Forgotten Watchmakers You Should Know • Gear Patrol

Brand names like Rolex, Patek, Audemars Piguet and Omega dominate the headspace of vintage watch collectors not only resulting from their distinctive quality, but in addition due to their historical significance. These are names which were round for many years, and in some instances, for centuries; they’ve come to assist outline what the watch business is right now.

However these legacy manufacturers aren’t the exclusive purveyors of serious, lust-worthy vintage watches. Before the quartz crisis of the 1970s and ’80s, there were dozens of other watchmakers out there producing exceptional timepieces. Though most of them have been victims of a seismic shift in timekeeping know-how, their watches are value amassing.


Cortébert’s roots go back all the best way to 1790, when watchmaker Abraham-Louis Juillard opened up his watch store in Cortébert, Switzerland. Nevertheless, the identify wasn’t used till the mid-19th century. Not much is understood about Cortébert (its data have been lost in a fireplace in the ’50s), however it was thought-about a high-end brand in its day. It’s perhaps greatest recognized immediately for accurate railway watches provided to the Turkish and Italian railway system (the latter of which have been bought beneath the Perseo model identify).

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

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


Based mostly outdoors Chicago in the town of Elgin, Illinois, and based within the 1860s, the Elgin Nationwide Watch Firm was one of many earliest watchmakers to set up shop in America. It was additionally the most important: All through the late 1800s and early 1900s, its manufacturing unit complicated was the most important dedicated watchmaking facility on the planet, and over the course of 100 years, the brand made around 60 million timepieces. Elgin was capable of achieve such unimaginable manufacturing numbers by being an early adopter of mass production strategies, using interchangeable, machine-made elements.

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

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

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


Enicar was founded in 1914 in La Chaux de Fonds Switzerland by Ariste Racine (whose final identify, you may discover, is Enicar when spelled backward). What started out as a relatively humble operation shortly grew because the brand distributed timepieces to Japanese markets like Russia and China (the place the brand got here exceedingly widespread). Following WWII, the watchmaker upped the ante, producing its personal movements in-house (versus counting on provided actions) and building device watches that have been, by most accounts, exceptionally reliable and reasonably priced. It even touted its watch movements 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 brand 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 compared favorably to the Rolex Submariner and Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms contemplating its performance and low value.

Enicar, like many watchmakers, faced its downfall amidst the so-called Quartz Crisis of the ’70s and ’80s even though the watchmaker was part of the Swiss consortioum to develop the Beta 21, one of many wolrd’s first qurtz movements. By the late 1980s, the corporate went into insolvency and was bought by a Wah Ming Hong, a Hong Kong-based watch and jewelry firm. As we speak, Enicar nonetheless makes watches, though the model is usually distributed in Asia where it remains a robust seller.

Enicar Ultrasonic: See Listings

Enicar Seapearl: See Listings
Enicar Sherpa: See Listings


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

Gruen introduced 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 also experimented with watches using super-thin movements (generally known as the Veri-Thin), 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 fashionable at the time however used flat movements. Utilizing a curved caliber allowed the internal workings to be bigger and more strong, but the watch itself remained thin.

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

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


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

Like many forgotten watch manufacturers from the previous century, Lemania fell with the rise of the quartz watch in the 1970s. The model was resurrected within the ’80s as Nouvelle Lemania, then acquired by Swatch Group in 1999 along with Breguet. In the present day the Lemania identify is not in use, but the firm nonetheless makes calibers for Breguet and Swatch Group. Lemanias, like lots of their device watch contemporaries from the 20th century, are in vogue with collectors right now. While some time-only models can go for underneath $1,000, chronographs, especially in fine condition, will often set you again a minimum of $1,500.

Lemania Watches to Acquire
Lemania 192 See Listings
Lemania CH27 See Listings
Lemania Elvström See Listings
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Like most other watchmakers on this listing, Nivada has a history that stretches back to the 19th century, however the model actually got here into its own following World Warfare II when it took making significantly rugged sports watches, properly, critically. Maybe the most effective instance of this was the “Antarctic,” a simple three-hand watch deemed anti-magnetic and water-proof that was constructed for and worn during Operation Deep Freeze by members of the U.S. Navy through the Worldwide Geophysical Yr. It survived the unrelenting cold, a powerful feat, yet it stays relatively unknown compared to different exploration watches from the period just like the Rolex Explorer and the Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic.

Nivada would continue 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 at present, not to mention again in 1965 when it was introduced. Across the similar time, the brand launched the Depthomatic, thought-about the first dive watch with a depth gauge.

Apparently, Nivada faced legal 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 build device watches till it shuttered within the midst of the Quartz Crisis.

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


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

It wasn’t till after WWII that Smiths started making wrist watches in England. Its watches have been relatively simple, 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 worked perfectly.

Smiths’ reputation grew, but with the introduction of quartz watches, Smiths determined to cease producing watches to give attention to aerospace and medical industries. Immediately, Timefactors produces a handful of watches underneath the Smiths identify, but they are by no means associated to Smiths watches of the mid-20th century. Vintage Smiths watches, regardless of their historical significance, are fairly low cost at the moment, save for the military-spec W10, which usually sells for nicely over $1,000.

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

Common Genéve

Founded in Le Locle in 1894, Universal Genéve is probably probably the most influential Swiss watchmakers to seemingly disappear from the face of the earth. In 1917, throughout World Conflict I, Universal Genéve was the first watchmaker to create a chronograph wristwatch. By the 1930s, chronographs turned a primary focus for Common, and the brand produced its now-iconic collection of Compax chronographs. After World Warfare II, Common Genéve was one of the 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, in the thick of the Quartz Crisis, it was one of the few Swiss watchmakers to aim to make and promote its own quartz movement. In 1989, the brand was bought to Stelux, a Hong Kong–based mostly investment firm. While the model has launched some micro-rotor watches because the acquisition, they seem to not have launched a brand new watch since 2009. Still, vintage Universals make for an excellent investment at present, as costs (particularly for Compax chronographs) have steadily elevated during the last couple years.

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


Wittnauer was based in New York in the 1880s by a Swiss immigrant named Albert Wittnauer, who initially labored for his brother-in-law’s superb watch importing business. Wittnauer saw a need for Swiss-made watches tailored for the U.S. market and commenced utilizing Swiss-sourced movements (from quite a lot of suppliers) to supply a extra reasonably priced various to other Swiss imports. One of the model’s first huge improvements in wristwatches was the AllProof of the 1920s, claimed to be the first watch on the planet that was shockproof, waterproof and antimagnetic.

Wittnauer’s timepieces and flight instruments have been adopted by the army early on. Throughout WWI, many Wittnauer wristwatches changed bulky pocket watches for squaddies, and the brand’s flight instruments have been used in many American aircraft in the course of the first World Warfare. Wittnauer devices have been even featured in Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega-5B when she made her solo flight across the Atlantic in 1932. Wittnauer would also produce many clocks, timers compasses and watches for the U.S. Army throughout WWII.

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

Wittnauer Watches to Acquire
Wittnauer Army Watches: See Listings
Wittnauer Professional: See Listings
Wittnauer 2000: See Listings


While watchmaking in Europe is usually associated with Switzerland and Germany, France has its own watchmaking history and Yema is arguably probably the greatest manufacturers to arise from it. Founded 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 device watches the brand made in the course of the ’60s and ’70s.

In 1963, Yema built the Superman, an early dive watch that was each water resistant to 300 meters and featured a locking mechanism for the rotating bezel at the three o’clock position; it was thought-about so sturdy at the time that it was issued to the members of the French Airforce. Not lengthy after, the brand 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 first French watchmaker to place a timepiece into area when French astronaut Jean-Loup Chrétien wore the Yema Spationaute on a ten-day trip into area.

While these watches did make their solution to the USA, most did so via third-party distributors utilizing totally different names, therefore why Yema isn’t notably recognizable right here. While the watchmaker appeared to weather the Quartz Disaster relatively nicely, 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 back to French management and has carried on, quietly, as an unbiased brand 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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