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Lorenz, and Not the Other Bill

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As the first topic since my operation the other week, I thought I had found an ideal contender in the form of Lorenz watches, but if I thought this would be an easy way back into researching and writing for the forum, I was sorely mistaken. When it comes to researching and building up a final draft of an article, one always hopes that there it will prove to be a "clean" topic where the various sources all line up with one another and provide at least a relatively straightforward account. Unfortunately for the hapless writer, some topics are distinctly "fuzzy" with "interference" in the form of contradictions and problems within the available sources and literature. In the case of Lorenz, what I though would be a clean break turned out to be a matter of unravelling the fuzziness and making do with sources of a limited nature. Indeed, the first hint of interference came with the name of the founder of Lorenz. On first approaching the subject, I discovered that the name of the founder was, "Tullio Bill," and that got my attention immediately as I wondered if he was any relation of the celebrated watch designer, "Max Bill." On subsequent research using other sources, I discovered that the name Tullio Bill was inaccurate, and in fact it was Tullio Bolletta who created the Lorenz company. What had happened is a mis-translation in the Italian Wikipedia account of the company when it was/is put into English. So now you know, a Tullio Bill doesn't exist as far as Lorenz history is concerned, and the real  Tullio Bolletta has nothing to do with Max Bill. And now we can get on with the topic, with as much other fuzziness unravelled as I can manage.

The notion that has continued in the West confirming the essence of Italian industrial design as an important variety of modernism seems to have taken root in the early 1930s and then flourished in the post-War period. It has encompassed the design of many different consumer products, from lamps to cars, and for much of the period after the Second World War, Italy was regarded as a go-to place for young and talented designers. Modern Italian design has  tended to compete with Scandinavian modernism and post-modern design right from the start, and it was during the formative years of modern post-War design, after the initial reconstruction of war-torn Europe had been achieved, that Lorenz really came into its own - a company dedicated to the fusion of Italian style with Swiss technology.



Early Lorenz chronograph - front view and view of movement from rear - dating to about 1950 with a 38mm case and Lemania 17-jewel calibre 1270 hand-wind movement (pics from i.ebayimg.com):







The company that was soon to become Lorenz was founded by Tullio Bolletta in 1934, in Via del Gesu, Milan. For the first few years, the firm was named, La Regale, and sold Swiss-made "creations" that were not produced by Bolletta himself. The name, "Lorenz" was adopted in 1938, and was named after a technician whom Bolletta had previously worked for. Thus, the Lorenz company was born - or re-born to be pedantic - and oddly perhaps, the first real success for Bolletta himself as a producer came not with a watch but with a degreasing and cleansing solution for watch jewels and the intricate mechanical parts of timepieces. Bolletta patented his TI-BI liquid, and it became a very successful product, sold up to 1979 by Lorenz and subsequently by an outside company. As for the Lorenz re-launch itself, the firm moved in 1938 to Via Montenapoleone, also in Milan, and this premises still exists today as the Lorenz flagship store. 

It is not clear exactly when Tullio Bolletta actually started to produce and brand his own watches, but it is known that soon after the end of the War he went to Switzerland in pursuit of new construction techniques and movements for his watches, and there, in 1951, he developed and produced the world's first 19 and 25 jewel movements incorporating Incabloc shock protection for his watches. In the 1950s, Bolletta was acquiring a good reputation for his Lorenz watches, and he now also turned to the production of clocks, utilising the skills of a number of designers.



An early Lorenz branded watch, dating to the late 1940s/early 1950s - 15-jewel hand-wind Swiss movement (pic from img1.etsysatic.com):





In 1960, Bolletta, and Lorenz, garnered acclaim for the "Static" table clock, which won the important industry "Compasso d'Oro" award for that year. This clock was in fact the first product to be designed by the talented designer, Richard sapper, who had moved to Italy in 1957 to work in prestigious studios such as that of Gio Ponti, and examples of his Lorenz clock can now be seen in a number of world class museum collections including the Milan Triennal permanent collection and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The jury, of famous names in Italian consumer design and production, explained that, "The simplicity and austerity of the design in its shape as well as in its materials, the charm of the object, and the classic appeal of the numerals,have won the Lorenz Static clock the 1960 Compasso d'Oro award. The triumph of this design is in its avoidance of a strong tendency, particularly for table clocks, towards the decadent and showy taste which characterizes much of this sector." I think this quote is perceptive and reveals the truth that much Italian (and other European) so-called production of ornamental goods of the 1950s onwards might be called "charming" but was horribly kitsch and sentimental. I do not here include the best post-modern Memphis type designs - which are mentioned later in this topic.



The classic Lorenz Static clock by Richard Sapper, designed in 1959, complete with its wonderful packaging - (in later years available with a quartz movement) (pic from italianways.com):





It was during this period that Lorenz watches were now marked by a characteristic "little man and little woman" logo, apparently being introduced as part of the "Lorenz walking with progress" campaign - this logo seems to have been little used however, and is now apparently only used on the back of commemorative watches. The current Lorenz legend and logo are in striking modern font with a stylized clock line picture, and this type of branding seems to have been adopted in about the late 1960s.  The earlier vintage Lorenz watches have the brand name in flowing script, with no pictorial logo. The production of watches at Lorenz expanded through the 1950s and 1960s, and the company introduced a number of sub-brands such as Bino and Laurens, designed to permit Tullio Bolletta to produce quality Swiss-made watches at a lower price point than that covered by the parent brand. 



Gold-filled Lorenz mechanical chronograph with Valjoux 17-jewel 7750 movement, c.1970 (pic from thumbs.worthpoint.com):





In the 1970s, as the quartz revolution or crisis began to bite, Lorenz continued to innovate with mechanical movements, presenting the "Directime" mechanical jump-hour watch collection. This featured three wheels (hours, minutes and seconds) positioned to the left of the dial immediately showing the time without recourse to conventional hands. Lorenz also continued the production of high-performance steel-cased anti-magnetic mechanical chronograph watches. It is probable that Bolletta now started on a route that the company has maintained ever since partly to offset the decline in European watch production due to Far Eastern quartz watches, and that is the acquisition of distribution rights to other popular and fashionable watch company brands - beginning with Italian distribution rights to Casio, acquired by Lorenz in 1976. 



Vintage Lorenz Directime jump-hour watch (see text for details) (Pic from pinterest.com):




Unusual Lorenz so-called "Bullhead" chrono-timer watch with very large - for the time - 46mm wide case and hand-wind movement. Difficult to date but probably from the late 1970s (pic from 4.bp.blogspot.com):





In 1984, on the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the company, Lorenz presented its Montenapoleone watch collection - elegant and technically superior timepieces - but it was the NEOS collection launched in 1986 that is best known as the high-point of the Lorenz combination of high Italian design and Swiss technology and workmanship so important to the company. According to the 2009 "Master Horologer" write-up of Lorenz, "The key aspect of the entire series, designed by George J. Sowden and Nathalie du Pasquier, is the search for an 'industrial' time. Neos collection reflects the very latest trends in neo-modern design and its power of expression goes beyond any purely functional concept, giving the watch an intensely decorative role. They come in different variants, leaving room for personal choice, but they are most of all an example of flexible industrialization, an alternative to anonymous and mass production. The production includes wrist watches, table clocks, and wall clocks." The more playful designs by du Pasquier and Sowden are in the post-modern Memphis School style, and reflect a colourful (literally and metaphorically) element of Italian design that has seemingly always existed.



One of a number of playful designs for Lorenz Neos clocks by Nathalie du Pasquier and George Sowden. This example is in ceramic and plastic and dates to about 1985 (pic from p2.liveauctioneers.com):





In 1992, the Neos collection was further expanded, with new wall clocks designed in collaboration with Sergio Asti, and the Neos collection was celebrated by means of a 20th anniversary Neos competition to design a model that expressed the best of the Lorenz company philosophy and values. Five designers were selected to take part in the competition - the German Werner Aisslinger, the Spanish company CuldeSac, the American Jozeph Forakis, the Italian Gabriele Pezzini, and Theo Williams from Britain. In the event, the Spanish 4-man team from CuldeSac in Valencia produced the winning design, and the new Neos watch, innovative yet traditionally Swiss in watchmaking tradition, was put into production. In addition to the Neos collection, Lorenz presented new models within its historical Theatro, Montenapoleone and Portoro collections from 2003, so cementing further the relationship Lorenz maintained between the watchmaker's art and Italian style and design.



2006 Lorenz Theatro Chronograph Optique Or, gold automatic chronograph with Lorenz calibre movement using ETA 2824-2 base calibre. Priced at US$4,180 (pic from watchtime.com):





Going back to the multidisciplinary winning Neos design by CuldeSac, combining creativity with workmanship, this competitiion result prompted Lorenz to set up its own lab in 2006 whose purpose was to conceive and design new models that would go into production from 2007. This was also additionally prompted by the fact that the winning CuldeSac Neos watch won the prestigious "red dot" design award in 2007 and was selected in the Adi Design Index for that year. In the following year, Lorenz won its second Compasso d'Oro award for the very same Spanish design. Interestingly, in 2007, some of the historically important neos pieces were sold at Christie's in London



The winning CuldeSac Neos watch design for Lorenz as mentioned in the text (pic from lorenz.it):





Lorenz provided an arena for a second watch competition in 2007 to design a watch echoing 1930s design and emphasising the importance of Italian design for the Lorenz brand. This competition was to be completed as part of the 2009 75th anniversary of the Lorenz company, and the winning design was by EMO Design and was called the EMO. By this time, Lorenz had continued to acquire distribution rights in Italy for more watch companies, with BOSS and Lacoste rights being acquired in 2007, followed by Tommy Hilfiger in 2008 - this latter acquisition marking the start of an ongoing partnership with Movado.

Lorenz is still with us, and has continued to be a vibrant modern family company in recent years. The firm has continued to receive awards for certain watch models and it now runs its own unique design centre, the Lorenzlab Style Centre, where rising stars like Tony Lanzillo explore new areas of watchmaking. Lorenz continues to engender interesting collaborations with designers and design companies - one such project being with italian yacht designers, Officina Italiana Design, who have designed the new Aquitania Sports collection for Lorenz. At its heart, Lorenz continues to lay stress on the coming together of innovative yet accessible Italian style and Swiss technology and watchmaking skill. Swiss quality and Italian style have continued to be a formidable combination in the world of watches, and the survival of Lorenz is testament to that continuing double heritage.



Lorenz Aquitania quartz chronograph in stainless steel with leather strap, about 400 euros (pic from gioiellianicolis.it)::




Different colourways of the recent quartz Iconograph Timepiece designed for Lorenz by Werner Aissinger (pic from designboom.com):


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I love those early pieces, and I must say it's a brand I haven't heard of. Classic, Honour!:notworthy:

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Thanks Honour, very comprehensive and interesting as usual, and an unknown to me.

This is an Italian desk clock I have (in bits), it was a corporate gift from a firm of Italian architects. Aluminium casting.  Love the look.....



Edited by dobra

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Thanks for your positive comments, and that clock of yours dear Dobra looks to be a bit of classic Italian modern product design. For some reason, I seem to have been acquiring a few rather nice clocks myself lately, and today I bought a glass-mounted Schneider mechanical 11-jewel eight day alarm clock with a very evocative late 1960s style dial and bezel. All it needs is three small screws to secure the backplate, and I am away. All for a couple of quid.:)

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Bump from the depths. 

Great article, myself I have been looking at a few Lorenz watches lately. They certainly seem to be very well made, and the styling is spot on too. 

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