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Forgotten Watchmakers You Should Know • Gear Patrol

Forgotten Watchmakers You Should Know • Gear Patrol

Model names like Rolex, Patek, Audemars Piguet and Omega dominate the headspace of classic watch collectors not solely as a result of their distinctive high quality, but in addition due to their historic significance. These are names which were round for many years, and in some instances, for hundreds of years; they’ve come to assist outline what the watch business is in the present day.

However these legacy manufacturers aren’t the unique purveyors of serious, lust-worthy classic watches. Earlier than the quartz disaster of the 1970s and ’80s, there have been dozens of different watchmakers on the market producing distinctive timepieces. Although most of them have been victims of a seismic shift in timekeeping know-how, their watches are value accumulating.


Cortébert’s roots return all the best way to 1790, when watchmaker Abraham-Louis Juillard opened up his watch retailer in Cortébert, Switzerland. Nevertheless, the identify wasn’t used till the mid-19th century. Not a lot is understood about Cortébert (its data have been misplaced in a fireplace within the ’50s), nevertheless it was thought-about a high-end model in its day. It’s maybe greatest recognized at the moment for correct railway watches provided to the Turkish and Italian railway system (the latter of which have been bought underneath the Perseo model identify).

Cortébert additionally produced one of many world’s first leaping hour watches within the 1890s when it acquired the rights to make use of a leaping hour motion made by watchmaker Josef Pallweber (the motion was extra famously utilized by IWC). Cortébert ultimately produced a leaping hour wristwatch within the 1920s. Supposedly, it even constructed the motion that shaped the idea for the Rolex 618 which was utilized in previous Panerai watches. Regardless of this watchmaking legacy, Cortébert ultimately turned a sufferer of the so-called Quartz Disaster and shuttered. The remnants of Cortébert proceed as Perseo immediately, although it’s a completely totally different firm than the previous juggernaut it as soon as was.

Cortébert Watches to Gather
Cortébert Sport: See Listings
Cortébert Grand Prix: See Listings
Cortébert Turkish Railroad Watch: See Listings


Based mostly outdoors Chicago within the city of Elgin, Illinois, and based within the 1860s, the Elgin Nationwide Watch Firm was one of many earliest watchmakers to arrange store in America. It was additionally the most important: All through the late 1800s and early 1900s, its manufacturing unit complicated was the most important devoted watchmaking facility on the earth, and over the course of 100 years, the model made round 60 million timepieces. Elgin was capable of obtain such unimaginable manufacturing numbers by being an early adopter of mass manufacturing strategies, utilizing interchangeable, machine-made elements.

Very similar to different American watch corporations, Elgin had a tough time maintaining with competitors from Swiss watchmakers, who had been bolstered by Swiss neutrality throughout WWII, within the ’50s and ’60s, and ultimately shuttered manufacturing in 1968. The Elgin identify has been purchased and bought quite a few occasions since; any trendy watches bearing the Elgin identify are on no account associated to the once-historic American watchmaking powerhouse.

Elgin made a lot of pocket watches (as many American watchmakers throughout their heyday), however the model was an early producer of wristwatches and made some wonderful time-only items. It additionally made watches for the U.S. Army (notably the long-lasting A-11) in addition to some distinctive and progressive designs, just like the Direct Learn (which displayed time on discs lengthy earlier than it turned a development). Given their ubiquity in America, classic Elgin watches are comparatively low cost to accumulate and repair, with most fashions promoting for just some hundred dollars on the classic market.

Elgin Watches to Gather
Elgin Shockmaster See Listings
Elgin A-11 See Listings
Elgin Direct Learn See Listings


Enicar was based in 1914 in La Chaux de Fonds Switzerland by Ariste Racine (whose final identify, you may discover, is Enicar when spelled backward). What began out as a comparatively humble operation shortly grew because the model distributed timepieces to Japanese markets like Russia and China (the place the model got here exceedingly well-liked). Following WWII, the watchmaker upped the ante, producing its personal actions in-house (versus counting on provided actions) and constructing software watches that have been, by most accounts, exceptionally dependable and reasonably priced. It even touted its watch actions as being ultrasonically cleaned.

Enicar’s peak appeared to be within the 1950s and ’60s. In 1954, it had produced its first motion with chronometer certification from the Neuchatel Observatory. Across the similar time, the model provided its diver, the Seapearl 600, to mountain climbers, most notably a gaggle of Swiss mountaineers who scaled to the highest of each Mount Lhotse and Everest in 1956. A number of years later, the U.S. Navy evaluated and used the Seapearl, which it in contrast favorably to the Rolex Submariner and Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms contemplating its efficiency and low value.

Enicar, like many watchmakers, confronted its downfall amidst the so-called Quartz Disaster of the ’70s and ’80s even if the watchmaker was a part of the Swiss consortioum to develop the Beta 21, one of many wolrd’s first qurtz actions. By the late 1980s, the corporate went into insolvency and was bought by a Wah Ming Hong, a Hong Kong-based watch and jewellery firm. At present, Enicar nonetheless makes watches, although the model is usually distributed in Asia the place it stays a robust vendor.

Enicar Ultrasonic: See Listings

Enicar Seapearl: See Listings
Enicar Sherpa: See Listings


Like Elgin, Gruen was one of many largest watch producers within the U.S. Based in Cincinnati within the 1870s by German-born watchmaker Dietrich Grün (he would later change the identify to Gruen), the corporate went by means of a number of identify modifications till it simply turned the Gruen Watch Firm within the early 20th century. It was notable for being an American firm that produced its personal actions in Switzerland — the corporate maintained a motion manufacturing facility in Biel — however its watches have been nonetheless adjusted, dialed and cased within the U.S.

Gruen launched many inventions and watches. Grün himself invented the security pinion, which prevented injury to the motion if the mainspring broke and was included into Gruen actions. Gruen additionally experimented with watches utilizing super-thin actions (referred to as the Veri-Skinny), and its boldest design — the Curvex — put a curved motion design in a curved rectangular case. Curved rectangular watches, meant to evolve with the wearer’s wrist, have been widespread on the time however used flat actions. Utilizing a curved caliber allowed the inside workings to be bigger and extra strong, however the watch itself remained skinny.

In 1953, the Gruen household bought their pursuits within the firm, and by 1958 the corporate had been damaged up. The U.S. amenities moved from Ohio to New York whereas the Swiss operations ultimately closed in 1977.

Gruen Watches to Acquire
Gruen Curvex: See Listings
Gruen Precision: See Listings
Gruen Pan American: See Listings


Based in 1884, Lemania produced ébauches actions that have been primarily utilized by different watchmakers. From the start, the model specialised in chronographs, and its know-how with the complication led to some legendary chronograph actions, together with the Caliber 1873, used within the unique Omega Speedmaster and the straightforward Caliber 5100 utilized in a variety of watches from Sinn, Tutima, Porsche Design and Omega that turned a mainstay in some militaries. Although Lemania primarily targeted on constructing actions, there have been quite a few Lemania-branded watches produced in the course of the 20th century.

Like many forgotten watch manufacturers from the earlier century, Lemania fell with the rise of the quartz watch within the 1970s. The model was resurrected within the ’80s as Nouvelle Lemania, then acquired by Swatch Group in 1999 together with Breguet. At present the Lemania identify is not in use, however the firm nonetheless makes calibers for Breguet and Swatch Group. Lemanias, like lots of their software watch contemporaries from the 20th century, are in vogue with collectors at the moment. Whereas some time-only fashions can go for underneath $1,000, chronographs, particularly in fine condition, will often set you again no less than $1,500.

Lemania Watches to Gather
Lemania 192 See Listings
Lemania CH27 See Listings
Lemania Elvström See Listings
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Like most different watchmakers on this listing, Nivada has a historical past that stretches again to the 19th century, however the model actually got here into its personal following World Struggle II when it took making significantly rugged sports activities watches, properly, significantly. Maybe one of the best instance of this was the “Antarctic,” a easy three-hand watch deemed anti-magnetic and water-proof that was constructed for and worn throughout Operation Deep Freeze by members of the U.S. Navy through the Worldwide Geophysical Yr. It survived the unrelenting chilly, a powerful feat, but it stays comparatively unknown in comparison with different exploration watches from the period just like the Rolex Explorer and the Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic.

Nivada would proceed to construct different rugged watches into the subsequent decade. There was the Chronomaster, a chronograph meant for each diving and aviation use that was water-proof to 600 ft and used a Valjoux column-wheel chronograph motion, There was additionally the Depthmaster, an enormous chunky diver that was rated water resistant to an astounding 1,000 meters, a powerful determine as we speak, not to mention again in 1965 when it was launched. Across the similar time, the model launched the Depthomatic, thought-about the primary dive watch with a depth gauge.

Apparently, Nivada confronted authorized points within the US as a result of the identify was phonetically just like Movado Watches, so Nivada watches have been typically distributed within the US with the model identify “Nivada Grenchen” or distributed as Croton watches. The model would proceed to construct software watches till it shuttered within the midst of the Quartz Disaster.

Nivada Antarctic: See Listings
Nivada Chronomaster: See Listings
Nivada Depthmaster: See Listings


Smiths (at this time Smiths Group) began as S. Smith & Sons, a jewellery store and clockmaker in South London. Based in 1851, the enterprise advanced through the years; by the flip of the century, Smiths was making devices for automobiles and plane (in truth, Smiths devices have been fitted on the primary trans-Atlantic flight in 1919 and the primary business jet in 1952). Whereas the model was well-known for its devices, its clock manufacturing accounted for half of the UK market on the onset of WWII.

It wasn’t till after WWII that Smiths began making wrist watches in England. Its watches have been comparatively easy, however the watchmaker’s largest second got here in 1953 when Sir Edmond Hillary took a Smiths Deluxe to the highest of Everest (together with a Rolex Explorer). By Hillary’s account, the watch labored completely.

Smiths’ reputation grew, however with the introduction of quartz watches, Smiths determined to cease producing watches to concentrate on aerospace and medical industries. As we speak, Timefactors produces a handful of watches beneath the Smiths identify, however they’re on no account associated to Smiths watches of the mid-20th century. Classic Smiths watches, regardless of their historic significance, are pretty low cost as we speak, save for the military-spec W10, which usually sells for nicely over $1,000.

Smiths Watches to Gather
Smiths Deluxe See Listings
Smiths Everest See Listings
Smiths W10 See Listings

Common Genéve

Based in Le Locle in 1894, Common Genéve is probably probably the most influential Swiss watchmakers to seemingly disappear from the face of the earth. In 1917, throughout World Struggle I, Common Genéve was the primary watchmaker to create a chronograph wristwatch. By the 1930s, chronographs turned a important focus for Common, and the model produced its now-iconic collection of Compax chronographs. After World Warfare II, Common Genéve was one of many first watchmakers to experiment with micro-rotor automated watches, releasing its first micro-rotor watch, the Gérald Genta-designed Polarouter, in 1954.

Through the late ’60s and early 1970s, Common Genéve was owned by Bulova, and, within the thick of the Quartz Disaster, it was one of many few Swiss watchmakers to aim to make and promote its personal quartz motion. In 1989, the model was bought to Stelux, a Hong Kong–based mostly funding agency. Whereas the model has launched some micro-rotor watches because the acquisition, they seem to not have launched a brand new watch since 2009. Nonetheless, classic Universals make for an excellent funding in the present day, as costs (particularly for Compax chronographs) have steadily elevated during the last couple years.

Common Genéve Watches to Colelct
Common Genéve Polerouter See Listings
Common Genéve Uni-Compax See Listings
Common Genéve Tri-Compax See Listings


Wittnauer was based in New York within the 1880s by a Swiss immigrant named Albert Wittnauer, who initially labored for his brother-in-law’s wonderful watch importing enterprise. Wittnauer noticed a necessity for Swiss-made watches tailor-made for the U.S. market and commenced utilizing Swiss-sourced actions (from quite a lot of suppliers) to supply a extra reasonably priced various to different Swiss imports. One of many model’s first huge improvements in wristwatches was the AllProof of the 1920s, claimed to be the primary watch on the earth that was shockproof, waterproof and antimagnetic.

Wittnauer’s timepieces and flight devices have been adopted by the army early on. Throughout WWI, many Wittnauer wristwatches changed cumbersome pocket watches for squaddies, and the model’s flight devices have been utilized in many American plane through the first World Struggle. Wittnauer devices have been even featured in Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega-5B when she made her solo flight throughout the Atlantic in 1932. Wittnauer would additionally produce many clocks, timers compasses and watches for the U.S. Army throughout WWII.

In contrast to many different watchmakers, Wittnauer was not steamrolled by the introduction of the quartz watch. It produced its first digital watch in 1957, and, in 1969, was acquired by Westinghouse. The model would construct each quartz and mechanical watches (together with chronographs and perpetual calendars and different problems) in the course of the ’70s, although within the ’80s and ’90s the model started to fall into obscurity. In 2001, Wittnauer was bought by Bulova, and at the moment serves as a sub-brand.

Wittnauer Watches to Gather
Wittnauer Army Watches: See Listings
Wittnauer Skilled: See Listings
Wittnauer 2000: See Listings


Whereas watchmaking in Europe is usually related to Switzerland and Germany, France has its personal watchmaking historical past and Yema is arguably probably the greatest manufacturers to come up from it. Based in 1948 in Besançon, France by watchmaker Henry Louis Belmont, Yema’s purpose was to supply reasonably priced, dependable watches, an ethos seen within the multitude of software watches the model made through the ’60s and ’70s.

In 1963, Yema constructed the Superman, an early dive watch that was each water resistant to 300 meters and featured a locking mechanism for the rotating bezel on the three o’clock place; it was thought-about so sturdy on the time that it was issued to the members of the French Airforce. Not lengthy after, the model debuted the Rallygraf — a racing chronograph worn by racers like Mario Andretti — and the Yachtingraf, a sea-ready chronograph, water resistant to 200 meters, constructed particularly for yacht racing. In 1982, Yema turned the primary French watchmaker to place a timepiece into area when French astronaut Jean-Loup Chrétien wore the Yema Spationaute on a ten-day journey into area.

Whereas these watches did make their approach to america, most did so via third-party distributors utilizing totally different names, therefore why Yema is just not notably recognizable right here. Whereas the watchmaker appeared to climate the Quartz Disaster comparatively properly, the model was ultimately purchased by Seiko in 1988 and acted as a sub-brand for the Japanese firm in Europe. Ultimately, Yema was bought again to French administration and has carried on, quietly, as an unbiased model since, promoting reissues of its basic watches.

Yema Superman: See Listings
Yema Rallygraf: See Listings
Yema Yachtingraf: See Listings
The Greatest Classic Watches to Gather


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