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Avia: Forgotten but not Gone


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As a collector of Limit watches, I am acutely aware of the frustration engendered by collecting items from a company where the early history of that company has, well, vanished. Thus it is with some trepidation that I embark on a topic about the Avia Watch Company, only in this case I am seemingly not alone in my quest for relevant information, as there have been other queries about Avia made online, without much success.

This paucity of information is neatly summed up in "Faded London" (faded-london.blogspot.co.uk/2011_09_archive.html) where a blogger discusses a 1950s Avia advertising plaque on a shop window in Brixton market. Having shown the window concerned, the blog goes on to bemoan the lack of historical information about Avia, the company. The blogger states that, "...the internet seems to be full of people not being able to find out much information about old Avia watches they've acquired! Some snippets of information that were floating around seem to suggest that the company had its roots in 1830, but then doesn't seem to have been registered as a brand until 1910. It was a London company and its quality seems to have been thought of as being pretty good, at least up to the advent of quartz watches when it seems to have tailed off somewhat. The company was bought by an American businerss in 2001 and still has a presence mainly providing inexpensive watches to department stores."

So here you have what happens when a company history becomes forgotten - snippets of information, sometimes contradictory, such as those provided by this blogger, are all you have, without even the mainstays of the researcher, including wikipedia and a company website, to fall back on. 

My first line of defence is a piece of writing on the Penrose Antiques Wordpress website entitled, "Avia Watches, the Digital Revolution and the Near death of the Mechanical Watch." Here, the first thing we are told, once again, is that not a lot seems to be known about the Avia brand, yet we are also told that Avia had a big impact on the watch manufacturing industry.

Using this source, and other snippets of information, the early history of Avia can be summed up as follows. The company began its history when, in 1887, H. V. Degoumois was established in La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland. The brand name of Avia was registered either in 1910 (according to a number of sources) or 1937 (according to the Penrose Antiques article, quoting from Mikrolisk - the horological trade mark index). The absence of Avia watches pre-dating the Second World War does make one believe that the 1937 date is nearer the mark, but it is difficult to escape the more established 1910 date for the Avia brand's beginnings. Prior to 1937, in 1933, the company of Demougois apparently moved premises to Neuchatel, also in Switzerland, although here again there is some confusion, with other sources quoting the company of Demougois et Cie as being in both Neuchatel and Chaux de Fonds, at the same time, certainly by the registration date of 1910.

What we do know is that while the earliest part of the Avia story is little known, except perhaps that the company was a pioneer in the production of wrist watches, the years of the Second World War mark an important turning point for Avia when the American market became vital for the firm's existence and advances. During World War 2, the main US distributor of Avia watches was M. A. Mead & Co. in Chicago, and Mead marketed Avia-made military watches, including a military timer that was utilized by air crews searching for submarines. This watch incorporated a very accurate timer and stop watch. Mead watches manufactured by Avia were sometimes marked "AVIA" but also were given the name "Boulevard", and the watches contained movements made by the Avia Watch Factory in Switzerland.

Also during World War 2, another important American watch company was importing Avia watches and these are sometimes marked with the model name of "Garland" or just with the company name, "BALL". The company concerned was the famous Ball Watch Company, founded in the late 19th century by Webster Clay Ball, in the late 19th century. W. C. Ball was an important figure in American watchmaking, especially in the pursuit of more accurate and relaible timepieces, even though the Ball company did not actually manufacture watches themselves. Instead, they had watches made for them with movements and cases coming from various manufacturers produced under contract to Ball's specifications, with some final adjustments being made by the Ball  company. The Ball Watch Company at first used mainly American movements from top American makers such as Hamilton, Elgin and Waltham, but in the early 1940s there was a policy shift by the company and it recommended that Swiss movements from Avia be used instead for Ball's wristwatches. This must have been a real boost for Avia, and probably enhanced their reputation in the American watch market. It should also be noted that the company of A. Wittnauer & Co. of New York, also sold Avia-made watches.

As I have said, quite a few World War Two Avia watches survive and the allied military utilised the brand. Whether any Avia watches were used by the Germans in World War 2 I don't know, and I also don't know how many Avia military watches were imported into Britain.

While the wartime history of Avia seems tied up with the United States, the postwar years saw an increase in Avia watches being imported into this country and we have many surviving Avia mechanical watches from the 1950s and 1960s. Interestingly, on ebay there are a number of original Avia adverts from the 1950s through to the 1980s for sale, and looking at them, the name of Newmark appears as an important importer and marketer of Avia watches in this period.  Avia was clearly known as a manufacturer of good quality mechanical lever movement watches, and the materials used for cases ranged from solid gold to cheaper gold-plated and stainless steel examples.

 

1951 advertisement for Avia 15 jewel ladies watch - note the Louis Newmark importers name (pic from uk.ebid.net):

1273133043-22471-0.jpg

 

Going back to the London blogger quoted at the beginning of this topic, we have the assertion that the quality of Avia's watches tailed off towards the advent of quartz watches. However, it has to be said that the company was actually in the forefront of  quartz watch technology, albeit not on its own. In fact, Avia produced some interesting pre-quartz electronic watches under the name, "Avia Swissonic" and these watches used a Dynatron ESA movement developed from 1962. In 1968, Avia became part of a consortium of 6 watch manufacturers including Invicta and Sandoz, and it was this consortium that developed the very first quartz digital watch having an LCD display. This new watch appeared for the first time on 6 March 1972 at the Basle watch fair.

 

Elegant Avia wristwatch from the 1960s (pic from antiques-atlas.com):

Gents_1960s_Avia_hand_winding__as170a109

 

Avia seems to have actually flourished during the first part of the quartz revolution and its quartz watches became very popular in the mid 1970s. It was only when digital and quartz watches started to become cheap and mass-produced that Avia started to suffer and could no longer compete with the massive competition from low price producers. The Avia company started to decline at the end of the 1970s, although it remained a brand name during the troubled 1980s and 90s, but without a sense of individual direction.

When we reach the 1990s, there is another hiatus in the history of Avia which only ended in 2001 when Fossil acquired the company and the brand name. And it is these years of stagnation that seem to have fostered the idea that Avia was always a British company. Looking at recent company directories, we find tantalising references to Avia Watch Company being based in this country. For example, in "Jewelry Catalogue" we still find the Avia Watch Co. Ltd. being listed as having a main address at Ormside Way, Redhill, in Surrey, with the firm still being involved in the clock and watch business. However, we also have a slightly confusing reference to Avia Watch Company as a successor to the Avia Watch Co. Ltd. being based at Wolverton Mill, Milton Keynes, and this concern was apparently a wholesaler of household goods, then finally dissolved with accounts being produced up to 2005. Interestingly, at dissolution this company still had assets of nearly 2 million pounds, and £87,000 in cash.  How this last company relates to Avia watches is a mystery, and there is still the rumour that Avia was always an English company. The British connection during the history of Avia before the 1990s needs further research and I wish I knew more about it.

Whatever the case, the British connection was clearly central to the Avia brand name by the 1990s, and fortunately a more coherent history of Avia watches returns with the purchase of the brand by Fossil in 2001. Once again, we return to the Redhill-based Avia Watch Company Ltd. which became a subsidiary of Fossil (UK) Holdings Ltd. In reports of the Fossil takeover, we get a useful snapshot of the Avia Watch Company. A news release from PR Newswire dated 21 May 2001 stated the following:

"Richardson, Texas - Fossil Inc. (Nasdaq: FOSL) announced today that it has acquired all the outstanding capital stock of The Avia Watch Company, Ltd. ... headquartered outside of London, England. Avia, which traces its roots back to the turn of the 20th century, designs, markets and distributes AVIA brand watches and serves as a distributor of licensed and private label watches throughout the United Kingdom." ... "Avia brand watches range from classic designs to sport chronographs with suggested retail prices from approximately US$14 to $175 dollars. The Company services a wide spectrum of customers from one of the largest catalogue distributors in the UK to independent jewellers. In addition, the Company serves as a private label watch supplier for a major UK store chain and functions as a distributor for the Burberry and Skagen brand watch lines in the UK."

This report is verified by an overview of the Avia Watch Company Ltd. produced by Businessweek, where once again Avia is listed as offering watches under its own name as well as Skagen and Burberry, and now, after 21 May 2001, operating as a subsidiary to Fossil (UK) Holdings Ltd.  Fossil were obviously pleased to purchase Avia as it gave the group an increased foothold in the UK watch market, and since then, Avia watches have continued to be produced, albeit on a seemingly rather limited scale.

 

Avia limited edition quartz watch with brown leather strap and plated stainless steel case. I have included this watch because it is still for sale on Amazon for just under £25 and because I have one in my collection. I therefore can vouch for its overall quality and the superb packaging it comes in - well worth the discounted Amazon price. I am not sure exactly how long ago this model was in production but I don't believe it is still being manufactured (pic from Amazon.co.uk):

31dbaKFP%2BbL.jpg

 

The question remains as to what the future holds for Avia, the brand, as part of the Fossil watch empire. I have seen and also acquired a few Avia watches produced just before and just after the Fossil takeover, and I would say that Avia watches have been placed in the lower end of the market for some time. Nevertheless, some of the modern Avia watches are actually quite good and even some of the most recent products are not without merit. Here I refer you to a recent but undated Independent "50 best watches" Guide, in which two Avia watches are included. Both of them are priced at under £35 and both are somewhat retro in design, with metal straps and some water resistance. The more expensive of the two has a date window, and both are praised as being excellent everyday watches. One current problem for Avia is that there is no brand website, and it is not clear what Fossil intends for the brand in the future. What is clear however is that the Avia of old, where good quality mechanical watches were made using the company's own movements, will never return, and even when it comes to quartz watches, Avia will probably remain at the lower end of the market. This does seem a shame, but like so many other well-known watch brands and companies, Avia has been the victim of globalisation and the general amalgamation of watch brands into giant, worldwide, groups where individual identity has, to a great extent, been subsumed into the mass-production of watches based in the Far East.

I must just end with an apology that I have not managed to do this brand justice although I have done my best to provide some account of Avia's history. Hopefully, future writers will fare better than I in unravelling the story of this eminently collectible watch brand, and I look forward to the results of future research.

 

 

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As a collector of Limit watches, I am acutely aware of the frustration engendered by collecting items from a company where the early history of that company has, well, vanished. Thus it is with some t

New member here and Avia brought me here. Such an interesting read from a company I knew nothing about till recently. I found out about Avia through my Dad after expressing interest in watch

I know this thread is a couple of years old, but.... I used to work for Avia in 1989.  It was based in Redhill, Surrey - Ormside Way, Holmethorpe Industrial Estate, and they were called Louis New

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i think they were quiet posh in the 60's seem to be associated with airline travel  in those days and yes i nearly bought one at my local second hand shop last year. Its the type of second hand shop where the bloke who owns it tells you a price then when you hand the money over and take the item the price mysteriously goes up a few quid...you know the sort "sorry you misheard me gov i said a tenner not fiver :biggrin:

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Guest Bruce

Avia, along with Accurist and Rotary, made some nice watches pre quartz crisis. I am glad that I am not the only fan.

​some early rotary were re branded Heuer, i had one, a diver and i gave it away :scared: this was before i realised what it was but the recipient still rubs it in to this day :angry:, its a shame but those three names dont really mean much these days

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Thanks so much everyone for your interesting respones and pics. It's so nice to get feedback, especially, of course, when it is in a positive vein. Thanks for your friendly multiple replies, Bruce, including the excellent pic of that electronic Avia. And as to the other Avia pics, that Olympic chrono of yours, andyclient, is one of my favourite Avias and I was going to illustrate it myself - I believe that it actually predates the 1970s somewhat. Your mechanical Avia is also interesting, SaT, because it appears to date from a time by which Avia were well into quartz watches. Finally, your experience at that second-hand shop is one that I have experienced myself, dear Nigel, and it is extremely irritating. I usually give up going in to such an establishment because when you see something for sale, you know you are going to be disappointed when you ask the price. A similar problem is when something is priced just out of reach and the vendor will not take off a single penny in discount - on the other foot though, when selling items at bootsales, etc., there are those people who expect you to sell things for 50P whatever price you state the items are!

Thanks again folks:smile:

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I know this thread is a couple of years old, but....

I used to work for Avia in 1989.  It was based in Redhill, Surrey - Ormside Way, Holmethorpe Industrial Estate, and they were called Louis Newmark plc at the time.

Newmark was a very hip company back then - all young staff, young directors and a very hip atmosphere and this was when Swatch was the "in" brand in the Newmark stable; which was Avia, Benetton, Burberry, Swatch, Sanyo and Flik-Flak.

Memories of it being a nice place to work in the year I was there.  I started as the PA to Mark Graveney (Sales Director for Avia, Benetton, Burberry, Sanyo and Flik-Flak) but he didn't really need a PA so I then moved onto Sales Admin taking orders from High Street jewellery chains as they ordered stock - the ranges changed quarterly, particularly Swatch.

I also remember a wizened old Colonel Rothschild visiting, but at the time I couldn't figure out his connection with the company - all I saw was that he was treated like royalty, so I presume he was either a huge investor or part-owner.
One thing I loved was when you joined you were given one of their watches of your choice, I had an Avia 138802 diver, which Colin Peskett altered to let me have a BMW logo on the dial.

Some memorable people from the time:

Mark Graveney, Sales Director for Avia, Benetton, Burberry, Sanyo and Flik-Flak (children's watch)
David Webster, Sales Director for Swatch
Lucy (surname?) (owned Porsche 924) Swatch Director
Ted Day, Managing Director
Colin Peskett, Repairs Manager
Chris(tine) Jones, Sales Admin
Bill Valentine, Point of Sale manager, retired mid-89
Amanda Cuthbert, (David Webster's PA?), emigrated to Australia mid-89
Desmond (trainee Manager)

This was the Newmark office at the time:
http://s26.postimg.org/qk1sns90p/num.jpg

They had the two units to the right - the one with the grey shutter doors and also the one on the end, although the main offices were the end one. Only the upper floor of the unit with the grey shutters was occupied, and it was mostly used for storage and P.O.S. items. 

As I recall, the units to the left were all vacant at the time, and this whole car park used to be absolutely jammed with Newmark staff's cars.

Sad to see it empty and Newmarks gone.

lnplc.jpg

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Thanks Paul,

Yes it was a great place, I'd never heard of any of the brands before I went there, apart from Swatch.  But then, everyone back then knew of Swatch....

I just found this site when I was googling Avia while trying to find a replacement of the Avia watch I had (left it on roof of car, promptly ran it over when it fell off!).

Something I forgot to add, Ted Day (the MD) had a fabulous Avia - a gold digital with red LED display.  Common today, but groundbreaking back then.

image.jpg

It's nice to see that people still remember Avia.

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  • 2 weeks later...
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On 6/7/2015 at 14:52, Always"watching" said:

Prior to 1937, in 1933, the company of Demougois apparently moved premises to Neuchatel, also in Switzerland, although here again there is some confusion, with other sources quoting the company of Demougois et Cie as being in both Neuchatel and Chaux de Fonds, at the same time, certainly by the registration date of 1910.

 

 

@Always"watching" thanks for this!. I'm also looking for info on Avia and other "forgotten" Swiss brands.  I was just thinking that it might not be incompatible for the listing to be Neuchâtel and La Chaux-de-Fonds because Neuchâtel is a city, but also the name of the canton that contains La Chaux-de-Fonds.

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16 hours ago, Tommy5150 said:

I have this exact watch! Do you have any info on it? Model name, anything? 

sorry no, info I think I got it in an Argos sale, or h Samuel sale still have it.

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New member here and Avia brought me here.

Such an interesting read from a company I knew nothing about till recently.

I found out about Avia through my Dad after expressing interest in watches my late Grandfather liked, I later found out there was an Avia still in the family and asked for photos and model number.

After searching through the internet for a while I managed to come across the exact watch in Spain on eBay winning at €26, a beautiful 1950's Avia 4287 which is in better condition than my Grandfathers.

avia-as6.jpg

Since then I have found interest for a watch brand I really knew nothing about and find myself most days searching through eBay for anything interesting and there is a few I am certainly interested in such as the Landeron 248 Chronograph.

I have just recently purchased and waiting for delivery from Spain of an Avia Submariner which apparently are rare in the UK, any info on this watch would be grateful with image below.

Is this watch genuine? it looks it to me after finding other previous sales online.

i1149520522.jpg

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2 hours ago, tick-tock-tittle-tattle said:

Just sold an old 1950's Avia on Ebay, I didn't get as much as I would have liked, the watch was mint.

Avia are a bit of a 'marmite' brand for some people, personally I really like them. 

Sorry about the picture.

29638d78668acf73a0601fceb6482f30.jpg

I think I remember seeing that. It does look like a really nice watch, and an interesting design, but I've bought three (not Avia) in the last week, restraint must've kicked in. :rolleyes:

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13 hours ago, spinynorman said:

I think I remember seeing that. It does look like a really nice watch, and an interesting design, but I've bought three (not Avia) in the last week, restraint must've kicked in. :rolleyes:

I've been really good so far this year even though I have some watches on my Ebay watch list, and, I have tried on 3 new Seiko's, 2 Omega's, and, a Bremont S2000

To walk past a watch shop when I have some time on my hands would be wrong wouldn't it?

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