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Mido Watches: Part 2, C.1955-2000

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We start this second part of the Mido story in the middle of he 1950s, just after the introduction of Mido's "Powerwind" system of automatic drive and just before, in 1957, Rohwerke A. Schild SA presented the company with a certificate to testify that 1,000,000 raw movement components  had been supplied to Mido over the years.  During the fifties also, the Robot figure that had entered the stage as a Mido mascot now became a watch model, named after it, as well as the subject of a popular cartoon strip dedicated to the Mido "Robi" and its adventures.

Mido by about 1957 was clearly still riding high. However, the company would have been able to see that the Multifort watch had reached its height of popularity, and if Mido was to continue to expand and move forward, a new initiative would be needed in the market sector where the Multifort had dominated Mido sales. In fact, Mido was very fortunate that at about this time, Taubert, who had supplied the cases for the Multifort, were already engaged in work on their own project for a new type of watch case. The idea, not wholly original, was for a front-loading waterproof backless watch case where the movement and dial were inserted through the front and then held in place by the crystal via an intermediate spacer ring.

Bernard Taubert's work on the new watch case was based on a much earlier Borgel design for a screw-down case whereby the movement was introduced into the case from the front. The fundamental problem with Borgel's case design was that the movement obviously required to be put in the case prior to that part of the winding stem which passes out through the case wall. Borgel's solution to this problem was to use a two-part winding stem - the inner part remaining in the case with the outer part being fixed to the case, with the two elements being joined by a sliding joint. Taubert approached this problem in a similar manner, also designing a two-part stem. However, in Taubert's design, one part was fixed in the movement with the outer part being removable. The two parts of the winding stem were cleverly united in such a way that while the outer component could be removed when the movement needed to be taken out of the watch, whilst the watch was being worn the joint coupled the two parts of the stem both axially and rotationally, allowing the watch to be both wound and adjusted by the crown and stem.

Bernard Taubert's patent for the new top-loading watch case, defined as a "Montre etanche" (acute on 'e') or watertight watch was registered by the Swiss patent office on 16 April 1958, and published on 15 June 1960 (Patent No. CH346175). Interestingly, the winding stem on the new cases was still sealed by Taubert's cork method which was now dubbed, the "Aquadura" crown sealing method. Having patented his front-loading waterproof watch case, Bernard Taubert foresaw possible difficulties when trying to remove the crystal for servicing and repairs, so he went on to design and patent a special tool for doing this safely and more easily. I am not a watchmaker or repairer so I will not dwell on sources that mention other techniques for removing the crystal and the fact that Mido apparently changed the shape of the stem joint such that a repairer could merely tug on the crown to successfully snap the joint.

Bernard Taubert, new watch case was an absolute Godsend to Mido, and so it was to be that the Taubert company remained important case suppliers to Mido well into the 1960s. What is not so clear is exactly when Mido started to use the new waterproof top-loading Taubert watch case. Taubert decided to call its new case technology, "Vacuum"  but prior to this name being standard for the backless cases, in the mid-1950s, a number of casebacks of Multifort type were stamped with the Vacuum designation.

The first Mido wristwatch to incorporate the Taubert Vacuum technology was probably the "Commander," apparently launched in 1959. Then, at about the same time, also in 1959, Mido reinvigorated its "Ocean Star" brand name which had originated back in 1944 , creating a collection of ladies' and gents' watches featuring the new front-loading monocoque case and incorporating the press-fitted crystal sealing system, now called "Permalift" by Mido. Mido continued to use Taubert's cork sealing method in their Ocean Star watches, and one of the most desirable and early watches in this collection was the Ocean Star Diver that had a stated water resistance of 300 metres.



The classic multicoloured Mid Ocean Star Dive watch of 1959 featuring a stated WR of 300 metres and an image of a scuba diver on the back of the sealed case (pic from vintagewatchstraps.com):




Two pictures showing the Mido Multifort and a slightly later Ocean Star both in the same dress mode but with different Taubert case technology  c.1960-1965 (pic from i.ytimg.com):






There is no doubt that Mido had continued to benefit from the research and development done by the Taubert case company, and with the new watch cases coming on stream at the end of the 1950s, Mido had found a worthy replacement for the old Multifort. In fact, I am not sure exactly when the original run of the Multifort came to an end, and it seems that production of the new monocoque sealed watch cases overlapped for a while with Multifort watches - the last of the latter probably being marked, "Vacuum" inside the caseback. It may be that Mido was the first watch company to use Taubert's front-loading case design, and one wonders what cooperation there was between the two firms in terms of final testing and production.

Unfortunately, it seems the case that at this period, just after the introduction by Mido of the Vacuum front-loading case, problems begin to interfere with the relatively smooth history of Mido up to this point. Research by me of Mido watches from the 1960s and 1970s from photographic sources has revealed that although the new Taubert Vacuum cases were in use on a number of models, including the tiny ladies watch mentioned here below, Mido did NOT stop using the ten-facetted round screw-down caseback and accompanying Aquadura sealing system on many Ocean Star and Commander watches, right through the 1960s and 1970s. This puts me in the unenviable position of position of having to admit to not knowing exactly which Mido watches and their dates of manufacture carry the front-loading style of sealed case.




A mid-1960s all stainless steel Powerwind automatic Ocean Star wristwatch with calibre 1117P 17J Swiss movement and 32mm case (pic from img1.etsystatic.com)





With the new watch case "signed and sealed" so to speak, Mido was once again in the forefront  of watch technology when it came to water resistance and reliability. It is said that the sealed Permalift Vacuum watch cases were so  well sealed that the crystal could be popped off by removing the crown and blowing through the hole. Whatever the case may be, it must have seemed that Mido had once again scored a hit, and surely the new case technology would see them through the next twenty years or so?



This is the amazing pea-sized Mido ladies watch, this example, c.1967, is in 14 carat gold and with a sealed top-loading vacuum case. The 17J caliber 0620 rates as the smallest automatic movement by diameter ever industrially produced, and clever positioning of components, including an indirectly driven minute hand, also gave it a low profile (pic from ranfft.de):





Mido continued to innovate well into the 1960s, and as with the situation regarding the shift from the Multifort to the Vacuum watch case, I once again find a dilemma when it comes to making a cast iron statement. This problem concerns the tiny ladies' automatic wristwatch launched by Mido in 1967, which is credited with the world's smallest ladies' watch. In fact, this statement comes in three shades - the thinnest ladies' watch, the smallest ladies watch and the smallest ever automatic MOVEMENT in a ladies' watch, ever produced in any numbers. My opinion on these various differences in claim is that in 1967, Mido introduced the smallest ever automatic ladies' watch movement in terms of movement diameter to have been volume-produced. This achievement is all the more striking because this movement formed the basis for not just women's watches in general but a slim, automatic, watertight, antimagnetic and impact resistant ladies' watch utilising the Vacuum sealed case.  However, in spite of this continued spirit at Mido for exploration, in the global watch industry there were hints that a revolution was brewing in the technology of watches. This was the rise of new electronics that could power and also time watches with a far greater degree of consistency and accuracy than the old mechanical movements ever had. To see how Mido fared in this tumultous period, we first must briefly rewind the clock to 1931.



Mido Ocean Star Commander automatic with 34mm steel case, c.1965-70 (pic from brassshop.net):




In 1931, the Swiss government and Swiss banks assisted in the formation of ASUAG (Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG), an organization set up to combat the effects of the then severe economic depression on the Swiss watch industry. It was to become involved in refinance, promoting research and development, and bringing together various watch manufacturers and component makers. During its period of operations, ASUAG assimilated a group made up of various assemblers and makers of complete watches called the General Watch Company (GWC), and this then became a subsidiary of ASUAG, with Mido as one of its member firms.  Unfortunately, the date of Mido's entry into the General watch Company is not known, but we do know that GWC was assimilated into ASUAG in 1971, and I would propose that in that year, Mido lost full independence, while continuing to work as a company in its own right.

Mido actually continued to produce watches during the 1970s, and even as late as 1977, it turned out 29,074 officially certified chronometers. It is inconceivable that Mido did not take heed of the electronic revolution in watches sooner rather than later, and with Seiko's Astron - the first analogue quartz wristwatch - launched in 1969, together with rapid development of digital watches in the early and mid 1970s, Mido started to concentrate increasingly on quartz watches. At the same time, probably as a hedge against isolation and demise, Mido joined the GWC and by default from 1971, ASUAG.



Mid-1970s Mido automatic chronograph with 40mm (not including crown) gold plated case and Valjouz 7750 movement (pics from vintagewatch.ca)






I do not wish to divert too much from the specific history of Mido, but mention must be made of the sheer sweeping nature of the quartz crisis in the Swiss watch industry. Not only was there increasing competition to mechanical watches from electronic and then quartz models, but the price differential or balance between quartz and mechanical watches was increasingly loaded against the Swiss producers. After an attempt to engender a feeling of luxury in quartz timepieces, it became clear that the mass-producers of quartz watches and electronic technology, initially from the States but then, far more damaging, from the Far East, were going to saturate the market with cheap quartz watches. Mido continued to produce digital and analogue quartz watches right up until the Hayek takeover, but by that time the company's fortunes were dictated by larger organizational changes than mere individual watch firms.



Mido Multi Star automatic gold-plated wristwatch from 1975 - the Multi Star seems to date from about 1970, and may have been a model launched in part to stave off the coming quartz crisis (pic from watchestobuy.com):




Mido automatic day/date plated wristwatch. This almost exact model is also found designated as a Mido Commander on the dial. I feel that this watch represents one of the last pre-1985 mechanical Mido mechanical watches (pic from 3.bp.blogspot.com):





At Mido, Bjorn Borg (umlaut on 'o') became a brand ambassador in 1981, but this was to be little comfort. In 1983, the two major Swiss watch organizations, ASUAG and SSIH (essentially Omega and Tissot), merged in an attempt to deal with the quartz crisis. The resulting organization,. SMH, then proceeded to acquire a visionary if sometimes controversial leader as president of the managing board in 1985, none other than Nicolas G. Hayek.



a Mido automatic datoday Ocean Star Commander watch from c.1990 (pic from uhrforum.de):





The story of Hayek and the rise of the Swatch Group cuts like a knife across Mido history, slicing it away from that company's roots and apparently losing all the Mido documents. For a decade after swatch group acquired Mido, there is a sort of "radio silence" and I am not sure exactly what was going on with regard to the Mido brand. The eventual reprise of the Mido name occurred in 1996, with the launch of the "Bodyguard" personal alarm wristwatch which featured a 100db alarm, triggered when the bezel was rotated and the crown pressed. The "Worldtimer," the purpose of which is self-evident, was launched in the same year. In 1998, the Multifort name was resurrected , and in 2000, the millennium year, it was decided by Swatch to reposition Mido as specializing in automatic watches rather than quartz.

I am sure that Hayek and Co have made a good job of resurrecting Mido and bringing this once great watch brand to our attention once more. However, for me, the true spirit of Mido has not been passed on - perhaps that gap between 1985 and 1986 was just too long to bridge. Independent Mido was a rather special entity, ready to take on board the latest technology and also not ashamed to have a deep interest in style, design and aesthetics.



Mido Commander from c.1970-75 with oval case and dial and automatic movement (pics from 1,bp.blogspot.com):





I do hope that I have done at least some justice to the history of Mido. The lack of consistency between sources in terms of dates, timelines, and the way facts are presented, caused me a lot of problems even though there now appears to be a growing amount of information on Mido spread around. In a few years, I hope someone will come up with a full biography of Mido, and they no doubt will include a more complete and up to date account of the Swatch years, perhaps concluding that Nicolas Hayek was the right man for Mido after all. I also hope that a diligent researcher in the future will be able to sort out the confusion compounded by the different textual sources about Mido when it comes to the period covered by this second part of my article







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  • 4 weeks later...

Hi Honour - long time no see! I happened to catch this essay on the Mido and noted your comment on the difficulty of dating the various marques at various times. Below is my Commander - face and monocoque back - which has an ETA 2834-2 movement inside. A look at the Ranfft database tells me that the 2836 movement (2834-2 is unlisted in Ranfft's database), which is probably an update on 2834-2, was manufactured around 1975. So the date of the movement may, in some part, contribute towards bracketing the date of the watch.

Just a thought... :)



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