvin Klein Watches are created and the SMH becomes Swatch Group SA.

And Swatch Group grows bigger.
And the large majority of the Ebauches now bear the trademark ETA.

Don’t you wonder if some people soon should start feeling aggravated?

by Claude Girardin, in NAWCC Internet Horology Chapter 185