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Well, here I am, back again in watch history’s “twilight zone” trying to throw light on little-known watch companies and brands, and bring this knowledge to collectors and others interested in the history of watches. This topic concerns Sultana watches and I must thank @spinynorman for bringing this brand to my attention in his recent Forum thread, “Sultana Chronograph Landeron 48.” When I set out to write this topic, I was not hopeful of discovering a great deal about Sultana watches but, although aspects of the research have proved to be tricky and difficult to pin down, I believe we now have a proper timeline for Sultana watches on which further research can be based.

 

 

 

 

 

A mid-late 1950s automatic 25J Sultana watch with a 33mm (excl. crown) gold plated case and powered by a Felsa caliber 1560 movement; note the phrase, "RESSORT INASSABLE," on the dial which means, unbreakable mainspring (pics from sellingantiques.co.uk):

 

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According to Watch-Wiki, the current owners of the Sultana watch brand are Renley Watch SA, about which more will be said later in this topic. Leaving aside the promotional hyperbole in the Watch-Wiki entry for the current Sultana watches, a certain amount of useful information about the original Sultana watch company itself (Montres Sultana SA) is provided, and summarized here: Montres  Sultana SA was founded in 1937 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, by Paul Gaston Schwarz, with the Sultana brand name being first registered in 1955 in Bern. Watch-Wiki then goes on to say a little about the products of the Swiss Sultana watch concern - apparently, one of the early Sultana watches featured a single movement that could simultaneously display two time zones. A magnified window at the 6 o’clock position showed the date while a push button at 2 o’clock, beside the winding crown, allowed for separate adjustment of the two sets of hands. Also according to Watch-Wiki, Sultana won the Grand Prix at the Internationale de Tessalonique in Greece in 1939, and won other prizes over the years.

 

Going back for a moment to the two timezone watch described here above, it is notable that the dial was provided with numbers in both Arabic and Turkish; notable because the brand name, “Sultana,” almost certainly derives from the meaning of the word as a female sultan or the wife/mistress of a sultan, leading one to surmise that the Near and Middle Eastern markets were a major target for watches produced by the Sultana watch company. In fact, as we shall see below, other firms also used/registered “Sultana” as a brand name, probably for the same reasons and with no apparent link to Montres Sultana SA.

 

 

 

 

A 1950s hand-wind Sultana triple date with moonphase wristwatch with a 30mm stainless steel case (with gold-plated highlights) and powered by a Valjoux 89 17J movement (pics from assets.catawiki.nl):

 

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The Watch-Wiki entry for Sultana unfortunately gives us scant information about Montres Sultana SA, the original Sultana company, for the period after 1939 and before the brand was acquired by Renley in modern times, and we need to look elsewhere if we are to advance our knowledge of this company/brand over much of its history. Mikrolisk fortunately provides some clues, with a number of tantalizing entries for the brand word mark, Sultana, shown below (though not quite in the format of the Mikrolisk directory itself):


 

Sultana:  Registered 14 March 1906; Lemania SA/Lugrin SA, L’Orient,Switzerland, watches and watch parts.

 

Le Phare-Sultana:  Nouvelles Fabriques Le Phare SA, Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.

 

Sultana:  Registered 25 October 1946; Montres Sultana SA, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland; watches and watch parts.

 

Sultana:  Registered 30 October 1975; Nouvelles Fabriques Le Phare SA, Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.

 

Sultana:  Bulova Watch Company, Inc./J. Bulova & Cie., La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland; New York, USA.


 

Looking at these entries we can add to the story of Sultana watches so far obtained from Watch-Wiki.

 

Firstly, it seems likely that the brand name, Sultana, was actually first registered by Montres Sultana SA just after World War Two, in 1946, rather than in 1955 as Watch-Wiki states. It also seems that the Sultana Watch Company (Montres Sultana SA) was merged with, and then taken over by Nouvelles Fabriques Le Phare SA. Some sort of merger seems to have occurred in about 1950 or just after - in fact, I have just come across a separate reference, on the Jean d’Eve website, to “Sultana SA” being actually founded by Le Phare in 1950. Whatever the case, it is clear that the Le Phare name is intimately connected to the Sultana brand, with a complete absorption by Le Phare of the Sultana company and eponymous brand name in the early to mid 1970s. Then later, as we shall see, the Le Phare name turns up again, in the story of the Renley Watch Group who currently own and use the Sultana brand name (among others.) I should mention at this point that Sultana watches can be tricky to date accurately and things are made more complicated by the question of when the spread-eagled bird logo was first used by Sultana, and how often. Unfortunately, Mikrolisk doesn't provide a clue for this element of Sultana branding though it seems that it may not have been used in the early years of Montres Sultana SA - the bird emblem has been revived once again by Renley as a symbol of its Sultana watches.

 

And secondly, we find two Mikrolisk entries for Sultana as a brand word mark that do not appear to be linked - at least directly - to the Sultana watch concern. The first of these is the 1906 registration of the name, Sultana, by Lemania SA, at that time known as Lugrin SA after the celebrated founder of the firm (in 1884), Alfred Lugrin (1858-1920). The Lugrin/Lemania firm - manufacturers of watches and movements - changed its title in 1930 to Lemania Watch Co., based in l’Orient, Switzerland, and in 1932, merged with Omega and Tissot to form the SSIH Group. The Sultana company was not a member of SSIH, and I have not (yet) found a link between Sultana and Lemania. The other entry for Sultana in Mikrolisk is for Bulova but unfortunately, the reference is not dated and does not appear to be an official registration. My feeling is that both the Lemania/Lugrin and Bulova references to Sultana are for the use or intended use of that name as a mark for products destined for the Near and Middle Eastern market.

 

 

 

 

A Sultana hand-wind chronograph from about the mid-1960s with a 36mm gold plated case and powered by a Landeron 49 17J movement (pics from assets.catawiki.nl):

 

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From about 1937 then, until about 1950, we have Sultana-branded watches being produced by Montres Sultana SA, probably independently. Then comes a period during which Sultana watches came under the aegis of Le Phare, perhaps as a merged concern, until in the early-mid 1970s, the Le Phare company took over the brand name completely and absorbed Montres Sultana SA. This state of affairs continued until the Renley Watch Group from Hong Kong came on the scene and took over Le Phare, including its key watch brand - almost constituting a rename of the Le Phare company - Jean d’Eve, as well as Le Phare’s Sultana brand name. Thus, in order to finish the story of Sultana watches, we must therefore now turn to Renley - itself an interesting entity - and take a brief look at its history. In this regard we are fortunate to have a very useful document in the 2015 report by James Chambers for the Economist Intelligence Unit entitled, Hong Kong’s Renley Watch Group can count on double-digit growth in China following strategic shift from factory owner to brand retailer. This report gives us a historical perspective for its forecast, and some helpful information.

 

According to the report by James Chambers, the Hong Kong based Renley Watch Group, founded in 1983 [and titled the Renley Watch Manufacturing Co. Ltd.], was almost alone among Hong Kong watch companies in maintaining its manufacturing base in Hong Kong rather than moving their manufacturing capacity to mainland China. Nevertheless, Renley had its eye on the creation of higher-end products and sought to acquire local marques in the home of watchmaking, Switzerland. By 1992, Renley had taken over several Swiss marques including (Le Phare-)Jean d’Eve, a well-established family run producer of fine watches founded by Le Phare in 1981 and it wasn’t long before Renley had established a sales office in mainland China to market Swiss watches to the growing ranks of affluent Chinese. As for the home-grown manufacture of watches by Renley, Stanley Lau, the Managing Director of Renley, took a long-defunct brand owned by Jean d’Eve - Temporis - and started to design, assemble and manufacture watches under that brand name in the already existing Renley factory in Hong Kong, then marketing the watches in China helped by the 2003 Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between China and Hong Kong. Interestingly, at this time, Hong Kong-made products had a certain cachet in mainland China, and Renley made use of this identity as a selling point. Since then, Renley has transformed itself from a contract manufacturer into the owner of a stable of brands that enjoy a strong and improving reputation among consumers in mainland China. Sensibly, the Renley Group has placed its products into different market sectors where even in a downturn in the market for the more luxurious watches can be coped with by sales of less expensive Renley brands.

 

 

 

 

 

A hand-wind 17J Sultana wristwatch from about 1955-60 with a flamboyant dial perhaps designed with the Near/Middle East market in mind (pics from i.ebayimg.com):

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This information allows us to surmise that at the beginning of the 1990s, (having acquired a factory at La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1991) Renley took over the brand assets of what had been the Le Phare watch company, including the Sultana name as well as Temporis and, of course, Le Phare’s Jean d’Eve brand name. This enabled the Renley Group to subsequently revive the Sultana name and commence production of Sultana watches in Switzerland though exactly when Renley actively commenced production of its Sultana range I am not sure.

 

Taking us to the present, the Renley Watch Group has a factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds under the name Renley watch SA, acquired in 1991, as well as its production capacity in Hong Kong. It employs more than 150 people and produces 100,000 to 120,000 watches per month. The Sultana watches are Swiss-made and the address for Sultana Watches is in Switzerland at Renley Watch SA, Avenue Léopold-Robert 94-96, CH-2301 La Chaux-de-Fonds. 


 

A rare and important Sultana hand-wind 18 carat rose gold chronograph apparently dating to the year 1945 with a 36mm (excl. crown) case and powered by a Landeron 49 movement (pic from darlor-watch.com):

 

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A rare 18 carat gold Sultana 17J watch-ring. Probably late 1950s (pics from cdn.globalauctionplatform.com)

 

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IMPORTANT NOTES: The Cairo based Egyptian import/export company named, Sultana Watches, is not connected to the Sultana watches that are the subject of this topic.

I have, since completing this topic and looking again at the extant examples of Sultana watches online, had a think concerning the active period of Sultana branding by Le Phage. I now think that shortly after the absorption of the Sultana brand by Le Phage in about 1975, the brand was discontinued, partly perhaps as part of the rebranding exercise by the company from Le Phage to Jean d'Eve. From about the later 1970s Jean d'Eve still had the Sultana brand name in its portfolio but it was not to be resurrected until after Renley acquired Jean d'Eve  in the early 1990s.

 

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  • 1 year later...

Thank you for the detailed history.   I have two of their vintage watches and enjoy them very much.

One note on the name  origin - I had read a history of Sultana a long time ago (and cannot find the source right now), but I read that the name is from the Mediterranean bird, the Sultana, which the brand's founder really liked - not a reference to a female sultan or wife of mistress of a sultan.  Indeed their brand logo is the Sultana bird.     

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I've been rummaging in the dustbins of Swiss commercial records and have more information that fills in some of the gaps in the narrative. One or two details in the information put out by Renley, and copied by Watch-Wiki are certainly wrong. I won't attempt to discuss watches, as that has already been fully covered by @Always"watching".

“Compagnie des Montres Sultana” was founded in November 1935 by Paul-Gaston Schwartz, the son of the watchmaker Paul Schwartz-Etienne. The company’s offices were at Rue Léopold Robert 94 in La Chaux-de-Fonds.

The company was formed by taking over the business of “Mme Antoinette Arnould, Montres Sultana”, who had registered the trademark SULTANA for watchmaking in May 1933.

In September 1937 Sultana bought out the watchmaker Onésime Favret of Tavannes, and this may be where the current owners of the Sultana brand get their assertion that the company started that year.

Gaston Schwartz, as he was commonly known, had many other interests, including as a director of the Maxima jewellery store in Geneva. More significantly for this discussion, in 1941 he became managing director of Nouvelles Fabriques Le Phare.

The original Fabriques Le Phare went bankrupt in 1931 and everything was sold off, from the factory buildings to the stock, so the new company that emerged in May 1932 may have picked up some bargains, but quickly relocated from Le Locle to La Chaux-de-Fonds and seems to have had little in common with the old Le Phare, apart from the name. In 1944 Paul-Gaston Schwartz was replaced by Henry Lewis Schwartz, who ran the company until 1950. Then he was replaced by Gaston Schwartz Jnr, Paul-Gaston’s son.

Paul-Gaston died in January 1952 and control of Sultana passed to his widow, Marguerite-Lucie Schwarz and her other son, Frédy. In November 1955 a new trademark was registered, the wordmark with the elongated T and the bird logo. I haven’t found anything conclusive about the bird and what it represents. The original trademark was also kept running in parallel.

Marguerite died in September 1970 and Frédy Schwartz took over. With his brother Gaston Jnr still running Le Phare, which had moved its offices to the same address as Sultana in 1961, it seems everything was in place for the two companies to be merged. This happened in May 1973 when Le Phare was liquidated and taken over by Sultana. Gaston became President, with Frédy as managing director.

The new company, Le Phare-Sultana SA, registered the trademark “d’Eve” in December 1979 and in April 1984 changed its name to Le Phare-Jean d’Eve. I can’t find any reason why this name was chosen – the only reference I can find to Jean d’Eve, apart from the watch brand, is a Chevalier and Captain of the château of Dinant in 1578.

The other strand here, which links to another of Honour's topics, is that Paul-Gaston's father, Paul Schwartz-Etienne, acquired the Venus trademark for watchmaking in October 1930. Paul-Gaston's younger brothers - Herbert and Henri Schwarz - took over that business as “Fils de Paul Schwarz-Etienne, Succ. de Paul Schwarz-Etienne et Cie” in 1935. As Honour points out in his topic, there was no connection between this business and Fabrique d'Ebauches Vénus SA. The various Venus wordmarks were all registered by Paul Schwarz-Etienne and his successors.

I'll finish with my own Sultana, a Landeron 48 Chronographe Suisse, with the original wordmark and likely from the 1940s.

Sultana landeron 48

 

Edited by spinynorman
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