Jump to content


Popular Content

Showing content with the highest reputation since 28/05/15 in Articles

  1. Phew, here I am again, on the last part and section of this marathon topic. If you have managed to follow me on this journey so far then you have my admiration for your endurance and I hope you will find the time and energy to accompany me to the end. In Part 1 of this topic, taking the subject from 1930 up to the mid-1970s, I mentioned that there were two watch groups in existence in Switzerland from before the start of the Quartz crisis. The first of these organisations, Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG (ASUAG) was a partnership between the Swiss government, Swiss banks and the Swiss watch industry, and over the years it was to accumulate numerous companies making movements and watches. At the beginning of the quartz crisis, ASUAG formed a subsidiary company - the General Watch Company - comprising the following watch brands: A Raymond SA, Atlantic SA, Certina, Diantus, Edox, Endura, Eterna, Hamilton, Longines, Microma, Mido, Oris, Rado, Roamer, Rotary and Technos. The other group, SSIH, also formed in 1930, originated as a form of merger between Tissot and Omega, and then acquired the membership of Lemania and A. Lugrin &Co. in later years. These two groups had been formed as a means of dealing with the Great Depression and were not well-suited to tackling the quartz crisis. Indeed, by 1970, they were both already in crisis, and their efforts to adapt the Swiss watch industry to the new quartz technology were too little, too late. The currency problems and also recession in the US and the UK also had a knock-on effect on Swiss watch exports in the mid-1970s, especially to the US, and the adverse effects of quartz technology on Swiss and European mechanical watchmaking were becoming all too evident. By the late 1970s, both ASUAG and SSIH were facing bankruptcy and liquidation, and in the case of SSIH, a bailout of $150 million in 1980 failed to improve the situation. The nature of how these organisations operated meant a lack of common policies and actions between the two, as well as a failure to reproduce the sort of global strategy and marketing infrastructure so powerfully established by the Japanese. Although not usually mentioned by writers on the quartz crisis, there was a paradoxical glimmer of hope by about 1980. This was that the rise of the digital watch to be ubiquitous and cheap was soon to be a factor in its own "downfall," devaluing its image and desirability so giving the Swiss a sudden potential entree into the quartz watch market by means of a new analogue model. This was only a gleam in the eye at the turn of the decade, but eventually was made concrete in the form of the Swatch. Previously, digital watches had been all the rage, and it is notable that in the early phase of the quartz crisis there was a surge in the popularity on mechanical watches featuring a digital display. Even before quartz technology was established, some mechanical analogue watches were being branded with names such as "Lectro" to give the appearance that they were somehow "electronic" and even the term "Electronically tested" appears on some, usually inexpensive, mechanical watches during the quartz crisis to give a semblance that electronics was used in the making of these timepieces. In 1979, a banker friend asked self-made Lebanese millionaire and founder of consultancy firm, Hayek Engineering AG, one Nicolas G. Hayek, to draw up a plan for selling both SSIH and ASUAG to the Japanese. The notion of selling the Swiss watch industry down the river, in surrender to the Asian quartz producers, angered Hayek and he decided to look into the matter and produce a plan. Hayek's plan was in two parts. Firstly, he recommended that SSIH and ASUAG should be merged, and this was agreed upon by the banks who were involved in the two holding companies. Hayek himself agreed to oversee the merger, and thus the "SSIH/ASUAG Holding Company" was created in 1983, with Nicolas Hayek being named as Chairman of the Board. And secondly, Hayek proposed that a new Swiss-made watch should be developed and introduced that would simultaneously aim at the lower end of the market and be sufficiently interesting to act as a fashion accessory. The key notion was that the new watch could act either as a second watch for those who already had a main timepiece yet wanted to occasionally wear something more decorative or fashionable, or as a more generally useful timepiece. By the time that Hayek's plans were afoot, the banks were generally favourable and had a positive attitude towards the idea of the new watch. Hayek himself did not have a great deal of experience when it came to watch manufacture, and in creating the new watch he turned to another outsider and man with an eclectic background - Ernst Thomke. Although Nicolas Hayek has become almost synonymous with the watch that "saved" the Swiss watch industry, much credit for the creation of this new timepiece must go to Ernst Thomke of ETA. In fact, Thomke had already been working on a watch to fulfill the brief, and he was intellectually and emotionally able to go against the traditional tenets of Swiss watchmaking in order to forge something technically modern and inexpensive yet original in concept. The new watch would need to be fashionable and contemporaty in style, quartz and battery-powered, inexpensive to buy, and kept beneath the luxury and premium sectors of the market. The only traditional element that was retained was the analogue dial, a fortuitous choice as I have already mentioned above. Thomke already had experience of developing and making quartz movements, and he had also helped introduce automation in Swiss watchmaking. In 1982, he was appointed to the Board of directors at ASUAG, which already owned ETA and sister company Ebauches SA. With a well-focused team of engineers at ETA, Thomke borrowed on his work on quartz watches already undertaken to fulfill Hayek's brief for a watch that would provide the basis for a recovery in the Swiss watch industry. Ernst Thomke and his engineers had already developed an ultra-thin quartz watch, the (Concord) Delirium. At the the time, thinness was looked upon as a desirable feature and perhaps something with which the Swiss could outdo the foreign competition. The Delirium was less than a millimeter thick and featured a caseback that was machined to form an integral part of the works, housing various components. The individual watch components were miniaturized as far as was feasible and manufactured to a tolerance of 0.001 mm - tyen times finer than was standard practice. The analogue dial of the delirium had only a minute and hour hand, and this gold timepiece was priced at not far short of $5,000, meaning that it was not going to be the solution to the quartz crisis. Thomke's genius was to take the advanced manufacturing techniques pioneered in the Delirium and use them to produce an analogue quartz watch but one that was far less expensive. He realised that unless he could move the new watch downmarket and create considerable sales, both SSIH and ASUAG would probably fail, and with them would possibly go ETA. The result of the work of Thomke and two of his associates, Elmar Mock and Jacques Muller (umlaut on 'u') was a new variety of analogue wristwatch that used mainly synthetic/plastic elements in its construction including an integrated plastic caseback. A new ultra-sonic welding process and new assembly technology were put to good use, and above all, the new design required only 51 components per piece instead of the more conventional 90-odd. Rather like "Heinz 57" branding, the number 51 has become iconic in Swatch history, and is now appearing even in the new Swatch mechanical venture as the "Sistem51" automatic movement. Because the new watch was mainly plastic and was relatively inexpensive, it lent itself to being almost a throw-away timepiece - yet not quite, as we shall see. What is true is that with repair not being a very viable option, the need for a large scale servicing operation was avoided, so further keeping production costs down. The new watch, prototyped in 1982, was cleverly named, "Swatch" - apparently coined by Nicole Lopez and formed as a contraction of "second watch" - and it was finally launched in march 1983, soon becoming a brand in itself. Within two years of its launch, the Swatch watches sold numbered more than 2.5 million, and its relatively low production costs enhanced its profitability. Although the Swatch watch was essentially created as a low priced "second timepiece" for many customers, Hayek oversaw a dramatic increase in creativity with regard to decoration and artistic talent utilized to make the various Swatch watches not only fashionable but also collectible. The Swatch was no longer viewed by many as a purely disposable item, and with even small limited edition designs being introduced, the Swatch began to transcend its original lowly status. The launch and the immediate success of the Swatch watch, ironically itself a cheap quartz model albeit with a Swiss-made designation, did not solve the crisis in the Swiss watch industry overnight. Nevertheless, it acted as a lever prompting associated reorganization of the Swiss watch industry and a new more positive attitude to quartz watches. The Swatch also acted as a catalyst for less expensive, more playful, watches that were fashion and design led. I know that as collectors, we sometimes look askance at timepieces that major on colour, fashion and design, but without this market, other more horological aspects of watchmaking would also suffer - after all, we all want to buy watches we like the look and feel of, in addition to any horological considerations. In terms of reorganization, the success of the Swatch watch enhanced Nicolas Hayek's credibility in the industry, and the banks backing the whole venture offered him a 51% stake in the SSIH/ASUAG Holding Company for 151 million CHF. Hayek agreed and, together with a consortium of investors, consummated the deal in 1985.; Then, in the following year, the SSIH/ASUAG group was renamed the Societe (acute accents on 'e's) de Microelectronique (acute on first 'e') et d'Horlogerie (SMH), and with revenue for the concern soon totalling 1.25 billion Swiss francs, SMH began to concentrate on reviving the higher ends of the Swiss watch industry, promoting and reorganizing the more luxurious watch brands in a way that would once again place the Swiss and their "Swiss-made" watches in a senior position globally, properly protected from the quartz onslaught and redefining those traditional Swiss watchmaking values that had never been entirely subjugated. As part of this strategy, SMH acquired Blancpain in 1992, and along with Jean Claude Biver and Hayek's grandson Marc, set about reviving this dormant luxury brand, placing it at among the high quality small-scale luxury watch brands. Then, in 1998, inevitably perhaps, the SMH company name was changed to Swatch Group Ltd., as a homage to the swatch watch that had been the catalyst for a degree of restoration of the Swiss watch industry. I am aware that I have now gone beyond the date-line set for my discussion of the quartz crisis but i think it is necessary to make it clear that, although by 1990 one could see that Nicolas hayek's vision was going to succeed and had already begun to change the face of the Swiss watch industry, the full ramifications of the Swatch group and its rise to predominace were not yet realised. I am going to end this consideration of Swatch and Hayek with the millennium and the acquisition by swatch of the legendary Breguet company in 1999, followed by a trip into Germany with the acquisition of Glasshutter Original (umlaut on 'u') , the privatized brand of Glasshutter Uhrenbetrieb GmbH, early in the new century. At this stage in my topic, it would have been polite, even politic, to cease writing and provide a neat conclusion, allocating to Nicolas G. hayek and Swatch the main credit for overcoming the quartz crisis. The problem is that I am intellectually a bit of a rebel and therefore like to discover if there are any valid views oposing this conventional wisdom. Having sought out such opinion, I have actually found very little fundamental opposition to the more conventional story as told by a number of writers on the subject of the quartz crisis. Although there are articles about the quartz crisis that"advertise" a different slant on the subject, the overall conclusions and accounts given to the reader in these articles are essentially similar to mainstream opinion. The one interesting dissent from the mainstream version comes from a lengthy and fascinating article posted on asianwatches.com in February 2015. There is no author cited, at least in English characters, and the article is entitled, "The Great Chinese - Swiss Watch Paradox." The relevant quote from this piece is as follows,: The Swiss-Chinese watch relationship dates back to the 1970s, when the Japanese came close to destroying Europe's watch industry. Hong Kong (British at the time) helped the Swiss recover by providing low-cost alternatives to watch parts other than movements. Chinese labor and materials reduced the cost of making finished swiss watches and in many situations improved the quality of watches, bands, dials, crystals and so forth. As the mainland became accessible to Hong Kong businessmen, a transfer of facilities occurred. Hong kong lowered their costs and increased their production. The Swiss began to rely on Asia for product and as a customer." In compiling the research and writing my account of the quartz crisis I have been alerted to this "feedback" by Asian companies making components for Swiss-made watches, and I have mentioned it specifically here. However, I am not going down the route of elucidating and analyzing this particular element of watch production history. Firstly, this exchange of components, and even complete watches, between Asia and the European watch manufacturers was and is not limited to quartz technology, and the use of components from various sources in a single watch was has long been commonplace. And secondly, the article quoted above is not focused on the quartz crisis and the pre-1990 period but is mainly about the definition of "Swiss-made" as far as the current proportion of foreign components in the watches is concerned. In the article, the painful fact is stated, that only 2% of current watches are actually Swiss-made, with the Chinese making up the bulk of remaining watch production. I believe that the ultimate triumph of the Swiss over the quartz crisis was not in terms of numbers of watches made and sold worldwide. No. the real victory has been the firm re-establishment of Switzerland as almost a status symbol when it comes to watches. Even though I know perfectly well that many Asian watches are of fine quality, the term, Swiss-made, still evokes a feeling of craftsmanship and superior quality. The Chinese must still rail at this "inequity" but so far there has been no successful movement against it, and even the most recent official definition of what constitutes "Swiss-made" watches allows for the use of a high proportion of Chinese components. In discussing the Swiss response to the quartz crisis, the article in asianwatches.com makes important and cogent points but somewhat bitterly describes the Swatch watch as being for "little kids," and one cannot help seeing other signs of unjustified disgruntlement from the author with regard to the the "Swiss-made" emblem on watches and the denigration of Chinese watch manufacture. In bringing my topic to its end, I offer up a tribute to conventional wisdom and the majority of the various accounts of the quartz crisis already written. It is true that different writers have a slightly different perspective on the subject, but when you put all the research together, the major conclusions are quite clear and have been provided within my text, as comprehensively as possible. I do not wish to oversimplify the story of the quartz crisis and the recovery of both the Swiss watch industry and mechanical watchmaking generally because there are considerable complexities to be dealt with. Nevertheless, the account I have given here, both in its main direction and the complexities I have managed to include, will hopefully act as a resource of a more complete kind than the more sketchy accounts one frequently encounters in the literature. The ripples formed when the quartz revolution took off are still being felt in the watch industry worldwide, and whether one views the quartz crisis as a warning or a trauma that is past, it remains a pervasive theme and a crucial event (or series of events) in the history of watches and watchmaking.
    4 points
  2. I am coming to this complicated and vexed historical subject with relatively fresh eyes because, although I have had a passing interest in the quartz crisis as a watch collector and researcher, I have never actually tackled it in depth - until now. I wonder if I should have started on this topic at all because it almost seems that daily, I find a new fact to incorporate within the text, and it is difficult to know when to stop drafting and get down to posting the article. Although the use of the term, "Quartz Crisis" is still bandied about in some quarters, sometimes with a sort of fear that it has either never gone away or will return in a different form, I plan to look at the whole matter with a degree of independence and coolness. In connection with this attitude, I have to say here that for me, the development of quartz watch technology does not represent a faceless or inhuman work of the devil, and indeed, I sometimes wonder how Abraham-Louis Breguet himself, one of my watchmaking heroes, would have reacted to the arrival of quartz technology. Surely, he would have embraced it and pioneered further development, taking the new technology to its limits in his watches. I have given the start-date for my topic as 1930, but this is merely to encompass the formation of two watch company groups in Switzerland in that year that were to be part of the quartz crisis in later years - SSIH and ASUAG. In fact, general discussion of the quartz crisis usually begins with World War two, when the Swiss watch industry was protected and able to take advantage of Swiss neutrality to carry on the development, manufacture and export of watches, especially those for military use - Swiss watches now dominated the world by this time, and there were no real hints as to what was to come. Taking World War two as the bedrock of what was to later occur, the next step in the written history of the quartz crisis is a necessary consideration of the development of battery powered watches. We have electric/electronic watches in process of development as early as the mid-1950s, with a battery powered electro-mechanical wristwatch being produced jointly by two non-Swiss companies, Elgin and Lip, and although this project only resulted in prototypes, it was only a few years before Hamilton launched its battery powered Hamilton 500, in 1957. These early battery watches still retained a mechanical balance wheel that was electromagnetically driven. Also in the mid-1950s, another contender was in the offing, when in 1954 Swiss engineer Max Hetzel developed an electronic wristwatch that used an electrically charged tuning fork arrangement, powered by a 1.5v battery. The essence of this timepiece was that the tuning fork resonated at exactly 360 Hz, and by using an electro-mechanical gear train, this rate of vibration could be transferred to the hands of the watch and offer accurate timekeeping. It was not until 1960 that the tuning fork idea was put into action within a marketable watch, when, in that year, Bulova launched the "Accutron." Various companies now started producing their own electronic watches, some of which were highly expensive at the time, and the Accutron name has proved to be an iconic reference for Bulova. However, perhaps with hindsight, it seems clear that the Accutron and its derivatives were not going to be the ultimate prize when it came to battery power in watches. A new technology was on the horizon, using the resonance of a quartz crystal instead of a tuning fork. In 1962, reacting to the threat of a new quartz technology from outside the country, a consortium of twenty Swiss watch companies set up the Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH) in Neuchatel (circumflex on the 'a') to develop a Swiss-made quartz watch. At the same time, Seko in Japan was also commencing research into quartz timekeeping. In fact, it was a close run race to see who would manage to successfully market a quartz time[piece, and although Switzerland is credited with the first quartz wristwatch movement, Seiko were hot on their heels, and one of the earliest Seiko quartz products was the Seiko Crystal Chronometer QC-951, a portable clock that, amazingly, was used as a back-up timer for marathon events at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Already, the accuracy of quartz timekeeping over longer periods of time was b eing appreciated. Before going on, I must digress briefly to introduce the basic idea behind quartz watch movements. Quartz is a natural crystal abundant on Earth, and its single most important property in watchmaking terms is its piezoelectric nature. This means that it generates a small electric current when squeezed (a property used in piezoelectric lighters) and, in reverse, vibrates at a fixed frequency when an electric current is passed through it. Just as the tuning fork in an Accutron watch vibrates at a high frequency, so does a quartz crystal, and this oscillation can be stepped down to provide accurate timekeeping in a watch. Using a quartz crystal in a wristwatch movement was found to have a number of distinct advantages. Firstly, there would be no requirement for a balance wheel with all its shortcomings, so immediately being superior to electro-mechanical watches. Secondly, the batteries would only need to provide am minimum stream of current, so they could be very small as well as long-lasting before replacement was required. And thirdly, quartz watches would not have to be serviced regularly, which was a boon to the consumer. In fact, generally speaking, quartz timekeeping was more consistent and accurate than any previous method, especially mechanical movements, and quartz movements could also be made down to small sizes. Given the obvious advantages of quartz watch technology, it may seem strange that there was any "quartz crisis" at all. Surely, the worldwide watch industry will have rapidly transferred the bulk of their watchmaking and marketing capabilities to the development, manufacture, and sale of quartz watches. Unfortunately, however, in the case of the Swiss watch industry, there was no swift and general acceptance of quartz technology, and even though the Swiss CEH did manage to develop a viable quartz movement slightly ahead of the competition, it was not the Swiss who launched the first ever quartz wristwatch but the Japanese. On Christmas day 1969, Seiko Corporation introduced the Astron, and watch history changed for ever. As for the first analogue Swiss quartz watch, the Ebauche SA Beta 21, containing the beta 1 movement, this was not launched until the 1970 Basel Fair, and this new Swiss contender was evidently the product of an industry still focused on mechanical precision rather than new consumer desires - it proved to be cumbersome, expensive and not entirely reliable. Looking at the available literature on the quartz crisis, it seems that two conclusions are inescapable. The first is that the quartz crisis was real rather than merely perceived, and that the advent of the popular and increasingly inexpensive quartz watch did have serious consequences for the Swiss watch industry (also felt to some extent in other European countries). And the second is that, to some extent, the rather conservative Swiss watch manufacturers brought about the adverse effects of the crisis upon their own heads,. Evidently, the global watch industry as a whole cannot be said to have undergone a quartz crisis over the same period, and that period is generally thought of as being between about 1970 until the late 1980s. Part 1 of this topic will take us up to about 1975, looking at the causes of the quartz crisis, and Part 2 will look at the post-1975 period, concentrating on the effects of the crisis and the beginnings of recovery for the Swiss watch industry. The arrival of the Seiko Astron marks a real sea-change in watch technology but one must not be hoodwinked into thinking that the Astron immediately propelled the quartz crisis. In fact, during the early days of quartz watches, the technology was not widely seen as a "cheap fix" and quartz watches, wherever they came from, were expensive. In May 1970, Hamilton launched its Pulsar digital quartz watch, and even Omega was soon active in quartz technology as were some other Swiss companies such as Eterna. In 1974, Omega introduced the Omega marine Chronometer, the first quartz watch to be marine chronometer certified and accurate to within twelve seconds per year using a very high frequency quartz movement. At first, companies were at least able to take advantage of the sheer novelty of quartz timekeeping and produce high-priced examples of the genre. Unfortunately, as we shall see, even companies that did venture early into quartz territory were not to be immune from the crisis as it deepened. Although today's quartz watch market is now filled with analogue quartz watches including calendar and chronograph models, it is important to consider the role of digital watches in the quartz crisis. These were among the first and most innovative quartz watches, and they were also to become very cheap very quickly. In fact, the story of the digital watch is crucial to an understanding of the quartz crisis generally. In the case of digital quartz watches, it was the Americans rather than the Japanese that were the pioneers, and the entry of US electronics companies such as Texas Instruments, national Semiconductor and Fairchild that heralded the new age of digital technology and integrated circuits. The first digital watch, the Hamilton Pulsar, was itself the result of collaboration between Hamilton and a tech company, Electro-Data, founded by George H. Thiess. The digital watch as it emerged was an expensive piece of kit, featuring an LED display that was rather power-hungry. Within a few years, however, and with the more reliable and frugal LCD display on board, the digital watch fell dramatically in price, eventually reaching the ludicrous state of simple models being almost giveaway items. Looking from today's standpoint, one can see how the renewed popularity of analogue quartz watches and chronographs after the age of digital domination can be seen in part as a reaction against the base cheapness and ubiquity of digital watches during the second phase of the quartz crisis. Some companies tried to continue producing quality digital quartz models at a higher than sustainable price bracket, including Omega. Having launched top end analogue/digital models, Omega came up with its first LCD only chronograph wristwatch, using its new caliber 1620 movement. More about Omega later. So, as things stood at the end of 1970, both analogue and digital quartz watches were on the market, and yet they did not immediately flood the market. As I have already said, the first years of the 1970s saw quartz watches being sold at a premium, and there were mixed responses to the new quartz watches. Some trade and press opinion was negative in the early 1970s, with some opinions considering the quartz watch to be a mere novelty or at least a technology that would never take a large share of the watch market. Clearly though, the die was soon cast, and it became a certainty that quartz watches were here to stay and in a big way. By the middle of the 1970s, over 40 manufacturers were making quartz watches on a massive scale, so creating a rise in supply and a fall in prices - the fall made more marked by improvements in manufacturing processes and economies of scale. In the middle of the 1970s, the Swiss watch industry finally woke up and realized that it had been wrong-footed, and to some extent, it is likely that some Swiss companies must have understood that the home industry was partly to blame what was befalling the Swiss watch industry. It is impossible to look at the causes of the quartz crisis without considering the role played by the Swiss in their own demise. The work of the CEH in attempting to provide a viable Swiss quartz watch movement did not actually engender much enthusiasm in the home industry, and even when it was evident that quartz technology was going to dominate global watch sales, the Swiss held back. The question is, "Why?" When it comes to the question of why the Swiss watch manufacturers overall failed to take advantage of quartz trechnology, there are both historical and contemporary factors at work. In historical terms, the advent of new technology for watches that was less labour-intensive and mechanically skilled than precision mechanical watchmaking must have been seen as a frightening prospect for everyone involved in the Swiss watch industry. Switzerland had for many years dominated the world with its mechanical watches and provided its people with employment and income. This fear, compounded by a fierce pride within the traditional Swiss watch companies, caused a sort of psychological "freeze" and prevented the Swiss industry from either joining the quartz revolution sweeping the world or at least diverting the industry into new channels that could exist side-by-side with mass produced quartz watches. Whether it was a type of narrow conservatism and pride, or self-delusion, or shock, the failure of the Swiss to deal with the advent of mass produced quartz watches was to be a major factor in the quartz crisis. When discussing the quartz crisis and it causes, the literature generally focuses on the bigger names and the makers of the higher end products. It needs to be remembered that the bulk of mechanical watches being produced by the Swiss watch industry during the early years of the quartz crisis were cheap and cheerful models often with inexpensive pin pallet movements and made partly to compete with similarly inexpensive Chinese mechanical watches of the period. In fact, it has been reckoned that 70% of Swiss watch production consisted of cheap mass-produced mechanical watches. It was therefore in this cheaper segment of the market that the failure of the Swiss to adapt to quartz technology was most devastating, and it was in this market sector that Japanese (and then Chinese) quartz watches were to wreak their greatest havoc on the Swiss. The quartz crisis, although partly caused by Swiss conservatism and delusional reaction to new technology was not wholly down to this folly. There were other factors at play which were not the fault of the Swiss watchmakers, and it is important to look at these as they are sometimes ignored. It has to be said that even if all the Swiss manufacturers, high-end and low, had quickly embraced quartz technology, there would still have been a problem. From 1930, up until 1975, Swiss watchmaking essentially relied upon small to medium-sized businesses, and although there were two major holding companies, each comprising a number of Swiss watch firms, they were loosely organised and not capable of initiating and putting into action a global trade strategy. These two organisations, SSIH and ASUAG, both had their origin s in 1930 and were set up to deal with the Great depression. They were therefore inadequate to deal with the new menace of quartz watches flooding the market from the Far East and the United States. More will be said about SSIH and ASUAG in Part 2 of this topic and for now it is sufficient to say that they were both out of their league and too late in the game, both of them already being in crisis by 1971, and so the Swiss watch companies had no organisational institution to help them in any bid to take advantage of economies of scale or provide a global marketing strategy. In effect, the quartz crisis came on too quickly, and in charitable vein, one could claim that it took the Swiss by surprise. I have already mentioned the American experience, and this was also relevant when considering any justification for the failure of the Swiss watch industry to react appropriately to quartz watch technology. In the US, new technology was generally regarded as a revolution rather than a problem even though a number of companies were casualties or had been bought out in the early phase of quartz watch development. Impetus towards the further development and uses for quartz technology, and its assimilation into watches and clocks, was driven by innovative companies working towards objectives in the military and space fields. American companies were involved in this new technology, and watches were an excellent spin-off product. Switzerland just did not have this technological infrastructure available - there was no comparison between the giant of the US with its space program, military innovation, and rapidly changing free market economy, and a small landlocked nation in the centre of Europe. Another factor militating against the Swiss watch companies, as the quartz crisis developed, was the currency advantage that the japanese experienced in the 1970s. In August 1971, the United States broke with what had been a consensus forged after the War by terminating convertability of the US dollar to gold. This was accompanied by the fixed currencies becoming free-floating and this shift in the floating rate began to erode the value of the US dollar against the Swiss franc. Between 1973 and 1979, the dollar lost about 60% of its value against the Swiss franc, so inevitably causing the price of Swiss imports into the US to rise considerably. In contrast, the ja[panese yen remained relatively stable for most of this period, partly because the Japanese and US economies had been closely linked after the War. Only in 1977 did Japan agree to a floating currency and their prices did not rise dramatically in terms of its exports. In addition to the problems caused by currency fluctuations, there was also the energy crisis of 1973 to consider when examining the causes of the quartz crisis. I do not propose to discuss the oil crisis in detail but basically, in October 1973, the Arab members of OPEC proclaimed an oil embargo in response to the American decision to supply the Israeli military during the Yom Kippur war. In fact, the embargo only lasted until March 1974 and it has been cogently argued that the economic effects on targeted countries were muted by steps taken to limit their dependency on Arab oil. It is true that there was a recession in the States between 1973 and 1975 which also affected Britain, both nations experiencing a similar drop in overall production, but the oil crisis was only one element in its causation. The fall of the Bretton Woods exchange rate agreement, already mentioned, and the Vietnam War, were other causal factors. Recession in the US probably didm adversely affect imports of watches from Switzerland, and this had a knock on effect on the Swiss watch industry with regard to how effectively the industry could deal with the quartz crisis. However, it is difficult to gauge the effects of the oil crisis and recessions on the Swiss and European watch industries over the full period of the quartz crisis. Finally, there is one other factor pushing the Swiss watch industry towards crisis in the period when quartz technology was emerging as product, and it is a factor not often mentioned. This is the fact that even before quartz watches were a reality, the Swiss watch industry was under pressure from the larger Japanese watch companies. Both Seiko and Citizen were making and exporting decent quality mechanical watches that were of a higher quality and less expensive than equivalent Swiss watches. The Japanese had mastered the standardisation of components and had taken to heart the idea of modular production of movements. For the Japanese, the movement was a basic time-only item and complications were added in the form of bolt-on modules. The Japanese produced a smaller number of models than the Swiss and continuously improved them; the ethos being to approach marketing and shipping of watches on a global basis and to concentrate on minimum effort for maximum profitability whilst ensuring technical superiority. As watch collectors, most of us will have encountered good quality mechanical Japanese watches made just before, and during, the quartz crisis. These mechanical watches from Japan formed a part of the overall pattern of decline for the Swiss watch industry as it struggled to come to terms with inexpensive quartz watches. I now bring this part of my two-part topic to a close. I apologise for the density and text-rich nature of this article but I believe that it is necessary. I hope that this topic will be a useful reference for watch collectors who can dip into it when necessary, and I did not want pictures to interrupt the flow of the subject. After all, there are plenty images available online of iconic electric/electronic/quartz watches, and this important area of watch collecting is increasingly being covered. In Part 2, I shall examine the effects of the quartz crisis in detail and look at if and how the Swiss managed to restore the balance and move on to a new phase in Swiss watch manufacture.
    2 points
  3. When I bought a Cartier Tank back in February I was aware to some extent of the history and heritage of the line. What I hadn't fully realised at the time was that the basic design is 100 years old this year. The last few days have seen us concentrating once more on the events of World War I as we remember the Battle of the Somme, which took place between July and November 1916. This is one of the best known battles and, along with Gallipoli and Passchendaele, epitomises the horror of that conflict. Louis Cartier would have been famous if he had never designed the Tank. In fact, his main claim to fame is somewhat fanciful, for he is credited in some circles with inventing the wristwatch. History suggests that this is not true, as the German Imperial Navy was placing orders for them with Girard-Perregaux as early as the 1880s, and Patek-Philippe had produced bespoke bracelet watches earlier than that. The house of Cartier had been founded in 1847 by Louis Cartier's great grandfather. Louis and his two brothers brought more widespread frame to the brand by opening their flagship stores in London and New York, to go along with the original one in Paris. Louis Cartier's 1904 design of a rectangular wristwatch for pioneering aviator Alberto Santos Dumont caused something of a stir, and was in many ways ahead of its time, especially compared with the adapted pocket watches that led to the trench watch (see an article I wrote back in 2014). Early Cartier Santos: And it was the trenches, and the horror of the Somme, that gave us a new and frightening piece of military hardware. It was never intended to be called a Tank, of course; that was a code name used to fool German intelligence. But it caught on. One story goes that the name was meant to deceive people into believing that it was just a mobile reservoir for water or other liquids. Officially it has always been known as a Char (de Bataille) in French and as a Panzer(kampfwagen) in German. 'Panzer' in German means 'armour'...compare the Armoured Bears or Panserbjørne in "His Dark Materials". The tank was first used by the British on 15 September 1916 as a surprise weapon in the battle of Flers-Courcelette, part of the Somme offensive. It took a while for reports and pictures to be released, but eventually Cartier read the report and saw the first images in a Paris newspaper. Seen from side on the British tanks of the period are huge parallelograms, but a view from directly above gives a different perspective. The body of the tank is square or rectangular and the tracks extend to the front and rear on either side like the handles of a stretcher. This is what gave Cartier the idea to incorporate the lugs into the body of the watch and call them "brancards", the French word for stretcher. The watch itself first appeared to the public in 1919, one year and four days after the Armistice. This is the "Tank Normale". There is something of an urban myth that the first of these was presented to the American General John Pershing but this has never been substantiated. The first watches sold quietly and without advertising, apart from their placement in the windows of the three stores. Very soon new designs began to appear: The Tank Cintrée (1921) The Tank Louis Cartier and the Tank Chinoise (1922) – I love the Chinoise! The Tank à Guichets (1929) – Guichets are ticket windows in stations, theatres etc. An early example of a “digital” watch! The Tank Basculante (1932)…I wonder where that idea came from? Not quite as elegant as the Reverso IMHO. The Tank Asymétrique (1936) - not all tanks had big Roman numerals! Vintage Tanks from the early period, even up to as late as the 1950s and 1960s, are both extremely rare and extremely expensive. A vintage dealer in Burlington Arcade recently described them to me as being like fillings in hens' teeth! One of the reasons is that for decades Cartier only sold from their three shops in London, Paris and New York, and their clientele was somewhat exclusive. Royalty, film stars, high society all wore them...Valentino, various Maharajas, Truman Capote, Duke Ellington, Cary Grant, Noel Coward, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Stewart Granger, JFK and Jacquie, Muhammad Ali, Liz Taylor, Yves Montand, Alain Delon, Ingrid Bergman, Yves Saint Laurent, Andy Warhol, Warren Beatty, Catherine Deneuve, Madonna, Princess Diana, and lately Emma Watson...all have been famously photographed wearing the Tank. Add to this the fact that production numbers were incredibly low compared with even the likes of Patek-Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, and certainly with burgeoning brands such as Rolex, Omega and Longines. The democratisation of the marque really began in the 1970s with the introduction of the Must de Cartier range, following the takeover of Cartier by a group of investors. This range featured gold-plated silver cases known as Vermeil, and unusual dial designs and colours, but with the traditional Tank case. Quartz editions became available within a couple of years. It’s the cheapest, and for most people the only, way into vintage Cartier! A resurgence of interest in mechanical watches saw the development of several new series and styles of Tank. The first of these was the Tank Américaine which appeared in 1989. Note the elongated and curved case, rather like the original Tank Cintrée, and the slightly rounded minute track. 1996 saw the introduction of the Tank Française. There were others…the remakes of the Basculante and the “luxury” Tank Louis Cartier, the absurd “Crash” and the short, wide “Divan”, the huge (for Cartier) MC range, and some very high end stuff, including a semi-skeleton with Roman Numeral Bridges! I cannot mention them all. 2004 saw the “back to basics” Tank Solo, in the sense that it was an entry level piece but also harked back in design terms to that first design back in 1916. 2012…the final piece in the Paris-London-New York trilogy, the lovely Tank Anglaise. But also in 2012 Cartier introduced the Tank Solo XL, the first Solo with a mechanical movement. The only one I haven’t had to Google for an image…this one is MINE! I never really thought I was into Art Deco…the buildings and furniture leave me quite cold. Watches, I always thought, were round and gold. Until I saw this. The rest, as they say, is history, which is where we came in. Thanks for reading.
    1 point
  4. I mentioned before Christmas that I had been given a couple of hundred pounds or so to spend on a watch and I have now chosen and received my special Christmas piece. I am obviously a bit worried that I will receive brickbats from knowledgeable members, saying that Accurist is not a "true" watchmaking concern and that I should have bought something more "worthy". However, as I am sure some of you will know, I am a bit of a maverick and tend to plough my own furrow a bit when it comes to collecting and writing about watches, so please don't judge me too harshly. So it was that I forked out just over £200 to acquire a stainless steel and black dial Accurist Grand Complication wrist watch powered by a "legendary" quartz movement, the Citizen calibre 6770. The choice of my new major purchase was ultimately a rapid one, although I did do my homework to make sure that the exact model I bought was the best one, as Accurist have produced two basic Grand Comploication model designs containing this particular movement, and the other model, with a circular bezel, has a whisper of wind over it informing me that there may be a problem with the push buttons; having too much play and a certain feeling of disconnect. My model, with its nicely-sized octagonal face and engraved bezel, seems to be the original piece dating from 2006 and the better of the two, and it is now the hardest to acquire new. The idea of getting one of these watches came as a result of a perusal of Grand Complication watches generally, and when the Accurist appeared on the computer screen, I knew that I just had to have it, and knew that I could afford it. I am aware that there are currently a number of Citizen watches with perpetual calendar plus chronograph functions, some with eco-drive power, and I also know that the new Citizen examples have a more up to date movement, and can be had for about the same price as my Accurist, but there is something a bit special about my Accurist Grand Complication and the Citizen 6770 that powers it which takes it beyond the other Citizen perpetual calendar/chrono watches. In fact, in passing, it is worth noting that the 6770 movement was utilised in a celebrated top-of-the-range and highly expensive Citizen watch collection - the Campanola - and I could never afford one of those watches, even second-hand. Before examining the movement and the functions of the Accurist Grand Complication, I will say something about why the bezel of my watch bears the engraved legend, "Greenwich Commerative". This refers to an association between Accurist and the Royal Observatory in Greenwich which began when the company started sponsoring the institution in 1997, the first and only watch company to be so associated. Accurist watches created an atomic clock, in order to count down the last 1000 days to the new millennium. This clock, which was placed on the Meridian, was controlled by eight satellites and showed the countdown in days, down to one hundredth of a second intervals. In 2003, Accurist strengthened its ties with the Greenwich Observatory, and produced a collection of replica clocks taken from examples in the National Maritime Museum and the Observatory itself. My new Accurist grand Complication, model GM102, which came double packed in a nice wooden box contained within a cardboard box, has a proud inscription on the outer card box that includes the line, "Accurist's reputation has been built on the design of superb time-pieces, elegant in looks and exceptional in their reliability and accuracy. It is this reputation that has led to the close relationship between Accurist and the Greenwich Royal Observatory. To celebrate this association and to reflect their joint international importance in time keeping, Accurist have designed the Greenwich Commemorative range of models." Now this may be a bit of hyperbole, but I do feel that Accurist is one of those brands that has been unfairly maligned by watch cognoscenti. I have a soft spot for this essentially British watch company, and believe that it has a distinctive history and heritage, being founded in 1947 and having a number of interesting milestones since then. Today, Accurist is still privately held, though it does have a parent company, Time Products (UK) Ltd, and the firm is still headquartered in this country. The watch itself is something of a beauty in my eyes, although I would normally shy away from watches that have octagonal cases - in this case though, only the bezel is a true octagon and the whole effect of the watch is most pleasing. The stainless steel case (43mm wide and 12mm thick), bezel and strap are all well-polished and the watch is quite heavy. The glass is slightly domed sapphire crystal and the stainless steel back features a number of small holes around it whose function is to let out the sound of the repeater chime. The watch is also numbered on the back, reflecting its limited edition status. Water resistance is only 3 atm, but I am not unduly concerned about this because not only are many high quality watches of limited water resistance, but in this case, the needs of the chime mechanism probably do compromise any attempt to make the watch more highly water resistant. In case some of you may be wondering if this watch is made in China, I can assure you that it was made in Japan, and manufacture was apparently supervised by the Shellman concern. My exact Accurist Grand Complication, Greenwich commemorative watch. This model also comes in two other colourways but is now very difficult to source, with the black version seemingly the last of the few (pic from i.ebayimg.com): The movement in the Accurist Grand Complication is one of the major reasons why I purchased the watch. Many quartz movements seem a bit "common" - almost ubiquitous in some ranges - and "soulless", even when the watches that contain them are well-designed and perfectly acceptable. With the Citizen 6770 calibre, however, you have something a bit different and somehow philosophically satisfying. When I tell you that the movement itself costs just over £100 to purchase on its own, I think you get some idea of how rarified this movement is. In fact, the 6770 is a hand-built and hand-finished movement, made by Citizen itself rather than by its subsidiary, Miyota. The available functions on the Accurist Grand Complication are many and varied, and stem from the wonderful movement. In addition to the normal time keeping functions, including a 24-hour clock, the watch has a split seconds chronograph, a perpetual calendar with moonphase indication, and a minute repeater. The small seconds hand opertates in normal timekeeping mode while the centre seconds hand moves in fifth of a second increments quite smoothly round the dial. The minute repeater chime is far more pleasant than a synthesised quartz beep, and when in repeater mode, the watch uses three different chimes to indicate the time. The repeater function needs to be set independently of the watch, but once set-up, there are no further problems. In fact, the watch does take a bit of time to set up, but the process is relatively straightforward and instructions are, of course, given in the handbook. I am not going to pretend that everything functions as a mechanical Grand Complication watch would. Nor can I pretend that the 6770 calibre is known for its high degree of accuracy. However, given the constraints involved when trying to manufacture a quartz movement and a display that has many qualities of a hand-crafted mechanical Grand Complication watch, the calibre 6770 is something of a trriumph. The fact that Accurist could place this movement in a well-made and beautiful wristwatch, and price it well under £500 (even when not discounted) is a minor miracle. I am certainly thrilled that I managed to grab one. This is the other basic Accurist Grand Complication model, also available in different colourways. Although the case size is similar to my own version, I do not like the bulge in the case on the crown side, which makes the watch a little ugly. This model came after my own version was launched, and in my opinion, the version I bought may be slightly better-made. Interestingly, four of this model have suddently turned up at watchshop.com, heavily discounted at £175 (pic from ecx.amazon-images.com):
    1 point
  5. This topic is about a group of watches, almost all quartz and dating from perhaps the later 1980s until today, linked by a particular design idiom that seems to stem from the surfing community. A small group of watch companies or brands are particularly associated with this style, but it has carried over into the product line up of other firms. Although most of the watches in Surfer Style tend to be towards the lower end of the market, some quality manufacturers have not ignored it altogether, including Citizen. For this latter snippet, I must thank Roger the Dodger who illustrated a rather nice blue dial and titanium Citizen watch in Surfer Style on the forum (which I illustrate here below). I originally called this style of watch "Catherine Wheel" but that seemed somewhat clumsy, and Surfer Style is a bit easier to say. My only concern about this name, as discussed below, is that not all analogue water sports watches are in Surfer Style, and the style is defined by examination of sufficient examples to allow one to categorize it. Nevertheless, I feel that the style is sufficiently cohesive for some sort of analysis. This Citizen dive watch - identical I believe to the model shown by Roger the Dodger on the forum recently - may be a professional diver's timepiece but it is in Surfer Style, and none the worse for that (pic from exc.images-amazon.com): If I was to try and point to the origins of this style in terms of watches then I would have to conclude that Animal is probably more responsible for the style than any other company. Animal, based in Poole, Dorset, but now an international clothing and accessory brand owned by H. Young Holdings, was created in 1987, with the story being that two surfers founded the company after they became fed up with losing their watches in the water due to strap failure. Having originally majored on strap design, Animal soon branched out into sports watches, apparel and accessories. A classic Surfer Style watch by Animal. This Animal Zephyr has a 41mm brushed marine grade stainless steel case, mineral glass crystal, luminova glow in the dark, and 200 metre water resistance (pic from shadestation.co.uk, where the watch was £65 when available): Animal is, in fact, one of the companies that has produced many watches in Surfer Style, further to their water sports brief, and I must admit here that I am something of an "Animal lover." I now have a few Animal watches in my collection, and I have been impressed by their build quality, lively style and specifications. The company was ready to incorporate a high degree of water resistance - some models having 200 metre WR - and these include the use of screw-down crowns, stainless steel cases and quality straps. I would say that Animal watches generally are pretty good value for money - all being well-made and stylish. Surfer Style Animal Marine in black/silver colourway featuring 316L stainless steel case, screw-down crown and caseback, 200 metre WR, 3mm mineral glass with internal anti-reflective coating, Japanese quartz movement, and with two straps included. Priced at £130, I reckon that this is good value for a stylish and substantial watch (pic from pipedreams-online.co.uk): If Animal was a pioneer in the use of the Surfer Style, then other brands were quick to follow, and some of these are not of the calibre of Animal's watches. At the bottom end of the Surfer Style in terms of overall quality, we have Predator, a brand that is part of the Henderson Group which also brands POD, Slazenger, Reflex and certain other low-end brands. Some Predator watches are attractive in their way but just don't have the required quality to fulfill the needs of water sport or outdoor fanatics. Above Predator, but still in low price territory, are Kahuna and Terrain who have both produced many watches in Surfer Style, and some of these are actually pretty good. I have been particularly surprised to come across a number of inexpensive Surfer Style Kahuna models that have 100 metre water resistance, and even stainless steel cases. My own "piece de resistance" is a Kahuna Titanium model with screw down Titanium back and screw-down crown. As for Terrain, they seem to major on watches aimed at the youth market and their Surf Style watches are often named as such. Kahuna Albany Surfer Style watch with stainless steel case, 100 metre WR and mineral glass crystal - now out of stock (pic from asset.surfcdn.com): Surfer Style watches have been made or produced by other companies, and these include Sekonda, especially in their Xpose watches designed mainly for swimming, and, as already mentioned, Citizen. I obviously cannot run through every watch or fashion company that has included Surfer Style watches in its products, but when you see the basic idiom, you will hopefully recognize it after reading this topic. One company that has many watches specifically devoted to surfers is Rip Curl, and their watches are stylish and range from the relatively inexpensive to the more costly. Not all analogue Rip Curl watches are in the actual Surfer Style, and some border on dive watches. In this topic I am really concerned with a particular analogue watch style that is defined in the pictures I show here, and obviously there are many surf/water sports watches that are not in what I would define as Surfer Style, and the style itself does merge into dive style and dive watches. A Rip Curl solar powered Solar Barrel SSS Surf watch with 200 metre WR that is just about in Surfer Style - other models of this brand are not always in this idiom even though the company is dedicated to water sports (pic from simplyenergystore.com.au): Having looked at the origins of the style and taken its history up to nearly the present day, I have to say that this watch fashion is seemingly now on the way out. Animal, for example, has greatly reduced its model range recently, and as the company most associated with the style, this reduction has meant a fall-off in Surfer Style designs. I also feel that the use of the style at the lowest end of the market has debased it somewhat in the eyes of the better watch companies, which is a shame because the Surfer Style at its best is visually exciting and blends colour with rhythmic design features. Further evidence that the Surfer Style is now less fashionable is the number of watches in this style that are listed on retail sites but are stated as being either unavailable or out of stock. The Sekonda versions of the style have been turning up in jewellers' shops at sale price, and I have picked up a few attractive models for very little. Kahuna Surf Style watch with 33mm stainless steel case and 100m metre WR. Currently available at Watch Hut for £28 (pic from cdn3.thewatchhut.com): I am very happy to have a number of Surfer Style watches in my collection, and I do enjoy wearing the best of them from time to time. While the style is perhaps beginning to disappear, it will surely be remembered and no doubt reinstated at a future time in a slightly modified guise. While the watches are still out there to buy cheap pre-owned and even new, I shall keep my eyes open for any nice examples featuring the Surfer Style to add to my collection. If any members have Surfer Style watches, especially mechanical models and models from high-end brands, then please do show them here. Terrain Surf Watch (boys or mens) with 50 metre WR and visually appealing packaging that seems to accompany Terrain watches (pic from ecx.images-amazon.com): Rip Curl solar-powered Solar Barrel Heat Bezel wristwatch in stainless steel, priced at about $300 and with 200 metre WR. This watch is beginning to shade into dive mode but it just qualifies for Surfer Style (pic from content.dogfunk.com): This Seiko saw-tooth dive watch has elements of Surfer Style but is really a true dive watch in style and content (pic from s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com): An Animal Pro Series watch in Surfer Style (pic from thewatchlab.co.uk): Surf Style gents Sekonda Expose wristwatch (pic from cdn.watchshop.com):
    1 point
  • Create New...