Back Page: Times They Are a'Changing

  • Sheila J. Gibson

This month, we travel back in time for a look at . . . time, and how Robb Report readers were keeping track of it in November 1993, when we ran a cover story on “The Ultimate Watches.” For the record, the watches pictured on that cover are (from left to right) the IWC Grande Complication, a model described simply as “a Breguet,” and Vacheron Constantin’s Chronograph Phidias with Baguettes.

What would now be seen as the conspicuous absence of watchmakers such as Girard-Perregaux and A. Lange & Söhne from the article illustrates a significant point about watchmaking: For an industry often defined by companies that are more than a century old, it is not as staid as it might appear.

Nine years ago the watch industry was at a turning point. Mechanical watchmaking had nearly become extinct during the 1970s following the arrival of quartz technology. Indeed, it is an often-cited fact that some Geneva watchmakers dumped their worthless stocks of mechanical movements into Swiss lakes. But careful, knowledgeable stewards who loved and believed in mechanical watches were convinced that the craft could not merely survive, but thrive. For years, they patiently plotted the mechanical watch’s return to glory, and in November 1993, their work was on the verge of bursting into bloom.

In 1992, Gino Macaluso took the helm of the company that owned Girard-Perregaux, and in 1994, it released a mechanical wristwatch with a tourbillon movement that wowed collectors. Today, Macaluso’s company is a mechanical powerhouse that produces all of its own movements and also supplies them to vaunted clients such as Vacheron Constantin and Parmigiani.

Also in 1993, A. Lange & Söhne was preparing for its rebirth decades after it had been taken over and closed under the communist regime in Germany in 1948. It made its triumphant return to the marketplace a year later, releasing the first of many spectacular watches, including the rare and coveted Pour le Mérite tourbillon.

In October of this year, A. Lange & Söhne celebrated its further expansion in North America, entering fine watch and jewelry stores in Montreal, Boston, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Newport Beach, Calif.

Many more noteworthy events have happened in the watch world in the last nine years, including the rise of watchmakers such as Philippe Dufour, F.P. Journe, Roger Dubuis, and Michel Parmigiani, and the releases of countless mechanicals destined to become coveted by collectors. In fact, this issue includes a feature on what many consider to be the most collectible of the recently released watches (“Vintage Futures”).

While no one is certain what the next nine years will bring from watchmakers and for watch collectors, we feel secure predicting that no more mechanical movements will be littering the bottoms of Swiss lakes anytime soon. 

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