"Obscure Watch Names"
aka: "Generic Swiss Watches"
This relates to a lot of the email I receive.
Q. I have this watch given to me by my Grandfather made by ______ and I seem to have lost it. I would like to find one like it, can you help me find one?
Q. My father gave me a _______ watch for college graduation in 1955. I would like to know more about the company, and the watch, "I just want to know more"
Q. I was given my uncle's old watch as part of his estate. It's made by ______ and has gold hands, and black numbers on a white face. I was wondering how old it is, when it was made, how much it is worth.
Q. I own (or owned, or lost, etc) a watch by "Company X," it has "Company X" on the dial. I am looking for others like it, or I am interested in buying one like it, or I would like to see what other types of watches they manufactured, or I would like to learn about the history about the company. I have searched the web for this brand, and I can't find anything. It is like the company just disappeared.
These are very common questions. First, a picture is very helpful. If you can scan the dial and movement, it might help in estimating the date of manufacture. Many, many watch companies existed. Some were true watch manufactures, or "watch houses," and others were more like "watch companies" which put together are sold watches under whatever name they had chosen to put on the dial. These are collectively referred to as "generic" Swiss watches, or "assembled" watches. It doesen't mean they are "bad" or of poor quality, just that they are not made by a
manufacture of watches.
The "famous" manufactures include Rolex, Patek Philippe, Vacheron, Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Omega, IWC, Longines, Heuer, but also many others. These companies often made their own movements, that is, the innner working mechanism of the watch, the gears, wheels etc. They may have bought some parts from other suppliers, or more commonly contracted with companies to make supplies (like dials and hands) to their specifications. Very few manufactures made every little part in-house, but some did and perhaps some still do.
There are other tiers of quality vintage watches, and in my opinion, these "other" watches are alright. These are the generics. They may have "oddball" names, but most are just fine. What happens is this: a company is incorporated, let's call it "Kronex." They want to sell watches and make money. So what they do is buy the raw movements or "ebauches" from a movement maker. Kronex may or may not make a part or two on their own, such as a dial or a hand, or something, but they buy the movement from the supplier, and often will buy all of the materials from suppliers. A major supplier of movements was, and still is, ETA, a Swiss consortium. It's was also called "Ebauches, S.A." So, Kronex sold watches under the Kronex name, but really were more "assemblers" of watches than true makers. They may have also sold fountain pens, or eyeglass frames. They may have had little interest in watches as a "form" or "genre" of product, but found that it could make money. They may not have manufactured a single component, but nevertheless put together the watch and sold it. To the public, this is transparent: you were buying a Kronex watch, plain and simple, it seems. But again, they weren't watch manufactures in the sense of developing, machining, and creating a unique watch all their own, like, say, Omega.
Many of these assembly companies seemed to have made a large number of watches over many years, but many of them also seemed to have been "flashes in the pan." These firms made a limited number of watches, promptly went out of business, and essentially vanished, never to be heard from again. This is why sometimes it's almost impossible to track down not only watches they made, but even any information.
I think this comment from a member of the NAWCC (link to forums) explains very well why it is so difficult to find "another" example of a certain watch, or even any other information on the "company." The comment is in reference to a book I was asking about:
"About Kathleen Pritchard's "Swiss Timepiece Makers 1775-1975", it's a two volume set of about 1800 pages that covers about 2000 Swiss names.
Unfortunately there were so many names that it doesn't have them all. None of the names you mentioned is in her book. On the other hand, she lists that Luxonia was a trademark or brand name of Oris, and Lurlene belonged to Gruen. It's not perfect, but I believe it's the best there is.
What I've learned from her book is that any jewelry importer could make up a brand name and have a Swiss firm build say, 500 of these watches. While the paperwork might exist somewhere, often the only record is advertisements from old horological journals and trade pubs. That's what Pritchard based much of her research on. "
I think the situation can be compared to Uncle Joe, who was retired, and lived in Tulsa in the postwar years. He learned that he could make some good money making wheelbarrows. He probably made about a hundred wheelbarrows in is garage shop from 1947-1951. He made a very high quality product, carefully and slowly crafted, and his reputation as a wheelbarrow maker was well known among local construction companies. There was a waiting list for the items, which he sold to contruction firms for a high price, labeled with a bright red logo, "JoeBarrows."
If I find a vintage JoeBarrow, which somehow wound up in an antique store in Kalamazoo, I think it would be very safe to say that my chance of finding another JoeBarrow would be exceedingly low. My chance of finding anything about who Joe was, or what else he made, even more unlikely.
As silly as this example is, this assesment of the situation is not based on pessimism, but reality. I have "been down that road" looking for Joe's wheelbarrow, horlogically speaking that is, coming up emptly. I don't mean to discourage anyone from looking for their watch, but I wish to make clear that sometimes the most extensive search will hit a dead end. If you try a search of "vintage Omega watches" on google.com, the best search engine, you will get thousands of hits. This engine looks everywhere, misses almost nothing. If you try a search of the "Valida" watch company, and it turns up zero, that is telling you something. Sometimes you just have to let go. You can ask me if I know or have heard of Valida, but chances are I will not have heard of it. Even if I have heard of it (for example, I own real watches called Vidar, Mulco, Mepa) the chances that might I know anything substantive about the company, who started it, etc. will be virtually zero.
It's not that surprising, really, that there is so little information on these generics. Keep in mind that vintage wrist watches have only been considered collectible for less than 20 years. If the Kronex company went bankrupt in 1945, I'll bet no one really thought that anyone would care about the company's history, or even its watches in the year 2001. Thus, most records, history etc, are gone from a lot of these firms, there was no point in keeping any of it. Imagine if Hostess Twinkees went out of business tomorrow. Most of us wouldn't have the vision to think that anyone would care to know, 60 years from now, who was the Twinkee CEO, where was their factory, how did they apply the luminous filling, etc.
This explains why there are so many, many watches out there with some of these unusual names, and why sometimes exhaustive Internet searches for the watch name may fail to show anything. It does not mean the watch is no good, inferior quality, etc. Also, it does not mean that just because there are few out there, it "must be worth a lot." It seems intuitively that this could be the case, but unless there is really something special about it, it is not exceptionally worthy just because it hard to find. Rarity is not necessarily proportional to value.
For example, I have a '40s watch called "Military Watch Company" written on the dial and on the movement. There really is no such thing. No one has heard of it. No one. I have searched for other examples everywhere but can't find it. But the watch exists, I have it in my collection. It's truly an enigma. In some ways this makes it neat. However it isn't worth very much.
People have watches which are very precious to them, belonged to parents, grandparents, etc. They may have lost or destroyed the watch somehow, and are looking to buy the same. I wish I could say you could always find an exact replacement, but unfortunately it can sometimes be almost impossible to totally replicate an older watch, or find out much more about it. Try, you never know what you will find. And don't forget, if you can scan me a picture of the watch I *may* be able to date it to an approximate decade, and hopefully can give some more information. I'm no expert, just a watch enthusiast but I will do my best.