Introducing a Newly Expanded Home Goods Section with Clocks and More – Now at the Windup Watch Shop
Words by Windup Watch Shop
We’ve all been spending a lot more time at home recently – living, working, and doing everything in between. Spending so much time in a single space, or a series of rooms, naturally leads to a desire to improve and add some character that might be lacking. As watch-people, other “time” related items are of interest to us as well. So, today it’s with great excitement that we launch our newly expanded Home section, which, for the first time, will have a selection of wall and table clocks as well as other curated items.
It really should come as no surprise that as watch enthusiasts, we also like a good clock… or two, or three – or at least one for every room. Below is our inaugural selection of clocks, which includes some truly iconic designs that will look good in any space.
Mondaine Wall Clocks
To launch a collection of clocks and not include perhaps the most well-known clock design in the world would have been a huge mistake… So, we didn’t make it. Based on the 1944 design by Hans Hilfikker for the “Official Swiss Railways Clock,” the Mondaine wall clocks are timeless homages to one of the greatest dial designs in history. Bold, blocky, stylish, the Mondaine wall clocks look like fresh, contemporary designs, despite being based on one that is 76 years old.
We have two styles of wall clock by Mondaine, and the first is their classic 250mm / 9.8” variety available in two colors, red or black. The former has a red aluminum exterior and white dial with black markers, black hour and minute hands, and signature red lollipop seconds. This version stays very faithful to the Railway clock but has added presence on your wall thanks to the bright red exterior. The black version is then a striking departure from the original, with a fully inverted dial. What was white is black and vice versa. Only the red seconds hand remains the same. Housed in a black aluminum body, this version is striking, and has a more modern and severe personality. Both are available for $235
The second version features Mondaine’s Stop2Go technology, and is an app-controlled Smart clock! If you’ve ever been to a Swiss train station and watched the clocks (a weird thing to do if you’re not a watch person, we know) you’ll know that at the top of the minute the second hand hangs for two seconds, before the minute hand jumps ahead, and the seconds start ticking again. Part of a system that keeps the clocks in sync, it’s a quirky but charming trademark of the Railway clocks.
Mondaine recreated this unique motion first on one of their watches, but now have it available for your wall. Featuring a bluetooth enabled movement, the clock actually sets itself to your phone’s time, so you know it’s exact. The Stop2Go function can then be enabled or removed, depending on your mood. Either way, this is pretty much the closest you can get to a Swiss train station without leaving your home or office. Pick this version up for $295
Junghans Max Bill Wall Clocks
Sticking with the hits, we have Max Bill wall clocks by Junghans. These German-made clocks feature designs dating back to the mid ‘50s. With nearly identical dial layouts to his watches, the clocks have a clean, minimalist look that is truly tasteful, and will look good in any room. We’re excited to offer these legendary wall clocks in two sizes and two dials.
With crisp white dials with polished hands, and brushed aluminum housings, the Max Bill clocks, available in 203.2mm / 8” and 304.8mm / 12”, have an austere modern appearance. The smaller is perfect for an office or bedroom, while the larger is ideal for an office or a kitchen. The two dials, one with numerals, the other with just lines, both express Max Bill’s restrained aesthetic. The former features two indexes, one for hours, the other for minutes in Max Bill’s gorgeous typeface. The latter tells the time simply with pencil-thin lines.
For fans of the Bauhaus, Max Bill, or simply having a minimal aesthetic in their home, the Junghans Max Bill Clocks are a must have. The 8” model is $325, while the 12” is $350
Tait Wood Wall Clock
And now for something new and different, we have these wonderfully oversized wall clocks by Tait Design Co. Based in Detroit, Tait is a small design and build house that specializes in American-made goods with minimal, but modern appearances that are just a touch playful.
Measuring a bold 255.4mm / 14” the Tait Wood Wall Clock makes a statement in any room, yet its restrained design makes sure it always looks good. Fabricated in the US, and assembled in Detroit, the body of the clock is solid maple, adding the warmth of wood wherever it is installed. The dial, which is clean, yet industrial, is made of screen printed aluminum. The movement, which is hidden behind a steel plate held on by small magnets, is sourced from Takane, and made in the US as well.
The Tait Wall Clock is available in two colors, Slate and Glacier. Slate is a dark gray that offers a bolder, high contrast look. Glacier is a soft blue/gray for a brighter appearance. Though less contrasty than Slate, Glacier is still easy to read, even from across a room. Both colors are available now for $185
With a watch on your wrist, and a clock on the wall, all you need are some good tabletop clocks to place around your home and office. Whether on your desk, next to your computer for checking time at a glance, on your bedside table to wake you up in the morning (yes, some of these tabletop clocks feature alarms), or on a shelf as piece of decorative timekeeping, these clocks provide a little bit of horology in and on the spaces in between.
Mondaine Tabletop Clocks
Kicking things off again with Mondaine we have two very different takes on the tabletop clock, both featuring, at their core, the Swiss Railways clock design. First is the 2-in-1 Swiss Railway Alarm Clock. Measure 125mm/4.9” this clock is unmistakably Mondaine, with a brushed aluminum body, and the dial you expect from the brand. What sets it apart, however, is its alarm feature, which is conveniently set with a discreet fourth hand on the dial, as well as unique convertible design. On the back of the clock is a threaded hole that allows you to attach the accompanying stand, should you want to place the clock on a surface. Rather it as a small wall clock? Then remove the stand and use the hanging hole instead. Pretty clever. This model comes in at $210
Next up is the Mondaine Globe Clock, which turns the Swiss Railways clock into a little sculpture for your desk. Featuring a 60mm/2.4” spherical design with a weight red rubber body, it’s unlike any desk clock you’ve ever seen. The clock itself is a module that “pops” into the rubber body, and features a bezel and crystal that continue the shape creating a full orb, save the flat bottom that allows it to sit on a surface. The clock design is pure Mondaine, and on par with a pocket watch in size, making it small, but readable within a few feet. It’s perfect as a desk accent or even a paper weight. Up your desk game for $250
Tait Desk Clock
If you liked the Tait Wall Clock, you’ll love the Desk Clock. Featuring a very similar design, and also made in America from solid maple, aluminum, and steel, the Desk Clock measures 114.3mm / 4.5″ in diameter. With a large dial aperture, it’s big enough to be seen from a distance, yet small enough to sit comfortably on a bedside table, dresser, or shelf. The solid maple body gives the clock a nice weight, which when combined with the angled flat portion machined into the bottom of the body allows it to sit nicely on surfaces. Available now for $75
Marathon Mechanical Alarm Clock
Marathon is known for their mil-spec tool watches, so it might come as a bit of a surprise that they also make clocks of various types. The Mechanical Alarm clock caught our eyes for a few reasons. First, they feature a similar no-nonsense design and military sensibility that make their watches so appealing. The dials feel inspired by field watches, which is entirely possible, with an emphasis on large hour numerals and clear markers. Even the hands feature small strips of lume.
Next, is that they are fully mechanical. Quite a rarity these days, there are springs for both the alarm and the time you have to crank on the back of the clock. Mechanical also means there is a charmingly audible tick, and the alarm is a bell that can wake the dead.
Not all time is measured in little units that click, rather in days, months and the passage of celestial bodies. Yes, calendars show the passage of time as well, but at the Windup Watch Shop, we wanted to highlight calendars you don’t just flip over at the end of the month and throw out at the end of the year. Rather, we wanted calendars of a more conceptual nature.
Watch fans see the words “perpetual calendar” and picture high-priced luxury watches, but there is another variety as well. One where you are the mechanism. A perpetual calendar, in this context, is a calendar that works for all years, and never needs to be thrown away. Everyday, you switch the date to be current. In doing so, not only is it always correct, but by engaging with it, you are likely to learn the date.
Tait Perpetual Calendar
Tait’s take on the concept has an appealingly crafty, low-tech look. A poster of sorts, it’s crafted, in the US, from layers and disks of screen printed chipboard, sandwiched together and bookended by a maple frame. The calendar is then hung on the wall via a ribbon. To set the date, one simply turns the disks for the day, date, and month on the left side of the calendar, and the date is read through windows on the right side.
Great for the home office, kitchen, or anywhere people might gather, the design of the Tait perpetual is playful and bold. Available with black, white, or red print, it’s the last calendar you’ll ever need, and is only $55.
MoMA Perpetual Calendar
For those who prefer something more discreet, but nevertheless, intriguing the MoMa Perpetual Calendar will do the job. Designed in 1998 by Gideon Dagan, the MoMa Perpetual is functional art for your home or office. Though it appears like some sort of small, avant-garde minimal sculpture, it is, in fact, a calendar composed of a silver circle, a black cross beam, and two small orbs. Printed on the black beam is the date, 1 – 31, and the month is printed on the silver circle.
Both are magnetized, as are the orbs, so in order to set the date, you simply move the orbs to indicate the date and month. Simple, and efficient, there is something oddly meditative about lifting the orb and placing it down, one day at a time. Measuring 5.5” x 8” x 2”, the MoMA Perpetual Calendar is small enough to sit on the corner of a desk, on a mantle, or shelf, adding some conversation-starting decor to a room. Grab this unique object for $38
MoMA Phases of the Moon Calendar 2021
This last calendar is not of the perpetual variety, and while it only lasts a year, it doesn’t just show you the day, date, and month, though it does have that information. Instead, this calendar is all about tracking the phases of the moon. Designed by Irwin Glusker in 1995, and updated every year, this US-printed poster measures 18” x 24” and features a matte black surface. On the left are the months, on the top are the days, then arranged accordingly are the dates.
For each date is then a moon, printed in creamy gloss white, with the shadow of the Earth printed in gloss black, together indicating the Moon phase of the day. While the current date is easily readable, the moon is the star, with its various stages of waxing and waning portrayed like a pattern in motion. This calendar is great for any fans of the moon, as well as anyone with a moonphase watch, as it can be used as a reference for setting their timepiece. $18 and the moon is yours… for a year
All of the items above are joining our existing Home goods collection, which contains gorgeous prints, cool coasters, watch winders, watch boxes and more. As one last addition, which granted does not tell the time in any way, we’re also adding a new leather good, meant for the home.
Convoy Co Valet Tray
A few months ago we added a bunch of great leather watch accessories by Convoy Co. All handcrafted out of Italian leathers, they are beautiful, luxurious, and surprisingly well priced. Today, we’re expanding on that collection with a trio of valet trays. One of those items you just need, a valet tray is the place to drop your keys, rings, various pocket items, and, of course, your watch. It’s best to not leave your watch just anywhere, so having a specific spot to put it when you take it off, whether in a foyer, bedroom, office, etc, is great to have.
The Convoy Co Valet Tray features an Italian Nappa leather exterior, which is both gorgeous and hardwearing, and an Italian Suede interior, for a soft surface that is safe to place a watch on. Available in black, navy, and green, and made with black hardware, the Convoy Co Valet Tray looks as great as the watch you’ll place in it. Available now for $75.
Seiko founder Kintaro Hattori was born in 1860 in central Tokyo, during a time of massive social change and industrial maturation for Japan. The timepiece repair business he established at the tender age of 17 would grow into Japan’s preeminent watch and clock manufacturer. For the 160th anniversary of Hattori’s birth, Seiko has released a special edition of its groundbreaking Astron GPS Solar watch.
The original Astron from 2012 — itself an ultra-modern evolution of a 1969 Seiko watch of the same name, which also happened to be the first quartz-powered watch on the market — was a solar-powered watch that received GPS satellite signals, enabling the wearer to adjust to any local time zone on Earth at the push of a button. This model and others that evolved from that watch boast all of that functionality along with the added convenience of allowing the wearer to also check the time in his home zone. The movement, Seiko’s Caliber 5X53, connects up to twice a day to a GPS network; when the dial detects sunlight, the watch uses the GPS signal to automatically adjust to the correct local time, including during Daylight Savings Times.
In this new special edition honoring Kintaro Hattori, the 42.8-mm case and bracelet are made from titanium with an extra-hard, scratch-resistant black coating. The high-gloss bezel, made from Zirconia ceramic, has sixteen facets — one for each decade since Hattori’s birth. The sober black tones of the case, bezel, dial and bracelet (a black crocodile leather strap is also included) are accented with gold-toned details, including the crown, the pushers for time-zone adjustments, the hour and minute hands and dual-time subdial, and the applied index at 12 o’clock.
Also gold-toned is the watch’s solid caseback, which bears three references to Kintaro Hattori and his legacy: The trademark “S” that he registered in 1900, large in the center; his motto, “One step ahead of the rest” curving above it; and the name “Seiko,” first used in 1924 and now world-famous, above the motto on the rim. The case is water-resistant to 200 meters and antimagnetic to 4,800 A/m. The watch is delivered in a special presentation box with a commemorative Seiko “S” badge and including a card carrying a message from Kintaro’s great-grandson Shinji Hattori, the current Chairman & CEO of Seiko. Limited to 2,500 pieces and priced at $3,900, the Seiko Astron GPS Solar Kintaro Hattori 160th Anniversary Limited Edition will be available in October 2020 (Kintaro’s birth month) at Seiko boutiques and selected retail partners worldwide.
Seiko Watch Corp., 8-10 Toranomon 2-Chome, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-8467, Japan
Hours, minutes, seconds, date, dual time with AM/PM indication, world-time function, perpetual calendar correct to 2100
Seiko Caliber 5X53, quartz, GPS-controlled time and time zone adjustment, power-save function, automatic DST adjustment function
Titanium case with super-hard black coating, zirconia ceramic bezel,
Bracelet and clasp:
Titanium bracelet, super-hard black coating, with three-fold push-button release clasp
Patek Philipperevived a little-known facet of its watchmaking history in 2015, launching the first Calatrava Pilot Travel Time, a watch inspired by historical aviator watches the manufacture produced in the 1930s. That model spawned an entire collection, which expands this year with the introduction of the new Ref. 7234G-001, cased in white gold and slimmed down in diameter, from the original model’s robust 42 mm to a more unisex 37.5 mm.
Like its predecessors in both sizes — the first 37.5-mm “Medium” model debuted in 2018 in a rose-gold case — the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time includes a practical second-time-zone system, patented in 1959 and 1996, that Patek says is especially useful for travelers. Here’s how it works: when the wearer uses the two pushers at 8 and 10 o’clock to move the local-time hour hand forward or backward in one-hour increments, an isolator uncouples the time-zone mechanism from the going train, preventing the degradation of the balance’s amplitude and allowing it to continue oscillating at a regular rate — meaning the watch will run with the usual accuracy while using the mechanism. The movement providing this user-friendly functionality is Patek Philippe’s automatic Caliber 324 S C FUS, made in-house and on display behind a sapphire caseback.
The movement is composed of 294 pieces and powered by a heavy central rotor made of 21K gold. Possessing a minimum power reserve of 35 hours (and a maximum of 45 hours), it meets all of the stringent technical and decorative standards of Patek Philippe’s own in-house quality hallmark (For more on how these stack up to other brands’ criteria, click here). These include a rate accuracy with a tolerance of -3/+2 seconds, chamfered bridges with Geneva stripes, a circular-grained gold rotor, snailed flanks, and other haute horlogerie finishes.
Like the first Calatrava Pilot Travel Time, the new “medium-sized” model features a dark navy blue dial designed, says Patek, to evoke the body paint of 1930s American fighter planes. The big, applied Arabic numerals are in the same white gold as the Calatrava case and the baton-shaped, local-time hour and minute hands are in blued white gold; the hands and markers are all coated in Super-LumiNova. A skeletonized GMT hand indicates the second time zone subtly: it’s placed behind the main hour hand and thus hidden when the wearer is home rather than abroad — i.e., when local and home times are identical. There are separate day/night indicators for each time zone (local at 9 o’clock and home at 3 o’clock), and a date subdial at 6 o’clock that displays the date in three-day increments to avoid clutter.
The white-gold case has a flat, slightly inclined bezel and its time-zone pushers (at 8 o’clock to advance the hour, at 10 o’clock to retract it) are equipped with a patented safety lock that prevents unintentional adjustments. The watch is mounted on a shiny navy blue calfskin strap reminiscent of the leather belts worn by military pilots; the white-gold pronged buckle continues the theme, in the style of harnesses used by aviators to keep gear such as parachutes and survival kits easily deployable. The Ref. 7234G-001 Calatrava Pilot Travel Time, which Patek says is intended “to fit both men’s and ladies’ wrists,” retails for $48,495.
For a hand-on review of the Calatrava Travel Time in a rose-gold case and brown dial and strap, click here.
The 42mm case, water resistant to 600m, is a pretty good start. Most divers go no deeper than 39m so 600m water resistance leaves a significant margin to play with. The case is cut from marine grade (the wet stuff rather than the green beret type) stainless steel and weighs in at just 103g. It’s grey DLC coated (a matching bracelet to fit the 22mm lugs is due later in September) and the caseback screws down and features a laser engraving of the Royal Marines’ crest.
The two crowns respectively wind and set the movement and rotate the inner compass bezel. The latter, like the dial plots, hands, and ceramic bezel are all coated with Grade X1 GL C1 Super-LumiNova so, when you’re on exercise, up to your chin in mud, in a ditch in the middle of the night you’ll at least know where you are and how long until you can be somewhere else. The dial is a light carbon fibre/resin composite.
Fifty years ago, the consortium of Heuer-Leonidas, Breitling, Buren-Hamilton and Dubois Dépraz vied with lone wolves Zenith and Seiko in the race to launch the world’s first automatic chronograph movement. How did these brands keep their developments secret? And how did the watch world change? We searched the past for clues.
While reading his daily newspaper on the morning of Jan. 10, 1969, Jack Heuer, general director of the Heuer watch brand, suffered such a shock that he almost dropped his coffee cup. A short article announced that Heuer’s competitor Zenith had developed the world’s first automatic chronograph and was already showing functional prototypes of El Primero. How could this be true? Jack Heuer’s company was part of a consortium that had been working on this very same task under tremendous time pressure and the strictest secrecy for the past three years. The launch of Caliber 11 was scheduled for March 3. How could Zenith have beaten them to the punch?
This story is one of the most fascinating narratives in the history of the modern watch industry. It took place in a year that, like the entire previous decade, was characterized by technical progress and profound social change, including the first manned landing on the moon, the maiden flight of the Boeing 747 jet and the flower power movement. The whole decade was supercharged by the economic boom, especially in the automotive industry, and by spectacular auto races, whose champions thrilled large crowds. The zeitgeist of new mobility and communication was omnipresent. The world was ticking to a steadily accelerating rhythm: more and more powerful cars rolled off the assembly lines and more and more people could afford to buy them.
The Swiss watch industry, which cultivated centuries-old traditions, tried to keep pace with the innovation of this new era: they knew that their industry had no choice but to renew itself if it hoped to keep up with the faster pace of the times, particularly with the looming specter of competition from the Far East. In retrospect, we can see that the Quartz Crisis, which would jeopardize the very survival of Switzerland’s watchmaking industry a decade later, had already begun to cast its shadow toward the West. Faultfinders would later claim that technological progress had caught the Swiss napping. Developing a modern automatic chronograph became a kind of Holy Grail for big-name manufacturers in the elite world of short time measurement.
Considering the wide selection of self-winding chronographs available today, it’s difficult to imagine how great a challenge this threefold problem posed. Never before had anyone succeeded in coaxing the practicality of an automatic winding system and the popular functionality of a chronograph into the narrow confines of a wristwatch’s case.
Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, who was employed by Heuer at the time and would later found the Chronoswiss brand, recalls the situation. “The automatic chronograph was the greatest horological invention of the 20th century, which had otherwise produced nothing genuinely groundbreaking in this field. Switzerland’s chronograph manufacturers hoped it would give them access to new markets and serve them as an innovative and sales-boosting bestseller – if they could launch it before Omega, which led the chronograph market at the time.”
A Complex Construction Chronograph fans had no choice but to wear hand-wound models because the thorny technical dilemma of a self-winding “time writer” remained unresolved. The first hurdle was to overcome the energy problem. When a chronograph is switched on, its seconds hand and its counters for the elapsing minutes and hours consume much more energy than a classic time display, so they demand much greater performance from the self-winding mechanism. Watchmakers also had to leap a high bar by devising a design that would intelligently combine the two complex mechanisms, deploy the various additional components (especially the rotor) in an optimally space-saving arrangement, and provide the necessary “passageways” to accommodate the numerous drive shafts. All of this, it should not be forgotten, had to be accomplished within the diminutive volume of a wristwatch’s case. These ambitious goals occupied the brightest minds at R&D departments in the 1960s, where they pursued their quest for solutions while preserving the utmost secrecy.
We now know that the first company to begin developing a self-winding chronograph wristwatch was Zenith, which started the project in 1962 and planned to launch the world’s first automatic chronograph to coincide with the company’s centennial in 1965. But this ambitiously early date could not be kept: four more years would come and go before the project could be completed and the first prototype could be made available.
A Coalition of Competitors Project 99 was the code name under which some of the most important specialists in short-term measurement joined together: Breitling, Heuer-Leonidas and Hamilton-Buren. The establishment of this illustrious circle was preceded by a request from a highly specialized movement designer and true specialist of his era, Gérald Dubois, who directed the technical department at Dépraz & Cie. Founded in 1901 and based at Le Lieu in the Vallée de Joux, this company ranked among the biggest suppliers of chronographs and owed its reputation to numerous developments in the field, including the column-wheel mechanism and the first adjustable module chronograph (Caliber 48), which debuted in 1937. Gérald Dubois was the grandson of the company’s founder and had long been in favor of developing an automatic chronograph, but its realization required an investment that was too large for his company to finance on its own.
Gérald Dubois contacted Willy Breitling in 1965. Breitling, who was head of the Grenchen-based watch brand, was immediately enthusiastic about the project. The duo asked Jack Heuer, general director of Heuer-Leonidas, to join them. Heuer agreed because he shared their belief that the future belonged to the automatic chronograph. The fourth member of the group was Buren, the movement manufacturer that was acquired by the American brand Hamilton in 1966. The same year, after the costs had been contractually allocated and the patent rights had been granted, the consortium kicked off the development, which took place in secret. Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, who joined the Heuer company as a watchmaker in 1968, recalls that no one on the staff had the slightest inkling of the secret project.
This coalition of competitors marked the beginning of a unique collaboration among rival brands and suppliers. Their alliance bore fruit with the debut of Caliber 11 three years later. Breitling designated this movement as the Chrono-Matic. Heuer’s dials bore the same name, albeit with a slightly different spelling – Chronomatic.
An Unexpected Opponent But a Japanese giant was not asleep. Seiko, which had been in the premium segment with its Grand Seiko models since the early 1960s and now competed with Swiss manufacturers, also began a similar development in the mid-1960s. Seiko’s secret project was code named 6139. A year earlier, when the world was watching the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Seiko had presented its first chronograph wristwatch, which still relied on manual winding. Meanwhile, the brand had also begun developing a totally different technology: quartz. But that, as they say, is another story.
Three Different Technical Approaches All three competitors were striving to achieve the same goal, but each pursued its own technical approach. The magic number 36,000 came into play at Zenith. This figure needs no explanation among chronograph enthusiasts, who are well aware that it specifies the number of semi-oscillations completed per hour by the balance in automatic caliber El Primero. Its fast-paced balance vibrated at the previously unattainably speedy frequency of 10 beats per second, which enabled this automatic chronograph movement to accomplish the unprecedented feat of measuring elapsed time to the nearest 1/10th of a second. Another distinctive feature of this technology was the integrated architecture of the chronograph mechanism. El Primero was a self-contained ensemble with a ball-borne central rotor and a column wheel instead of a cam. An especially clever detail was that the movement needed neither a module nor an additional mechanism. And notwithstanding its high frequency, El Primero offered a remarkably long 50-hour power reserve and had been miniaturized so its innovative technology could fit into a space measuring just 6.5 mm by 29.33 mm. Each characteristic was a success and the entire ensemble was nothing short of spectacular. Moreover, El Primero was also aesthetically pleasing: the harmony embodied by the original construction, which still distinguishes El Primero calibers today, has raised the pulse rates of generations of chronograph fans.
Many large watch manufacturers subsequently equipped their chronograph wristwatches with Zenith’s trailblazing masterpiece. Probably the best-known example is the Cosmograph Daytona: Rolex began encasing a modified version in its chronographs in 1987. This transformed the Daytona into a self-winding chronograph. The Daytona continued to encase Zenith’s movement until the year 2000, albeit with a reduced oscillating frequency of only 28,800 hourly vibrations and a balance wheel equipped with Microstella adjusting screws. Other brands, including Bulgari, Daniel Roth and Ebel, also relied on El Primero. Ebel launched a perpetual calendar wristwatch based on Zenith’s movement in 1989.
A Modular Construction with a Micro-rotor In contrast to Zenith’s integrated architecture, the Project 99 consortium pursued an approach based on a modular concept similar to one used in early pocketwatches with complications. The chronograph mechanism was mounted on a plate in Caliber 11 (the Chrono-Matic) with oscillating pinion coupling. Three screws affixed this independent unit to the bridge side of the movement. The oscillating pinion coupled the chronograph to the gear train. To provide sufficient space, the team abandoned the concept of a central winding rotor positioned above the movement and opted instead for a “planetary rotor,” which Buren had developed under the leadership of technical director Hans Kocher in 1954. One consequence of the movement’s architecture with its integrated micro-rotor was that the crown had to be positioned on the left side of the case. This feature was later marketed using the slogan: “The chronograph that doesn’t need winding.” Simpler assembly and maintenance were the perceived advantages of the sandwich-style construction as “an independent frame that can be easily removed and replaced.” As at Heuer, this covert project was declared classified at Breitling. Everything related to the development of Caliber 11 was discussed in encrypted form during clandestine meetings in back rooms. Only a few confidants of watchmaker Marcel Robert and Willy Breitling were privy to the confidential endeavor.
Seiko chose a third path. The brand had secretly developed a watch that demonstrated Seiko’s high degree of technical sophistication and would prove its precision three years later when this timepiece with its yellow dial ticked on the wrist of American astronaut William R. Pogue in outer space. The 6139 also relied on an integrated construction with column wheel, central rotor and energy-efficient vertical coupling, as well as the “magic lever,” a specialty that Seiko had used since 1959 to increase the efficiency of the winding mechanism. Mounted directly on the rotor shaft, the magic lever tapped all the energy of the oscillating weight, regardless of the rotor’s direction of rotation. A date display and a day-of-the-week indicator with quick correction were also installed.
The Tension Mounts Let’s go back to Jan. 10, 1969, the date on which Zenith’s press release announced, “The merit of this outstanding creation makes the entire Swiss watch industry shine on the world’s major markets, where the competition is growing increasingly fierce.” Jack Heuer called a breakfast meeting to decide how to proceed. The partners agreed to stick with their plan of simultaneous press conferences in Geneva and New York on March 3, 1969. In the presence of Heuer, Willy Breitling and Hans Kocher, the Caliber 11 Chrono-Matic was presented with great ceremony to the world’s journalists. Judging by their enthusiastic response, the reporters apparently weren’t bothered by the fact that the consortium had crossed the finish line nearly two months after its arch rival. Gérald F. Bauer, president of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH), opened the event in Geneva at 5 p.m. local time. Praising the technical masterpiece, Bauer highlighted the team spirit that had made it possible to “launch this new high-performance product for the Swiss watch industry.” Heuer had prepared answers to questions about Zenith’s El Primero, but was surprised that the journalists didn’t ask any. The simultaneous press conference in Manhattan, which began at 11 a.m. Eastern Time, was also attended by high-ranking Swiss industry representatives, including the President of the U. S. Foreign Office of the Swiss watch industry and Switzerland’s Consul General in New York. The international edition of the Journal suisse d’horlogerie et de bijouterie dedicated its front page and a 16-page supplement to the event. The magazine’s headline declared: “Three Swiss companies worked behind closed doors and launched a watch that doesn’t really exist: the automatic chronograph.” Willy Breitling emphasized the importance of innovation for the industry in general and especially for the company that his grandfather had founded saying, “Certain stages in the development of a brand are decisive for its future. Today we are witnessing an event of capital importance, and I am sure you realize that it is a source of great joy for us.”
Three Premieres Each member of “Project 99” selected its best-selling watches to encase the Chrono-Matic. Breitling ensconced it in the Navitimer and Chronomat; the first collection also included a cushion-shaped model, a new interpretation of the square chronograph from 1966 and a tonneau with a divers’ bezel. Heuer put Calibre 11 inside the Carrera, the Autavia and the new Monaco. The Monaco blazed new trails not only with its modern self-winding movement but also with the world’s first water-resistant square case. Hamilton launched the elegant Hamilton Chrono-Matic with a legendary “panda” dial, which is available today in a nearly identical look. An unmistakable feature of all these models was the crown on the left side of the case, where it demonstrated that this automatic chronograph no longer needed manual winding.
Silence Is Golden All brands in the consortium presented the innovation in March 1969 in Basel at the Mustermesse, the “Sample Fair” that would later become Baselworld. Jack Heuer received a compliment from an unexpected source: Shoji Hattori, Seiko’s president, visited Heuer at the stand and congratulated him on his technical breakthrough. Heuer said, “Naturally, I was very flattered. But Mr. Hattori didn’t divulge even the slightest hint that Seiko was showing its 6139 at the fair.” Heuer subsequently expressed his admiration for Seiko’s “rather clever product strategy.” Before the international launch of a new watch, its maker typically tests it first on the domestic market to solve any remaining problems. As in the fable of the tortoise and the hare, Seiko’s apparent slowness ultimately paid off. According to Jack Heuer, the Japanese company brought sales of Heuer’s product almost to a standstill on the U.S. market a few years later, a disappointment that he also attributed to an unfavorable exchange rate. Heuer nevertheless ended the 1969 financial year with record-breaking results: the brand increased sales by 34 percent thanks to the Caliber 11 Chrono-Matic. The original caliber was manufactured until 1970 and afterward further developed into Caliber 12. Heuer continued producing the movement until 1985. The Autavia was the last model to encase Caliber 11. Breitling used it from the end of 1968 to 1978.
The Present El Primero is the only one of these pioneering movements from 1969 that has been uninterruptedly manufactured from its debut to the present day, except for a brief hiatus during the Quartz Crisis. El Primero received a boost after Zenith was acquired by the LVMH Group in 1999. The high-frequency movement served as the basis for a flurry of new developments. These included additional modules to support diverse displays, as well as modifications with a partially skeletonized base plate so the escapement could be viewed through an aperture in the dial. El Primero Caliber 4021 was introduced with an additional power-reserve display and even with a tourbillon. Caliber 4031 combined a minute repeater with chronograph, alarm and second time zone. El Primero Stratos Flyback Striking 10th kept time during an extraordinary adventure on Oct. 14, 2012, when Felix Baumgartner jumped from the stratospheric altitude of 39 kilometers with this watch strapped to his wrist. His plunge made him the first human being to outpace the speed of sound. Baumgartner and his timepiece survived the acceleration, altitude, pressure and temperature differences unscathed. The watch worked just as well after landing as it did on take off.
Half a century after its premiere, El Primero remains the world’s most accurate serially manufactured chronograph thanks to its ability to measure brief intervals to the nearest 1/10th of a second. It also has won more awards and commendations than any other chronograph. Zenith set another record in 2017 with the debut of the Defy El Primero 21 chronograph, which can clock elapsed intervals not merely to the nearest 1/10th, but to the nearest 1/100th of a second. This mechanical feat is made possible by El Primero 9004, in which the stopwatch function has its own movement with a separate escapement that oscillates at a frequency of 360,000 vibrations per hour (50 Hz).
Although the original Caliber 11 is no longer manufactured, the brands that participated in its development are still justifiably proud of their innovation. TAG Heuer’s Product Director Guy Bove said, “TAG Heuer has presented numerous precise timepieces during the past 150 years, but probably none of them has left as an indelible a mark on watchmaking as the Chrono-Matic.” The Monaco, which once encased Caliber 11, is currently in the limelight in its 50th anniversary year. A different limited-edition Monaco will be unveiled at each of several commemorative events taking place in Europe, the United States and Asia. The historical and technical highlights of this icon are chronicled in the new book Paradoxical Superstar, published in May 2019.
Seiko’s Chairman and CEO Shoji Hattori says that the launch of the automatic chronograph movement was part of the success story that led “to the development 30 years later of Spring-Drive technology, which plays a central role in the launch of new versions of the Grand Seiko in 2019.”
The Winner Now let’s return to the conundrum of who, in fact, developed the first automatic chronograph. Which brand stands on which step of the winners’ podium cannot be answered unequivocally from today’s vantage point. What is certain is that each brand achieved a success of its own. While the first prototype of El Primero was introduced at the beginning of 1969, Breitling, Hamilton and Heuer didn’t unveil their development until three months later, but they were able to present the largest number of functioning prototypes at the Mustermesse in Basel. And Seiko premiered its first self-winding chronograph wristwatches in May of the same historic year. How it was possible for several manufacturers to present the most important watch innovation of the postwar era all in the same year remains puzzling even today. From a purely horological perspective, El Primero has been “Number One” for 50 years: “It set standards not only in technical terms, but it was also a feast for the eyes, almost poetic in its beauty,” said Gerd-Rüdiger Lang.
This article was originally presented in the August 2019 issue of WatchTime.