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A Hidden Gem? A Brief History of Mathey-Tissot

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Lurking with good intent in the shadow of the big names in Swiss watchmaking is an independent maker of quality watches with a long history and some heritage - Mathey-Tissot - and it is about time that someone again shone a light on this interesting company.

In 1886, Edmond Mathey-Tissot established his watchmaking business in the village of Les Ponts de Martel, a village at an altitude of 3,300 feet nestled in a beautiful valley near the centre of the Swiss Jura mountains centre of the Swiss Jura mountains. Mathey-Tissot very soon received some acclaim for his watches, from the start specializing in complications, especially repeater pocket watches that chime the hour and half-hour. From this speciality, mathey-Tissot then started to make chronographs, and it was in this field that his firm began to garner prizes and awards in Europe for quality and ingenuity.

During the 1890s, the Boer War in South Africa had a positive knock-on effect with regard to the demand for Mathey-Tissot watches. I have to admit that although all sources state this, no explanation is provided as to why the Boer War in particular increased Mathey-Tissot sales to such an extent that the company built a new factory. Apparently, one order from a Scottish aristocrat comprised no less than 2,500 repeater watches, one each to be given to every man in his son's regiment. Officers were to receive a gold watch, while other ranks were given a silver example.



Early Mathey-Tissot Bumper automatic with 35 mm steel case, probably 1940s (pic from i.ebayimg.com):





In 1914, Mathey-Tissot took part in the Kew Observatory Competition and supplied six chronograph watches all featuring split-second timing. Incredibly, all six watches were given a 'Class A' rating, with a "specially good" commendation, and one of the watches attaining a record previously not achieved. Given the results at Kew, plus the award of "Grand Prix" at that year's Swiss National Exhibition in Berne, it is not surprising that Mathey-Tissot was involved in supplying watches to the allies during the First World War. The United States Army Corps of Engineers used large numbers of Mathey-Tissot chronographs, while General Pershing, commanding the US Expeditionary Force, chose to award Mathey-Tissot watches to his staff.

Between the Wars, Mathey-Tissot continued to provide timepieces for the military, in particular for the United States, and In 1937, the name, "E. Mathey-Tissot & Co." was protected by trademark in the USA. Interestingly, Mathey-Tissot not only chased the US market but was even involved in the manufacture of watches destined for the Chinese domestic market, and the firm was apparently on good terms with the Chinese. The dates for this are not clear, but the Mathey-Tissot watches exported to China were described as being "complicated and painstaking pieces... in the realm of superior watchmaking."  During World War Two, and even after the War, Mathey-Tissot was once again supplying the American military with watches, and some also went to the Royal Navy.



Mathey-Tissot chronograph from c.1947 featuring an Omega 321 column wheel movement (pic from adamvintage.com)




Mathey-Tissot 18 carat gold chronograph with Valjoux 72 hand-wind movement, from the early 1950s (pic from omegaforums.net):





During the post-War period, Mathey-Tissot continued to produce quality watches including chronographs, but apart from the occasional "event", the company seems to have slipped out of the limelight, so to speak. One of these events was the purchase of several dozen customized Mathey-Tissot watches in 1969 and 1970 by Elvis Presley. These watches were given to family, friends, and staff, with the purpose of identifying the wearers as having a privileged right of access to Presley's concerts and tours. These watches had the name ELVIS PRESLEY in raised letters on the bezel and four stars.



Mathey-Tissot 14-carat gold automatic watch from 1954 (pic from sgwatchmall.com)




Elvis Presley watch by Mathey-Tissot, made for the "King" in 1969/70 (pic from 1.bp.blogspot.com):





After the King of Rock an' Roll episode, all goes quiet until about 1990, when we find the company still active and still making fine watches. However, there does seem to be a change of tactic after this date, with the company tending to broaden its appeal. It would be easy to criticize the firm for an expansion into a more "mass market" approach but without embracing the quartz revolution, Mathey-Tissot would probably not have survived, at least as an independent watch company.



14-carat gold Liberty coin watch with 35 mm case by Mathey-Tissot from the 1970s, powered by a 17-jewel caliber 608 hand-wind movement and on sale for US$1150 (pic from antiques.com):





The company today offers a substantial collection of timepieces, suited to almost every aspect of life. The watches are either quartz, usually with Ronda movements, or automatic, and the firm fortunately appears to maintain a high standard in its products, still able to produce high-end mechanical timepieces. According to the Mathey-Tissot website, "Today Mathey-Tissot offers a rare blend of expertise, quality, styling and personalized handling that unfortunately has all but gone from the watch industry. The key word is "Flexibility". Buyers, large or small are not just numbers - they are names and friends."

Mathey-Tissot now offers watches in four basic categories - Classic, Sports, Fashion and Gold. The Classic watches comprise a number of  collections and although most of the watches are powered by quartz Ronda movements, there are also automatics available featuring the  IT 10 skeleton movement or Valswiss Automatic BSR-02 caliber. In the Sports category, are dive watches and other watches designed for adventurous and sports activities. Some models use the Valjoux 7750 movement, while Ronda quartz movements are more widely used. The Fashion watches are designated for younger people, and are all quartz, while the Gold range are in 18-carat gold and come in both automatic and quartz versions. Unlike the watches in the other three categories, Mathey-Tissot uses ETA quartz and automatic movements in the high-end gold timepieces. Automatic models in this category feature ETA 2677, ETA 7750, ETA 2842, ETA 7751 and ETA 2892 A2 movements. I should explain that this summary of the more recent Mathey-Tissot watches dates to about the middle of 2014, and I include it because it is a neat and useful information source. This topic is intended primarily as a historical introduction to Mathey-Tissot and clearly, to be bang up to date, one merely has to see what the latest offerings are online, though I can tell you that the firm has this year produced an "Edmond" anniversary collection in a limited edition.




Mathey-Tissot Type XX Civil hand-wind, 38 mm, steel flyback chronograph dating to 1960 and powered by a Valjoux 222, 14 ligne, movement. This identical model was also branded, "Breguet" and I don't know which company is the originator (pic from lacotedesmontres.com):




Mathey-Tissot chronograph from about 1970 with a Valjoux 17 jewel hand-wind movement (pic from i.ebayimg.com):




Before ending this introduction to Mathey-Tissot, I need to raise a matter that was raised on the Watch Forum back in 2010. This concerns Mathey-Tissot quartz watches with Japanese movements that do not seem to have originated at Mathey-Tissot and may or may not be of Chinese manufacture. It may be that the firm went through a period in which its products fell short of the excellence proclaimed by Mathey-Tissot today, and certainly it would be sad if Mathey-Tissot were going downmarket to the degree that would bely its prestigious history. In conclusion, I can say that "Master Horologer" in 2014 stated that all Mathey-Tissot watches are made in Switzerland at Chisasso, and that in addition to those bearing the company name, some watches are apparently branded "Swiss Militaire" by "Big Ben." For me, vintage and pre-owned Mathey-Tissot watches are well worth looking out for, although it does seem that the collector needs to be wary of possible fakes. The joy of this company is that it was, and still is, an independent producer and maker of watches, and has its own niche within the story of Swiss watchmaking. Just how involved Mathey-Tissot was in the design and creation of movements for its watches over its history isn't clear, but certainly the extant examples seem to bear calibers from other companies. The modern and current products seem to have escaped widepread detailed reviews, which means that I shall forego commenting on the quality and reliability of recent and current Mathey-Tissot watches, leaving off my story at the year 2014.



Mathey-Tissot Grand Prix gold automatic from 1965 with unusual case design and powered by an Adolph Schild caliber 1716 movement




Just in case you are confused about the relationship between Tissot and mathey-Tissot,here is a teaser. This movement, signed "Tissot" was found on a Mathey-Tissor chronograph from the 1940s. It may be that Mathey-Tissot did purchase cases and other components from Tissot, but the two companies are independent of one another. In fact, this movement is a Lemania caliber, which is neither of Tissot or Mathey-Tissot manufacture, and the name stamped here seems to be merely a cut-off version of Mathey-Tissot, whose stamp often appears on movements from other ebauches manufacturers used in its watches. (pic from storage.googleapis.com):


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Thanks folks, and yes Jeremy, it is certainly the fact that ownership of many brands has been shifted around in recent years, some of them ending up in Far Eastern hands. Interestingly, I could find no mention of Mathey-Tissot being taken over as a subsidiary of a Chinese company, which is why I presumed that it is still an independent concern. I am usually pretty "hot" on the trail of these sort of ownership changes, so perhaps some further research is needed about the very recent years of Mathey-Tissot, which I decided not to cover in my topic.:)

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