Audemars & Piguet
Founded in 1875 by two watchmakers, Jules Audemars and Edward Piguet. Audemars was born in 1851 and Piguet in 1853, they met in 1875 in Le Brassus. They worked together before starting their own company in 1889. Audemars was the technical manager and patented several inventions in Switzerland. Piguet was the financial specialist and together they ran the company until 1918. Audemars & Piguet made different styles of watches for the different markets, French, English and American.
In 1920 Audemars & Piguet were credited for the smallest minute repeating watch. They manufactured in collaboration with many of the important retailers worldwide, including Dent, Frodsham, Tiffany and Cartier.
The firm began in 1735when Jehan Jacques Blancpain began making watches on a farm in Villeret, Switzerland. He began making parts but subsequently made pocket watches from beginning to end.
Blancpain’s son, David-Louis began to sell the watches to local towns. He was eventually selling all over Europe. By 1815 the firm of ‘Blancpain’ had evolved. In 1926 John Harwood entrusted the finishing of his first serially produced automatic watch to Blancpain.
In 1931 the company made their famous ‘Rolls’ watch for Leon Hatot, a jeweller in Paris. This was a rectangular automatic watch. In 1953 the Fifty Fathoms diving watch was created. It was water resistant to 200m and worn by Jacques-Yves Cousteau during the filming of ’Le Monde du Silence’.
Every Blancpain watch is carved from a sold metal block, it has 31 different operations from initial carving to the final finishing.
In the summer of 1892 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Hamilton was started using the failed Keystone Watch company and machinery from the failed Aurora Watch company. The company was named after Andrew Hamilton owner of the 500 acres of land on which the Lancaster town stead was established in 1730. The aim of the company was to produce railroad grade watches, a new market of the time.
Very quickly Hamilton became the leader in the manufacturing of watches for railroad personnel. The company was run by engineers who became watchmakers motivated by improving methods of watch-making. In 1931 Hamilton became the first U.S. company to have the right to use Elinvar, a metal used to make self compensating balance springs. When they discovered that Elinvar fluctuated in quality, the Hamilton engineers created Elinvar Extra, which was a more stable metal.
The company produced a very reliable marine chronometer for the Navy having had no experience. It was tested by The Royal Observatory, Greenwich and an error of less than 0.005 seconds per day was found. A remarkable achievement.
Hamilton became the leading U.S. manufacturer of wristwatches. In 1966 Hamilton was asked by Stanley Kubrick to produce a watch for his film ‘2001: A Space Odessy’.
International Watch Company – I.W.C.
In the 1870s Florentine Aristo Jones, director of the Howard & Co watch making factory in Boston, aged only 27 decided to manufacture high quality movements and parts for the American market, using American technology and skilled watch-makers from Switzerland. The Swiss did not like the idea until Jones partnered with Johann Heinrich Moser from Schaffhausen. Moser had built a hydro-station in Schaffhausen using water from the Rhine to genrate low cost energy.
In 1868 Jones created the International Watch Company in Schaffhausen, a watch-making town with a clockmakers guild dating from 1583. Jones was atalented watch-maker and his first pocket watches produced had new technical features. After a year the factory became Swiss run, but the philosophy still remained the same, good solid craftsmanship from Schaffhauen.
By the 1930s an I.W.C. watch was considered to be the poor mans Patek Phillipe, due to its good reputation.
Founded in 1881 by Ditesheim & Freres. In 1905 the company becomes Movado, meaning ‘always in motion’ in Esperanto. At the Universal exhibition in 1910 Movado was awarded a Grand Prix. In 1971 Movado merge with Zenith.
Founded in Geneva in 1839 by an exiled Polish nobleman Count Antoine Norbert de Patek and his compatriot Francois Czapek. The earliest watches were signed Patek, Czapek & Co. until 1845 when Czapek left the partnership. Several years later a French watchmaker, Jean Adrien Phillipe joined the company, he later became the inventor of the stem winding and hand setting mechanism.
From May 1851 – January 1851 the company was known as Patek & Co.. When becoming a full partner in 1851, Phillipe lent his name to the company. Their initial success was due to Phillipes new stem winding system together with the high standard of watchmaking. Due to new technical improvements ( free mainspring and sweep seconds hand ) and high quality Patek Phillipe became the leader in Swiss watch making from the mid- nineteenth century. At the Paris exhibition in 1867 Patek Phillipe were showing watches with a perpetual calendar, a repeater and chronograph with split seconds, which are now standard functions on complicated watches.
In 1932 Patek Phillipe had new owners, Charles and Jean Stern. Shortly after World War II, they set up an electronics division and in the 1950s introduced quartz technology, for which they won several awards.
Patek Phillipe is still a family company and still produces complicated watch movements and will produce pocket watches to order. Famous clientele include Queen Victoria, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Tchaikovsky and Charlotte Bronte.
Vacheron Constantin is the oldest manufacturing horological business in the world. It began with Jean Marc Vacheron (1731-1805 ) in 1751 when he took his freedom as a watchmaker and in 1755 opened a workshop in Geneva.
Watches were then signed J.M.V., the company has changed names and several signatures were also used. In 1785- Vacheron Girod, 1816- Vacheron-Chossat & Cie, 1819- Vacheron & Constantin with the motto ’Do better if possible which is always possible’.
In 1839 a contract for collaboration with George-Auguste Laschot for the construction of machine tools for the mechanical production of watch parts. This marked the dawn of the new industrial era in the production of watches. The company were the first to produce interchangeable parts in watches of the same calibre.
In 1880 the company registered the Cross of Malta as the trademark which has become recognised around the world. In 1887 Vacheron & Constantin became a limited company, and in 1896 won prizes at many of the exhibitions. The company patented many inventions and won many observatory prizes.
In 1938 Vacheron & Constantin amalgamated with Jaeger le Coultre, and in 1955 its bicentenary year produced the thinnest ever movement, 1.64mm.
Vacheron Constantin still continues its successful production of prestigious watches.