Stories about the history of watches

The spectacular fall of some Maisons leaves space for a comeback.

The watch market during the years has registered a huge number of ups and downs. Let’s consider together just the last century: two World Wars, two significant economic crisises, and one watch-specific Armageddon, the Quartz Crisis.

The first brand that comes to my mind is Longines.

Back in its days, Longines was on the same level as the most prestigious companies of Switzerland. But as you probably know, Longines after the Quartz Crisis was gobbled up into the Swatch group, and it represented just another brand in the cauldron. More, its marketing placement was in the same league of Omega, with the distinct possibility of the two cannibalizing each other in terms of appeal, and thus, sales.

Longines Lindbergh pilot’s watch

This means that it was downsized and repackaged as a mid-range brand, just a bit better than the entry-level Tissot, while Omega was kept in the higher niche, as the brand to fight against Rolex.

The group did not try to place it in a higher positioning to compete directly in the luxury segment, as it would have competed against Breguet and Blancpain. So, the poor Longines was cut down and left as an average brand, without having the possibility of returning to its former glory.

A beautiful Longines movement, with sapphire jewels

Another brand that is sadly under-appreciated is Girard Perregaux.

It was one of the most technically-endowed horology brands back in the end of the 1800s.

Its Esmeralda was considered the best watch of the world for several years, and the Three Golden Bridges represented one of the most beautiful movements ever made in horology – a design that was well in advance of its times.

A modern Girard Perregaux Three Golden Bridges

However, Girard Perregaux sadly fell from its position during the Quartz Crisis, as it “betrayed” more than other manufacturers the mechanical cause in order to develop quartz-based movements, which equipped the watches it made back then (someone remembers the Laureato perhaps?)

The quartz quickly became a cheap technical solution, and everything that was connected to it was considered cheap as well.

This is how the once-mighty Girard Perregaux was drawn to the bottom, in a position that it still mars its efforts to recover and find again its right place in the Olympus of watchmaking..

Do waches from these companies represent good value?

Indeed, they do. While some models are definitely costly and difficult to find, the majority of the vintage production of these brands is much more accessible, and represents a very good value for the expenditure.

In particular, the in-house movements of both companies are of a very high level of craftsmanship, while their prices are still low because these companies have “fallen from grace”. So, if you have a little money, if might be advisable to buy a few simple models from the Fifties and Sixties: they are bound to rise in value eventually.

You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual, a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual