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PENS AND WRITING EQUIPMENT
Quills & early writing tools
Quills have been used for at least 13 centuries
and were the most common form of writing instrument in the
West until the end of the 19thC - the reed pen and brush were
most popular in Asia. Geese were the most common source of
quill, but feathers from swans, crows, turkeys, and ducks
were also used. The finest quills were made from the first
three flight feathers on each wing; after plucking, the tips
were conditioned by being placed in hot ash, and the quills
cut with a sharp knife. Both cut and uncut quills were sold
by stationers and booksellers. Most scribes and clerks cut
or sharpened their own quills, using a range of cutting tools,
and quills were still used at the underwriters Lloyds of London
until the 1980s.
Most early important documents, particularly
deeds, were produced on parchment - the skin of an animal
(usually a sheep or goat). However, as paper improved in quality,
parchment became much less widely used. Presentation was important,
and scribes would pierce the sides of each page at regular
intervals and join the holes with pencil lines, so that the
text would be straight and neat.
Boxes of quills
Most quills were trimmed to remove the barb
and sold by the dozen. Quill slips (small quill nibs, popular
from 1815 to 1840) were also sold by stationers. The boxes
in which cut quills or quill slips were sold are rarely found
in good condition but can be as valuable as the quills or
slips themselves. Boxes of quill nibs by the firms of Bramah
or Mordan are especially prized.
A scribe's main tools were a sharp knife and
a spade-shaped "eraser" to scrape the parchment
surface. The majority of tools were of horn, ebony, or ivory.
Most very early knives have a peg on the end of a short stock,
used to split the quill; later (19thC) knives have oval-shaped
handles with pointed ends. From 1800 to 1900 small folding
knives were used for cutting pens, and from c.1850 combined
knives and erasers on one blade were popular. The value of
a knife is increased if it is still with its original case.
Commercial growth in the 19thC created an
increasingly large number of written documents, which in turn
boosted the writing-equipment business. In London most pen
makers and stationers were located in Fleet Street, Cornhill,
and Charing Cross. They specialized in selling quills and
pen-making tools such as this rare early compendium, by Thomas
Lund. With an ivory body and a lignum vitae case, it contains
a wafer seal, wafers, quill-knife blades, a toothpick, and
a lancet to stop the quill blades being used for bleeding.
Although machines for cutting quills were
first designed in the 17thC, the most common ones found today
are those based on Bramah's patent of 1812. The hand machines,
sold in morocco leather cases, had scissor-like mechanisms
to form the quill and slit the nib. The handle, usually of
ebony, ivory, or horn, often had a folding or sliding knife
blade and a device known as a "nibber", which could
alter the slant or width of the nib.
FACT FILE - Quill cutters
" Genuine quill-knife blades have flat
and curved sides to facilitate cutting curved scallops.
" Quill cutters with horn and mother-of-pearl handles
are rarer than those with ivory or (most common) ebony handles.
" Quill cutters are most valuable if they feature the
mark of a known maker. Look out for blades by J.Wolstenholme
(marked "IXL") and Rodgers (marked with a star and
a Maltese cross).
Early dip pens & nibs
The main disadvantage of quills and quill
nibs was that they were soft and had to be frequently re-cut,
which created a need for the invention of a more durable writing
tool. Metal pens had been produced in the 18thC, but these
early examples were either inflexible and easily corroded
by the acid ink (those made of steel and brass) or too soft
(those made of gold). With the development of flexible steel
processing, the invention of coatings to reduce corrosion,
and the use of less acidic inks, steel nibs gradually replaced
quills. Birmingham in England became the centre for the pen
trade, and by 1880 more than one billion steel pen nibs were
produced there every year.
Quill-slip and nib holders
Dip pens require a clamping device or ferrel
to secure the metal nib or quill slip. The early designs by
Longmore and Bramah, used a complex slide-ring system, but
were superseded by more economic simple ferrels from c.1845.
The most common shafts are made of wood or metal, but some
pens were produced in such exotic materials as mother-of-pearl,
sharkskin, tortoiseshell, and porcupine quill.
Glass dip pens
Dip pens made of glass were popular in the
19thC, but good examples are rare because fluted glass nibs
were quite prone to chipping. Such pens were also sold as
marking and copying pens because they could withstand heavy
pressure. Coloured examples and pens with figural finials
are most prized. However, watch out for modern Italian reproductions.
A vast range of steel nibs for dip pens was
produced in the 19thC for use in schools, offices, and banks,
and by artists and calligraphers. These would have been carried
by a traveling salesman to present his range to prospective
clients. A large example by A.Sommerville & Co. contains
440 different nibs of all different sizes and widths. As it
was rarely clear whether a company had manufacturing facilities
or purely subcontracted work, collectors of steel nibs generally
refer to "issuers". Sommerville was a founding partner
of Perry & Co. and probably did not make nibs itself after
Many writing-equipment enthusiasts collect
not only pens and nibs but also the boxes in which they were
sold, in a vast range of different designs. Most Birmingham
pen-making companies produced boxes of nibs for export, and
packaged their products in a variety of designs and languages.
Very early metal pens consisted simply of
shaped tubes slipped over quills. The nib was integral to
the tube, which obviated the need for a ferrel. Such tubular
nibs were often made for promotional purposes with custom-stamped
logos, for example to advertise stationers' shops. Attractive
boxes with one shaft and a dozen nibs are very collectible.
FACT FILE - Steel nibs
" It took between 12 and 15 stages of
manufacture to produce steel nibs. The process involved: rolling
and annealing Sheffield sheet steel; cutting and slitting
the sides of nib blanks; further annealing; stamping and then
curving the nib; tempering, grinding, and slitting the nib;
and finally chemically treating and lacquering the end product."
Despite this lengthy process, the large quantity produced
kept prices low.
Later dip pens & stands
The dip pen was the most common writing instrument
from 1840 until 1940, and they were still used in British
schools (where traditional desks were fitted with porcelain
inkwells) until the early 1950s. The variety from simple wooden-handled
examples to exquisite, ornate designs is vast; some were made
as individual items, others as part of writing sets for the
desk or for travel. Pen stands, including those designed for
communal writing areas in offices and banks, where dip pens
were increasingly used to sign documents and checks, are becoming
Decorative dip pens
Many decorative dip pens were fashioned from
silver and gold. Value is determined primarily by the quality
of the decoration, the maker, the balance, and the quality
and size of the nib. Pens with maker's marks, such as the
American Gorham Manufacturing Co. and by the British firm
of Mordan, fetch a premium, as do those with novelty mechanisms
such as nib ejectors. Dents to the shaft and split nib holders
(quite common) reduce the value.
Stands and rests designed to hold a number
of pens are often found as part of inkstands, but separate
pen stands are rare. The example shown is made of cast iron,
but similar ones were made in wood, brass, and silver, such
as a standard wooden dip pen and a popular mother-of-pearl
retractable nib pen made by Mabie Todd in New York.
Made in brass, pewter, glass, metal, and porcelain,
pen trays, are essentially desk tidiers designed to hold nibs,
pens, and seals. Trays made of glass were often part of wooden
Many makers combined a dip pen and a pencil
in one instrument, called a "combo". Other combinations
are more compact and look like telescopic pencils, such as
a German pencil which extends beyond the nib when the shaft
Small pen stands
In addition to the large stands produced for
use in offices and public-sector buildings, smaller stands
for individual purposes were also made. Some were of cast
bronze, but most were made in cast iron or brass. The dip
pen is an unusual ebony design by Mabie Todd of New York and
features a detachable gold tubular "No.7" nib -
the larger the number, the bigger the nib.
FACT FILE - Notable designs
Other collectable dip pens include:
Crystal-shafted pens with filigree decoration
(often of a small snake)
Agate-, amber-, or tortoiseshell-shafted pens (often sold
in sets with a seal and a paper-knife)
American sculptured pens by Unger Brothers (demand premium
examples with stanhopes in carved ivory, bog oak, or wood
Red, hard-rubber dip pens (Ormiston &
Russian, French, and Italian multi-coloured glass pens.
Fountain pens: basics
When you purchase a pen, the two most important
factors in determining its value are the condition and the
originality. Dealers use a grading system to reflect the condition,
which should help new enthusiasts; originality is best verified
using a good reference manual. Experience will improve your
judgment, but it is good practice to examine a prospective
purchase carefully, using an eyeglass. It is quite probable
that an 80-year-old pen will have been repaired, but if this
has been carried out professionally, using the correct replacement
parts, then the value should not be affected. There are three
principal parts of a pen to check: the barrel (the main body
of the pen and the filling system), the cap (including a clip
or clip ring), and the nib unit (the nib and feed).
Caps and clips
Caps, made form metal or plastic, often have
another cap fitted internally to seal the pen, and either
push or screw onto the barrel. Clips or ring tops are usually
attached by rivets, lugs, or screws. Watch out for lip cracks,
chips, shrinkage, discoloration, and broken clips, and make
sure that the colours of the barrel and the cap match.
Barrels & filling systems
The barrel is where the ink reservoir and
filling system (usually involving a rubber sac or piston)
are contained. When you examine a pen, never force the filling
lever piston as this may cause irreversible damage. Avoid
examples with gaping lever slots, distorted barrels (check
by rolling on a flat surface), cracks, cigarette burns, and
bad discoloration, as most of these defects cannot be rectified.
Components of a pen
The nib, which is normally 14- or 18-carat
gold, should be in good condition, with an iridium tip. Check
the name on the nib in case it is an inappropriate replacement,
which would be costly to change; the section should not be
damaged by tools, and the "comb" should not be broken.
Old rubber sacs harden and disintegrate easily, but this is
not too great a problem, as they are simple to replace.
The first non-metal bodies were made of vulcanized
rubber (usually black, reinforced with carbon; red, reinforced
with iron oxide; or a mix of the two). From the 1920s plastics
such as casein and cellulose nitrate were used for barrels
and caps in a variety of colours, patterns, and finishes.
Pens that do not function are significantly
less valuable than those in good working order. It is advisable,
especially with very valuable pens, to leave repair to a professional
restorer, as there is always a risk of damage, no matter how
simple the repair. However, most pens can be restored to working
condition, and restoration is becoming increasingly popular
among collectors. Consequently, repair tools such as the Parker
repair block, with J-shaped nib tool and black section clamp,
are collectible as well as of practical use.
FACT FILE - Grade for condition
A: mint - never used, still in original wrapping.
B: excellent - as new.
C: very good - used, but everything present and in good working
D: good - some wear, scratches, slight brassing,
complete with a correct nib.
E: poor - scratches, brassing, unrepaired, bent nib.
F: valuable as parts only - some salvageable parts, not worth
A fountain pen is a pen that contains its
own reservoir of ink. Such pens were mentioned c.1663 by the
English diarist Samuel Pepys, and the earliest known examples
were made c.1690 by Nicholas Bion, instrument maker to Louis
XIV (reigned 1643-1715). Bion's pen design of a simple tubular
metal reservoir leading to a quill nib was widely copied in
the 18thC. During the 19thC, patents for reservoir pens were
granted to an extensive range of manufacturers including Sheaffer,
Parker, Folsch, and Moseley. However, many early pens suffered
from irregular flow of ink so the writing tips, and an acknowledged
breakthrough did not come until a feed system, which facilitated
a regular supply of ink to the nib, was developed by the American
firm of Waterman in 1883. This date is considered to be the
birth of the fountain pen, and marks the start of the marketing
of such pens.
Early fountain pens were made from tubes of
ebonite with nib units screwed into them and caps to protect
the nibs. Such pens were filled using bulbed rubber eyedroppers.
Early examples featured protective "push-on" caps
to protect the nibs, but such caps often cracked, so versions
that tapered both in shape and internally were introduced.
Caps did not feature pocket clips until c.1904. This pen was
made by Waterman; fountain pens made by this firm before 1900
are especially rare.
The first popular cartridge pen was produced
in the USA in the 1890s by the Eagle Pencil Co. of New York.
A glass cartridge full of ink was pushed onto the peg of the
nib unit and then fitted back into the barrel of the pen.
Spiral or black hexagonal cases are relatively rare but not
of high value.
Pens with elaborately decorated cases have
long been produced as symbols of wealth and status. Most decorative
pens had bodies embellished with metal overlay, as black hard-rubber
cases were considered dull. Many of these decorative pens
were produced for pen companies by silversmiths, using such
techniques as engraving, filigree, and repoussé. The
rare and delicate silver pen featured below is by the firm
of MacNiven & Cameron and features its trademark curved
Wavely pen nib.
Some makers produced top-of-the-range fountain
pens, decorated with exotic materials and heavily worked precious
metal. Notable examples are by Heath for Parker (filigree
and mother-of-pearl pens), and Waterman (elaborate silver
designs). Such pens represent superb quality but are correspondingly
highly priced. More affordable, and still very attractive,
are the repoussé and gold-filled overlay pens of Marbie
Todd, Aiken Lambert, Wirt, and Salz. American makers were
particularly reputed for their overlay designs.
Swan eyedroppers, made by Mabie Todd, were
by successful and were made over a longer period (1895-1950)
than any other eyedropper, making them the most common example
found today. Early designs, such as the eyedropper hung from
a châtelaine, feature a bayonet cap, an under-and-over
feed, and a twisted silver wire inside the barrel to improve
the ink flow; later models used a single underfeed. Eyedroppers
were also produced by Waterman over a fairly long period,
and still featured in the firm's 1920s trade catalogues. Red-and-black
vulcanite eyedroppers are quite rare and collectable.
FACT FILE - Values
Some of the most valuable fountain pens are
The most paid for an eyedropper at auction was $26,400 (1996)
for a Waterman "Snake" pen.
Very rare eyedroppers exchange hands privately for prices
up to $33,000.
Exceptionally rare fountain pens include "Aztec",
"Snake", "Ribbon", "Swastika",
"Primrose", and "Lily".
From 1900 the main aim of pen makers was to
produce self-filling pens that did not require any accessories
(for example, eyedroppers). Most makers developed systems
using flexible rubber sacs to hold the ink, and devised different
ways of expelling air from the sac prior to filling, although
some makers still used the barrel of the pen as the ink reservoir
but with the addition of a piston or plunger. Both systems
had their drawbacks - sacs perished, and piston seals deteriorated
- but, in general, pens with rubber sacs were more practical
than those without. Some enthusiasts concentrate solely on
collecting pens that illustrate the range of filling systems
invented; in addition, this includes blow fillers, coin fillers,
matchstick fillers, and sleeve fillers.
The design for the piston filler used by the
Onoto company, invented by George Sweester, was sold to Evelyn
De La Rue's firm in 1905. Some early examples have under-and-over
feeds; the metal overfeed is part of a robust manifold nib
and was designed for duplicating. De La Rue had made pens
since 1881, but the piston model, which remained in production
until the 1950s, was most its most successful one. Gold and
silver overlay models are particularly prized.
Conklin, originally based in Toledo, Ohio,
is famous for its crescent filler, invented in 1898 and patented
in 1901. A simple pressure bar fixed in position by a metal
crescent and a rotating band was used to compress the rubber
sac inside the barrel of the pen. The filling system helped
to make Conklin the fifth largest pen company in the world
by the 1920s.
Although some pens have pistons, they operate
on very different principles. The "international"
pen features a simple suction syringe, which pulls ink into
the barrel; the pen by Chilton has a rubber sac with a piston
system used to depress the sac. Pens by Chilton are of a high
quality and very collectable. Pens with syringes have the
disadvantage of a low-link capacity.
Although Sheaffer designed the lever filling
system in 1907, it was not used until 1913 when the firm started
production in Fort Madison. The filling systems consisted
of a lever fixed to the barrel, which adjusted a pressure
bar to compress the rubber sac. Although far from perfect
- the slot for fitting the lever often weakened or distorted
the barrel, particularly with poor-quality plastic pens -
the lever became the most popular and imitated filling system
Introduced c.1908, the button filler was adapted
by Parker and used as its main filling system until the mid-1930s.
The pressing down of a button covered by a blind cap caused
the pressure bar to depress the rubber sac inside the pen.
Button fillers were slightly more complicated to manufacture
than lever fillers, but were more robust, and are among the
easiest pens to repair. Examples were also made by Wyvern
and Conway Stewart.
FACT FILE - Company preferences
In the 1920s major makers tended to use one
filling system only: Eversharp Wahl: lever, De La Rue: piston,
Parker: button, Waterman: lever, Sheaffer: lever, "Swan":
In the 1930s, all except Waterman used a variety of systems.
From the earliest production of self-filling
pens c.1905 until the late 1920s, the majority of fountain
pens were designed as straight-sided tubes with flat tops
and buttons - hence the name "flat top". The earliest
examples were produced in black hard rubber, then in red,
and combinations of red and black. By the end of the 1920s
all the major firms in Europe and the USA, including Mabie
Todd, De La Rue, Parker, Waterman, Sheaffer, Eversharp Wahl,
Bayard, Pelikan, and Omas, had moved from using hard rubber
to production in the wide range of newly available, brightly
coloured synthetic polymers.
Sheaffer was the first company to use new
materials on a large scale. In 1924 it introduced a new range
of pens made from cellulose nitrate, which it called "Radite".
The early Sheaffers were made in "black" and "coral"
as well as "jade". These early pens tended to discolour
and fade when exposed to light, or developed dark stains from
coming into contact with ink. Examples with pristine colour
are rare and valuable, as colour is probably the most important
value factor for fountain pens.
Pens that were difficult to manufacture, had
performance weaknesses, or simply did not sell well, often
had short production lives. As these pens were made only in
small quantities they are now rare and often very collectable.
The yellow "Mandarin Duofold" by Parker, produced
from 1928 until 1932, is such an example and, although not
a success with the public, is now one of the most sought-after
pens among collectors. Unfortunately, the light colour accentuates
any defect in the body, so examples with good, clean, even
colour and no cracks in the cap command a premium.
The classic Amercian-made Parker "Duofold"
was introduced in 1922 and was an immediate success. Originally
available in black or red hard rubber, it was produced from
1925 in "Permanite", and from 1926 in other colours,
such as "lapis", "jade", and "pearl".
The red version of the "Duofold Senior" became known
as the "Big Red". The range included smaller and
slimmer models such as the "Junior", the "Deluxe"
with a broad cap band, and the rarest size, the "Special",
which is the same diameter as the "Junior" and the
same length as the "Senior". Good "lapis",
"pearl", and "jade" examples are rare;
early examples, such as the red hard-rubber "Senior",
which does not feature a cap band, are all highly priced.
Woodgrain & mottled effects
Depending how black and other colours are
extruded, mottled and woodgrain effects can be produced. Mabie
Todd used mottled finishes, and Eversharp Wahl used woodgrain
finishes for its red-and-black hard-rubber pens. The "Swan"
flat-top lever fill is one of the largest models made. The
"Personal Point" pen (also lever filled) by Eversharp
Wahl has a unique roller-ball clip and a quantity seal on
In 1929 the "94" pen by Waterman
was available in "ripple rose", "ripple olive",
and "ripple blue/green". Other Waterman ripples
available, were in the "52" to "58" series
or the "5" and "7" series. The "7"
has a purple band on the cap and a keyhold nib, which is stamped
"Purple" - Waterman's code for a stiff, fine-nibbed
pen for shorthand and bookkeeping.
FACT FILES - Materials
The range of materials used to make pens includes
hard rubber (from the 1850s), celluloid (from the 1860s),
casein (from 1910), cellulose nitrate (from the 1920s), cellulose
acetate (from the 1930s), acrylics (from the 1930s), and pressure
Innovations & desk units
In the 1920s and 1930s, as the fountain-pen
market boomed, companies were continually trying to think
of new ways to impress customers. Contrasts of different materials,
overlays, dramatic use of colour, metal trim, coloured plastic
rings, and coloured grooves were all employed to increase
a pen's attraction. Desk units - the successor to 19thC inkstands
- became popular and were made in a dazzling range of shapes,
sizes, and designs.
Mottled pens by Conway Stewart
Early pens by Conway Stewart were lever-fill
pens with stepped clips similar to those found on early "Swan"
pens by Mabie Todd. Later 1930s models, featured ring clips
and hard-rubber clip screws with integral inner caps. Black-and-red
hard rubber was frequently used by Conway Stewart, not only
for whole pens but also for sections and clip screws, thus
adding elegant decoration to black barrels and caps.
Filigree pens by Waterman
Most pen manufacturers made premium products
with overlay decoration to tempt customers. Overlay designs
by Waterman, were very popular and were made in six versions
- "Vine", "Filigree", "Gothic",
"Sheraton", "Pansy", and "Basketweave"
-in both silver or gold, and in a design known as "Moderne"
in silver only. Good condition is vital with overlay designs,
particularly on gold-filled examples, so check for lever damage
Colour pens by Conklin
By the early 1920s the success of Conklin's
crescent fill pens had established the firm's reputation as
one of the leading American pen makers. The crescent filler
was replaced by a simple lever filler c.1922. In general,
ring tops are less popular with collectors, and this is reflected
in a lower price. Later pens by Conklin such as the "Nozac"
and Symetrik" are very popular and collectable.
Metal pens by Parker
This early hard-rubber ring-top pen by Parker
is overlaid with gold-filled metal. It has a patented "lucky
curve" feed to enhance ink flow - "lucky curve"
was regularly promoted by Parker from 1905 to 1929 as a guarantee
of top-quality design and performance. Such metal pens often
suffer from brassing of the gold and corrosion of the section,
so only examples in good condition are of significant value.
The presence of a matching pencil (rare) and the leather case
add to the value.
Pen holders for desktops were very popular
in the 1920s. A range of designs was made, including ornate
figures cast in bronze, attached to a marble or agate base
and combined with clocks and lamps. A desk unit by Parker
was one of a number of designs supplied with a "Duofold
pen". In the 1930s Parker also made popular desk units
in conjunction with the ceramics firm of Carlton.
FACT FILE - Waterman coding
Waterman pens have numerical identity codes
on the end of the barrels.
The last number refers to the nib and pen size.
The second to last digit describes the cap and filling details:1=cone
cap, 2=taper cap, 5=lever fill.
The remaining numbers describe the overlay: 2=silver barrel
only, 3=gold barrel only, 4=silver barrel and cap, 5=gold
barrel and cap, 05=gold filled.
The financial turbulence of the late 1920s
and early 1930s, sparked by the Wall Street Crash (1929),
caused many pen companies to fold; most surviving firms were
larger concerns, which succeeded by introducing new production
techniques and styles. In line with the trend at this time
for aerodynamically designed products, fountain pens with
smooth lines in the "streamlined" style were a major
innovation. Many such pens appear strikingly modern - the
style proved so popular that it is still widely used today.
Sheaffer's elegant cigar-shaped pens in attractive
plastic colours were vastly different from the old flat-topped
pens. They were filled by means of a new plunger system, similar
to systems used by Onoto and Eversharp Wahl, although lever
fillers were also designed. They were produced in an attractive
range of colours, in both striated and simulated pearl plastics,
and with military or ordinary clips. Oversized pens are most
prized, but the slimmer models are excellent writing instruments.
The "Balance" model was reintroduced by Sheaffer
Pens from the "Patrician" range,
produced between 1929 and 1938 by Waterman, are extremely
sought after by collectors. The rarest colour is "black",
but the most valued are "turquoise", "moss
agate", and "emerald"; versions in "nacre"
and "onyx" are less popular. Two designs of matching
pencil were produced in the range. In general, sets are not
very popular, as many collectors are only interested in purchasing
the pen alone.
Ford were papermakers and specialists in blotting
paper, and in 1932 used their name for an exquisite piston
pen. Designed and patented by G.Stewart Vivian (a former employee
of the Valentine firm), this pen was probably made by Wyvern
and involves a transparent reservoir inside the barrel. The
pen was made in at least four sizes, in "black",
in "mottled", and with silver overlay.
Pelikan and Montblanc were Germany's flagship
makers, producing such high-quality, reasonably priced pens.
The Pelikan "100" was the classic pen of the 1930s;
it was made in a range of colours, with the green version
being the most common and those with lizardskin or pearlescent
bodies the most prized. The Montblanc pen is a button filler.
The twelve-sided "Doric" pen by
Eversharp Wahl was introduced in 1932. The jet has a roller
clip and an adjustable nib; the green marble version has a
transparent barrel section. Both pens are lever fillers, but
piston fillers were also made. The pen was produced in three
lengths, and as extra-slim and oversized versions (highly
prized). Some examples feature marbling or "spider's
FACT FILE - The recession
Market activity in early 1929 held no terrors
of economic recession for the "big four" of Eversharp
Wahl, Parker, Sheaffer, and Waterman in the USA.
New designs included the "Personal Point" by Eversharp
Wahl, the first "Balance" pen by Sheaffer, the "Streamlined
Duofold" by Parker, and the "Patrician" range
Pens of the 1930s
In the 1930s a number of innovations were
introduced, notably in the USA, as major companies competed
for the lion's share of the market. New filling systems, transparent
barrels, and combination designs were all promoted as the
effects of the depression receded. Canada became a main supplier
of pens for the European market, Waterman made pens in a joint
venture in France, but sadly many companies, such as both
Carter and Chilton, faded from the scene in the USA as a result
of very hard times.
Although writing instruments combining pens
and pencils had been produced before, designs with propelling
pencils and fountain pens at opposite ends of the same barrel
were novelties. These items were not particularly popular
in the 1930s - perhaps because they had such poor ink capacities
- and were regarded as pencils first and pens second. Many
inferior-quality examples were made, although such firms as
Sheaffer, Conklin, and Mabie Todd made quality products. Combination
pens by Waterman and Parker exist but are very rare.
New filling systems
In 1933 Parker promoted a new filling system
with no sac, which it misleadingly claimed had no perishable
parts. The system, known as "Vacumatic", involved
a small pump, which expelled air from the barrel, so allowing
ink to fill the pen; it was heavily advertised, and was successful
partly because it coincided with the new range of pearlized
plastic used for pen barrels. The increasingly varied range
of sizes and patterns used also boosted sales. The "Golden
Web" pen, which was also made in a slimmer "Junior"
version, was only produced for three years. This example is
engraved, which generally reduces the value.
Military clip pens
The American army demanded that any pens worn
with uniform should be inconspicuous, so the major pen manufacturers
responded with simple designs. These pens, where the clip
is positioned at the very end of the cap came to be known
as "top clip", "military clip", or sometimes
"depression" pens due to their low prices. The 1932
"Moderne" and "Premier" by Parker are
both good examples of simple affordable "military clip"
pens; both were made in novel coloured plastics, often with
a mosaic design.
Pens with imitation animal-skin caps and barrels
were made in small numbers, often because the manufacturing
cost of such plastics was very high. Mabie Todd and Waterman
produced some very fine lizardskin patterns, while Conway
Stewart and Parker both made distinctive herringbone-pattern
pens. "Snakeskin" designs are also very sought after
Most successful pens are imitated, often extremely convincingly.
At first glance two pens by Plexor and Waterson appear to
be Parker pens - a "Duofold" and a "Vacumatic"
- but are in fact copies. The most imitated pen is the "Senior
Duofold", and such copies are now becoming collectable.
FACT FILE - Parker "Vacumatics"
" "Vacumatics" can be identified
by the shape, cap design, and trim.
" Sizes include "Débutante", "Lady",
"Major", "Maxima", and "Oversize".
" Patterns include "pearl", "marble",
"Golden Web", and "Shadow-wave".
" Three pump systems were used: "Lockaway"
(used 1933-8), "Speedline" (1939-41), and a disposable
plastic pump (1942-9).
" By 1947 more than 6 million Parker "51 Vacumatics"
had been produced.
Pens of the 1940s & 1950s
World War II had a great influence on fountain-pen
production. Many designs that had been in the pipeline were
brought out sooner than planned, and the development of new
materials was accelerated. Some factories were re-directed
to war-effort production, thereby encouraging sub-contracting
and closer liaison between pen companies. However, apart from
the striking examples of the "51" by Parker and
"Skyline" by Eversharp Wahl, many designs on the
market were the same in the 1940s as they had been in the
Mabie Todd was the leading penmaker between
the two world wars, with its flagship brand "Swan".
After World War II the firm continued to make quality pens
with good flexible nibs, although many were of rather old-fashioned
design. Some "Swan" pens used a unique leverless
filling system, in which the pen was filled by twisting a
knob; however, "Swan" lever filler and eyedroppers
were also produced.
In addition to the pens discussed above. Mabie
Todd produced less highly priced ranges, most of which had
lever-filling systems and nickel trims. The popular "Blackbird"
range, was made towards the end of Mabie Todd's fountain-pen-producing
days. In 1951 Biro took a major shareholding in Mabie Todd,
and the firm stopped making fountain pens in 1958.
British-made "Duofold" pens
The 1940s "Herringbone Duofold"
is basically the same design as the 1929 American-made "Duofold".
This example is especially desirable because it is made from
unusual patterned plastic and was produced in a small quantity
only. The "Victory" range, made form 1935, is almost
identical to the smaller "Duofolds" except for the
trim. "Herringbone", "lizardskin", and
"pearl" are the rarest "Duofolds", but
"marbled lilac", "bronze", and "olive"
British made Parkers are excellent collector items.
Pens by Valentine
The Valentine firm began to make pens in 1929
after acquiring the firms of Whytworth and Gold Nibs Ltd,
but its most notable designs were produced after it was bought
by Parker in 1947. Its lever- and button- fill pens were similar
in materials and design to 1930s streamlined pens by Parker
and Conway Stewart. Valentine pens were well made and frequently
fitted with large, flexible nibs.
The "Skyline" pen, introduced in
1941, was so called because it was advertised as ideal for
air travel. It is a simple lever-fill pen and features a distinctive
tapered barrel and clip in the style of a Greek helmet. Many
variants were produced between 1941 and 1949, and in 1997
the same design was put back into production.
FACT FILE - Nibs
The main types of nib are fine, medium broad,
stub (italic), or oblique.
Most nibs in British and American classic pens were 14-carat
gold; continental European classic pens usually have 18-carat
Iridium was first welded onto gold nibs for durability in
Two-colour nibs are usually made of platinum coated onto gold.
In general, older nibs are more flexible than modern nibs.
The nib normally accounts for one third of the material cost
of a pen.
The fountain pen was still the most widely
used writing instrument in schools until the early 1950s.
The traditional gift on examination success or a birthday
was a fountain pen, and this gift market was catered for by
pen makers and stationers worldwide. Millions of Parker "51"
pens, "Snorkels", Conway Stewarts, and Watermans
were sold. The school and student pen market was especially
significant, and Burnhams, Wyverns, and "Golden Platinum"
pens were a regular feature on school desks.
The Parker "51" is probably the
most successful pen ever made. Robust and stylish with and
excellent writing mechanism, is sold almost 42 million example
between 1939 and 1972. Earlier models used the "Vacumatic"
filling system, and over 6 million examples were sold before
the "Aerometric" system was introduced in 1947-8.
The most collectable colours are "mustard", "Nassau
green", "plum", "forest green", and
"tan". Also especially desirable are examples of
the "Empire State" cap design.
Although originally produced in the 1930s,
Conway Stewart "Dinkies" were far more successful
when reissued in the 1950s and marketed pencils, lead pencils,
pocket knives, and even nail files, in attractive leather
cases or wallets. Other companies such as Croxley and Unique
also made miniature pens, and as their designs were less successful
when first produced, they are now rare and desirable.
Pens by Wyvern
The Leicester-based firm of Wyvern was one
of the oldest pen companies in Britain. After World War II
the firm produced not only economical pens but also some unique
models, including the leather-covered button filler. Wyvern
pens were particularly popular with the British royal family
- they were regularly presented to Palace staff, and George
VI himself used a crocodile-skin model.
This range, first produced in the 1950s by
Parker, was both affordable and highly practical. It was produced
in solid colours -"green", "dark red",
"blue", and "black" - and a variety of
sizes, from the "Slimfold" to the "Duofold
Maxima". "Duofold" pens are probably the most
common ones to be found at car boot sales and antiques fairs,
and they are among the best fold-nibbed classic pens available.
A typical student pen should be inexpensive,
easily reparable, and robust enough to suffer the rigors of
the classroom. Many such pens were sold by Mentmore, Unique,
Burnham, Wyvern, Stephens, and Platinum. Two examples are
a relatively rare pen by Stephens with a 14-carat gold nib,
and a finely coloured Burnham "No. 44" with a gold
nib (later ones had steel nibs).
FACT FILE - The Parker "51"
This pen was the winner of the US Fashion
Academy Award in 1950.
More than 30 different types of cap are known.
Some of the very early models sold in the USA were button
fillers (as opposed to "Vacumatic" or "Aerometric"
An 18-carat gold "51" in top condition is worth
Rolled-silver examples are rarer than gold ones.
Other modern pens
The invention of the reliable, inexpensive
ballpoint pen totally changed the writing-equipment market.
Companies who attempted to make fountain pens to compete in
price with ballpoints in general did so only by a reduction
in quality; in contrast, companies who focused on quality
and promoted premium products on an international scale were
vastly successful. From 1950, take-overs, mergers, the growth
of new markets such as promotional pens, roller balls, and
cartridges were all influential, although many excellent and
collectable fountain pens were still produced.
"Pens For Men"
In 1952 Sheaffer developed a unique filling
system called the "snorkel", which was employed
in the "Pen For Men" ("PFM") design in
1959. The "PFM" was produced in five different models
over a period of fifteen years, and is currently one of the
most collectable post-war pens by Sheaffer. It is an excellent
writing pen and still widely used today, although it is becoming
increasing difficult to acquire parts for repairs, particularly
nib units. The rarest colours are "gray", "blue",
The Parker "51" was a hard act to
follow, and when first introduced the "61" (perhaps
owing to its innovative capillary filling system) was not
a great success. Parker changed the design to a cartridge-and-converter
system, but the pen, while an excellent writing instrument,
still had defects - the plastic had a tendency to distort,
and the shell arrow was easily dislodged. However, the "61",
which was made in a fine range of colours, barrels, and caps,
is highly collectable today. Notable examples included the
"Cloud" range ("Stratus", "Cumulus",
and "Cirrus"), "Consort", "insignia",
pens with unique "Rainbow" caps, and 9- and 18-carat
The best of British design
The high-quality pens by Conway Stewart, particularly
numbers "24", "27", "58", and
"60", exemplify the best of British design. Although
they were produced in large quantities, examples in unique
colours, such as the "Cracked ice" pen shown (number
"60"), or herringbone-pattern models are increasingly
difficult to find in good condition. Matching pencils are
often rarer than the pens.
Ballpoints made in the 1940s make interesting
collectables, but few are still in good working order. In
contrast, many examples from the 1950s can still be used.
Early Parker "T-ball jotters" are now collector
items, as are most Parker "51", "61",
and "75" ballpoint. As most fountain-pen makers
had serious reservations about producing ballpoints, it is
much more difficult to find them as part of 1950s sets than
to find fountain pens or pencils.
Two piston pens of classic designs were intended
for the executive. The "146 Meisterstück" was
introduced in 1948 and is still produced today. The "Magna"
was a prized possession in its day, with a "No.7"
two-colour nib. It was also available as a lever filler and
in candystripe colours, and was last produced in 1958.
FACT FILE - Ballpoint pens
The first ballpoint pen was patented in the
USA in 1888.
The Hungarian Lazlo Biro produced the first reliable working
ballpoint pen in 1940.
By 1953 the ballpoint was no longer simply considered the
poor relation of the fountain pen, and some fine examples
Parker began making ballpoints in 1954.
Papermate (part of Gillette) produces more than one billion
ballpoints each year.
Collectors are always looking for that rare
or unique prototype, which can be a fascinating talking point
when displaying a collection, and can quite often develop
into a main area of collecting. Rare items are often those
that were commercially unsuccessful when first produced, or
special-purpose pens such as demonstrator models. Prototypes
are often difficult to confirm as genuine, and it is probably
more important to buy from a reputable source than to rely
With narrow tubes as writing tips and wire
inserts that control the flow of ink down the tube, stylographic
pens have been produced since the mid-19thC. Reliable early
examples were made in the 1870s by the firms of Caws, A.T.Cross,
and McKinnon in the USA. In the early 20thC notable British
makers included Onoto and Conway Stewart. In the 1930s the
most popular American example was by Inkograph.
Glass-nibbed fountain pens
The earliest glass nibs used in reservoir
pens were made by Haro (Hans Roggenbuch). These early pens
were very practical and robust and particularly well suited
to producing carbon copies. During both world wars glass was
widely used for nibs, as metals were in short supply. Many
glass-nibbed pens were manufactured in Germany and Japan,
although production was not exclusive to those countries -
the British firm of Burnham produced a popular model in the
1930s and 1940s.
Pens with retractable nibs are termed "safety"
pens. The earliest designs, made by such firms as Moore and
Conklin, featured nibs that simply slid back into the barrel,
but later models, notably by Montblanc, Waterman, and Whytworth,
used complex spiral systems. Elaborate Italian and French
examples with overlay decoration are the most prized.
Salesmen used transparent pens to show customers
not only the internal components of their wares but also how
the filling systems worked. These intriguing items are now
very collectable, especially examples of "Pens For Men"
by Sheaffer, "Vacumatics" by Parker, and such elaborate
examples as the rare Montblanc.
A rare pen was made for Dunhill in the 1930s,
possibly by Omas, and consists of two separate pens fitted
into a conventional-size barrel. The two pens are linked by
a mechanism, so that each nib extends alternately when the
end of the barrel is twisted. Such unusual items command premium
FACT FILES - Innovative designs
Waterman and Moore both made "Trench"
pens with ink pellets in the cap.
Unusual novelty pens include "Mickey Mouse" by Inkograph
and "Popeye" by the Eagle Pencil Co.
Collectors should look out for innovative trapdoor pens with
covered nibs by Pullman.
The production of a limited number of special-design
pens with fancy packaging and documentation is a relatively
new development in pen manufacture. Parker paved the way in
the 1960s, and was followed in the 1990s by most major pen
companies, including Sheaffer, Montblanc, Visconti, Aurora,
Pelikan, and Omas. Most companies adopt themes such as sports,
cities, historical events, or writers, or produce pens to
commemorate calendar events - anniversaries or centennials;
it is also popular to reissue short runs of classic pens from
the past. In the early 1990s, limited-edition pens often sold
out before production was completed, but as the number of
pen makers introducing limited editions has grown, many collectors
have become more discerning. However, limited editions are
still regarded as one of the best investments in fountain-pen
Limited editions were not introduced by Sheaffer
until 1995. The 18-carat gold commemorative was a faithful
copy of the firm's successful 1920s flat-topped lever fill,
and the "Lifetime Balance" (1997) was a copy of
Sheaffer's 1929 "Balance" pen. Only 6,000 examples
of each design were produced, plus an additional 100 transparent
"Balances", which are even more exclusive.
All of Pelikan's limited editions are in the
same style, although always in different materials and designs.
Only 5,000 copies of "Blue Ocean" were made, of
which 1,000 were sold as sets with a ballpoint pen, and a
mere 888 copies of "Golden Dynasty" were produced.
Other special editions by Pelikan include "Golf",
"M900 Toledo", "Austria 1000", and "Concerto".
"Author" pens by Montblanc
The "Agatha Christie" pen is one
of a range of author-theme pens by Montblanc. Examples with
silver trims are fairly common, and many are actually used
to write with (unusual for a collector's edition); those with
gold trims are rarer. Other pens in the series include "Hemingway"
(1992), "Oscar Wilde" (1994), "Voltaire"
(1995), "Alexandre Dumas" (1996), and "Dostoyevsky"
(1997). The packaging and documentation are lavish and play
an important part in the appeal.
"People & history" pens by
This series, promoted by Montblanc as a vehicle
for celebrating beauty, inspiring creativity, and advancing
culture, is one of its most imaginative and celebrated ranges.
In addition to "Semiramis" (inspired by the Assyrian
Queen) and the blue filigree "Prince Regent", the
range included such designs as "Lorenzo de Medici"
and "Louis XIV".
The first limited editions by Parker were
based on existing models such as the "75" or "105",
but they were made in materials with romantic connections
- silver recovered from shipwrecks, and brass from notable
liners. The "Charles and Diana" was made to commemorate
the royal wedding (1981).
FACT FILE - Collectable designs
" Parker introduced its first limited
edition, the "Spanish Treasure 75", in 1965.
" Waterman's first limited edition (1989) honored the
bicentenary of the 1789 French Revolution.
" Montblanc introduced its first limited edition in 1992;
its special runs are restricted to 4,810 copies.
" The most exclusive limited editions included Parker's
gold "Snake" pen (250 made), Visconti's "Taj
Mahal" in ivory and gold (88 made), Aurora's gold "Benvenuto
Cellini" (199 made), and Montegrappe's "Gold Dragon"
Charcoal was used in cave paintings, metallic
lead styluses were used two thousand years ago to mark paper
and papyrus, and graphite-based drawing-sticks have been known
since Elizabethan times. Graphite is soft and needs a support
tube for protection or a cover to prevent the hands from becoming
soiled. The invention of hard "lead" paved the way
for wood-encased pencils and retractable propelling pencils.
Until recently, pencils have not been highly valued, but a
wider appreciation of the craftsmanship involved in producing
pencils, and of the intricate workings of mechanical examples,
had elevated values and sparked collector interest.
On most 19thC examples of typical mechanical
pencils, the outer case is a thin silver or gold tube. In
the 20thC it became more standard for the case to be based
on a plastic barrel with a simple inexpensive mechanism fitted.
Porte crayons and cedar holders
The porte crayons was a metal tube designed
to hold a "lead" (a thick graphite rod), often with
a sliding mechanism to extend the former. Cedar holders, with
brass-threaded inserts, were made to hold whole wooden pencils
(often known as "cedars"). Most are between 5cm
and 7.5cms (2-3in) in length. Value is determined by design,
size, and maker.
Screw and slide mechanisms
Screw mechanisms were used by watch and instrument
makers in the 17thC, and were probably also applied to writing
items at that time. However, the first recorded use of such
a screw mechanism in pencils was detailed in the Hawkins and
Mordan patent of 1822. The earliest example known is marked
1823, and such early pencils are rare and valuable. Early
pencils can be dated fairly accurately by their decoration,
the design of their finials, and their stub-shaped nozzles.
Later pencils have more ornate engraving, which is a major
factor in determining the value.
Designs combining a pen and pencil at opposing
ends of tubes were diverse. Examples range from inexpensive
tinplate or nickel "penny pushers" (sold originally
for only a penny), which combined dip pens and wooden pencils,
to luxury versions combining pens and mechanical pencils in
silver and gold.
Combination designs with the pen and pencil
at the same end were popular even into the 20thC. Some examples
made by Mordan could be used with metal nibs and quill slips;
similar combinations, especially those by Fairchild, were
very popular in the USA. On some models, pulling or twisting
the barrel exposed delicate slider pins to push out the pen
or pencil; other designs featured intricate twisting mechanisms,
which exposed the pen when turned clockwise and the pencil
when twisted anti-clockwise.
FACT FILE - Leads
"As the graphite sticks used in early
propelling pencils wore away very quickly, makers began to
experiment to produce a harder "lead". A process
of mixing graphite, silicate, and a binder, then extruding
the mix into fine rods and firing them in a kiln, was developed
c.1790 by both the firm of Conté in France and that
of Hardmuth in Germany.
Different ratios of filler and binder determine the hardness
of the "leads".
Mechanical pencils were manufactured both
by small concerns such as silversmiths, who bought in mechanisms
and made and fitted "pencil cases", and by large
manufacturers such as Mordan, Butler, Fairchild, and Hicks,
whose main business was the production of mechanical pencils.
The design of pencils is therefore diverse, particularly as
leads and nozzle sizes were not standardized.
Small decorative pencils were manufactured
mainly in Britain and USA, and are fairly readily available
today. They include slim sliders, telescopic designs, and
examples decorated with semi-precious jewels and enameling.
The mechanisms in pencils are generally very delicate and
often do not work, in which case they will be of very little
value other than as spare parts.
Niche collecting areas
Some enthusiasts concentrate on collecting
novelty pencils, of which there is a vast range. Designs include
examples in the shape of owls, dogs, birds, pistols, rifles,
spinning tops, golf clubs, screws, and nails. One popular
area of collecting is Egyptian-design pencils, including obelisk-
and sphinx-themed ones as well as the mummy-shaped design.
Most are enameled, but watch out for crudely cast models.
Combination items of pencils with knives, rulers, and tooth-picks
are another niche collecting area. A combined knife and pencil
was produced in the USA by Edward Todd in conjunction with
J.Wolstenholme of Sheffield.
Models with three separate pencils (red, blue
and black) in one case are known as "tricolour"
pencils. Most are made of silver - gold ones are rare. Some
collectors specialize in the variety of mechanism used to
extend the tricolour pencils. Some are sliders; other examples
have button-release mechanisms, telescopic extensions, three-sided
sliders, or three-segment twists. Good condition is important,
so look carefully at the enamel, and check that the mechanism
is in working order. Double and quadruple pencils were also
Desk and writing-case sets
Many mechanical pencils were produced as part
of desk or writing-case sets with matching pens, seals, and
knives. Examples found separately, such as the tortoiseshell-and-gold
pencil and a bulbous American model, are still very collectable.
Although the number of major makers producing
mechanical pencils was small, the number of designs created
was vast. Mordan's 1895 catalog features 195 different pencils;
Baker's 1905 catalog includes 210 designs. The most popular
examples were the plainer ones. The "Torpedo" design
is a twist-action pencil made in gold and silver; one design
is in engine-turned silver, but was also sold as a silver-plated
pencil, and the "Popular" pencil has an unusual
FACT FILE -Makers' marks
The majority of British pencils were made
in London or Birmingham; most feature the mark of the maker
Major names include: Wilmore, Vale, Riddle, Baker, Moseley,
Yard-O-Led, Asprey, Sucklings, Manton, Villiers & Jackson,
Lund, and Walker & Hall.
A vast array of pencils was produced in Europe
and the USA, including some highly decorative, de-luxe designs
(usually special commissions) that were more akin to beautiful
pieces of jewelry than functional writing items. Particularly
exclusive designs, including some novelty creations, were
produced by leading jewelers in New York's Fifth Avenue, London's
Regent Street, and Paris's Avenue Foch. Most were never featured
in catalogs but were unique, one-off creations, made for special
customers; this type of pencil is rare and correspondingly
Neither Roland Cartier nor Tiffany & Co.
produced pencils as part of its standard range, so the examples
by these firms (a 14-carat gold pencil by Cartier, and a silver
Art Deco pencil by Tiffany) were made as special commissions.
A third pencil, with a twist extension in a silver repoussé
case, was made by Hicks, and as a less exclusive design is
not as valuable as the other two pens, although still very
De-luxe combination designs
The "Traveler" is a combination
of a pen and a pencil with the addition of a mini thermometer
on the barrel and a compass on the top finial. The ivory casing
features some small cracks, but these will scarcely affect
the value as the pencil is so rare. One variant of this design
is known with a metal case.
The "dropper" was first introduced
in 1911. The pressing of a button on the top of the case causes
the pencil to drop down, ready for use. Many examples made
by Mordan had seven-sided outer cases, which could adapt into
perpetual calenders. The unusual 15-carat fold round pencil
was probably made by Mordan for Vickery's Regent Street store.
Perpetual calenders add value to most pencils.
This simply designed pencil was made by Hicks
of New York. It contains a silver ruler and measuring dividers,
and was probably either sold at an exclusive New York shop
or specifically commissioned, as such large silver pencils
were not typical of Hick's designs. The value is due largely
to the novelty combination.
Rarity is something that most collectors seek
ardently, and this telescopic pencil with an outer case decorated
with a selection of international flags is particularly unusual
and desirable - hence its high value. If the enamel shows
some damage, this affects the value although not dramatically.
Modern propelling pencils, manufactured to
match pens in sets, as well as for use as promotional items,
have become increasingly popular since the introduction of
inexpensive plastics and mechanisms in the 1940s. Separate
pencils were often promoted as corporate gifts before the
advent of the ballpoint pen, and silver or gold quality pencils
were often given as traditional retirement or leaving presents.
Early pencils by Yard-O-Led are very collectable,
useable and offer excellent value for money. Round-, square-,
and (rare) triangular-barreled models are some examples, but
the firm produced a very wide range of designs. Other versions
include a rare "heavy" pencil, and a small half-length
design known as the "Yard-O-Lette". The hexagonal
"Diplomat", a popular post-war model, is almost
exactly the same today as when first produced in 1947.
In 1917 Wahl, a shrewd machine manufacturer,
purchased the Japanese patent for the mechanical pencil and
continued to produce the same design for the next 40 years.
These pencils were very simple propel-only designs, and their
value will depend on the rarity, decoration, and material
of the outer cases. Variations, including the lady's gold-dilled
ringtop, the large, red-and-black hard-rubber version, and
the standard, clipped, gold-filled pencil. Some of the most
desirable models, such as the "Greek Key" design
were made with matching pens.
Different types of lead
One of the most complex aspects of collecting
pencils is the bewildering variety of lead diameters and nozzle
system used. The diameter of pencils by Mordan is usually
indicated by codes on the nozzles, but although these can
be matched with original leads they do not correspond to modern
leads. Modern leads are usually 0.3mm, 0.5mm, 0.7mm, and 0.9mm,
but most older pencils used 0.8mm, 1mm, and 1.5mm leads, so
pencil collectors avidly search for and collect old leads.
Leads by Hardmuth and Faber are quite common, and pencils
by Yard-O-Led take 1.18mm leads, which are still available.
Most major fountain-pen manufacturers also
produced matching pencils for sale in sets. Surprisingly,
the pencil usually adds little to the value of the set, except
in the case of very rare examples; prices of separate pencils
can hence be very affordable. Most examples feature simple
peg-and-spiral mechanisms, which allow for both propelling
and repelling actions.
Although pens were made for promotions, pencils
were more popular in the 1930s and 1940s as free gifts. The
variety of such pencils is vast, since they were used to promote
items as varied as food products, businesses, and special
FACT FILE - Sampson Mordan
In his very first patent, dated 1822, Mordan
was described as a "portable pen maker".
The partnership (1823-37) between Mordan and the stationer
Riddle laid down the foundations for the mechanical-pencil
From c.1860 until 1930 mechanical pencils were known in popular
parlance as "mordans".
" The differences in makers' marks helps the dating of
pencils without hallmarks.
barrel main body of a pen where the ink or
ink reservoir is stored
"Big Red" name for hard-rubber or
"Permanite" orange-coloured "Duofold senior"
pen made by Parker from 1924 to 1929
blind cap decorative screw-on cover at the
end of the pen barrel to cover the filling button.
blow filler pen with a filling system in which
air is blown through a hole to depress the rubber sac
brassing wearing away of gold plating to reveal
the base metal (copper or brass) beneath
button small brass unit hidden by a blind
cap and depressed to fill a fountain pen
"Calligraph" Popular model made
by Mabie Todd with a special nib for calligraphy
capstan inkwell in the shape of a ship's capstan
carrier tube brass tube running through the
center of a mechanical pencil into which the propelling unit
coin filler pen with filling system in which
a coin is pushed into a slot to depress the pressure bar on
comb notched pattern on feed to store ink
"combo" combination of a dip or
fountain pen and a pencil in one unit
converter unit inserted into a pen to convert
it from cartridge to ink fill
crescent filler pen with a curved metal unit
protruding from the barrel, which depresses the sac for filling;
invented and used mainly by Conklin
ding indentation in the metal cap or body
eraser term for a two-sided blade used for
scraping parchment (i.e. to improve its ability to absorb
eyedropper glass tube and rubber bulb used
to fill pens; also refers to the pen itself
feed slotted unit in hard rubber or plastic,
which fits into the section and supports the nib
ferrel metal tube at the end of a dip pen
into which the steel nib fits
filigree decorative metalwork with cut-out
hatched engraved or indented with criss-cross
hooded pen with only the tip of the nib showing
imprint engraving or stamp of the maker's
name or logo
inner cap unit inside the cap to keep the
pen sealed when not in use
insert simple glass or pot inwell, which fits
into an ornate holder
iridium hard metal used to make nib tips
lever mechanism for depressing a pressure
bar onto the sac to fill a pen
lignum vitae very heavy hardwood from South
morocco very thin leather used to cover items,
including boxes and pen cases
manifold nib stiff, robust nib used for making
copies and writing manifests
matchstick filling system with a small hole
in the barrel into which a matchstick
filler was pushed to depress the rubber sac
nozzle writing end of a mechanical pencil
supporting the "lead"
nib ejector sliding system to push out the
nib on a dip pen
peg part of the section onto which the rubber
sac is attached
pen writing instrument; synonymous in the
19thC with the nib
"Permanite" Parker's tradename for
cellulose nitrate plastic
penner portable unit for carrying pens and
pierce hold hole in the nib that controls
ink flow by allowing air back into the reservoir
piqué metal decoration, usually silver
and gold inlaid into tortoishell
plunger small piston with a cork or leather
seal or washer to aid ink fill
pressure bar metal bar inside the barrel,
which compresses the rubber sac to expel air and allow the
sac to fill with ink
propelling pin rod, which pushes "lead"
out through the nozzle of the pencil
overlay metal laid over the barrel for decorative
"Radite" Sheaffer's tradename for
cellulose nitrate plastic
ring top pen with a ring attached to the cap
for a chain or ribbon
repoussé relief decoration on metal
produced by raising or beating from the back
repelling pencil pencil with "lead"
that retracts mechanically
Rococo 18thC style typified by curves, scallops,
shell shape, and pastel colours
section unit, which holds the feed and nib,
attached to the pen barrel
shell plastic cover for the nib, feed, and
collector unit on a hooded pen
stanhope micro image fitted into a viewing
hold behind a tiny lens
sac protector metal tube inside the barrel
protecting the sac
snail design pattern in repoussé with
swirls resembling a snail's shell
snorkel tube that extrudes through the section
to draw up ink
stirrup stirrup-shaped loop or ring for mechanical
telescopic extension mechanism, which pulls
out like a telescope
"Vacumatic" Parker's process of
evacuating air from the barrel of a pen to allow it to fill
"wafer" thin slip of compressed
adhesive used for sealing letters and other documents
waxjack 17thC unit featuring a roll of impregnated
wick, used for melting sealing wax
What to read
Badders, V. Collector's Guide to Inkwells,
vols 1 & 2 (Penducah, 1995/8)
Courtier, S., Marshall J.M., and Marshall,
J.K. A Beginner's Guide to Collecting Pencils (Penrith, 1998)
Crosby, D. Victorian Pencils: Tools to Jewels
(West Chester, 1998)
Dubiel, F. Fountain Pens: The Complete Guide
to Repair and Restoration (Falls River, 1994)
Erano, P. Collecting and Valuing Fountain
Pens (Salt Lake City, 1995)
Finlay, M. Western Writing Implements in the
Age of the Quill (Wetherby, 1990)
Fischler, G. and Schneider, S. The illustrated
Guide to Antique Writing instruments (West Chester, 1997)
Lambrou, A. Fountain Pens of the World (London,
Petroski, H. The Pencil: A History (New York,
Rivera, B. and T. Inkstands & Inkwells
(New York, 1973)
Roe, G. Writing Instruments: A Technical History
and How They Work (Manchester, 1996)
Steinberg, J. Fountain Pens (London, 1994)
Journal of The Writing Equipment Society
Contact Dr Maureen Greenland
The Writing Equipment Society
Derbyshire S18 5SB
The Pen & Pencil Gallery Magazine
Cumbria CA11 9TE
International World Publications
3946 Glade Valley
Contact Boris Rice
Pen collectors of America
A tile is a manufactured piece of hard-wearing
material such as ceramic, stone, porcelain, metal or even
glass. Tiles are generally used for covering roofs, floors,
and walls, or other objects such as tabletops. Another category
are the ceiling tiles, made from lightweight materials such
as perlite and mineral wool. The word is derived from the
French word tuile, which is, in turn, from the Latin word
tegula, meaning a roof tile composed of baked clay. Less precisely,
the modern term can refer to any sort of construction tile
or similar object, such as rectangular counters used in playing
games (see tile-based game).
Tiles are often used to form wall and floor
coverings, and can range from simple square tiles to complex
mosaics. Tiles are most often made from ceramic, with a hard
glaze finish, but other materials are also commonly used,
such as glass, slate, and reformed ceramic slurry, which is
cast in a mould and fired.
In the past twenty years, the technology surrounding
porcelain tile and glass tiles have increased, moving both
from a niche marketplace to a place of prominence in the tile
The elaborate floor pattern of the Sydney Queen Victoria BuildingThese
are commonly made of ceramic or stone, although recent technological
advances have resulted in glass tiles for floors as well.
Ceramic tiles may be painted and glazed. Small mosaic tiles
may be laid in various patterns. Floor tiles are typically
set into mortar consisting of sand, cement and often a latex
additive for extra strength. The spaces between the tiles
are nowadays filled with sanded or unsanded floor grout, but
traditionally mortar was used.
Natural stone tiles can be especially beautiful.
However, as a natural product they are often less uniform
and require more planning for use and installation. Stone
tiles described as "gauged" have very uniform width
and length dimensions; "ungauged" stone tiles may
vary from their nominal dimensions. Stone tiles such as granite
can be sawn on both sides (and then polished on the facing
up side) so that they have a uniform thickness. Other natural
stone tiles such as slate are typically "riven"
(split) on the facing up side so that the thickness of the
tile varies from one spot on the tile to another and from
one tile to another. Variations in tile thickness can be handled
by adjusting the amount of mortar under each part of the tile,
by using wide grout lines that "ramp" between different
thicknesses, or by using a cold chisel to knock off high spots.
Some stone tiles such as polished granite
and marble are inherently very slippery when wet. Stone tiles
with a riven (split) surface such as slate or with a sawn
and then sand-blasted surface--granite is occasionally prepared
this way--will be more slip resistant. Ceramic tile for use
in wet areas can be made more slip resistant either by using
very small tiles so that the grout lines acts as grooves or
by imprinting a contour pattern onto the face of the tile.
The hardness of natural stone tiles varies
such that some of the softer stone tiles are not suitable
for very heavy traffic floor areas. On the other hand, ceramic
tiles typically have a glazed upper surface and when that
become scratched or pitted the floor looks worn, whereas the
same amount of wear on natural stone tiles won't show or will
be less noticeable.
Natural stone tiles can be stained by spilled
liquids; they must be sealed and periodically resealed with
a sealant in contrast to ceramic tiles which only need their
grout lines sealed. However, because of the complex, non repeating
patterns in natural stone, small amounts of dirt on many natural
stone floor tiles do not show.
Most vendors of stone tiles emphasize that
there will be variation in color and pattern from one batch
of tiles to another of the same description and variation
within the same batch.
Stone floor tiles tend to be heavier than
ceramic tiles and somewhat more prone to breakage during shipment.
Vinyl Ceiling TileCeiling tiles are lightweight tiles used
in the interior of buildings. They are placed on a steel grid
and, depending on the tile selected, may provide thermal insulation,
sound absorption, enhanced fire protection, and improved indoor
air quality. Also frequently called ceiling panels, or drop-ceiling
tiles, they offer the advantage of easy access to wiring and
plumbing above the ceiling grid, and can be easily changed,
removed, or replaced as needed. They are fabricated from perlite,
mineral wool, plastic, tin, aluminum, and fibers from recycled
paper. They frequently have patterns comprised of holes, to
improve their sound absorption properties, though many have
a molded surface providing a textured, sculpted, or pressed-tin
look to the ceiling. Some tiles are available with decorative
photo/transfer surfaces, some are approved for installation
under fire suppression sprinkler heads so the sprinklers do
not show, some are approved for use in food preparation areas,
and some are certified for indoor air quality by the GreenGuard
Institute. Tiles are available that resist mold and moisture
damage, that have enhanced acoustical properties, and that
can be easily trimmed with household scissors. Recycling old
tiles depends upon the material used to make them, and some
landfills no longer accept traditional mineral fiber tiles,
so they must be recycled to the manufacturer. Some plastic
tiles can be 100% curbside recycled.
Typical tilework on buildings in Santarém, Portugal.Decorative
tilework typically takes the form of mosaic upon the walls,
floor, or ceiling of a building. Although decorative tilework
was known and extensively practiced in the ancient world (as
evidenced in the magnificent mosaics of Pompeii and Herculaneum),
it perhaps reached its greatest expression during the Islamic
Some places, notably Portugal and São
Luís, have a tradition of tilework (called azulejos)
on buildings that continues today.
In the United States, decorative tiles were
in vogue, especially in southern California, in the 1920s
and 1930s. Prominent among art tile makers during this period
was Ernest A. Batchelder.
Perhaps because of the tenets of Moslem law (sharia) which
disavow religious icons and images in favor of more abstract
and universal representations of the divine, many consider
decorative tilework to have reached a pinnacle of expression
and detail during the Islamic period. Palaces, public buildings,
and mosques were heavily decorated with dense, often massive
mosaics and friezes of astonishing complexity. As both the
influence and the extent of Islam spread during the Middle
Ages this artistic tradition was carried along, finding expression
from the gardens and courtyards of Málaga in Moorish
Spain to the mosaics of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.
Azulejo- Small Arabic tiles that are glazed
and are used as dadoes in palaces and courtyards
The mathematics of tiling
Certain shapes of tiles, most obviously rectangles, can be
replicated to cover a surface with no gaps. These shapes are
said to tessellate (from the Latin tessera, 'tile'). For detailed
information on tilings see the tessellation page.
The Tiles &
Architectural Ceramics Society (TACS)
Tiles are all around us for everyone to enjoy. Ceramic tiles
cover walls and floors, roofs and pavements, furniture and
stoves, and can be seen in churches and mosques, pubs and
shops, hospitals and homes. They are often combined with other
forms of ceramics such as terracotta, faience and mosaic.
The Tiles & Architectural Ceramics Society is for anyone
interested in tiles and decorative ceramics related to buildings.
Tiles have a history stretching back more
than one thousand years. In the 13th and 14th centuries Europes
churches were paved with decorated tiles. At the same time
buildings in the Arab world were adorned with richly coloured
tiles. Holland was an important centre for tiles in the 17th
and 18th centuries and in the 19th century Britain pioneered
mass-produced tiles. The 20th century has seen both a decline
and a revival in tile-making. Tiles are now much collected
Since 1981 the Tiles and Architectural Ceramics
Society has served as Britains national society responsible
for the study and protection of tiles and architectural ceramics,
uniting people with common interests. An international membership
of individuals and institutions is drawn from the fields of
museums, conservation, manufacturing (both industrial and
craft) architecture, design, and antiques.
TACS members receive a variety of beautifully
illustrated and well-researched publications - for details,
see the Publications page. Members are also able to take advantage
of the Events programme, with visits to places of ceramic
interest, many of which are not normally open to the public.
For more details on membership, please contact
the TACS Membership Secretary, 27 Spurn Lane, Holden Smithy,
Diggle, Oldham, OL3 5QP, United Kingdom
William Frend De Morgan
Recollections of Willian De Morgan praise
him both for his personal warmth and the indomitable energy
with which he pursued his kaleidescopic career as designer,
potter, inventor and novelist. Born in 1839 in Chester, the
son of a mathematician and his highly educated wife, De Morgan
was always supported in his desire to become an artist. At
the age of twenty he entered the Royal Academy schools, but
he was swiftly disillusioned with the establishment; then
he met Morris, and through him the Pre-Raphaelite circle.
Soon De Morgan began experimenting with stained glass, ventured
into pottery in 1863, and by 1872 had shifted his interest
wholly to ceramics.
In 1872 De Morgan set up a pottery works in
Chelsea where he stayed through 1881 -- his most fruitful
decade as an art potter. The arts and crafts ideology he was
exposed to through Morris' close friendship, and his own insistent
curiousity, led De Morgan to begin to explore every technical
aspect of his craft. He soon rejected the use of blank commercial
tiles, preferring to make his own biscuit, which he admired
for its irregularities and better resistance to moisture.
That streak of inventiveness that led him to spend hours designing
a new duplex bicycle gear also mired him in complex studies
of the chemistry of glazes, methods of firing, and pattern
De Morgan was particularly drawn to Eastern
tiles. Around 1873/74 he made a striking breakthrough by rediscovering
the technique of lustre ware (characterized by a reflective,
metallic surface) found in Hispano-Moresque pottery and Italian
majolica. Nor was his interest in the East limited to glazing
techniques, but it permeated his notions of design and color,
as well. As early as 1875, he began to work in earnest with
a "Persian" palette: dark blue, turquoise, manganese
purple, green, Indian red, and lemon yellow, Study of the
motifs of what he refer to as "Persian" ware (and
we know today as fifteenth-and-sixteenth century Isnik ware),
profoundly influenced his unmistakeable style, in which fantastic
creatures eatwined with rhythmic geometric motifs float under
It is apparent that De Morgan was very familiar
with Eastern design, color, and pottery techniques prior to
the Arab Hall project, although his proximity to Leighton's
collection undoubtedly refined this knowledge. Of all the
artists commissioned to contribute to the hall, De Morgan
was the most attuned to the project. For him it represented
both a challenge, and an unusual opportunity to handle, study,
and assimilate Eastern motifs and glazes at their source.
De Morgan succeeded beautifullyin part because
he invented a technique of pattern transfer. Commercial tile
manufacturers usually relied on some form of printed transfer
sheets -- all exactly the same to guarantee uniformity. De
Morgan, rejecting this stultifying repetition, experimented
until he found a means of duplicating a pattern while maintaining
the individuality of each tile. Unfortunately, no plan or
drawing has survived to give some clue as to how he pieced
together this complex jig-saw puzzle, for without such a record
his expertise still baffles even skilled observers.
Terry Reece Hackford, M. A.
William Frend de Morgan (November 16, 1839
1917) was a British potter and tile designer. A life-long
friend of William Morris, he designed tiles, stained glass
and furniture for Morris & Co. from 1863 to 1872. His
tiles are often based on medieval designs or Persian patterns,
and he experimented with innovative glazes and firing techniques.
Galleons and fish were popular motifs, as were "fantastical"
birds and other animals. Many of de Morgan's tile designs
were planned to create intricate patterns when several tiles
were laid together.
Recollections of Willian De Morgan praise him both for his
personal warmth and the indomitable energy with which he pursued
his kaleidoscopic career as designer, potter, inventor and
Born in Chester, the son of a mathematician and his highly
educated wife, de Morgan was always supported in his desire
to become an artist. At the age of twenty he entered the Royal
Academy schools, but he was swiftly disillusioned with the
establishment; then he met Morris, and through him the Pre-Raphaelite
circle. Soon de Morgan began experimenting with stained glass,
ventured into pottery in 1863, and by 1872 had shifted his
interest wholly to ceramics.
In 1872, de Morgan set up a pottery works in Chelsea where
he stayed through 1881 his most fruitful decade as
an art potter. The arts and crafts ideology he was exposed
to through his friendship with Morris and his own insistent
curiosity, led de Morgan to begin to explore every technical
aspect of his craft. He soon rejected the use of blank commercial
tiles, preferring to make his own biscuit, which he admired
for its irregularities and better resistance to moisture.
His inventive streak led him to spend hours designing a new
duplex bicycle gear and also lured him into complex studies
of the chemistry of glazes, methods of firing, and pattern
De Morgan was particularly drawn to Eastern tiles. Around
18731874, he made a striking breakthrough by rediscovering
the technique of lustre ware (characterized by a reflective,
metallic surface) found in Hispano-Moresque pottery and Italian
majolica. Nor was his interest in the East limited to glazing
techniques, but it permeated his notions of design and colour,
as well. As early as 1875, he began to work in earnest with
a "Persian" palette: dark blue, turquoise, manganese
purple, green, Indian red, and lemon yellow, Study of the
motifs of what he referred to as "Persian" ware
(and what we know today as fifteenth-and-sixteenth century
Isnik ware), profoundly influenced his unmistakeable style,
in which fantastic creatures entwined with rhythmic geometric
motifs float under luminous glazes.
Collections of de Morgan's work exist in many
museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the
William Morris Gallery in London, a substantial and representative
collection in Birmingham, and a small but well-chosen collection
along with much other pottery at Norwich.
Victorian Tiler, Potter, and Novelist
Born: 16 Nov 1839, London
Died: 15 Jan 1917, London
Married: Evelyn Pickering, 1887
Student, Royal Academy Schools, London, 1859
Student, University College, London, 1856-9
Student, Cary's School, London, 1855
Student, University College School, London, 1849
William De Morgan Collections Open To the
William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow (London), England
Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England
Leighton House, London, England
General Collections Containing Works By William
Gladstone Pottery Museum, Stoke-On-Trent, England
Jackfield Tile Museum, Ironbridge, Telford, Shropshire, England
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England
British Museum, London, England
Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, South Glamorgan, Wales, UK (open
to the public in winter only)
Publications: Reference Works Covering William
All citations are from the Booklist on the Tiles On The Web
Austwick, J & B
The Decorated Tile
Collier Macmillan, 1980, ISBN 02-990100-6
cloth, 160 pages
info on back marks
Victorian Ceramic Tiles
Studio Vista, 1972, ISBN 0-289-70251-8
cloth, 184 pages
info on back marks, some color photos, many b/w photos
William De Morgan Tiles At Knightscroft House, Rustington,
paper, 5 pages
xerographic monograph with color plates
William De Morgan Tiles
Van Nostrand Rheinhold, 1983, ISBN 0-671-60842-8
cloth, 184 pages
William De Morgan: Pre-Raphaelite Ceramics
New York Graphics Society, 1971, ISBN 8212-0390-8
cloth, 176 pages
many color photos, info on back marks, bibliography
The Designs of William De Morgan
Dennis & Wiltshire, 1989, ISBN 0-903685-24-8
cloth, 256 pages
comprehensive collection of the De Morgan design archive at
Collecting Victorian Tiles
Antique Collectors Club, 1979, ISBN 0-902028-82-0
cloth, 239 pages
broad coverage, with updated price guide
Van Lemmen, Hans
Fired Earth: 1000 Years of Tiles in Europe
Richard Dennis/T&ACS, 1991, ISBN 0-903685-28-0
paper, 180 pages
many excellent color photos
Van Lemmen, Hans
Tiles: 1000 years of Architectural Decoration
Abrams, 1993, ISBN 0-8109-3867-7
cloth, 240 pages
text & color photos of tiles from around the world, a
Publications: Writings of William De Morgan
After De Morgan's health failed, he spent increasing lengths
of time in Italy. During this time, his pottery business went
into a decline from which it never recoverd. De Morgan then
went on to a very successful career as a novelist. He wrote
several best selling novels including Joseph Vance and Alice-For-Short.
Sources For William De Morgan Tiles
Haslam and Whiteway Ltd, London, England
An extensive and ever changing selection of De Morgan tiles.
Other Victorain tiles also available.
The Arts & Crafts Home
Antiques of the 20th Century, with a good selection of art
pottery and some tiles.
Earth Song Studio
Earth Song Studio is a small family business, making hand
cast ceramic art tiles from original carvings. We have a wide
selection of relief carved accent and border tiles, hand cut
plain tiles, decorative tile sets and custom carved art tiles
and wall hangings. Most of our tiles can hang on their own
as artwork or be installed with a matching plain tile.
Our studio emphasizes custom designs per our client's specification.
Our tilework includes handpainted designs on pre-glazed commercial
tiles, a line of hand-made terra cotta and white bodied tiles
with accompanying trim pieces, and "cuerde seca"
designs with patterns including Spanish and Moorish styles,
geometrics and florals.
Mad Teapotter Studio
Since 1983, The Mad Teapotter Studio in Larkspur, Colorado,
has been providing fine, handmade & hand-painted ceramic
tile to architects and interior designers. Services include
everything from the design stage to the finished product.
Handpainted Tile Murals
Specializing in wildlife, all of my ceramic tile murals are
hand painted original works of art.
Custom Tile Art Works
Specialist in custom tile murals featuring botanical subjects
Fine Art Mosaics
George Fishman creates pictorial mosaics for churches, cruise
ships and homes. Themes for custom work are developed through
conversation and collaborative designing with his clients.
He uses traditional glass smalti and stone as well as unglazed
porcelains to ensure that the beauty of the completed work
can endure for centuries. Site also contains a basic how-to
Hand Painted Tiles
ONE-OF-A-KIND HAND-PAINTED TILE, a world of UNLIMITED POSSIBILITIES
for creating exciting, colorful surfaces! I will hand-paint
commercial or hand-made wall tiles, floor tiles and outdoor
tiles that will withstand winter temperatures.
Daniel Oberti Ceramic Design
Ceramic Sculptor Daniel Oberti lives and maintains his studio
in the rural meadows of western Sonoma County. His commissions
are Architectural in content and scale, and include fountains,
entry foyers, bathrooms, kitchens, walkways, fireplaces, and
garden oriented artifacts.
Dodge Lane Potters Group
Pat Wehrman's DLPG specializes in tiles which are handmade
from wet clay. The tiles are individually glazed and fired
to 2180 ° F, making them very durable and strong. The
designs are made in cuerda seca (dry line) which allows the
grout to lay in the unglazed lines, enhancing and detailing
the design. DLPG glazes are suitable for most surface applications.
a mano handmade tile
Specialist in hand-carved ceramic tile inspired by the designs
of Egypt, the Orient, Mexico, Europe, Morocco, and the American
Art Tiles: Aesthetics of Pleasure
Article by Philip Read
Art Tiles are so described as to differentiate
the hand-made/hand-painted tiles from the die cast mass-produced
tiles. Tiles have had a long history of artistic and creative
design. Currently, the social perception of the term tiles
has relegated the industry to an inexpensive commodity status
indicating a separation from the high arts. This has not always
been the case, the introduction of the machine produced tiles
witnessed the gradual decrease of the hand as playing a major
role in the production or painting of the tiles. In the 1840s
the dust-pressing a method that consisted of compressing
nearly dry clay between two metal dies revolutionized the
tile making industry. Dust pressing replaced tile-making by
hand with wet clay, and facilitated the mechanization of the
Today, artisans use the term Art Tiles to
identify their tiles as hand-made, hand-prepared and hand
painted. This means that all tiles are made from wet clay
and are individually prepared for painting by smoothing the
surface and edges. The decoration is applied by hand techniques
such as brush, scraffito, luster, tube and transfer printing.
The history of tiles is truly a global affair. Tiles can be
traced back at least 4000 years into areas of China, Persia,
Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) and Europe through
Spain and Italy. They have been excavated at the pyramids,
the ruins of Babylon and ruins of the ancient Greek cities.
Tiles were originally used to beautify living spaces and were
applied on walls and floors. Early designs exhibited decorations
of white and blue stripes and later exhibited a wider decoration
of patterns and colours. A fine white stoneware with glaze
was found from the Shang-Yin Dynasty of China, 15231028
In the 10th and 11th Centuries a process that
included a glassy layer over the clay was developed in Mesopotamia,
Persia and Egypt. Families of potters moved to Spain from
the Andalusia hub and Mediterranean strip of the Iberian Peninsula.
This tile method was introduced to Europe with the Arab invasion
of Spain where we still see the architectonic application
of tiles on the greater mosque of Seville of the 12th century.
Incredible architectural examples of Arab building tiles can
still be seen throughout Spain especially at the Alhambra.
Spain and Italy were prime markets for the development of
tiles in Europe specifically in the 14th and 15th centuries.
At this time the hand made production of tiles required an
extremely specialized division of labour that involved tile
makers and tile decorators.
Towards the 1500 the cities of Seville and
Toledo took over the production of tiles. These cities developed
new techniques for the making of tiles; they are credited
with the appearance of the first mass production process.
During the 1840s the tile industry was
revolutionized by the dust pressing method that
consisted of compressing nearly dry clay between two metal
dies. Subsequently, in the 19th Century and beginning of the
20th century, the tile industry entered a pre industrial stage
that greatly increased the mechanized production and volume
Prior to the 1840s, tiles were hand-made,
that is to say, that each tile was hand-formed and hand-painted
making each tile a work of art in its own right. Today, ceramic
tile is not hand-made or hand-painted for the most part. Automated
manufacturing techniques are used and the human had does not
enter into the picture until it is time to install the tile.
The introduction of the term Art Tile in the
last 20 years is meant to promote the individual tile artist
who still uses the hand to make, form and decorate the tiles.
This term distinguishes the small studio tile artist from
the mass produced industrial tile and promotes the return
of the labour intensive artistic method of making tiles. Some
tile artists will purchase standard mass produced bisque or
glazed tile and then hand-paint the decoration. Other artists
chose to hand-make, prepare and hand-paint the individual
tiles. This later choice greatly increases the individual
tile labour and dramatically impacts the volume of tiles produced.
However, this later method uniquely individualizes each tile
as a work of art, thus the Art Tile.
Personal Style and Technique
I chose to work only in ceramic porcelain clay; it is the
smoothest of clay bodies and is excellent for painting. This
choice started for me in 1995 when I went to the ancient city
Jingdezhen, China to study painting and tile making with the
many studio artists who still use the hands to make and decorate
tiles. Jingdezhen has been the center of porcelain clay production
for the past 1000years due to the abundant supply of Kaolin
clay which is unique to the production of the white clay body.
I was especially interested in the large tiles of 20
to 24 which offered a large smooth surface to paint
on. All of my large tiles are hand made and hand prepared.
I do not use a slab roller and maintain the thickness around
one centimeter or 3/8 to ½. Although this
is a labour intensive process and fragile method I have been
able to develop a success rate above 90% after firing.
The drying process takes up to three weeks
and is a critical stage in the survival of the tile. During
this drying period I have developed a series of coverings
to slow down the dry rate that can lead to cracking and warping.
After the tile has dried completely I can then start the painting
process. I only work with Green Ware, no pre firing bisque
because I have found that the dry clay has absorbency similar
to paper. My painting technique is a combination of Eastern
and Western brush applications. These brush techniques often
require a series of dabs rather than a drawing stroke, the
difference develops a layering process that will not smear
or create smudge appearances. Of course, the detail work requires
the delicate brush stroke application. I have found that this
combination of dabs and drawing strokes gives me the maximum
freedom of expression over a broad range of composition. My
palette includes cobalt blue, under glaze colours, and glazes
in combinations that enrich the aesthetic beauty of the artwork.
Once the tile painting is complete I apply
a clear glaze over the top and move to the kiln stage. The
Kiln stage is a very critical stage for the success of the
large 24 green ware tiles. Moving the large green ware
tiles to the kiln shelves is a very delicate and cautious
stage, they can break very easy.
My firing process involves both vertical and
horizontal firings. I use a gas fired reduction firing and/or
an electric oxidation firing. Typically, I once fire up to
1350c and then may have 2-4 subsequent firings including
I chose to hand-form, prepare and hand paint
all of my porcelain tiles. As a small studio artisan I can
never compete with the large mass-producing tile companies.
Art Tiles currently have a niche market and serves customers
who wish to have a unique one of a kind artwork to decorate
I often describe my art making as painting
with powdered glass suspended in water. My painting style
is somewhat unorthodox and took me over 5years to develop.
It is a brush application technique of dabbing and layering
that results in the glaze melting and fusing into unexpected
and exciting pools of liquid glass. These translucent layers
of glass fuse onto the white porcelain clay and result in
images of soft and strong colour compositions. My paintings
are the influence of Western techniques (watercolours, oil,
acrylic painting techniques) and Eastern techniques (ink and
wash paintings on rice paper) combined with the aesthetics
and philosophies of cross culture studies.
Aesthetics of Pleasure
The aesthetics of our personal environment is an important
issue in the emergence and continuing development of Art Tiles.
The aesthetics or beauty of an artwork responds to the individuals
pleasure principle and an emotion is evoked. An emotional
relationship is formed, a bond of pleasure. Works of art provokes
emotion and all of us react accordingly to specific compositions.
However, when works of art are perceived to be commodity the
relationship changes to one of decorative function the emotion
is removed from the observation and the relationship remains
Craft is often described as the production
of a thing having characteristics that could be shared by
other things. This sharing evokes a general emotion and not
a specific emotion as evoked by an individual work of art
like a painting or sculpture. Art Tiles have a limited niche
market primarily due to cost. The Art Tiles are sold as works
of art and are priced accordingly. They are not made to compete
directly with the mass produced tiles but are sold to accent
living spaces surrounded by inexpensive mass produced tiles.
As such, someone will purchase individual tiles because of
there beauty and aesthetic appeal but that is the beauty of
Art Tiles; affordable, beautiful, archival (another loaded
word), and durable.
Article courtesy Philip Read, Mountain Path
A HISTORY OF VINTAGE TEDDY
EXPERIMENTAL PERIOD; INTRODUCTION OF "BUTTON
In 1902, Richard Steiff began experimenting
to invent a satisfactory, flexible jointing systems. He devised
a series of simple, string-jointed animals, one of which was
the brown Bär 55 PB - so called because it was 55cm (22in)
high (seated), made of Plusch (plush), and Beweglich (movable).
The bear was in a crate of toys sent to New York in February
1903, but was initially unsuccessful. A month later, however,
US wholesalers Geo. Borgfeldt & Co. ordered 3,000 at the
Leipzip Spring Fair. Steiff patented four designs, culminating
in the rod-jointed Bär 28 PB. Made for only one year,
it is now highly prized.
Steiff: 1905-World War I
DESIGN PERFECTED; TRIANGULAR NOSE FOR SMALL
Richard Steiff perfected his plush bear-doll,
patenting the design on 12 February 1905. The new bear had
card disc-joints and was made in white, and light or dark
brown mohair plush (although the prototype, a 32cm (13in)
example now in the Steiff archives, was grey). Known as "Bärle"
in catalogues, its code name was "PAB":Plusch (plush),
Angeschiebt (disc jointed), and Beweglich (movable). Steiff
patented its "button in ear" trademark on 13 May
1905, replacing the embossed elephant with the word "Steiff".
In 1908-09, the company introduced linen ear-tags printed
with product numbers.
Steiff: 1903-World War I
ALTERNATIVE NOSE DESIGN USED ON LARGER BEARS
The demand for teddies, particularly in the
US, soared between 1903 and 1908, the period that the Steiff
company called the Bärenjahre, when production increased
from 12,000 to about 975,000. To use materials economically,
Steiff cut six complete teddy-bear heads from one length of
mohair plush; a seventh head was cut in two pieces, so creating
the "centre-seam" teddy bear, which is now greatly
prized. By 1905, seven sizes were available; this increased
to fourteen by 1910. Bears over 40cm (16in) tall had a different
nose design from smaller bears - shield shaped, vertically
stitched, with a felt underlay.
Stieff: 1908-World War I
INTRODUCTION OF NOVELTY DESIGNS TO RETAIN
Poly bear; the clockwork somersaulting teddy;
and the 1913 Record teddy (seated on a In 1908, Steiff tried
to regain its monopoly on teddy-bear manufacture by producing
a number of novelties; in 1909, it added bright gold to its
natural range of brown, beige, and white; and in 1912, it
produced a special black bear for the British market. The
Dolly bear of 1913 was produced for the US election, in red,
white, and blue. Other novelties included the 1909 Roly wooden-wheeled
metal chassis). The latter was copied by several British manufacturers,
including J.K.Farnell & Co. Ltd.
Ideal: 1903-World War I
BIRTH OF TEDDY'S BEAR AND FIRST US MANUFACTURER
The story of the original teddy bear, hand-sewn
by Rose Michtom and sold as Teddy's bear at her husband Morris's
New York novelty and stationery store, is now legendary. In
1903, the Michtoms - having sold their entire stock of bears
to the wholesale firm Butler Brothers, who then guaranteed
their credit with the plush-producing mills - established
the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company. The company moved to larger
premises in 1907, and a year later its first advertisement
appeared in the US trade journal Playthings, in which they
claimed to be "the largest bear manufacturers in the
SHORT-LIVED FIRMS; TRADITIONAL AND NOVELTY
Theodore Roosevelt's second term in office
(1905-09) saw the teddy-bear craze at its peak, with the establishment
of numerous manufacturers. These included the American Doll
and Toy Manufacturing Co. and the Miller Manufacturing Co.
Many non-toy-making companies began to make teddy bears as
well at this time: in 1907 the Fast Black Skirt Company's
Electric Bright Eye and Hahn & Amberg's cork-filled teddy
bears came on the market. Other novelties included Harman's
1908 Teddy Bear Purse ad the Dreamland Doll Company's topsy-turvy,
half-teddy/half-doll of 1905-08.
Great Britain: 1908-c.1920
BIRTH OF BRITISH SOFT-TOY INDUSTRY; FIRST
The teddy-bear craze reached Britain around
1908, fuelled perhaps by the fact that the country had its
own "Teddy", Edward VII. Most teddy bears available
in the early years were German, though made from mohair spun
in English mills. A few soft-toy manufacturers existed, such
as W.J.Terry and Dean's Rag Book Company, but it is J.K.Farnell
& Co. that take the credit for making the first British,
jointed, plush teddy bear, in 1908. World War I had a significant
effect on the manufacture of teddy bears in Great Britain,
many new factories being established as a result of the ban
on German imports.
HERMANN FAMILY AND OTHER NEUSTADT/SONNEBERG
The teddy-bear industry in the Neustadt/Sonneberg
area of Germany, the traditional toy-making region, began
in 1907-08 in response to the US demand for bears, and in
direct competition with Steiff. By 1930, the industry was
fully developed: Artur, Bernhard, and Max, sons of Johann
Hermann founded three major factories during this period,
and even established doll companies, such as Gebrüder
Süssenguth and Ernst Liebermann, turned to making bears.
The bears of this region often had inset, contrasting muzzles,
a style that endured after World War II.
TRADITIONAL DESIGN; BUTTON DISPUTE WITH STEIFF
Gebrüder Bing, a Nuremberg-based tinware
company, turned to toymaking in the 1880's, and quickly established
a reputation for its fine-quality, mechanical tin toys. Bing
then set out to challenge Steiff's monopoly on teddy bears
by introducing teddies into its programme in the early 1900s.
Originally, Bing copied Steiff's overall design, differing
only in small details; for example, by attaching a metal arrow
to the right ear of its bears. Steiff's objection to this,
however, led to Bing fixing a button (at first incised, later
painted) to the left side of the bears; this was subsequently
moved to the right arm.
Gebrüder Bing: c.1910-32
ADDITION OF CLOCKWORK MECHANISMS TO TEDDY-BEAR
Gebrüder Bing, already established as
the world's largest mechanical tin-toy maker, soon introduced
clockwork machanisms into its teddy bears, with a wind-up
key at the side or front. Later bears, were dressed in felt
outfits. Bing bears usually had a metal arrow (pre-World War
I), a sliver "GBN" button (Gebrüder Bing Nürnberg,
pre-1919) or a red "BW" button (Bing Werke, post-1920).
Some had a red, metal button with "DRPa div DRGM"
(Deutsches Reichs Patent/Deutsches Reichs Gebrauchmuster).
The company went into receivership in 1932.
TRADITIONAL AND NOVELTY BEARS; INTRODUCTION
OF GLASS EYES
During World War I, the Steiff factory was
turned over to making war supplies, and in the post-war period,
when materials were rationed, teddies were made from reconstituted
wood fibre. The 1920s saw a different style of Steiff teddy
emerge, with glass eyes and kapok stuffing, and the introduction
of new colours of plush. Teddy Clown arrived in 1926, followed
by Teddybu, dressed in a felt waistcoat. In 1928, a squeeze-type
musical teddy was made. Unique designs included Petsy, Teddy-Baby,
and Dicky. In 1938, after the arrival of the first pandas
in Western zoos, Steiff introduced their Panda-Bear.
SCHUCO MINIATURES AND NOVELTIES
In 1912, Heinrich Müllerm a former employee
of Gebrüder Bing, founded Schreyer & Co. (usually
known as Schuco) with his partner, Heinrich Schreyer, in Nuremberg.
After World War I, when both men were conscripted, Schreyer
left the firm and Müller took on a new business partner,
Adolf Kahn. Since the company's inception, the registered
trademark had been a little, tumbling man clasping his feet.
In 1921, "Schuco" was officially added to this logo.
Müller concentrated primarily on ingenious novelties,
many of which were clockwork, including a uniformed marching
bear and a bear with a football.
INTRODUCTION OF SCHUCO PATENTED YES/NO BEARS
In 1921, Schreyer and Company's famous patented
Yes/No bears appeared for the first time at the Leipzig Spring
Toy Fair in Germany. Their heads could be turned from left
to right, as well as nodded up and down, by moving the tail,
which acted as a lever connected to a metal rod running up
through the body to a ball-and-socket neck joint. The bears,
with disc-jointed limbs and silk bows, were available in six
sizes, from 25cm to 60cm (10in to 24in), in short, shaggy,
and extra-shaggy mohair plush. The two larger sizes had tilt-growlers,
whereas the rest containted squeakers.
SWISS-MADE, SQUEEZE-TYPE, MUSICAL-BOX TEDDIES
Experts have identified a range of unmarked
bears - produced c.1925 and containing squeeze-type musical
boxes - as the work of the Helvetic Company. A 1928 issue
of the US trade journal of Toy World reported that the Helvetic
Company held the exclusive manufacturing rights to teddy bears
containing such mechanisms, but it is not known whether Helvetic
was a US company importing the mechanisms from Switzerland,
or a Swiss company exporting musical teddies. The name Helvetic
is derived from Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland,
where the clockwork musical box was invented.
During the early craze in the United States
(c.1907), the American teddy bear aquired realistic bear features,
such as an elongated muzzle, long limbs, and a hump, copying
the example set by Steiff and other German manufacturers.
From the end of World War I onwards, however, inferior quality,
US-made teddy bears were developed. Now known in American
arctophilic circles as "US stick bears", because
of their reduced features, these bears were produced for the
masses by many small, now forgotten, soft-toy factories. Unfortunately,
these companies did not attach labels to their products.
BIRTH OF FRENCH SOFT-TOY INDUSTRY; ROD-JOINTED
Although already renowned for its mechanical
bears, France did import teddy bears from Germany during the
early years of the craze. However, the 1914-18 war and the
resulting border closures led to the establishment of a French
teddy-bear industry. Generally of lower quality than their
German counterparts, French bears were often made of short,
bristly mohair or of coloured rayon plush. Manufacturers often
employed cheaper methods of attaching eyes and ears (they
pushed them into holes in the sides of the head, for example),
as well as an unsophisticated, exterior jointing system.
J.K. Farnell: 1920s-30s
ALPHA BEARS AND OTHER TRADITIONAL NOVELTY
Henry and Agnes Farnell, whose ealier family
business made small textile items, established a soft-toy
firm in their Acton home in west London after the death of
their father, John Kirby Farnell, in 1897. J.K.Farnell made
its name with the Alpha trade mark after World War I, building
a factory and becoming a private limited company in 1921.
By the end of the decade, the company had showrooms in London,
Paris, and New York. Despite a fire that destroyed the factory
in 1934, J.K.Farnell was operating again the following year
with new lines and billing itself as the "world's premier
Chad Valley: 1920s-30s
EARLY TRADITIONAL BEARS; BUTTON AND LABEL
The first Chad Valley traditional, jointed,
plush teddy bears were manufactured in 1915-16, following
the ban on German imports into Britain. "Chad Valley"
was the trademark of Johnson Brothers who made stationery
and board games at their works in Harborne, Birmingham. By
1920, the company had so expanded that soft-toy production
was moved to a separate factory, the Wrekin Toy Works in Wellington,
Shropshire; the business became known as The Chad Valley Co.
Ltd. The teddy bears of the 1920s-30s were marked by a printed,
celluloid-covered, metal button and/or a woven label.
Chad Valley: 1920s-30s
TRADITIONAL BEARS WITH ALTERNATIVE NOSE DESIGNS
Chad Valley expanded rapidly throughout the
1920s and 1930s, taking over five companies, including Isaacs
& Co. and Peacock & Co. By the early 1930s, the company
was advertising bears in fourteen sizes, including three that
were available either "hard or soft stuffed". By
the end of the decade, however, only kapok was being used.
During this period, also, nose designs were modified: the
rectangular, horizontally stitched nose and the thickly bound,
oval shape that is now often referred to as the "typical
Chad Valley nose".
DEVELOPMENT OF FAMOUS CHILTERN HUGMEE RANGE
Leon Rees inherited the Chiltern Toy Works
from his father-in-law, Josef Eisenmann, in 1919. In 1920,
he collaborated with Harry Stone, formerly of J.K.Farnell,
to form H.G.Stone and Co., which became one of the foremost
British soft-toy manufacturers of the time. The trademark
"Chiltern Toys" referred to the company's location
in Chesham, in the Chiltern Hills. Bears were made there until
1940 when the factory was turned over to war work. One of
Chiltern's earliest teddy bears was Baby Bruin, the Bear Cub,
of 1922. In 1937, the Wagmee series - similar to Schuco's
Yes/No bear - was introduced.
BIRTH OF FIRST AUSTRALIAN SOFT-TOY MANUFACTURER
Joy-Toys was founded in the 1920s by Mr. and
Mrs. Gerald Kirby of South Yarra, Victoria, and was probably
the first Austalian commercial teddy-bear manufacturer. Before
this, teddies were imported from Europe or they were home-made.
After the Kirbys' departure to London in 1937 to form the
soft-toy company, G.L.Kirby Ltd., Joy-Toys expanded under
the leadership of Maurice Court, gaining the sole Austalian
franchise for Walt Disney characters and opening a factory
at Whangarei, New Zealand. In 1966, the firm was bought out
by the British-owned company, Cyclops, and ceased business
in the 1970s.
EARLY DEVELOPMENT OF TWO TRADITIONAL BRITISH
In 1930, W.G.Holmes and G.H.Laxton opened
a soft-toy factory in a building originally leased from the
the Coalbrookdale Company, in Ironbridge, Shropshire. They
registered their trademark Merrythought (a 17th-century English
word meaning wishbone, and a symbol of good luck) that same
year. In 1931, they produced their first catalogue, advertising
two golden mohair teddy-bear designs: the Magnet range, which
was designed, in four sizes, to "attract" the cheaper
end of the market; and the Merrythought range, which evolved
later into their key pattern, the M line.
Chad Valley: 1938-50s
ROYAL WARRANT LABEL; TRADITIONAL TEDDY BEARS
By the end of the 1930s, The Chad Valley Company
was recognized as one of the world's leading toy manufacturers.
It had expanded greatly and, in 1938, was granted the British
Royal Warrant of Appointment. From that time, all of the firm's
toys carried a label with the declaration "Toymakers
to Her Majesty the Queen", referring to Queen Elizabeth,
the wife of the monarch, King George VI. The wording changed
in 1953 with the coronation of the present Queen Elizabeth
II, when "the Queen" became "the Queen Mother"
- a detail that is helpful when trying to date Chad Valley
Chad Valley: 1930s-1940s
NOVELTIES; INTRODUCTION OF ALTERNATIVE PLUSH
The Chad Valley Company produced a number
of novelty items, beginning with its 1926 Rainbow Tubby Bear,
with ruff and pierrot's hat. Its most popular novelty in the
1930s was Cubby Bear, which was made of brown and fawn alpaca
plush and available in three sizes. This endearing bear was
possibly the Chad Valley equivalent of Merrythought's Bingie.
Cubby's baby brother Sonny Bear was made from biscuit-coloured
plush and wore a bib. In 1934, Chad Valley produced Winnie
the Pooh and various other A.A.Milne characters, populated
by the BBC radio's Children's Hour programme.
BRITAIN'S OLDEST FAMILY-OWNED, SOFT-TOY COMPANY
In 1919, W.G.Holmes and G.H.Laxton opened
a small spinning mill in Yorkshire to weave yarns from raw
mohair imported from such countries as Turkey and South Africa.
During the 1920s, the partnership bought Dyson Hall and Co.
Ltd, a mohair-plush weaving factory in Huddersfield. Seeking
an outlet for their plush fabric, they decided to establish
a soft-toy factory: Merrythought Ltd. Was founded in 1930.
The following year they leased one of the buildings belonging
to the Coalbrookdale Co. in Ironbridge, Shropshire, on the
banks of the River Severn.
BINGIE FAMILY SERIES AND OTHER PRE-WAR NOVELTIES
Soon after its foundation, Merrythought began
making novelty teddy bears. The company made several soft
alpaca bear-cub ranges ideal for young children, such as the
very early Tumpy, and the later Chubby Bear of the mid-1930s;
both are reminiscent of Chad Valley's Cubby Bear. Bobby Bruin
and Teddy Doofings were a new departure. The latter, available
in brown, blue, pink, and green plush, with sleeping eyes,
was Mickey-Mouse-like and fully "poseable". The
Bingie family - introduced at the firm's outset, and available
throughout the 1930s - was especially popular.
MINOR BRITISH COMPANIES; UNMARKED, LOWER QUALITY
Several minor toy-manufacturers were in operation
in the UK during the 1930s, many founded during World War
I, but later forced into liquidation during the lean years
of the late 1930s to the early 1950s. For example, W.H.Jones,
a pioneering British soft-toy manufacturer, established in
1914, went into liquidation in 1937. The Teddy Toy Company,
also established at the outbreak of World War I, became famous
for its Softanlite teddies of the 1920s and 1930s, but eventually
wound up business in 1951. Many manufacturers did not attach
permanent trademarks, making identification difficult.
DEVELOPMENT OF TRADITIONAL BRITISH BEAR; TWO
Dean's produced their first catalogued teddy
bears at their Elephant and Castle factory in London in 1915,
although the company may have been making bears for other
firms prior to this. By 1922-23 Dean's had registered its
trade name "A1 Toys", observed in catalogues as
triangular, card swing-tags. The bears came in three grades
of plush, stuffed with wood-wool, and with either a squeaker
or growler. From 1937-55 Dean's teddies were made at the new,
purpose-built factory at Merton, Surrey, but few were produced
during World War II, when the factory concentrated on producing
TRADITIONAL MOHAIR PLUSH; POINTED MUZZLE DESIGN
The Knickerbocker Toy Company was first established
in Albany, New York during the mid-nineteenth century, producing
typical educational toys of the period, such as lithographed
alphabet blocks. The unusual name "Knickerbocker"
was derived from the traditional nickname for New York inhabitants,
a reference to the original Dutch settlers' baggy breeches.
A 1980 Knickerbocker label states that the company had been
making soft toys for more than half a century. Certainly today
the earliest bears attributable to Knickerbocker date from
the 1920s when permanent labels were introduced.
Knickerbocker: post-World War II
TRADITIONAL DESIGN WITH INSET MUZZLE, AND
The post-war, Knickerbocker traditional design
was typified by the inset, rounded muzzle of clipped plush,
chubby body, and round head with high forehead, although still
retaining the large ears seen on some pre-war bears. As well
as beginning to use synthetic fabrics at this time, the company
also adopted "spangle" eyes - of glass, and later
of plastic - as well as felt noses and tongues. Knickerbocker's
pre-war "Animals of Distinction" logo was joined
by the new registered "joy of a Toy" trademark in
the 1950s. The company regained the license for making "Smokey
Bear" from Ideal from the 1960s until the late 1970s.
SYNTHETIC MATERIALS; ROD JOINTING; MECHANICAL
The Japanese had produced moulded, bisque
and celluloid teddy bears from the 1920s; the post-war era
saw Japan leading the technological field (from 1945 to 1950
the "Made in Japan" label changed to "Made
in Occupied Japan"). From c.1950 to 1970 Japanese manufacturers
produced clockwork and battery-operated tin bears. They also
made traditional teddies with mechanical devices, such as
the Kamar Toy Company's Dear Heart with a battery operated
"beating" heart. In the 1980s, Tokyo's First Corporation
described itself as Japan's premier supplier of quality stuffed
animals to the world.
DEVELOPMENT OF AUSTRALIAN-MADE TRADITIONAL
Several Australian soft-toy manufacturers
were established in the 1930s, but the scarcity of traditional
materials limited teddy production during World War II. Sheepskin
bears with leather or suede pads and noses date from this
period, when the stiff-necked Australian bear (without a neck
joint) was developed, saving on card and metal. Some new companies
emerged in the 1950s, such as Parker Toys of Brunswick, Victoria,
and Barton Waugh Pty. Ltd. of Hurstville, New South Wales,
but by the 1970s, many established firms had gone out of business,
unable to compete with cheap imports from East Asia.
DEVELOPMENT OF TRADITIONAL AND UNJOINTED DESIGN
Two New Yorkers, Caesar Mangiapani and Jack
Levy, established the Character Novelty Co. in 1932, at 14
South Main Street, Norwalk, Connecticut. The business really
began to develop after World War II, when it started to produce
a wide range of soft toy animals, including teddy bears. The
toys were designed by Caesar Mangiapani, and his partner managed
the sales side of the business. The company sold to all the
major department stores, including Bloomingdales, and had
a showroom in New York. Jack Levy retired in about 1960, but
the business continued until 1983, when Caesar Mangiapani
TRADITIONAL AND UNJOINED DESIGNS
German emigrant Adolph Gund established Gund
Manufacturing Co. in Norwalk, Connecticut in 1898, moving
to New York City in the early 1900s. The firm produced novelties,
including soft toys, and added teddy bears in 1906. Jacob
Swedlin, a Russian emigré and Adolph Gund's aide, bought
the firm after Gund retired in 1925. He was responsible for
the firm's expansion and procured the license to produce Walt
Disney characters. Until 1971, the factory was sited in Brooklyn,
and the offices in New York City, moving to Edison, New Jersey
in 1973. Today, some of Gund's teddies are made in East Asia.
JOINTED AND UNJOINTED; INTRODUCTION OF SYNTHETIC
In the years before World War II, Ideal bears
differed little from their earlier designs and they were not
permanently marked, so date and positive identification can
be difficult for collectors. Ideal's founder Morris Michton
died in 1938 but, under the leadership of his son Benjamin,
the post-war era was a highly productive one, with the introduction
of new designs and materials, a permanent trademark, as well
as the new name of Ideal Toy Corporation. The company was
granted the licence for the first Smokey Bear soft toy (promoting
the US Forest Fire Prevention Campaign), which was introduced
POST-WAR TRADITIONAL BEARS AND REDESIGNED
During World War II, Merrythought made few
bears, as the Ironbridge factory was taken over by the British
Admiralty for map-making and storage purposes. A room in nearby
Wellington was rented for toy production, buy eventually all
work turned to the war effort. The traditional bear design
remained unaltered after the war, except for the effects of
rationing on the quality and quantity of fabric. The button
trademark was phased out, but the foot-label was still used,
with the words printed on instead of being embroidered, as
before the war; in 1957, "Ironbridge, Shrops." Replaced
TRADITIONAL AND NOVELTY BRITISH BEARS; REDESIGNED
The embroidered Farnell label was replaced,
after World War II, by a printed, satinized label, with "Alpha"
in a shield shape - a shape also used for swing-tags at this
time. Although Alpha teddy bears remained Farnell's major
line, the company also advertised La Vogue nightdress cases,
and, in 1960, it registered Mother Goose as the tradename
for a range of washable soft toys. In 1959, the head office
and some production was transferred to Hastings, Sussex; in
1964 the lease for the Acton Alpha Works terminated and all
production was then moved to Hastings. The business was sold
TRADITIONAL BRITISH BEARS FROM MERTON AND
Pedigree Soft Toys Ltd, was a subsidiary of
Lines Bros., the largest toy manufacturer in the world in
the 1930s-50s; it originally operated from Lines' Triang Works
in Merton, Surrey. The first catalogue offering Pedigree Soft
Toys was produced in 1937, although the tradename had been
used since the early 1930s for Lines' pram range. Soft and
chassis toys continued to be made in Merton until the 1950s
when production was transferred to the company's Castlereagh
factory in Belfast, N. Ireland. Pedigree bears were also made
in factories around the world including one in Auckland, New
Gebrüder Hermann: 1948-c.1970
TRADITIONAL AND NOVELTY BEARS; NEW POST-WAR
After World War II, when Sonneberg became
part of the Soviet Occupied Zone of Germany, Bernhard Hermann,
fearing the communist regime, sent his son Werner to the small
town of Hirschaid, in the American Occupied Zone, to set up
a new factory there. By 1951, the whole family had been relocated
and the business, owned by the three brothers, became know
as Gebrüder Hermann KG. Hellmut was director of operations,
Artur was business manager, and Werner was product manager
and designer. The company thrived, reproducing traditional
designs and introducing novelty ranges.
Hermann & Co: 1940's-60s
TRADITIONAL INSET MUZZLE AND NOVELTIES
In 1947, Max Hermann's son, Rolf-Gerhard,
joined the family business, which then took on the name, Max
Hermann & Sohn. In 1949, they founded the subsidiary company,
Hermann & Co. KG, in Coburg, Bavaria, in what was then
the US Occupied Zone of Germany, about 15km (9 miles) from
Sonneberg. Fearing the Communist regime, they moved Max Hermann
& Sohn and the family home to Coburg in 1953, joining
Hermann & Co. KG there. Max died in 1955, leaving the
business in the hands of Rolf and his wife, Dora-Margot. The
company eventually became known as Hermann-Spielwaren.
Steiff: 1940s-early 1960s
POST-WAR, REDESIGNED, TRADITIONAL ORIGINAL
Raw materials became increasingly difficult
to obtain from 1939, and in 1943 Steiff ceased toy production,
becoming a munitions factory for the rest of World War II.
After the war, the firm made small quantities of bears, often
from low-quality fabrics. Steiff remodelled their Original
Teddy design in 1950; the new version had shorter limbs and
was available in 23cm (9in) and 35cm (14in) sizes, in caramel-coloured
and dark brown mohair. A year later, the range increased to
ten sizes and included white and beige mohair plush. The bears
also carried newly designed buttons and printed card chest-tags.
BRITISH POST-WAR NOVELTIES; MOVE FROM MERTON
TO RYE FACTORY
The first Dean's catalogue after World War
II appeared in 1949, offering a much reduced range due to
the shortage of raw materials. However the company, with a
reorganized sales force, was soon back on its feet. A further
boost to business was provided by the birth of London Zoo's
first polar bear cub Brumas in 1949, generating great demand
for white bears. In 1952 a new assistant designer, Sylvia
R. Willgoss, joined Dean's and introduced many novel designs.
She succeeded Richard Ellett as head designer in 1956 when
the company moved from Merton, Surrey to new premises in Rye,
Chad Valley: 1950s-60s
NOVELTIES, AND DEVELOPMENTS IN TRADITIONAL
Post-war advances in the plastics industry
had their effect on teddy bears. During the 1950s, Chad Valley
gradually replaced glass eyes with plastic ones and produced
some teddy bears with realistic, moulded plastic noses. The
company also began to introduce nylon and other synthetic
fabrics into its range, although the basic bear design remained
the same. Radio had influenced the toy industry since the
early days, but in the 1950s Chad Valley obtained the sole
rights to manufacture Harry Corbett's mischievous Sooty glove
puppet, which featured in a popular children's television
programme from 1952.
Chiltern: post-World War II-1950s
POST-WAR CHILTERN HUGMEE AND NOVELTY TEDDY
Towards the end of World War II, it became
clear the H.G.Stone's factories in Tottenham, north London,
and Chesham, Bucks., would never be able to meet the demand
for Chiltern toys, and so in 1945 the company obtained a site
near Pontypool, in south Wales, to build a new and larger
factory with modern facilities. The company set up a school
to train young girls and women in soft-toy production techniques
in readiness for the factory's opening in 1947. The new factory
was extended on several occasions during the highly productive,
post-war period, when up to 300 workers were employed.
Chiltern: c.1958-early 1960s
INTRODUCTION OF MOULDED PLASTIC NOSE AND WASHABLE
The company H.G.Stone first used moulded plastic
noses on its Chiltern bears in about 1958. Originally sewn
on, the noses were later locked-in with washers, in keeping
the the new safety regulations. Many of the older Chiltern
lines, such as the Hugmee range, were then given plastic noses
for a new look. In about 1960, a sleeping bear was introduced,
with plastic nose; black, felt, closed eyelids; and a bell
in each ear. Washable teddy bears became available in 1964,
the year that H.G.Stone & Co. Ltd became part of the Dunbee-Combex
group, makers of vinyl and rubber toys.
NEW NOVELTY BEARS; MODIFIED EARLIER DESIGNS
In the 1950s, Steiff introduced several "new-look"
teddies into its programme, though some still followed pre-World
War II designs. The jubilee celebrations of the first Steiff
teddy bear in 1953 heralded not only Jackie-Baby but also
Nimrod-Bear, dressed in a hunting suit, available in four
different colours of felt, and carrying a wooden rifle. Steiff
made a new 30cm (12in) Teddy-Baby and used the same head design
on its 1950s Teddyli, which had a soft fabric body, dangling,
unstuffed arms, and stiff legs. Some had rubber bodies but,
due to the perishable nature of this material, few survive
POST-WAR NOVELTIES: CLOCKWORK, FLEXIBLE, TALKING
Post- war production recommenced at Schreyer
and Company's Schuco plant around 1949. New, novelty lines
included the clockwork Rolly Bear (1954) wearing roller skates,
and the Dancing Bear (1956-62) who turned in circles while
throwing a ball up and down. When Heinrich Müller died
in 1958, his son, Werner, took over alongside manager, Alexander
Gitz. In the 1960s, the Bigo Bello series was introduced;
this included Parlo, the talking bear, (speaking German, French,
or Italian) with a pull cord mechanism (1963). Schuco was
bought by Dunbee-Combex-Marx in 1976.
SIMILAR TRADITIONAL STYLES; INTRODUCTION OF
Many manufacturers operated in the Neustadt
area after World War II. Some, like the two Hermann factories,
had recently arrived from nearby Sonneberg following Russian
occupation. Post-war designs did not change much from those
of the pre-war period: many firms used similar patterns with
narrow bodies, straight legs, small feet, and inset muzzles.
By this time, however, several firms had introduced labels
to their products to aid identification and recognition. The
labels varied in form, and included triangular tags, scalloped,
circular tags, chest-buttons, and oblong, metal, foot-tags.
ZOTTY LOOK-ALIKES; SYNTHETIC MATERIALS
Certain German manufacturers borrowed ideas
from Steiff's novelty lines of the 1950s, such as the popular
Zotty range. Both of the Hermann factories and Clemens produced
their own Zotty bears, while other firms hinted at the Zotty
design by combining shaggy fur and an open mouth with inset
muzzle. The traditional teddy remained popular, while incorporating
modern materials and safety measures. Cheaper East-Asian imports
forced some firms, such as Petz and Eli, to close during the
1970s; others, such as Heunec, assembled some of their bears
outside of Germany to cut costs.
Switzerland & Austria: post-1945
FIRMS BASED IN ZURICH AND GRAZ
Since the 1920s, Switzerland has exported
its famed musical mechanisms to the United States, United
Kingdom, and Germany, for use in teddy bears. The Swiss did
not generally make teddy bears themselves, although the company
MCZ Schweizer Plüschtierchen (meaning little Swiss plush
animals) operated after World War II. A number of Austrian
teddy-bear manufacturers, including Schwika, Fechter, and
Schenker, based in Graz, and SAF in Mittendorf, also existed
in the post-war era. The Berg company in Fieberbrunn is currently
the largest teddy-bear manufacturer in Austria.
CHEEKY DESIGN AND OTHER POST-WAR NOVELTY BEARS
The Cheeky design was so named during the
1956 British Toy Fair because of the bear's wide smile. The
"bell in ear" concept was later borrowed by other
manufacturers as well as being used again by Merrythought
in its Pastel Bear of 1957, a soft-stuffed and unjoined, artificial-silk
plush bear. Merrythought reused the Cheeky design in different
plushes and again, in 1962, with an open mouth. From the late
1950s on, the company also produced many soft toys based on
television or movie cartoon characters - Sooty, a British
TV glove puppet appeared in 1960, and Disney's Winnie the
Pooh in 1966.
Wendy Boston: 1945-76
DEVELOPMENT OF FIRST FULLY WASHABLE TEDDY
Ken and Wendy Williams (née Boston)
started their pioneering, soft-toy business in south Wales
after World War II and moved to larger premises, at Crickhowell
and Abergavenny, in 1948. As Wendy Boston (Crickhowell) Ltd.,
they invented the safe, screw-locked, plastic eye and then,
in 1954, the first washable teddy bear, which revolutionized
the soft-toy industry. A decade later, as Wendy Boston Playsafe
Toys Ltd., they were producing over a quarter of the UK's
total, soft-toy exports. In 1968, they were taken over by
Denys Fisher Toys (subsequently Palitoy and General Mills),
but the factory closed in 1976.
UK: post-World War II-c.1970
BRITISH INDUSTRY STRUGGLES; SHEEPSKIN AND
Several new companies were established in
the UK after World War II. Due to the rationing of traditional
mohair at the time, these companies made teddy bears of sheepskin,
a material that remained popular until the 1960s. The economic
climate in Britain during the 1970s forced the demise of many
newly formed traditional teddy-bear manufacturers: Gwentoys
Ltd (established in 1965) was taken over by Dean's in 1972;
Acton Toycraft Ltd. (established in 1964) closed in the 1970s;
and Real Soft Toys (established in 1969) was later taken over
by Lefray Ltd., another post-war firm.
TRADITIONAL AND UNJOINED BEARS MADE BY SUBSIDIARIES
The 1960s and 1970s was an era of change for
Dean's Rag Book Company Ltd. Its main production continued
at the factory in Rye, Sussex, which was extended in 1961.
The company used the Childsplay Toys trademark until 1965,
when Childsplay Ltd. (one of two divisions formed in the 1950s,
the other being Merton Toys Ltd.) became Dean's Childsplay
Toys Ltd. From that time, the familiar fighting dogs logo
was dropped from the label. In 1974, two years after the buyout
of Gwentoys, some production moved from Rye to Pontypool in
south Wales. The Rye plant eventually closed in 1980.
NEW TRADITIONAL AND UNJOINED BEARS; SYNTHETIC
Steiff developed a number of designs at this
time, notably in the soft-filled, unjoined range of teddies.
Zooby of 1964 was an unjointed, standing bear with felt claws,
whereas Tapsy was less menacing, with her airbrushed, smiling
face and short, sleeveless dress. In 1975, Steiff revived
the ever-popular Zotty with a new Minky Zotty in a mink-like
synthetic plush. During this time, manufacturers increasingly
used man-made fabrics for the outer-skin, and foam-rubber
for the filling. They used airbrushing techniques, with non-toxic
paints, for defining facial features.
Chad Valley: 1960-78
TRADITIONAL AND UNJOINTED BRITISH BEARS: CHILTERN/CHAD
In 1960, when it celebrated its centenary,
Chad Valley was operating seven factories and employing over
1,000 workers. After Chiltern Toys became a subsidiary in
1967, it became the largest manufacturer of soft toys in the
UK. The 1970s recession, however, led to the closure of the
Wrekin Works at Wellington, leaving Pontypool as the company's
only surviving soft-toy plant. In 1978, Chad Valley was taken
over by Palitoy, later to be bought by US-owned Kenner Parker.
The tradename was bought in 1988 by Woolworths, who introduced
a new range of Chad Valley soft toys, made in East Asia.
WASHABLE, SYNTHETIC MATERIALS; NEW CANTERBURY
In the 1960s, Pedigree factories in Northern
Ireland and New Zealand were making teddy bears. This period
saw an increase in the use of washable, synthetic materials,
such as nylon plushes and foam-rubber stuffing. Pedigree later
introduced novelties, such as the battery-operated Simon the
Walking Bear and a talking Rupert Bear. In 1966, when the
Lines Brothers group reorganized into Rovex Tri-ang Ltd.,
Pedigree - a subsidiary of Lines Brothers - moved all its
soft-toy production to Canterbury, England. Dunbee-Combex-Marx
took over Lines in 1972. Pedigree ceased business in 1988.
MODERN "M" DESIGN; TRADITIONAL BEARS
During this period, the traditional, golden
mohair "M" teddy continued to be made, but additional
colours were also introduced. Updating of the design began
in 1983 with the Aristocrat Bear, was available in seven sizes,
with shaved muzzle, and dropped outer stitch nose design Merrythought's
popular Cheeky design was reintroduced during the 1970s, and
was available in both mohair and synthetic plush. In 1972-73,
the London Bears, dressed as Guardsman, Policeman, Beefeater,
or Highlander, were introduced; the 45cm (18in) Beefeater
and Guardsman bears were reinstated in 1985.
Australia & New Zealand: 1970-90s
COMPETITION FROM EAST ASIA; GROWTH OF COLLECTORS'
In the 1970s, several manufacturers based
in Australia and New Zealand - for example, Luvme Toys and
Pedigree of Auckland - were forced out of business by cheaper
East Asian imports. New Australian firms, including Teddy
& Friends, Tomfoolery, and C.A.Toys, emerged, designing
the bears themselves, but having them assembled in China or
Korea. Jakas remained one of the few firms to make all-Australian
bears in the 1980s and 1990s. Smaller firms, such as Sheepskin
Products Ltd., Harrisons Textiles, and Robin Rive's Robbity
Bob, also appeared, some targeting the collectors' market.
SAFE, SOFT, AND SYNTHETIC BEARS MADE IN EAST
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, several
new companies were formed in the United States: R.Dakin &
Co. (1955); California Stuffed Toys (1959). They set a trend
by manufacturing their bears in East Asia where labour cost
were much cheaper. Many old-established firms still flourished,
such as the Mary Meyer Corporation and Gund, who introduced
its innovative Luv-me-Bear in the early 1970s. However, the
1980s saw the demise of Knickerbocker, Character, and Ideal,
whose teddy-bear range was discontinued after the takeover
by CBS Inc.
US: late 1970s-80s
MASS MARKET, SPECIAL EDITION, COLLECTORS'
From the late 1970s, many US teddy-bear firms
began to make special editions, sometimes limited to a few
thousand, for the burgeoning collectors' market, in addition
to their standard ranges of toys. Gund, for example, introduced
its Collectors Classics range in 1979, and its annual Gundy
limited=edition series from 1983. Bears were made to mark
special occasions, such as the anniversary of the firm. In
1988, for example, both California Stuffed Toys and Determined
Productions Inc. produced bears representing the first Ideal
bear, in celebration of the 85th anniversary of the birth
of the teddy bear.
NEW FIRMS; TRADITIONAL AND UNJOINED, SYNTHETIC
Despite the fact that many British firms making
traditional-style teddy bears closed down or were taken over
in the 1970s, several new soft-toy companies were established
and many of these flourished as a result of the craze for
teddy-bear collecting. Little Folk began making soft toy animals
in 1976, but its first teddy bear, introduced in 1980, became
the company's most important product. Alresford Crafts (1970-92)
also made soft toy animals originally, but later concentrated
on teddies. Big Softies (est. 1978) turned to traditional
teddies about 1982, and now focuses on the collectors' market.
House of Nisbet: 1976-89
PETER BULL-INSPIRED BEARS AND COLLECTORS'
In 1975, Jack Wilson acquired Peggy Nisbet
Ltd., a company specializing in portrait dolls. He renamed
the firm, House of Nisbet Ltd., and introduced its Childhood
Classics traditional teddy bears. Peggy Nisbet's daughter,
Alison (who later married Jack Wilson) designed the range.
The firm was known for its limited-edition character bears.
In 1979, Nisbet invited British arctophile Peter Bull to collaborate
on the creation of a Bully Bear range. Nisbet reproduced his
bear, "Delicatessen", in 1987, using distressed
mohair, a material that Jack Wilson helped to invent. Dakin
UK bought House of Nisbet in 1989.
North American Bear Co: 1979-92
PERSONALITY BEARS, SOME COSTUMED, FOR COLLECTORS
The North American Bear Company was founded
by New Yorker, Barbara Isenberg, following the creation of
Albert the Running Bear - the hero of three books that Barbara
co-wrote. The Very Important Bear Series is based on historical,
literary, and Hollywood characters; each is given a punning
name - hence the phrase "The ones with the puns".
Apart from bears such as Oatmeal and Ruggles, most are clothed,
including the very popular VanderBear family. The bears are
created by plush designers and Barbara Isenberg; and the bears'
costumes are designed by Odl and Katya Bauer.
Russ Berrie: Mass-produced Bears
MODERN BEARS FROM EAST ASIAN FACTORIES; SOLD
Russ Berrie and Company Inc. manufacture and
distribute the world's largest range of "impulse gift"
products, including soft toys, mugs, figurines, greetings
cards and posters, candles and dolls. Now a world-wide organization,
with sales topping $400,000,000, the company has been a leader
in the soft-toy industry since the late 1970s, selling to
over 95,000 international retailers in a variety of locations
such as shopping-malls, airports, hospitals, and college campuses,
and as far apart as Africa, the Middle East, India, Russia,
Iceland, Europe, North America, and Australasia.
Canterbury Bears: 1980-90s
TRADITIONAL COLLECTORS' BEARS BY A BRITISH
John Blackburn established Canterbury Bears
with his daughter Kerstin in 1980, at their home in Westbere,
Kent. His wife Maude and children Mark and Victoria later
joined the firm which moved to its present workshop in Littlebourne,
a village outside Canterbury, in 1984. Canterbury Bears are
fully jointed, and are made of natural or top quality synthetic
fabrics; they come in a Classic or Special range, which expands
each year. They often have unusual features, such as partially
shaved faces or unique claws. The firm introduced special
commissions, limited editions, and replicas in later 1980s.
REPLICAS FOR COLLECTORS; SPECIAL COMMISSIONS
In 1980, a limited-edition replica of the
1905 Original Teddy was produced to celebrate the centenary
of Steiff's earliest soft toy, initiating an annual programme
of reproductions of archive samples (often in limited editions).
Other trends followed: copies of one-off celebrity bears,
such as "Alfonzo" and "Happy"; editions
exclusive to certain countries; special collectors' items,
such as the Goldilocks and the Three Bears sets; and a miniature
historical series. Special commissions, beginning with the
1970s Olympic mascot, Waldi, have also been produced for museums
Gebrüder Hermann: 1980s-92
UNJOINTED BEARS; COLLECTORS' SPECIAL EDITIONS
Following the retirement of the original three
Hermann brothers, the 1980s saw this company under the management
of their daughters. Although still producing teddy bears for
children, the business began to expand into the field of adult
collectables. In 1984, Model 63 was produced, replicating
the classic first Gebrüder Hermann teddy bear. Other
replicas and special limited editions followed, including
Bernhard Bear (named after the original founder). Special
commissions included three 91cms (36in) bears made for the
store P. & E. Rubin, each in a limited edition of ten.
TRADITIONAL RANGE INCLUDING LIMITED EDITIONS
Since the 1980s, many German firms have been
making bears specifically aimed at collectors. These are either
traditional (sometimes limited-edition designs) or replicas
of their own or other firms' earlier lines. In 1992 Hermann-Spielwaren,
for example, introduced a limited-edition replica of a teddy
made in 1910 by the old Sonneberg firm, Leven. This commemorated
the return of Leven to its rightful owners, Dora-Margot Hermann
and her sister, after German reunification. Firms and also
making bears to celebrate national and international events,
such as Sigikid's 1993 United Europe bear.
SUBSIDIZED TOY INDUSTRY AND TRADITIONAL STYLE
Irish manufacturers, such as Philip Sher's
Hibernian Novelty Company in Dublin, had been making soft
toys since the World War I period. In 1938, an Irish government
department, the Gaeltacht Services Division (the Board of
Gaeltarra Eireann from 1957), established a subsidized toy
industry, operating three factories. (Gaeltarra Eireann means
"Irish produce"). The toys were marketed from Dublin
until 1969, when the head offices moved to County Galway.
Because Ireland remained neutral during World War II, exports
of Irish soft toys rose dramatically at this time to meet
COLLECTOR BEARS; REPLICAS AND SPECIAL COMMISSIONS
In 1982, Merrythought introduced a range of
limited-edition teddies for import into the US by Tide-Rider
Inc. of Baldwin, New York - a partnership that continues today.
Novelties included a green/blue, traditional-style teddy bear
and the 1984 Seasonal Bear series, in which each bear represented
either Spring, Summer, Autumn, or Winter. In 1992, Merrythought
introduced Mr and Miss Mischief, depicting naughty "children".
By 1986-87, replicas of Punkinhead and the Magnet bear were
in production followed, in 1992, by replicas of Mr Whoppit,
Bingie, and Titanic survivor Gatti.
COLLECTORS' SERIES; PLAINTALK TAKEOVER; NEW
In 1981, Dean's launched into collectables
with a limited-edition series of three bears inspired by Norman
Rockwell illustrations. Aiming at the US market, the company
also made a nightshirt-clad Porridge Bear, based on a 1909
illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith. In 1983, Dean's produced
a limited-edition, 80th anniversary bear, and in 1984, it
collaborated with Donna Harrison and Dottie Ayers of the Baltimore
shop, The Calico Teddy, to make Teddy B and Teddy G to their
design. In 1986, Dean's was taken over by the toy and gift
importers Plaintalk, forming The Dean's Company (1903) Ltd.
NEW COMPANIES PRODUCING CUDDLY, UNJOINTED
Some French companies founded before World
War II, such as Pintel and A.L.F.A. (producing popular, dressed
teddy bears from 1936), continued after 1945, but using synthetic
materials. Several new companies were also established during
the 1950s and 1960s, such as Anima (1947), Boulgom (1954),
and Nounours (1963). They all used the new, foam-rubber filling
that revolutionized the soft-toy industry. Though some manufacturers
failed during the 1970s and 1980s, several were bought by
Nounours who, by the 1990s, was responsible for 80 percent
of all French soft-toy exports.
EASTERN EUROPE; MEDITERRANEAN; SCANDINAVIA;
From the interwar years until its nationalization
in 1948, Czechoslovakia had a thriving teddy-bear industry.
In 1938, Hamiro was the second largest European soft-toy manufacturer
and, from 1925 until 1948, Wilhelmine Walter made Kersa bears
at Lobositz, then in Bohemia. Poland also was a major exporter
of teddy bears from the 1950s. Lenci introduced teddies to
Italy in 1931 (Three Bears, with open mouths and bibs); GZB
made similar examples, and Trudi and Jocky have produced bears
in more recent years. A few teddies originate from Spain,
such as G. Fali's Osito, a c.1959 googly-eyed baby bear.
Worldwide Expansion: post-1945
EXPORT AND HOME-MARKET TRADE BY ISRAEL, CANADA,
CHINA & SOUTH AFRICA
After World War II, teddy-bear manufacture
was no longer restricted to Europe and the US. Many countries,
including China, Israel and Brazil, began making cheap-quality
bears largely for the export market to the UK, US, and Australia.
Canada, too, established several soft-toy companies during
the 1950s, such as Ganz Brothers and Mighty Star Ltd. who,
by the 1990s, also produced a range of collectors' bears to
meet the demand at home and abroad. In South Africa, teddy
bears are manufactured primarily for the home market, such
as those produced by Prima Toys' Durban-based factory.
Mass-market Collectables: 1980s-90s
MASS-PRODUCED, ARTIST-DESIGNED BEARS FOR COLLECTORS
The growth of arctophily prompted an alliance
of bear artists and manufacturers to produce mass-market,
limited-edition collectables. The US company Applause heralded
this approach by introducing Robert Raikes' bears to its range
in 1985. From 1987, the House of Nisbet in Britain reproduced
the designs of well-known US artists, including Carol-Lynn
Rössel Waugh, Beverly Port, Ted Menten, Dee Hockenberry,
and April Whitcomb. By 1990, other companies in the UK, US,
and Germany had followed suit. Limited editions could number
as many as 10,000 when produced by major manufacturers.
A HISTORY OF VINTAGE CHAMPAGNE
Established in 1757, Henri Abelé is
the third oldest champagne house still trading and one with
an interesting history closely linked with innovations in
In 1834, Auguste Ruinart de Brimont, great-nephew
of the founder, teamed up with Antoine Muller, former chef
de caves at Veuve Clicquot, who had helped the Widow Clicquot
develop the technique of remuage. Fifty years later, in 1884,
dégorgement à la glace, the method of disgorging
now used throughout the champagne industry, was invented in
the Abelé cellars. In 1942, control of the firm passed
to the Compagnie Française des Grands Vins, and in
1985 the firm was purchased by Freixenet, the giant producers
of Cava sparkling wine. José Ferrer Sala, head of Freixenet,
after tasting Henri Abelé champagne for the first time,
refused to buy a bottle. Was he disappointed? Underwhelmed?
Not a bit. Señor Ferrer so liked the wine that he decided
to buy the company.
The style of the Abelé champagnes is reputedly dry,
delicate and floral. That is certainly true of the non-vintage
Cuvée Sourire de Reim, so named after the guardian
angel of Reims Cathedral who grins at you from the label.
It is an excellent, consistent wine, light gold in colour,
with tiny bubbles, its flowery yet mellow character coming
from an unusual composition for a non-vintage cuvée
- up to 60 per cent Chardonnay, 30 per cent Pinot Meunier,
and 10 per cent Pinot Noir - and a rather longer aging period
in the bottle, I would guess, than the modest two to two-and-a-half
years claimed for it by the house. The non-vintage Rosé
Brut is a less subtle but flavoury wine; pink-coloured with
a copper tinge, its zesty style may be due to the skin contact
method used to partially colour the champagne; it finishes
with a slightly caramelized note, however, that for me militates
against finesse. The vintage wines are a bit uneven in quality.
Predominantly Pinot Noir, the 1982 Grande Marque Impériale
seems to be losing its fruit, tastes low in acidity and by
the House's own admission is less successful than the 1976
and the 1975 vintages. The 1983 Grande Marque Impériale
is better than the 1982, with crisper definition of flavour
and a better fruit-to-acid balance. In a different league
is the Blanc de Blancs Réserve du Repas, a wine made
only in great years. The 1983 is a beauty, impeccably dry
but with the mellow creamy perfection of flavour that comes
from top-flight Chardonnay champagne which is allowed to mature
properly for a decade.
Michel Arnould and his son Patrick are typical
of Champagne growers whose grand cru grapes are much in demand
for the blends of the grandes marques.
Arnould still grows for Bollinger, although
he also now makes and markets his champagnes under the Arnould
label from his 12 hectares/30 acres of superbly sited vineyards
at Verzenay. Arnould champagnes are distinguished from other
growers' monocrus by their breed, balance and creamy texture.
Their wines are every bit as good as the non-vintage cuvées
of the great houses and they always score very highly in blind
The Brut is a true Blanc de Noirs (100 per cent Pinot Noir)
and a blend of wines from two vintages, aged for three years
in the bottle, and ready to drink. It shows gorgeous creamy
fruit, plenty of body, but is never over-extracted or heavy
in flavour; it is very moreish and you invariably want a second,
third and fourth glass - always the sign of a really good
champagne for all occasions.
The Demi-Sec is identical in composition to
the Brut, except it has a higher dosage and is obviously sweeter;
try it with tarte tatin, the glorious French upside-down apple
tart. Brut Réserve, definitely dry, is blended from
two-thirds Pinot Noir and one-third Chardonnay, the latter
giving a "lift" and sharp definition to this top
cuvée, its touch of austerity making it a wine for
special-occasion fish dishes, such as roasted sea-bass with
An Arnould champagne would be a desert island wine of my choice,
encouraging me to throw away the loaded revolver and wait
for the sight of the rescue ship on the far horizon.
Ayala vintage wines are discreet champagnes
for those who like delicacy rather than power.
A famous champagne name in the past, Ayala
is rather out of fashion these days. The firm was founded
in 1860 by Edmond d'Ayala, the son of a Colombian diplomat,
who married Gabrielle d'Albrecht, niece of the Vicomte de
Mareuil. Part of Gabrielle's dowry was a Mareuil vineyard,
rated at 99 per cent on the echelle des crus, which this independent
grande marque house still owns.
Ayala champagnes are pale in colour, light-bodied and definitely
dry. In my experience the non-vintage Brut is very variable
in quality; one bottle sampled in London in November 1993
was green, lean and mean, a second tasted in France two months
later was subtle and fine. The Brut Rosé (100 per cent
Pinot Noir) is straightforward, soft and round, though its
flavour tails off quickly in the mouth.
The vintage wines are in a different league. The 1985 is a
real success in an outstanding year, the lingering taste of
high-class Pinot Noir (70 per cent of the grape mix) making
this a delicious wine and one to search out. The 1985 Blanc
de Blancs does not lack class but it needs keeping until 1995
to soften its mouth-puckering acidity. The prestige Grande
Cuvée, currently the 1985 soon to be joined by the
1988, is also a bit young to drink but it has a latent complexity
of nutty Chardonnay-dominated flavours which will eventually
blossom if you have the time, space and money to age this
In the stratified champagne world of grandees
and peasant farmers, Barancourt's is a rare modern tale of
little guys becoming big shots.
In 1966 three Bouzy growers - Brice, Martin
and Tritant - joined forces to make and market champagne,
later resuscitating the famous name Barancourt for their brand.
During the 1970s the partners bought grand cru vineyards,
especially in Bouzy, Cramant, and in the Aube. They now grow
all three champagne grapes in a domaine totaling nearly 100
hectares/247 acres. Much of their production, including all
the Pinot Meunier, is sold to other houses, but wines on the
Barancourt label are made from grand cru Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The Barancourt style is difficult to pinpoint, since the range
is wide. You could say these are champagne-makers' champagnes,
with a firm strong character of the crus from which they come.
They are anything but showy, need an awful lot of aging and
maybe lack an easy charm.
The non-vintage Brut Réserve is a well-structured wine
(80 per cent Pinot Noir) but with a yeasty character which
subdues the fruit. The non-vintage Blanc de Blancs is light
and well balanced, yet this is an austere, very young-tasting
wine, its potential Chardonnay flavours only half realized
in the glass (tasted January 1994). The non-vintage Brut Rosé
is full-coloured and fruity and much better value than the
expensive, rather heavy and autolytic 1985 Grand Cru Rosé.
The vintage wines, currently the 1985s, are decent champagnes
- the monocrus Bouzy and Cramant are worth trying - but they
all need to age longer. The Barancourt Bouzy Rouge, a still
Coteaux Champenois wine, can be delicious in great years like
1982 and 1985. The 1990 will be spectacular. Barancourt was
sold to Vranken-Lafitte in 1994.
Founded at Pierry in 1878, Beaumet is now
owned by Jacques Trouillard and operates from splendid premises
in Epernay's beautiful Park Malakoff.
The company owns 80 hectares/198 acres of
vineyards both on the Côte des Blancs and above the
Marne, the jewels being the 30 hectares/74 acres of grand
cru Chardonnay at Avize, Cramant and Chouilly. So it is not
surprising that by far the best wine here is the Cuvée
Malahoff Blanc de Blancs, which is aged for a minimum of seven
years; both the 1982 and 1985 are first-rate 100 per cent
Chardonnay champagnes, gold-green in colour, nutty and creamy,
yet fine-drawn and long. Over-shadowed by the Malakoff, the
others in the range are decent champagnes (usually with a
significant percentage of Pinot Meunier) for those who like
flavour rather than finesse. The non-vintage Brut makes easy
drinking; the Rosé Brut is dark pink with a black grapes
fruitiness; and both the vintage-dated Blanc de Noirsand the
1985 Brut are mouth-filling and mellow. Beaumet is a better
known name in the USA and the UK than in France.
Beaumont Des Crayères
A champagne cooperative created in 1955, now
with 200 member-growers. For quality and value for money,
Beaumont des Crayères champagnes take a lot of beating.
Beaumont des Crayères is unusual in
that the size of its average member's vineyard is just a 0.5
hectares or 1¼ acres. This smallness of scale allows
for a very strict control over the maturity of the grapes,
which are then vinified with meticulous care in a modern winery
by Jean-Paul Bertus, one of the best chefs de caves in Champagne.
The finesse and vivid flavours of Beaumont's champagnes have
won press plaudits, notably from the authoritative Guide Hachette
in France and the influential Wine Spectator in North America.
The non-vintage Cuvée Réserve Brut is made largely
from Pinot Meunier (50 per cent) which explains its lovely
fruity aroma tinged with the scent of wild mushrooms; the
palate is supple and mouth-filling, the finish long and persistent
- and exciting champagne for a very reasonable price. Cuvée
Rosé Privilege, again predominantly Pinot Meunier,
has spicy fruit, though to my taste it is a little foursquare
and obvious. Cuvée Rosé Privilege, made from
roughly equal parts of the three classic champagne grapes,
is a powerful wine with enough flavour to match roast guinea
fowl. Cuvée Spéciale Nostalgie Millésimé
1985 (shortly to be replaced by the 1987) is a pure Chardonnay
champagne, its incisive acidity and mineral flavour reflecting
the chalky soil from which it came.
A small Aube grower, Beerens cultivates a
vineyard of 6 Hectares/15 acres, planted with 80 per cent
Pinot Noir, about 20 per cent Chardonnay and no Pinot Meunier.
Beerens makes just two champagnes for the
export market. The very consistent Brut has a vibrant straw-gold
colour, a lively yet subtle mousse and a round balanced flavour
that comes from three or four years ageing before sale. The
Brut Rosé is excellent. Salmon-pink in colour, racy,
with a beautifully pure definition of fruit flavours, it is
made with a good proportion of Chardonnay to which about 7
per cent still red Champenois wine is added. An unbeatable
partner for a simply grilled lobster if you are in the mood
for champagne. The exceptional quality of these wines comes
from the company's low-yielding vines.
This serious little champagne house, established
for 100 years, uses 95 per cent of its own grapes from its
vineyards around Ay.
The two brothers who run the firm are reluctant
to give hard information about themselves, hence the shortness
of this entry. However, the Brut Réserve is an excellent
on-vintage champagne which knocks spots off many widely publicized
brands: shimmering straw-gold, tiny bubbles and a creamy long
flavour which suggest a lot of high-class Pinot Noir grapes
in the blend. Other offerings include a fruity, well-balanced
Rosé Brut and the prestige Cuvée du Centenaire
1983 (not tasted). Berthelot champagnes have found a niche
in the cost-conscious UK market - no surprise, for they show
an interesting ratio of quality to price.
This small family-run grande marquee house,
founded in 1818, is now one of the most innovative in wine-making
The house was founded by Nicolas-François
Billecart, who had married a Mlle Salmon. Billecart quickly
opened up markets around the world for his wines, but in 1830
disaster struck when an incompetent US agent, Mr Meyer of
New York, lost the firm 100,000 gold francs. The family went
into a commercial sleep for nearly 100 years, until 1926,
when Charles Roland-Billecart put the firm's affairs on a
sound commercial basis by selling the family vineyards to
finance the increased champagne sales he had achieved since
the end of the First World War. His grandson, François
Roland-Billecart, now effectively runs the company, quietly
expanding turnover year by year without compromising its very
high reputation for quality.
Billecart looks for finesse as a house style, yet the delicacy
of these champagnes is deceptive for they also have exceptional
ageing potential. This is achieved, say the Billecarts, by
a special fermentation technique. After the first clarification
process (débourage), a second one is induced by chilling
the must down to about 5°C/41°F, which acts as a filtration
and eliminates most of the natural yeasts. The temperature
is then raised to about 12-15°C/52-59°F, and fermentation
proceeds slowly for about 21 days. Oxidation of the must is
entirely avoided. As proof that these champagnes do indeed
live long distinguished lives, a 1959 Billecart was still
vigorously alive in 1991.
The outstanding non-vintage Brut, based on Pinot Noir, has
a round tasty style; the vintage Blanc des Blancs (excellent
year 1985), made from prime Chardonnay grapes from Cramant,
Avize and Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger, is especially fine and subtle;
so is the Brut Rosé, its pale salmon colour explained
by the addition of a smaller amount of red wine than usual.
The Prestige Cuvée Columbus made from a blend of 1986,
1985 and 1979 vintages is magnificent.
Henri Billiot makes a tiny amount of superlative
champagne from his 2 hectares/5 acres of grand cru Pinot Noir
vines at Ambonnay.
The Cuvée de Réserve has a depth
of flavour and sinewy power that stopped me in my tracks when
I tasted it in December 1993. The Cuvée Réserve
Rosé is stunning quality too; close your eyes and you
might be drinking great burgundy with bubbles. The wines are
on strict allocation, the lion's share of which goes to Bibendum
Wine Ltd of London.
H Blin & Co
For decent no-frills champagne, better in
blind tastings than some also-ran grandes marques, this is
a label to remember.
"H Blin & Co" is the brand label
of a Marne Valley co-operative established at Vincelles in
1947. Its members cultivate 90 hectares/222 acres of mainly
Pinot Meunier grapes which are pressed in an ultra-modern
winery. The Brut Tradition is made entrirely from black grapes
(80 per cent Pinot Meunier) and is a round fruity champagne
with mocha-like aromas. Pinot Meunier drives the head red
fruit flavours of the Rosé.
The only woman who currently heads a champagne
house is Evelyn Roques-Boizel, who took charge of this family-owned
company in 1984.
The champagne trade is notable for resourceful
women who have led some of the most famous houses. Evelyn
Roques-Boizel continues that tradition. She became head of
Boizel 150 years after it was founded by Auguste Boizel, her
great-grandfather, and immediately invested in a new cuverie
on Epernay's rue de Bernon. In the last 10 years she has more
than doubled annual production to 1 million bottles. Boizel
owns no vines, but buys in grapes from growers in 51 villages.
Boizel champagnes are briskly effervescent and clean-tasting;
they sell for sensible prices, but lack the class and complexity
of those from the best houses. Brut Réserve (non-vintage),
dominated by Pinot Noir (55 per cent), is a simple fruity
wine; it is hard to believe, however, that it has much bottle
age, for its aroma is green and reminiscent of apples. Brut
Rosé is a much better wine, limpid pale pink with an
invigorating racy flavour; it won the "Coup de Coeur"
in the 1989 Guide Hachette. Brut de Blancs (not tasted) was
relaunched in 1984 to celebrate the firm's 150th anniversary;
its label, a reproduction of a Second Empire one, is a collector's
item. Grand Vintage 1986 is good fizz, lemon-gold in colour,
refined yet vigorous.
Bollinger is one of the greats of champagne,
a true grande marque with a very proud tradition dating back
to the 15th century, when the de Villermont family first acquired
vineyards in Cuis, on the Côte Blancs.
Its attachment to the land has stood Bollinger
in good stead over the past five centuries and is particularly
important today. The firm owns 140 hectares/346 acres of vineyards,
mainly in prime sites around Ay on the Montagne de Reims,
and these supply 70 per cent of its needs, allowing Bollinger
to ensure an enviable continuity of style and quality.
The house was founded in 1829 by Joseph Bollinger, a native
of Württemberg, Germany, and Paul Renaudin, a Champenois.
Renaudin soon left the firm, but his name remained on the
label until the 1960s. Joseph Bollinger married a de Villermont,
continued to expand the business and in 1865 was one of the
first merchants ship champagne to England. This was an extremely
dry champagne of low dosage in contrast to most other houses'
champagnes, which were then sweet. Bollinger became the favourite
champagne of the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII.
In 1870 Joseph Bollinger exported his first shipment to the
USA, where later the brand was widely distributed by Julius
Wile, the great New York wine merchant, from just before Prohibition
During the Second World War, the direction of the firm passed
to the remarkable Madame Lily Bollinger on the death of her
husband Jacques, grandson of Joseph. She faced three years'
occupation by Germans. With no gasoline available, she toured
the family vineyards on foot and bicycle. Despite a totally
depleted labour force, she continued to produce and sell champagne,
and with one remaining servant, slept in the Bollinger cellars
during Allied bombardments, including the American raid of
10 August, 1944, which destroyed one-third of Ay. After the
war, she acquired prime vineyards in Ay, Grauves, Bisseuil
and Champvoisy, bringing Bollinger's holdings to their current
extent. Until well into her 70s, "Tante Lily", as
she was known to her family, was a familiar sight in her tweeds,
bicycling through the vineyards. Over nearly 40 years, she
doubled Bollinger's sales to 1 million bottles a year.
On the death of Mme Bollinger in 1977, her nephew Christian
Bizot became President of the company. Bizot is a clear-headed
and articulate man who combines commitment to the quality
of Bollinger champagne with an unsentimental awareness of
the confused consumer perception of champagne in the international
marketplace of the 1990s.
Acutely conscious of the severe criticisms of the quality
of champagne at a time of increasing competition from quality
sparkling wines, Bizot responded in 1991 by publishing the
Bollinger Charter of Ethics and Quality. The Charter chronicles
in meticulous detail the company's wine-growing and wine-making
The most important of these is Bollinger's use of grapes of
the highest quality. Of the firm's vineyards, 60 per cent
are classified as grand cru and 30 per cent as premier cru.
Bollinger keeps only the juice from the first pressings (the
cuvee) and sells that from the second pressings to companies
whose business is cheap champagne. The high quality of the
must allows Bollinger to ferment its vintage wines in wooden
casks. This gives the wines an inimitable robust style unlike
those that have been fermented in stainless steel. Bollinger
insists that a great champagne needs time on its lees (the
by-product of fermentation) to develop personality and complexity.
Non-vintage champagnes are aged for a minimum of three years
(the legal minimum is 12 months), vintage wines for five and
de-luxe vintage cuvées for eight.
The Special Cuvée (60 per cent Pinot Noir, 25 per cent
Chardonnay and 15 per cent Pinot Meunier) is a non-vintage
wine which is fermented in stainless steel to control the
malolatic fermentation, a process which makes wine softer
and rounder. Special Cuvée is a full-bodied, firm and
dry champagne with great Pinot Noir fruit and length of flavour
on the palate; it is the sort of weighty fizz you only want
a glass or two of before dinner.
The 1985 Grande Année (62 per cent Pinot Noir, 35 per
cent Chardonnay, 3 per cent Pinot Meunier) has a fine mousse
of tiny bubbles, a deep flavour of grand cru Pinot Noir (tempered
with the finesse of a higher proportion of Chardonnay) and
incredible length on the palate. It will improve until 1998-2000.
The 1982 Année Rare RD (recently disgorged) is left
on its lees for three years more than Grand Année for
a more developed style. The 1982 has a lovely smell of ripe,
red fruits but a complex vinous (rather than fruity) flavour
Bollinger champagnes come into their own with food.
Founded in 1820 and known until recently as
Bricout & Koch, this house produces wines correctly made
from mainly Chardonnay grapes in a clean, modern style.
In 1820 Charles Koch, a young German from
Heidelberg, went into the champagne business in Avize. His
sons became partners of Arthur Bricout, a former wine maker
for de Venoge, who in the 1870s merged the two family firms.
These champagnes were first popular in Germany, but since
1979 and a big injection of cash from the Racke group, their
customer base has been widened, especially to the restaurant
trade in France. The wines are now labeled Bricout.
You have to pick and choose to find the best cuvées.
The big-selling Carte Noir Brut is lively, fruity but young-tasting.
The Carte d'Or Brut Prestige has much more class, with a predominant
taste of ripe Chardonnay and a smooth mature finish. The 1985
Élégance de Bricout is everything its name implies,
elegant lemony colour, elegant fine-drawn flavour and a flick
of acidity to ensure it will improve in a bottle for several
years. The non-vintage Rosé Brut (80 per cent Chardonnay)
is very light in colour and its taut dry style may not be
to everyone's taste. The Brut Millésimé 1985
is one Bricout wine with a lot of Pinot Noir (60 per cent),
and although quite rich and round is not as exciting as the
Chardonnay-based wines from this house.
A big producer of inexpensive champagnes with
regular annual sales of 3 million bottles.
Canard-Duchêne, founded in 1868, is
now overshadowed by Veuve Clicquot, which bought the company
in 1978. The firm is nonetheless a major supplier of champagne
to the French market. The standard Brut is not recommended;
tasted twice in November 1993 and February 1994, this wine
had a suspiciously deep tinted colour and a coarse flavour
on each occasion. The vintage wines, by contrast, are perfectly
decent, though they are made in very small quantities. The
Patrimoine 1988 has a pleasantly yeasty nose and is well balanced
on the palate while the prestige Cuvée Charles VII
is rich and voluptuous. More work please on the standard Brut,
which as the flagship brand of a grande marque house is an
embarrassment on current showing.
Charbaut is a quality operation at all stages
of champagne-making and a champagne house to watch.
This family firm was established in 1948,
and is now run by René and Guy Charbaut, with Guy's
son-in-law, Jean-Pierre Abiven. The company has seen a strong
expansion in recent years. Today the family owns 58 hectares/144
acres of premier cru and grand cru vineyards, classified between
95 and 100 per cent on the echelle des crus. The company also
has an option to buy land in upstate New York, the long-term
aim being to produce an American sparkling wine in a cold
climate similar to that of Champagne.
The non-vintage Brut Réserve is made from a rigorous
selection of wines from the Charbaut vineyards and is a blend
of one-third Chardonnay and two-thirds Pinot Noir. A complex,
elegant, yet deep-flavoured champagne, its very distinctive
style, particularly apparent in its winey aroma, comes from
ageing on the lees for four years before being disgorged.
The non-vintage Blanc de Blancs is exceptional: delicate mousse
and an exquisite smell and taste that is both refined and
full of character. The 1985 Certificate Blanc de Blancs is
a memorable rich and mellow wine made with the best ripe Chardonnay
grapes in an outstanding year for Blanc de Blancs champagne.
The Vintage 1985 Cuvée, on the couple of occasions
I have drunk it, seemed closed and withdrawn (last tasted
in December 1993) and probably should not be consumed before
The fabled Nicole-Barbe Clicquot (née
Ponsardin) was the most gifted of the champagne widows. On
the death of her adored husband in 1806, this determined woman,
aged just 27, buried her grief by relaunching the family firm
as Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin.
Turning her back on the cost-concious French
and British merchants, Mme Clicquot sought new customers for
her champagnes in eastern Europe. She dispatched Heinrich
Bohne, a brilliant salesman, to St Petersburg, and in 1814
penetrated an Allied blockade to ship her 1811 vintage to
the Russian court. Russia became a prime market in which Clicquot
was to dominate for the next 50 years. The widow was a great
spotter of talent. Her chef de caves, Antoine Muller, perfected
the technique of remuage in 1818, and Edouard Werlé,
her business manager, saved her from pressing creditors by
hocking his own assets when her firm's Paris bankers went
into liquidation in 1828. The grateful Mme Clicquot made Werlé
a partner in the business, and it was he who established the
brand on world markets. By the time of the widow's death at
89 in 1866, annual sales had reached 3 million bottles. The
firm was also ably run for 50 years by Comte Bertrand de Mun,
a descendant of Werlé. Since the late 1970s, Clicquot
has entered the impersonal world of acquisitions and mergers,
gaining control of Canard-Duchêne champagne and merging
with Joseph Henriot. The company is now part of the Louis
Vuitton-Moët-Hennessy (LVMH) conglomerate.
Veuve Clicquot owns one of the largest vineyards in Champagne,
some 285 hectares/704 acres. This beautiful estate was essentially
the work of the widow Clicquot and says a lot about her shrewdness.
For it is very evenly spread across the classic wine-growing
districts and comprises a large number of grands crus such
as Avize, Cramant, Oger and Le Mesnil on the Côte des
Blancs, and Ambonnay, Verzenay and Bouzy on the Montague de
Reims. Yet these vineyards account for just one-third of the
company's needs. Like most great houses with rock-solid reputations,
Clicquot is an important buyer of Pinot Meunier grapes for
its non-vinatge cuvees.
Wine-making at Clicquot is thoroughly modern and all the wines
are fermented in stainless steel vats of varying capacities
depending on the provenance of the musts. No wood has been
used since 1961. The style of the wines has changed in recent
years, in my view for the better; although still deep-flavoured
and dominated by black grapes, they are fresher, less oxidized
than they used to be, with an emphasis on pure fruit definition.
This has not been achieved at the expense of complexity, for
an admirably high percentage of reserve wine is used in the
blends, and the finished champagnes are given plenty of bottle
age before sale. Joseph Henriot, head of Clicquot until 1994,
and Jacques Peters, his meticulous technical director, can
take the lion's share of credit for this, though their decisions
are always checked by a tasting committee of directors and
The non-vintage Brut with its unmistakable yellow label is
currently right back on form. Its ripe red fruits and spice
flavour shaped by the dominant Pinot Noir (56 per cent), a
good touch of Pinot Meunier (about 16 per cent) and plenty
of reserve wines; yet it is fresh and crisp, Chardonnay (28
per cent) being the tempering hand. The Gold label vintage
Réserve Brut 1985 got my top mark at a tasting of grande
marque champagnes from that great year organized by the Institute
of British Masters of Wine in 1993; luscious yet lithe with
a beautiful hazelnut bouquet. The prestige cuvée La
Grande Dame is almost always among the best three or four
luxury champagnes on the market; the 1985 is a masterpiece
of mellow mouth enveloping richness and faultless balance.
The vintage-dated Rosé has its fans, though I am not
Clouet champagnes reflect the special character
of their exceptionally sited Pinot Noir vineyards, all rated
at 100 per cent on the cru echelle.
Their 9-hectare/22-acres estate on the best
middle-slopes of Bouzy and Ambonnay is run by Pierre and Françoise
Santz-Clouet, a hardworking and open-minded couple. The house's
ornate ancient regime labels are no doubt a nostalgic tribute
to the founder of the estate, a printer to the royal court
at Versailles during the reign of Louis XV.
André Clouet Grand Cru Brut Réserve is a big
rich Pinot Noir champagne with a vinosity typical of Bouzy.
Made from a selection of the first pressings of the grapes
(tête de cuvée), this wine is matured for a long
time on the lees before being disgorged, which accounts for
its complexity and long persistent finish. The Grand Cru Rosé
is a typical grower's wine in the best sense. Of rich heather-like
colour, the primary aromas of Pinot Noir soar out of the glass;
the bubbles are lively but the balance of fruit and flavour
in the mouth is excellent. The 1989 Vintage Grand Cru Brut
is an impressive effort in a very ripe year. The flavour is
round and mouth-filling, not clumsy or overblown, thanks to
Bouzy is famous for its red still wine made from 100 per cent
Pinot Noir. But to show at its best it needs a sunny year.
The 1988 vintage was one such year and the Clouets' example
is first-rate: the colour is a vivid ruby, the nose redolent
of raspberries, the flavour succulent yet elegant. It is also
a versatile wine with food, good with pasta dishes, grilled
fish or cheese.
Founded in 1895 by a Provençal nobleman,
de Castellane has a grand past symbolized by its bizarre crenellated
tower which dominates the drab skyline of Epernay.
Until the mid-1980s, the firm was one of the
few to ferment a high percentage of its wines in large oak
casks. Laurent-Perrier now has a controlling interest in the
company, modern methods are being introduced, and the wines
are rather lighter than they used to be.
Respected critics such as Robert Parker rate these champagnes
highly, which puzzles me as I find them a very mixed bag.
The Pinot Noir - and Meunier - dominated non-vintage Brut
Croix Rouge de Saint André, which accounts for 70 per
cent of the firm's sales, is not overpriced but often tastes
coarse and green with a higher than average dosage. The Rosé
Brut is also nothing to get excited about. The Vintage Brut
1986 is a decent wine with fine small bubbles and a round
mature taste. The Cuvée Royale Chardonnay, made from
Cramant, Oger and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger grapes, is subtle, delicate
and ripe; while the vintage-dated Cuvée Commodore is
produced by very traditional methods, including the use of
a clamped cork rather than a crown cap to stopper the wine
during its second fermentation in bottle: the aroma of the
1986 is nutty and honeyed, the flavour expansive and mouth-filling
with a note of exotic fruits. The 1982 Cuvée Florens
de Castellane is a 100 per cent Chardonnay champagne at the
peak of its maturity.
Charles de Cazanove
Founded at Avize in 1811 by Charles de Cazanove, this firm
has seen a revival since the Lombard family bought it form
Moët-Hennessey in 1985.
A lot of money has been invested in modern
equipment, and the house style here is for full, fruity champagnes
with no hint of austerity. Pinot Noir dominates the Brut Classique,
a full-bodied wine with lively bubbles and lots of primary
red fruit flavour; the Vintage Brut 1985 is in the same mould,
though as you would expect, the extra age and better-class
grapes (mostly Pinot Noir) make it more concentrated and long-flavoured.
The Brut Azur puts the Chardonnay in the driving seat. It
has a surprisingly deep evolved colour on the one occasion
I tasted it (January 1994) and the bubbles died quickly, so
perhaps it was a dud bottle. The Brut Rosé, deep salmon-pink,
is vibrantly fruity in the de Cazanove style. The prestige
Stradivarius, Tête de Cuvée, Brut 1985 (not tasted)
is made from 70 per cent Chardonnay and 30 per cent Pinot
Guy de Chassey
Guy de Chassey ran this very small firm until
his death in June 1993. His daughters Marie-Odile and Monique
carry the torch of quality.
The De Chassey sisters produce an excellent
full bodied champagne from their own fruit, buying none in.
The predominant Pinot Noir blend is based on 100 per cent
rated grapes grown in their grand cru vineyards at Louvois.
The Grand Cru Brut is usually the product of a single vintage
with some reserve wines occasionally added. They sometimes
make wines which they label as vintage. These are generally
later disgorged than the so-called "non-vintage"
Founded in 1837, de Venoge is housed in very
grand premises on Epernay's Avenue de Champagne. By contrast,
the wines have a reputation for being decent and workmanlike.
During the early 1980s, de Venoge became the
plaything of the big groups and its stocks were seriously
depleted. Since the arrival of the Thierry Mantoux, an innovative
marketeer, and managing director since 1986, quality has steadily
improved. These are now handsomely packaged, easy-to-drink
champagnes in an upfront fruity style of real street appeal.
While de Venoge only occasionally scales the heights of excellence,
there are no bad bottles from this source.
The Cordon Bleu Brut is a straightforward champagne, full
of primary Pinot Noir fruit, though it is not truly dry (perhaps
because of a higher than average dosage). The Blanc de Noir
(100 per cent Pinot Noir) is a flattering, undemanding wine,
but a little light considering its composition. The Vintage
Brut 1986 has a full, evolved, mature flavour and some complexity;
again it seems quite highly dosed. Easily the best champagnes
here are the various Blancs de Blancs, especially the vintage-dated
1983 which is mellow and ripe yet vigorously alive. I have
not tasted the Champagne des Princes Blanc de Blancs 1985
which is highly regarded by the Guide Hachette and described
as "rich, fresh, lightly smoked, very fruity, as ample
as it is long." The princess Rosé is an innovative
wine, the palest shade of pink, made from Chardonnay grapes.
The sixth oldest champagne house, founded
in 1760, Delamotte is based in a fine 18th-century property
at Le Mesnil-sur-Oger on the Côte des Blancs.
Long associated with Lanson, this little firm
with a big reputation among connoisseurs has been owned since
1948 by the de Nonancourt family of Laurent Perrier. Delamotte
has 5 hecatres/12 acres of grand cru Chardonnay at Le Mesnil.
This vineyard produces only about one-fifth of the company's
needs, but it firmly acts as a benchmark for nearly all the
champagnes in the range, which are Chardonnay-influenced,
fine, fresh and long-lived. In 1989. Laurent-Perrier bought
Salon, an even smaller house than Delamotte, but one which
produces the greatest of all Blanc de Blancs. Delamotte and
Salon - immediate neighbours in Le Mesnil - are managed by
Bertrand de Fleurian.
The non-vintage Brut (half Chardonnay, half black grapes)
has very fine bubbles, a touch of apricot on the nose, and
a very fresh yet rounded flavour. The Brut Rosé is
the only wine made from pure Pinot Noir (100 per cent); its
flavour is redolent of raspberries. The non-vintage Blanc
de Blancs, pale in colour, is very dry, brisk and racy but
with a flattering richness on the after-taste. The Blanc de
Blancs is a big, powerful wine with a scent of peaches, very
deep-flavoured and still young-tasting; it should be kept
until at least 1995 before pulling the cork. The top-of-the-range
Nicolas Louis Delamotte is officially a non-vintage wine,
although it mostly comes from the 1982 harvest - a textbook
example of ripe but still fresh Blanc de Blancs which has
at least another 10 years of life ahead of it.
Frederick Delbeck founded this house in 1832.
It still produces a top-flight champagne in a generous, fruity,
supple yet complex style.
Frederick Delbeck quickly joined the 19th-century
champagne establishment by marrying Balsamie Ponsardin, niece
of the great widow Clicquot. In 1838, Delbeck was chosen as
the champagne of the Royal Bourbon Court of France: King Louis-Philippe
described it as the most exquisite sparkling wine he had ever
drunk. The marquee disappeared from sale for 30 years from
the early 1960s. In 1993, the firm was bought by Marquis François
D'Aulan who wanted to return to the champangne trade, having
sold his interests in Piper-Heidsieck to the Rémy Martin
group four years earlier.
Key quality factors in Delbeck champagnes are the house's
ownership of 4.2 hectares/10.6 acres of grand cru vineyards
in Verzenay on the Montagne de Reims, and reserve stocks of
wine representing over six years of annual sales. Continuity
of expertise has been assured by retaining the consultant
services of Jacques Gauthier, chef de caves at Delbeck for
Brut Héritage (non vintage) is composed of 70 per cent
Pinot Noir and 30 per cent Chardonnay with up to 20 per cent
reserve wines. It is a beautifully blended champagne, strongly
fruity but supple, body and finesse in textbook balance, and
with a clean durable finish. Brut Héritage Rosé,
predominantly Pinot Noir, of which 20 per cent is traditionally
vinified on the grape skins, has a pastel-pink colour and
speaks refinement. Brut Vintage 1985 (65 per cent Pinot Noir,
35 per cent Chardonnay) is a sleeping giant, a potentially
magnificent wine with terrific depth of flavour and life-giving
acidity. It should be kept until a least 1995 and will provide
superb drinking in 2000.
Deutz wines, like the Deutz family, are restrained,
subtle and understated.
Like many grandes marques, this house was
founded by young entrepreneurs of German origin who moved
west to seek their fortune in Champagne. William Deutz and
Pierre Geldermann, both natives of Aachen, established a champagne
business at Ay in 1838. Deutz, who had previously worked for
Bollinger, brought expertise to the partnership, Geldermann
brought the capital.
The firm's cellars were badly damaged during the Champagne
riots of 1911. this scarring experience for his predecessors
may have driven André Lallier-Deutz, the current head
of the company, to diversify his wine interests 70 years later
during the boom time of the 1980s. Among his acquisitions
at this time were the Rhône shippers Delas Frères
and sparkling-wine companies in California and New Zealand.
But with the severe recession that affected the champagne
industry in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War, Deutz's worldwide
operations began to look overextended, and in 1993 Louis Roederer
bought a 63 per cent stake in the company.
Despite its broad international outlook, Deutz is one of the
more discreet grandes marques and is certainly not a firm
which likes to sponsor motor races where the winners shower
their rivals with precious champagne. However, in recent tastings,
the non-vintage Brut has seemed below par, with and aggressive
acidity that makes one ask how long this cuvée has
aged in the bottle. The vintage wines are another matter.
The 1988 Blanc de Blancs, made from the best grapes from the
grand crus of the Côte des Blancs, is a wonderful champagne,
light, exquisitely elegant but with a profundity of flavours
which will intensify until the year 2000. The 1988 Brut has
complex near-Burgundian aromas shaped by 60 per cent Pinot
Noir in the blend, and is long and persistent on the palate.
The 1988 Rosé (100 per cent Pinot Noir) is very fruity
and powerful, a wine for richly flavoured shellfish like crab,
and , best of all, coulibiac of salmon. The prestige Cuvée
William Deutz, made only in great years like 1982 and 1985,
is an impressive wine for sure but, like many prestige cuvees,
is not worth the extra price over, say, the superb Blanc de
Blancs. An unusual addition to the range is Deutz's non-vintage
Everything about this immaculate operation
inspires confidence, as modern techniques are allied to traditional
principles of classic champagne-making.
Veuve Devaux is the flagship brand of the
Union Auboise based in unfashionable Bar-sur-Seine, 113 kilometres/70
miles southeast of Epernay. This first-rate Aube cooperative
is currently producing excellent champagnes which in blind
tastings more than hold their own in competition with counterparts
from the Marne. The Union is a powerful grouping of 750 member-growers
farming 1,300 hectares/3,212 acres of exclusively Aubois vineyards,
planted with 85 per cent Pinot Noir, 12 per cent Chardonnay
and just 3 per cent Pinot Meunier. About one-third of production
is exported, mainly to the UK, and there is a burgeoning market
in the USA, for these wines are exceptional value for money.
Crucially, all the Devaux cuvée are properly aged in
the bottle before sale. Grande Réserve Brut, aged for
three years, is a blend of 50 different crus; green-gold in
colour, it is a model standard wine, a restrained note of
yeasty complexity in text-book balance with fresh fruit flavours
and crisp acidity. Cuvée Millésimée,
Currently the 1988, is atypically a Chardonnay-influenced
wine and racier than most from the Aube. Cuvée Rosé,
pink with orange tints, is full of primary peachy fruit, while
the 1985 Cuvée Spéciale Rosé is subtly
vinous but lively. The top-of-the-range 1985 Cuvée
Spéciale Brut, a classic blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
is equal parts, will go on improving for some years yet. The
Union Auboise also vinify the rare and expensive still Rosé
des Riceys, something of a curiosity. Its bitter-sweet mandarin
flavour should not be missed by wine-lovers in search of a
new experience, though bottles are hard to find as production
Vignerons at Urville since the time of Napoleon,
the Drappiers are now one of the leading grower-merchants
of the Aube.
Drappier champagnes are highly distinctive
and hedonistic with a red fruits flavour that comes from ripe
Pinot Noir grapes grown on the rich Aubois soils. Generosity
of flavour rather than austere finesse is the Drappier style.
It certainly appealed to General de Gaulle, who was a regular
customer while he was living in retirement at nearby Colombey-les-Deux
Eglises. In the 1990s the Drappiers have built important new
markets for their wines in the UK and Japan.
The heart of this close-knit family business is the Urville
domaine, housing 12th-century cellars and vineyards which
now extend to 35 hectares/86 acres, mainly planted with Pinot
Noir. Young Michel Drappier, a Dijon-trained oenologist, runs
the whole business with immaculate care and quiet flair. His
dark film-star good looks belie a terrific capacity for hard
work, and his is one of the most open-minded and informative
of wine-makers. The winery is modern and pristine, but the
champagnes produced are not just technically correct, they
have real personality.
The non-vintage Carte Blanche is made from 90 per cent Pinot
Noir and 10 per cent Pinot Meunier, the latter giving a spicy
note to this rounded supple champagne. The 1988 Carte d'Or,
like all Drappier vintage wines, carries the date of dégorgement
on the label. Tasted in January 1994, ten months after being
disgorged, the 1988 showed a lot of promise with that acidity.
The signature Blanc de Blancs, by contrast, seems to me to
be the least interesting of the wines from the Drappiers,
who are after all, Pinot Noir specialists. No doubts, though,
about the Grande Sendrée prestige cuvée which
in years like 1983 and 1985 is a magnificent sensuous mouthful,
still predominantly Pinot Noir but also with a good amount
of Chardonnay (45 per cent). The recently released Grande
Sendrée 1988 needs to be kept until 1996 before pulling
the cork. The pink Val des Desmoiselles is one of the few
rosé champagnes still made by the saignée method,
in which the wine is tinted pink by putting the black Pinot
Noir grape skins in contact with the juice for a couple of
days prior to fermentation. Rose-petal pink in colour, this
lovely wine is yet another celebration of the seductive charms
of Aubois Pinot Noir.
Daniel Dumont is one of the most interesting
producers on the Montagne de Reims, for as a nurseryman, working
with his two sons, Daniel raised over 200,000 vines every
year for sale to other producers.
His knowledge of the clones and varieties
of vines allows Daniel Dumont to select the best for his own
wine production. As a result, his grapes are extremely healthy
and his champagnes exceptionally pure-flavoured.
It shows in the glass. At a tasting at Les Saveurs restaurant
in London in January 1994, his Cuvée d'Excellence 1986
was the star of a line-up that included several grande marques.
Made from a classic blend of premier cru grapes (Chardonnay
predominating), this wine had everything: silky texture, mouth-filling
richness, superb balancing acidity; no trace of bitterness.
The Cuvée de Réserve 1988 is a more forward
wine of primary fruit flavours, a proportion of the grapes
coming from the smaller holdings in the Coteaux des Sézannais
and the Vallée de la Marne. The Grande Réserve
Rosé is one of the few pink champagnes still made by
the traditional method: the grape skins remain in contact
with the juice for 24 hours or so, to tint the wine naturally
to the desired colour. It is a great food wine, its exuberant
red fruits flavours of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier giving
it enough character to match dishes as different as Szechwan
pork, blanquette de veau or salmon in any guise. Daniel also
makes a honey-and-almond flavoured Demi-Sec that is a more
exciting partner for Christmas cake than a cup of tea.
This brand was created in the early 1970s
by Nicolas Feuillatte, a globe-trotting entrepreneur who has
always seemed as much at home in the penthouses of Manhattan
as on the vineyard slopes of Champagne.
At the age of 21, Feuillatte moved to New
York where he made his fortune, originally in the coffee trade.
In 1970 he sold up and took a year's sabbatical in Sydney.
Shortly afterwards he inherited a 12 hectare/30 acre vineyard
in Bouleuse which with an eye for self-promotion he called
Domaine St Nicolas.
Feuillatte became a major player in the champagne trade in
1976 when he joined forces with the Centre Vinicole de la
Champagne. The CVC, based at Chouilly in the Côte des
Blancs, is a vast cooperative-conglomerate whose 4,000 member-growers
bring the juice of their 1,600 hectares/3,953 acres of vines
to the company for vinification. These vignerons claim to
make about 5 per cent of the total production of champagne.
What is certain is that in terms of the quality and variety
of the crus available to him, Feuillatte has excellent grapes
to call on, from the Montagne de Reims, the Côte des
Blancs and the Vallée de la Marne. Feuillatte's philosophy
of champagne is that "it is a natural part of life."
Initially sceptical both of this "Madison Avenue"
phrase and of the claims of the brand to the making of wines
of high quality - the CVC now produces 13 million bottles
of champagne annually - I was subsequently impressed by the
best of the Feuillatte range at a tasting at Les Saveurs Restaurant,
London in December 1993.
These champagnes have an immediacy of appeal which combines
a lively mousse, direct fruit and clean acidity. The Brut
Premier Cru is an excellent and flattering non-vintage wine:
the bubbles, foaming to the eye and creamy to the palate,
are a delight; there is a distinctive whiff of orange and
mandarin, and the taste is rich but invigorating. The non-vintage
Blanc de Blancs seems to need much more bottle age, having
the raw edge of young Chardonnay, and the Rosé is frankly
disappointing with its orange tint and rather cosmetic flavour.
The 1983 Cuvée Spéciale Palmes d'Or shows the
complexity of its classic blend (40 per cent Pinot Noir, 40
per cent Chardonnay, 20 per cent Pinot Meunier) allied to
a clear definition of fruit flavours and the glorious vinosity
of a fully mature champagne from a great year. This superb
wine (worth three stars) is better and cheaper than the top-of-the-range
A small family business established in 1890
and now based in a modern winery at Chigny-les-Roses, George
Gardet buys in mainly 100-per-cent rated grapes from the Montagne
The Gardet family employs very traditional
wine-making methods, with all the champagnes marked with the
year of disgorging. The wines are aged for a very long time
in the bottle. The vintage champagnes are of an exceptional
quality, showing complex, tertiary, almost "animal"
aromas and flavours. The 1983 has an impressive vinosity which
always shows well in blind tastings. The Rosé Brut
(100 per cent Pinot Noir) is made by skin contact. Personally,
I find it has almost too much flavour for its own good, mais
á chacun son gout. Gardet champagnes are also sold
under a second name, Boucheron. The quality is just as good.
Champagne production in Ay, famous for its
grand cru Pinot Noir grapes, is dominated by great houses
like Bollinger, and there are now only 12 small growers in
the commune making and marketing their own champagnes.
One of the best small growers in Ay is Pierre
Cheval-Gatinois, who looks more like a technocrat than a vigneron.
Pierre was born in the vineless neighbouring Ardennes but
came to Champagne as a young man, fell in love with Ay and
married a local girl whose family had been champagne growers
here since 1696.
He now farms his 7 hectares/17 acre vineyard, all classed
as grand cru, of which 90 per cent is Pinot Noir grown on
the uplands, but with 10 per cent Chardonnay planted on more
chalky soil at the bottom of the slopes. His champagnes are
deeply coloured and generously flavoured, their essential
red fruits taste being that of great Pinot Noir made in tiny
quantities from old vines. In exceptional years like 1989
and 1990 he makes an excellent still red wine (100 per cent
Pinot Noir) which is fermented and aged in newish small oak
The non-vintage Gatinois Grand Cru, Ay, Tradition Brut, though
officially a white champagne, has a perceptible pinkish tinge
and an assertive yet round fruitiness which is the result
of the intricate blending of wines from 29 lieu-dits (named
vineyard sites) in the Gatinois vineyards and three years'
ageing before release. A big wine for food, especially slow-cooked
poultry with a cream sauce is Gatinois Réserve, a blend
of the 1987 and 1988 vintages. It is more vinous owing to
longer aging in the bottle, while Gatinois Millésime
1988 (a classic vintage) is fine and delicate.
The Gossets have been making wine in Ay since
1584, so it is not surprising that theirs are traditional
champagnes, lush, rich and old-fashioned.
The firm owns 12 hectares/30 acres of choice
vineyards on the Montagne de Reims, but buys in most of its
grapes from 30 different crus, especially Chardonnays from
the Côte des Blancs. After four centuries of family
ownership, control of the firm passed to Max Cointreau of
Frapin Cognac in 1994.
Gosset wines are built to last (the Malolactic fermentation
is avoided to ensure longevity) and are aged for an exceptionally
long time in the bottle. The British critic Jane MacQuitty
is right to warn that their musky style is not for everyone.
Personally speaking, I feel that the standard Brut Réserve
wins more marks for flavour than for elegance, and the much-vaunted
1983 Grand Millésimé does have a muskiness that
leaves me cold. However, there is one great wine from Gosset,
the Grande Réserve, which has slightly more Pinot Noir
than Chardonnay and is a blend of the 1984, 1985 and 1986
vintages. Its rich multi-layered flavours are striking proof
that a non-vintage champagne can be better than one from a
single year. Terrific with a dish like roast pheasant or partridge.
Famous as the provider of the late King George
VI's favourite bubbly, George Goulet is a rare and happy instance
of a champagne house that has regained its independence after
years of control by the Besserat de Bellefon group.
The house is now owned by a family of growers
around Verzenay on the Montagne de Reims. Their brand of champagne
is highly prized among connoisseurs in the UK especially.
Goulet's non-vintage Extra Quality Brut, though made from
80 per cent Pinot Noir of grand and premier cru ratings, tasted
heavy, ponderous and lifeless at a tasting at Les Saveurs
Restaurant in December 1993. The vintage champagnes, white
and pink, are very much better - big burly wines with very
long flavours - and especially successful in the 1985 vintage.
Alfred Gratien is a highly individual company.
Walking along the bare boards of the firm's shabby offices
today, one sees that very little has changed since Alfred
Gratien, a native of Saumur, opened his champagne business
on Epernay's rue Maurice Cerveaux in 1867.
Don't be disconcerted. This modest home provides
a range of truly excellent champagnes made with the conviction
that the old way are best.
The key job of chef de caves has been in the same family for
five generations. The present incumbent, Jean-Pierre Jaeger,
insists that his champagnes are totally fermented in wood,
and they are then given plenty of ageing in the bottle before
The non-vintage Alfred Gratien Brut has a light straw-yellow
colour and a spicy, fresh-bread bouquet which almost certainly
comes from the very high percentage of Pinot Meunier in the
blend, though Jean-Pierre is cagey about revealing the exact
amount. Freshness and finesse is given by adding about 30
per cent Chardonnay, allied to the practice at Gratien of
avoiding the malolactic fermentation to ensure optimum vitality
in all the wines.
For the vintage wines at Gratien at least 50 per cent Chardonnay
is used in the blend, and the house style of these is elegant,
racy and very long-lived. The prestige Alfred Gratien Cuvée
Paradis is a masterpiece which deserves the highest star rating.
Although this wine does not carry a vintage label, the base
is the 1985 vintage. The colour is a lovely sustained lemon-gold,
the mousse ultra delicate, the flavour extremely refined,
long and persistent: all this has to do with the contribution
of Chardonnay (71 per cent) to the blend.
The 1983 Alfred Gratien Brut has a more evolved straw-yellow
colour and a riper fuller flavour (about one-third of the
blend is Pinot Noir), but this near-mature wine, which will
reach its best in 1994 or 1995, still has the signature vintage
Gratien taste of top-notch Chardonnay-based champagne.
Founded in 1910 by an Ay grower whose father
came from Alsace, the firm achieved négociant status
in 1930 and is now run by the fourth generation of the family.
Hamm owns 3.5 hectares/8.6 acres of highly
rated Ay vineyards but buys in most of its grapes. Nearly
all the champagnes are genuinely very dry with a dosage of
less than 1 per cent. The non-vintage Sélection Brut
is made from a blend of minor crus, with about one third of
Chardonnay grapes from the second pressings. The Premier Cru
Réserve is recommended; a 60:40 blend of Pinot Noir
and Chardonnay, it has a pleasantly yeasty nose and youthful
fruit flavours. The 1987, of similar composition, is a decent
effort in a difficult year: the high acidity typical of the
vintage is easing to reveal a well-balanced, gently evolved
This prestigious grande marque house is justly
famed on both sides of the Atlantic for its rich, hedonistic,
full-flavoured champagnes that make excellent partners to
Charles-Camille Heidsieck was one of the great
champagne salesmen. With his brother-in-law Ernest Henriot,
he founded this house in 1851 and looked across the Atlantic
for new customers. The following year he made the first of
four journeys to the USA. By the start of the American Civil
War he was selling 300,000 bottles of champagne a year from
New York to Louisiana. But it all ended in tears in 1861 when
he was arrested by the Unionists in New Orleans while in possession
of letters from French manufacturers offering to supply clothing
to the Confederate armies. After four months in a swampy Mississippi
jail, Charles-Camille returned to France a near-ruined man.
But the firm did survive. Charles-Camille's sons and grandsons
found new foreign markets in Europe, the Far East and South
America, while developing sales in the USA.
The family ran the firm until 1976 when Joseph Henriot, descendant
of Ernest, took control. In 1985 Charles Heidsieck was sold
to the Rémy-Martin group, which already owned Krug.
Under the new ownership the quality of the wines has improved
enormously; the firm's non-vintage champagne is much richer
than it used to be and is one of the very best on the market.
The main reason for the improvement is that Rémy's
financial strength has allowed Daniel Thilbault, Charles Heidsieck's
chef de caves, to buy the best grapes, and, crucially, to
increase his stocks of reserve wines. Thibault has been lionized
by the press as a blender of exceptional talent, even as a
magician. But as he says, "chefs de caves are not sorcerers,
it's the raw material, the grapes, which make the quality
Before the Rémy takeover, Charles Heidsieck owned no
vineyards, but it has since acquired nearly 30 hectares/74
acres of prime sites in Oger, Ambonnay and Bouzy. This has
given the company a good start toward their goad of greater
direct control over the quality of the harvest.
The outstanding quality of the non-vintage Charles Heidsieck
Brut Réserve is the result of careful natural vinification
and the complexity of the blend. The wines are made entirely
from the first pressings of the grapes, the use of the second
pressings having been entirely eliminated since 1985. Alcoholic
fermentation takes place in stainless steel, after which technical
treatments of the wines are kept to a minimum to preserve
their natural character.
The Brut Réserve blend is composed of up to 300 different
components, of which 40 per cent are reserve wines from older
vintages. These wines shape the unmistakable vanilla-and-honey
flavour of the finished champagne - very much the Charles
Heidsieck style - and achieved without the use of wood. The
grape mix is three-quarters Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and
a quarter Chardonnay, the latter maintaining the champagne's
zip while adding a whiff of hazelnut. Critics complain that
the Brut Réserve is overpriced, which seems wide of
the mark for a champagne of remarkable quality costing less
than inferior vintage wines from other houses.
The point reinforced when tasting the Charles Heidsieck Vintage
1985, a less complex wine than the Brut Réserve. Perversely,
the Rosé Vintage 1985 is exceptional; of pale onion-skin
colour and subtle and refined rather than rumbustiously fruity,
it is one pink champagne which really improves with age and
should provide excellent drinking in 1995-96. The 1983 Blanc
de Millénaires (100 per cent Chardonnay) is one of
the best Blanc de Blancs around - a typical Thibault creation,
wonderfully rich and creamy with flavours of exotic fruits
to win over drinkers who find pure Chardonnay champagnes austere.
Hard to find outside a wine auction room but a collector's
dream is the 1981 Charles Heidsieck Cuvée la Royale,
essentially the taste of great old Pinot Noir dominated champagne
with an unforgettable smell of roasted coffee beans. That
may not sound inviting, so all that I can say is that I would
travel all the way from London to Reims just to taste it again.
Founded by Henri-Louis Walbaum in 1834, this
firm was originally known as Heidsieck & Co. The "Monopole"
tag was added in 1923 by a new owner, Edouard Mignon of Comptoirs
This company, which has been part of the Seagram
group since 1972, shares wine-making with Mumm, a giant of
the industry. Yet Heidsieck Monopole still officially has
extensive vineyards of its own, some 112 hectares/275 acres,
including some prime sites of Pinot Noir in the grands crus
of Ambonnay, Bouzy, Verzenay and Verzy. Although these only
account for about one-third of the firm's needs, they provide
good base wines for the cuvées and they shape the full
rich champagne house style.
The Dry Monopole Brut is made from a mix of all three champagne
grapes in roughly equal parts, and though there is some disagreement
amoung critics about its consistency, I have always found
it discreetly aromatic, round in flavour and well balanced.
The prestige cuvée Diamant Bleu is an immaculately
blended wine (50 per cent Pinot Noir, 50 per cent Chardonnay)
the 1976 being particularly impressive. This wine is now something
of a collector's item.
Piper-Heidsieck has always been a famous grande
marque with a big following in the USA. Now there are signs
that its light, straightforward champagnes are changing in
style, showing richer, more complex tones.
It is difficult to know quite what to make
of Piper-Heidsieck. Founded in 1834 by Christian Heidsieck,
nephrew of Florenz-Ludwig (the paterfamilias of the Heidsieck
dynasty), the firm remained independent until 1989. Yet piper
has rarely won press plaudits for its champagnes. Most critics
see them as being light and rather austere (until recently
they never went through malolactic fermentation) and lacking
richness or complexity.
But with the takeover of the firm by the Rémy-Cointreau
group in 1989, things have taken a turn for the better. Daniel
Thibault, chef de caves at Charles Heidsieck, now makes the
champagnes at Piper, too. They are beginning to become richer
and more generous in flavour, though as a deliberate act of
policy they remain fairly straightforward champagnes of primary
fruit with a good flick of acidity.
Easily the best wines here are the vintage cuvées such
as the bone-dry Brut Sauvage 1982, which although undosed
is very naturally flavoured and not too austere thanks to
the ripeness of the grapes in the blend. The prestige cuvée
Champagne Rare 1985 is a splendid wine; Chardonnay-dominated,
citrussy, racy and long on the palate, it will develop greatly
in bottle until 1996-97. The Thibault-made non-vintage Rosé
Brut gets very high marks from the 1994 Guide Hachette, the
tasters raved about its aromas of vanilla and tastes of woodland
fruits, which suggests lots of reserve wines in the blend.
Henriot champagnes are Chardonnay-influenced,
briskly invigorating, definitely dry and extremely elegant.
Vignerons in the Champagne region since the
17th century and merchants since 1808, the Henriots farm 110
hectares/272 acres of superb vineyards, mainly on the Côte
des Blancs de la Marne. Joseph Henriot, the present head of
the company, is one of the most influential men in the champagne
industry, a complex character who is both a passionate guardian
of quality and a wheeler-dealer of extreme agility. In 1985
he merged the family Henriot business with that of Veuve Clicquot
and directed the two companies, each with separate identities,
until 1994. What will he do next?
The one wine that seems out of place in his impressive range
is the non-vintage Souverain Brut, which is a rather rough-and-ready
champagne compared with its classy stable mates. The non-vintage
Blanc de Blancs is light and citrussy, ideal as an aperitif.
The 1985 Rosé is very subtle stuff, made entirely from
Chardonnay with 15 per cent Bouzy Rouge added. The vintage
1985 Brut is a big wine that will improve with age. Henriot
uses no Pinot Meunier in the blend.
This little champagne house, established in
1820, is one of the least known, being completely overshadowed
by its parent company, Taittinger.
Irroy's lack of fame is good news for the
discerning consumer, for these champagnes are decent, well
made (largely from Chardonnay grapes) and often a bargain.
The Brut Carte d'Or is a light and elegant wine for easy drinking,
but the star buy is the Rosé. With its pale salmon
colour, its wafting aroma of red fruit and subtle poised flavour,
it quite outshone the pink competition from some much grander
houses at a London tasting in December 1993. More's the pity
that Irroy recently lost its grande marque status.
One of the major players in the modern champagne
industry, Jacquart is a large cooperative-turned-merchant
Jacquart is now the sixth biggest champagne
producer. Its strength comes from 1,000 hectares/2,471 acres
of vines owned by its 700 member growers, impeccable wine-making,
the modern aggressive marketing of the Jacquart label, especially
in France. Clean, well-balanced Brut Tradition non-vintage,
classy Chardonnay-driven Brut Sélection, immaculate
1987 Brut (a real success in a difficult year) and the prestige
1985 Cuvée Nominée Blanc de Blancs, a champagne
of rare refinement.
A leading grower in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, André
Jacquart now exports his excellent, sharply priced champagnes
to the USA, the UK and Japan.
His is essentially a Chardonnay house, the
family owning 11 hectares/27 acres in choice vineyards along
the Côte des Blancs (including a prime plot in Le Mesnil)
with smaller holding (7 hectares/17 acres) of Pinot Noir and
Pinot Meunier in the Vallée de la Marne and the Aube.
The Carte Blanche Brut (non-vintage) is the firm's best-known
brand, its incisive dry flavour of top-flight Chardonnay rounded
out with the richer tastes of early-maturing Pinot Noir. This
impeccably balanced champagne is one of the best buys available.
The Grand Cru Le Mesnil is the wine of a single year. The
1986 was a model, mature Blanc de Blancs for drinking in 1994-95.
The most prestigious name in champagne. Krug
wines have always been deep-flavoured, uncompromising and
extremely expensive. Made by the fifth and sixth generations
of the family, they need long aging but can taste magnificent
when they are 10, 15, even 20 years old.
The house was founded in 1843 by Johann Joseph
Krug, a German immigrant from Mainz, who had learned the art
of blending at Jacquesson.
The distinctive taste of Krug champagnes - full, rich, and
nutty - comes from the highly traditional way in which they
are vinified. Krug is the only house which ferments all its
wines in small oak barriques. This process undoubtedly shapes
the vinous style, which is quite unlike any other. But the
crucial quality factor here is the family's extremely rigorous
approach to the art of blending. The Krug Grande Cuvée,
the flagship brand of the house, is (as wine-maker Henri Krug
puts it), "a blend of the broadest possible dimensions,
intricately balancing as many as 40 to 50 different wines
from 20 to 25 different growths and six to ten different vintages."
A typical grape mix for Grande Cuvée might be 45-55
per cent Pinot Noir, 25-35 per cent Chardonnay and 15-20 per
cent Pinot Meunier. The Krugs are great champions of the Pinot
Meunier (bought from the cooperative in Leuvrigny) as they
believe it adds fruitiness and spice to the blend. The current
Grande Cuvée (last tasted January 1994) has returned
to top form after one or two disappointments in recent years.
The colour is a beautiful bright gold, there are scents of
toasty vanilla and hazelnut, and the taste seems fresher and
more sprightly than it used to be, but with a burgeoning richness.
This brings me to the thorny point of when to drink the wine:
for although Grande Cuvée is never released until it
has at least six years' bottle age, it really does repay keeping
for a further year or two before pulling the cork.
The vintage wines are supreme examples of the champagne blender's
are - Grande Cuvée writ large - and may be recommended
without exception because the Krugs are careful to make them
only in exceptional years. The currently available 1982 is
a powerful wine of intense ripe concentration for drinking
in 1995-2000. Of earlier vintages 1979, 1976, 1975, 1973,
1971 and 1969 were especially splendid. For lovers of an "old"
wine now in its prime, Krug Collection 1964 in magnums is
available in tiny quantities. A certificate signed by Henri
Krug is issued to collectors on request.
The Krug Clos de Mesnil Blanc de Blancs is produced solely
from grand cru Chardonnay grapes in a walled vineyard ("clos")
at Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, the greatest white wine village of
the Côte des Blancs. With financial help from the Rémy-Cointreau
group, who now have a controlling interest in Krug, this plum
1.98 hectare/4.9 acre site was bought by the company in the
early 1970s, the first vintage being in 1979. Like all Chardonnay
champagnes from Le Mesnil, the Krugs' Clos is mouth-puckering
and acidic when young, but given 12 to 15 years in bottle
it takes on the complexity of a great Corton Charlemagne with
bubbles. The 1982 will be a very great wine, but do not broach
it before the turn of the century.
Krug Rosé, first introduced in 1983, is cast in the
same serious mould as the rest of the range. Firmly structured,
very fruity and extremely dry, it is intended to accompany
fine cuisine. The famous Paris chef Alain Senderens once created
an entire meal - from leek-wrapped lobster to a mosaic of
veal - around this wine. Certainly good stuff but nothing
like as interesting as the other wines from Krug.
One of the oldest houses in Champagne, Lanson
has always been acclaimed for its quality wines that offered
excellent value for money, and outstanding vintage champagnes.
But recent changes threaten a downturn.
Lanson's is a sad story. As recently as 1990
this great house, one of the oldest in Champagne, seemed to
have adapted well to the modern world; its best-selling Black
Label Brut was a good reliable wine and its vintage champagnes
were some of the best around. But in 1991 Lanson lost all
208 hectares/514 acres of its magnificent vineyards when the
firm was sold by the Louis Vuitton-Moët-Hennessy group
to a consortium headed by Marne et Champagne. The future style
and quality of these champagnes must be in doubt following
a recent tasting of the flagship cuvée, the non-vintage
Black Label Brut, at Les Saveurs Restaurant in January 1994.
Speaking personally, I found it a pale shadow of its former
self, acidic, immature and charmless. The Rosé Brut
seemed cast in the same mould. However, the remaining stocks
of the 1985 vintage champagnes should be snapped up quickly,
especially the prestige Noble Cuvée, which is a magnificent
wine and a masterpiece of vigour, richness and balance made
from grapes grown in the family vineyards and vinified without
malolactic fermentation to ensure a long life. As a salute
to the old days, the firm just earns a one-star rating, but
urgent action is needed to improve the non-vintage wines if
Lanson is to regain its reputation as one of the true grandes
Pierre Larmandier makes some of the most stylish
champagnes in the Côte des Blancs, as he has excellent
grapes to draw on from the family's 12 hectare/30 acre domaine
spanning the Chardonnay grande crus of Cramant, Chouilly and
In Vertus he grows both Chardonnay and a little
Pinot Noir. The average age of the vines is 30 years, though
he has a significant number of old vines too. Vinification
takes place in stainless steel vats and are temperature-controlled,
and all the wines go through malolactic fermentation. They
are aged for a least three years in the bottle and are given
a low dosage at the time of dégorgement, after which
there is always a resting period of at least three months
before shipment. The resulting champagne style is firm and
incisive but with a lovely expression of pure-flavoured, unadulterated
The cuvees to earmark from this range are the Brut Blanc de
Blancs Premier Cru, light, fresh aromatic (a superb aperitif)
and the Cramant Grand Cru, more complex and very long on the
palate. Larmandier-Bernier champagnes are wines of real class
and, being little known outside France and Belgium, are shrewd
buys with an excellent quality-to-price ratio. If you are
ever in Paris, try them at the Restaurant Benoît in
the rue St Martin (4ème).
Like several great champagne houses, Laurent-Perrier
owes a lot to resourceful widows. Today, this grande marque
house probably produces the most varied and imaginative range
of wines in the whole region. And it has always been a courageous
On the death of her husband Eugène
Laurent in 1887, Mathilde Perrier added her name to his and
managed the company successfully for 38 years - in 1914 Veuve
Laurent-Perrier was selling 600,000 bottles of excellent champagne
a year - but she lost a lot of her family during the First
World War and died without children in 1925. Another widow,
Marie-Louise de Nonancourt, sister of Victor and Henri Lanson,
took over the moribund firm in 1938, intending to hand it
over to her son Maurice.
Called to work for the Germans during the occupation of France,
Maurice de Nonancourt tried to reach England through Spain
but was arrested at the Spanish border and died in the German
deportation camp of Oranienburg. His younger brother Bernard
spent much of the war in a Maquis Résistance cell in
the French Alps, where he learned that to survive in life
you have to surround yourself with competent people. When
Bernard de Nonancourt took over Laurent-Perrier in 1948, he
was extremely careful in his choice of colleagues to help
rebuild the firm. Over the 45 years since then, Laurent-Perrier
has grown from a tiny concern into the fourth largest champagne
house, with annual sales of about 7 million bottles.
Laurent-Perrier is based in a domaine surrounded by vines
at Tours-sur-Marne, 13 kilometres/8 miles east of Epernay.
The location is significant for, talking to the people who
work here, you are left in no doubt that champagne-making
is an art but one that depends on great grapes. The firm owns
100 hectares/247 acres of vineyards, which provides about
12 per cent of its needs, but relies on a network of growers.
In a bold departure from conventional practice, the firm decided
to make a non-vintage prestige cuvée named Grand Siècle
in 1957 because it believed that a better balanced flavour
would be achieved by blending wines from three great years.
Ever since, Grand Siècle has been a consistently magnificent
wine; it is occasionally sold with a vintage label in exceptional
years. In 1981, Laurent-Perrier released its first Cuvée
Ultra Brut, a very dry champagne with no dosage. Thus were
recreated the "sugarless" champagnes that the house
had sold in England (where else?) in the 1890s. You do not
have to be a diabetic to appreciate this wine for, although
bone dry, it is not astringent since it is always made from
the grapes of a ripe year, and on a hot summer evening it
is wonderfully refreshing.
This firm is also one of the very few to make pink champagne
the hard way - by putting the Pinot Noir grape skins into
contact with the juice to obtain the required colour. As if
that were not enough, it is the leading specialist in the
still Coteaux Champenois wines of the region, both white and
red. Alain Terrier, Laurent-Perrier's cellarmaster, is one
of the most gifted wine-makers I have ever met. Slightly severe
and professorial on first acquaintance, this Bordeaux-born
oenologist gave me some fascinating insights into the art
of blending when I tasted the current releases with him at
the domaine in January 1994. Looking at my notes, as they
say, it was a stimulating experience.
Here is the race card. The current Ultra Brut is a shimmering
green-gold colour, there is a nose of ripe apricots and in
the mouth the flavours are mature, with no hint of aggression.
A very high proportion of the wines in the blend come from
the 1985 vintage. The Brut L.P., the flagship brand, is especially
good at the moment, being essentially made from the hot 1989
vintage. Whiffs of brioche and mandarin orange lead on to
a round rich flavour. The vintage 1988 (53 per cent Chardonnay,
47 per cent Pinot Noir) has a mushroomy aroma typical of Pinot
Noir, which dominates the flavour at the moment; however,
with further aging the Chardonnay tastes will progressively
The current Grand Siècle is predominantly 1988 with
smaller proportions of 1985 and 1982. With a light majority
of Chardonnay it is very fine, delicate, well-balanced but
with a long, generous aftertaste. The Grand Siècle
exceptionellement millésimé 1985 is a sensational
bottle; this time Pinot Noir (58 per cent) dominates the blend,
for this grape was extremely ripe in the Champagne region
that year, and this wine has a glorious toasted character.
Grand Siècle Alexandra Rosé 1982 is a brick-coloured
rosé champagne of rare vinosity.
R & L Legras
René and Lucien Legras established
this elite little champagne business in 1972 - their Grand
Cru Blanc de Blancs is the house champagne of many Michelin-starred
restaurants in France. And very good it is too.
The Legras family, vignerons since the 18th
century, own 21 hectares/52 acres on the Côte des Blancs.
Their Blanc des Blancs has a vital green gold colour, a superfine
mousse, floral well-defined Chardonnay aromas, a rounded toasty
flavour, and a persistent finish. The Prestige Cuvée
St Vincent is a rich evolved Chardonnay champagne with distinctive
walnut aromas not unlike Salon. The Brut Intégral was
one of the first sugarless champagnes released in the 1970s.
The current release is flower-scented yet bone dry without
being too austere.
Founded in 1924 by Abel Lepitre and greatly
expanded by his son Jacques after the second World War, this
firm had a very good reputation in the 1960s, expecially for
its excellent prestige cuvée Prince A. de Bourbon Parme.
Since 1970, Abel Lipitre has had several owners
but it is now part of the Marie Brizard group which also owns
the excellent Mareuil-sur-Ay house of Philipponnat. There
seems to be a reforming hand at work, for the Lepitre champagnes
are once again worth seeking out.
The standard Brut (60 per cent Pinot Noir, 25 per cent Chardonnay,
15 per cent Pinot Meunier) has a nicely evolved nutty nose
and its pure fruit flavours are round and full. The Vintage
Brut 1986 (a classic 60-40 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay)
is a very proper glass of mature champagne, honeyed yet fresh.
The non-vintage Cuvée 134 is in the style of the old
crémant champagnes that established Lepitre's reputation;
made from 100 per cent Chardonnay with a gentle mousse, it
is light, incisive, medium-bodied and ideal as an aperitif.
The vintage-dated Rosé, currently the 1986, is an assemblage
of 55 per cent Pinot Noir, 35 per cent Chardonnay, with 15
per cent Bouzy rouge: subtle stuff.
Without exception Mailly champagnes have at
least 75 per cent Pinot Noir in their composition, so the
house style here is a youthful black grape fruitiness.
This well-known cooperative on the Montagne
de Reims, founded in 1929, has 70 members farming 70 hectares/173
acres of vines all within the commune of Mailly and classed
as grand cru. You either like or dislike the young Pinot-dominated
style of Mailly champagnes. Personally, I think several of
the cuvées here could do with much more bottle age.
Three recommendations: The Mailly Grand Cru Brut Réserve
is full of primary Pinot Noir fruit, big-flavoured, with a
slightly rooty vegetal finish; the Mailly Grand Cru 1988 is
in a similar style to the Brut Réserve but with more
intensity of flavour (still very young-tasting, though); and,
perversely, the best buy is the Mailly Coteaux Champenois
Rouge, which is a seriously good red wine with a nicely modulated
ruby colour, and a fine combination of finesse, flavour and
vinosity on both nose and palate.
Eugène Mercier was a great promoter
who democratized the image of champagne. He founded this house
in 1858, specializing in mass-produced wines for the general
public. Mercier wines are very good value.
Mercier always thought big: over a 20 year
period he built the world's second largest wine barrel in
preparation for the Universal Exhibition held in Paris in
1889; it took a team of 24 oxen three weeks to tow the cask
to the capital. Yet the great showman is best remembered for
the extraordinary cellars he built at the top of the hill
on Epernay's Avenue de Champagne. They extend to 16 kilometres/10
miles of wide subterranean galleries which you can visit daily
on the firm's miniature electric train.
Mercier's family bought a lot of vineyards in the 1950s in
the Marne Valley, mainly planted with Pinot Meunier. In 1970
the firm was bought by Moët & Chandon, and is now
part of the LVMH group.
Although Mercier does not reveal the grape mix of its cuvées,
it is reasonable to assume that they are mostly based on Pinot
Meunier, which accounts for their rich spicy taste and their
keen price. From a decent range, earmark the aromatic Rosé
Brut with its nice balance of fruit and acidity, the successful
Demi-Sec, which is clean-tasting and not cloying, and the
Vintage Brut 1986 which has a ripe Chardonnayesque character.
Moët & Chandon
Moët & Chandon is the giant of the
champagne industry and getting bigger by the minute. Until
1987, with its subsidiaries Mercier and Ruinart, it accounted
for about a quarter of the region's champagne sales; now,
with Veuve Clicquot and Pommery within the fold, the Moët
group (LVMH) completey dominates the export business.
For such a huge operation, the quality of
wine-making at Moët is very high, reflecting the innovative
excellence of its technical management and the firm's financial
clout in securing the best grapes. Moët also owns the
largest vineyards of any champagne house - 500 hectares/1,235
acres currently in production - but these only meet about
20 per cent of the firm's needs. Remember, a bottle of Moët
is uncorked somewhere in the world every two seconds.
Claude Moët, a broker and grower from the Grande Vallée
de la Marne, founded the business in 1743. But it was really
his grandson, Jean-Rémy Moët, who made it famous
through his friendship with Napoleon. Between 1805 and his
death in 1841, Moët was the most celebrated wine-maker
in Europe; the orders poured in, and the company became the
dominant champagne house. Opposite Moët's offices on
Epernay's Avenue de Champagne stands the Trianon, twin white
pavilions with a formal sunken garden and exquisite orangery,
which Jean-Rémy built to accommodate Napoleon's court
on its way to and from the battlefields of eastern Europe.
Now as then, the Trianon is used to entertain the great and
Since 1832 the firm has been known as Moët & Chandon,
thus incorporating the name of Jean-Rémy's son-in-law,
Pierre Gabriel Chandon de Briailles. During the mid-19th century
the family became the greatest vineyard owners in Champagne,
the list of clients grew longer, and Richard Wagner consoled
himself with a bottle of Moët when his opera Tanhäuser
flopped at its Paris première in 1861. By the last
years of the century, Moët & Chandon had about a
16 per cent share of the booming export market. The firm then
went into a period of decline until it was rescued by Comte
Robert-Jean de Vogüé in the early 1930s.
Undaunted by the effects of the great depression, de Vogüé
persuaded his fellow directors to relaunch an unused marque
called Dom Pérignon, bought from Mercier in 1930, as
a prestige cuvée for export markets. It was a brilliant
marketing coup in view of Moët & Chandon's long-standing
ownership of the Abbey and vineyards of Hautvillers and the
company's association with the famous monk and champagne-maker.
The first shipments arrived in London in 1935 and in New Yark
the following year. Dom Pérignon has been the most
famous champagne in America ever since. Having survived internment
in a German deportation camp, de Vogüé rapidly
expanded the firm's sales after the Second World War. By 1962,
when Moët became the first champagne house to be quoted
on the French Bourse, those sales had reached 10 million bottles
a year. A period of huge growth followed, with the firm's
acquisition of Ruinart (1963), Mercier (1970), and the Christian
Dior perfume house (1971). In 1973 the company started its
first sparkling wine venture in the New World with its purchase
of Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley, California, quickly followed
by a second in Brazil 12 months later. Since then it has established
its most impressive sparkling wine operation to date (in terms
of the really excellent fizz in the bottle) at Domaine Chandon
in Australia's Yarra Valley, where since 1985 Dr Tony Jordan
has been fashioning champagne-method wines from classic grapes
to rival the real thing. And, the company also produces Cava
at the Chandon vineyard in Spain's Penedés.
Back home in Epernay, Moët's champagnes at the non-vintage
level are once again decent and reliable (after a bad patch
in the 1970's), and its vintage wines are excellent representatives
of the years from which they come. The flagship Brut Impérial
Première Cuvée is a bright, fruity wine, the
flavour dominated by black grapes but with a good amount of
Chardonnay too; it always seems to improve a lot with a further
12 months in bottle after shipment, and old bottles can be
vigorously alive. The Vintage Brut Impérial 1986 is
a highly distinctive, generously flavoured champagne, with
notes of spices and brown bread - a typical Moët touch
- that comes in part from the 30 per cent Pinot Meunier grapes
in the blend.
The Dom Pérignon 1985, with its highish percentage
of Chardonnay supported by extremely ripe Pinot Noir from
the firm's own vineyards on the Montagne de Reims and the
Grand Vallée de la Marne, is a truly sumptuous yet
beautifully balance wine, the work of Richard Geoffroy, a
former medical doctor and one of the finest wine-makers in
Champagne. The Dom Pérignon Rosé 1982 is another
masterpiece: it is peach-coloured, and its superb expression
of fully evolved Chardonnay flavours will delight the most
demanding connoisseur. On current showing, both Dom Pérignon
wines are prestige cuvées that are worth their very
It is said that when the chef de caves at
Veuve Clicquot starts to compose the blend for his champagnes,
he always sets the Pinot Meunier of Jean Moutardier to one
side as a model by which to judge others.
Moutardier is probably the finest exponent
of Pinot Meunier-based champagne, his known creations giving
the lie to the myth that the finest sparkling wines are always
made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. He now sells most of
his production as finished champagne directly from his 20
hectare/49 acre domaine and modern cellar in Le Breuil, a
little village near Dormans. He is ably assisted by his daughters,
one of whom, Lily, is married to an Englishman, Jonathon Saxby,
who gave up a career as an executive with Rank Hovis McDougall,
learned champagne-making at the local wine school in Avize,
and is rapidly taking over the business from his father-in-law
The Moutardier Brut Réserve (a vintage wine) is made
entirely from Pinot Meunier, a real rarity. The 1986 has a
strong deep gold colour and an intense flavour of ripe and
red fruit tinged with spice but balanced by excellent acidity.
The Carte d'Or (non-vintage) is composed of 80 per cent Pinot
Meunier and is very fruity and full-bodied without being heavy.
It is very good value for money. There is also a delicious
salmon-coloured Rosé with a delectable wild strawberry
fruitiness. All these boldly flavoured wines, the pink in
particular, are excellent matches for Chinese cuisine.
Altogether different is the top-of-the-range Brut Sélection
which is a classic mix of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Subtlety
is the keynote, with its nuanced colour, delicate mousse,
and long complex flavour, though this champagne is less Brut
than many, with quite a high dosage.
G H Mumm
Since the early 1950s Cordon Rouge has been
the big champagne name on the US market, and the brand image
is so strong that it is still given to several champagnes
in the Mumm range, both vintage and non-vintage.
The firm was founded in 1827 by the brothers
Jules, Edouard and Gottlieb de Mumm and their partner, M.
Giesler. The brothers Mumm, German Protestants, came from
Rüdesheim on the Rheingau, where they had owned vineyards
and an important wine distribution business. In 1838, G.H.Mumm,
Gottlieb's son, joined the company and in 1853 took his name.
For the next 50 years the Mumms owned and managed the firm,
but they remained German citizens. As a result, on the outbreak
of the First World War in 1914, the firm's assets and vineyards
were confiscated by the French government; in 1920 G.H.Mumm
and Co, then the largest champagne company in Reims, was put
up for sale by auction and bought by the Societé Vinicole
de Champagne Successeurs. In 1955, the Canadian-based Seagram
group acquired an interest in Mumm, later a controlling one,
and the company is now part of a huge international drinks
Mumm's flagship brand, Cordon Rouge, is probably more famous
than the name of the firm. Cordon Rouge was first introduced
in 1875 by Mumm's Paris agent, who had the bright idea of
decorating the bottle with the sash of the Legion d'Honneur
in order to boost sales. The ribbon was later abandoned in
favour of a label inscribed with the words Cordon Rouge on
a wide diagonal red stripe, and was only resuscitated in 1991
with the launch of the firm's new prestige cuvée, the
1985 Mumm Grand Cordon, which was decorated with a reproduction
of the Legion d'Honneur ribbon.
The range and style of the champagnes on the Cordon Rouge
label is too diverse to give an accurate general description,
but how good are the individual wines from this major champagne
The hugely successful non-vintage Cordon Rouge Brut has received
mixed, sometimes downright hostile, reviews from the pundits.
In December 1990 the French magazine Que Choisir wrote that
it was "very little appreciated, (with) too large bubbles,
a powerful but unbalanced nose, too much acidity for certain
tasters and not enough length." My own impression of
this cuvée (tasted in December 1993) was of a fresh
fruity wine in a green rather immature style, artfully rounded
out to a just off-dry flavour by the use of a slightly higher
than average dosage than is usually the case with a truly
Brut Champagne. It is a decent but unexciting product, fully
priced, and is relatively poor value for money. Its blend
is a conventional mix of all three champagne grapes. Cordon
Vert (also non-vintage) is a rich champagne, officially classified
as Demi-Sec, soft, round but really quite sweet.
Mumm de Cramant is a rare wine made from a single vintage
of Chardonnay grapes from the village of Cramant, rated 100
per cent on the echelle des crus. Of lovely citron colour,
the wine sparkles gently; the taste is dry, ultra-pure and
fresh, with lemon and butter notes. It is, however, a very
light wine and finishes too short for my liking. Cordon Rouge
1985 is a fine vintage wine (70 per cent Pinot Noir, 30 per
cent Chardonnay), with a nutty nose and a nice touch of maturity.
Cordon Rosé 1985 is of similar composition to the vintage
Cordon Rouge; the colour is a deep blush, and there is a whiff
of soft red fruits, which is confirmed on the palate - an
excellent rosé by any standard. The two Mumm prestige
cuvées are also first-rate, and so they should be as
they are very expensive: René Lalou 1985, reputedly
the favourite bubbly of HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother,
is a big champagne (50 per cent Pinot Noir, 50 per cent Chardonnay),
ripe-tasting with no hint of austerity; Grand Cordon 1985,
the star of the range, is subtle but steely with a seemingly
dominant Chardonnay character (actually 50 per cent of the
blend) that is shaped by the best Côte des Blancs grapes
from Cramant and Avize; the big aftertaste, though, shows
the intensity of grand cru Pinot Noir which makes up the other
half of the blend.
Don't be deceived by the staid labels or the
old-fashioned premises where a visit is like a walk through
time, for Napoléon champagnes are always good and sometimes
This little gem of a firm in Vertus at the
southern end of the Côte de Blancs, founded in 1825,
is really called Ch. & A. Prieur, after the sons of the
founder. In 1898 the third generation of the family managed
to register the name Napoléon as a marque and shipped
a small quantity of champagne to Russia. The standard non-vintage
Napoléon Carte Verte Brut is usually made from three-quarters
Pinot Meunier and a quarter Chardonnay; light and clean-flavoured,
it is for early drinking. The Napoléon Tradition Carte
d'Or, despite its kitsch label, is a wonderful champagne;
Chardonnay, while only accounting for about 40 per cent of
the blend, shapes the wine's elegance and lovely balance,
but there is real richness here too from Pinot Noir - the
nicest surprise I experienced with any champagne while researching
this book. The 1985 Vintage Brut tastes remarkably like the
Carte d'Or. Are they by chance related? Until 1994, the firm,
still run by the Prieur family, was the smallest grande marque
house, but it resigned because it could no longer afford the
fees to finance that club's promotional ambitions.
Bruno specializes in very dry, deep-flavoured
champagnes with minimal dosage. His vintage wines are dressed
with chic labels illustrated by prominent artists, and carry
the date of disgorging.
Founded in 1981 by a dynamic young broker,
Bruno Paillard, the firm is now installed in a sleek modern
winery on the southern outskirts of Reims. Eighty per cent
of the firm's production is exported, mainly to the USA, the
UK, Belgium, and Switzerland.
Strongly flavoured as they undoubtedly are, Paillard champagnes
also have considerable finesse. As its name implies, the non-vintage
Première Cuvée Brut is made from the first pressings
of all three champagne grapes. Of vivid gold colour with a
fine mousse, this is a fresh, definitely dry champagne at
once fruity and vinous with exemplary persistence of flavour.
The Premiere Cuvée Rosé has a tanslucent light-salmon
hue, the nose is floral and Chardonnayesque, the palate Pinotesque,
powerful yet fine and restrained - one of the best rosés
around. The Chardonnay Réserve Privée is a distinctive
wine, its whiff of toast and vanilla suggesting that a proportion
of the wines in the blend were fermented in wood; the taste
is all lemony delicacy and bone-dry. The Vintage Brut 1985
has a rich evolved flavour with a lovely note of ripe Chardonnay
typical of this great year.
Palmer & Co
Palmer is one of the best cooperatives in
Champagne and one small enough to concentrate on quality.
Palmer's 180 member-growers cultivate 315
hectares/778 acres of mainly premier cru Pinot Noir grapes
from the Montagne de Reims. There are no short-cuts in the
wine-making, which takes place in a modern cuverie above old
deep cellars in the centre of Reims. Processess like remauge
are given plenty of time to achieve the best results. The
champagnes are made with at least 20 per cent reserve wines
and they are rested for three to six months after dégorgement.
Mostly unusually for a cooperative, Palmer has a "library"
of older vintages from 1979 back to 1947. A bottle of the
1961 shared with the ebullient director Jean-Claude Colson
in January 1994 was a magnificent old champagne which still
tasted fresh as a daisy. Of the regular range, the standard
Brut (non-vintage), made from equal parts of Pinot Noir and
Chardonnay, is a lot better than many flagship wines from
the grandes marques; fresh, elegant and of real complexity.
The Rosé Brut is a full-flavoured expression of Pinot
Noir, while the 1982 Blanc de Blancs is drinking at the peak
of its maturity, but will keep well in a cool cellar until
Pannier specializes in wines based on Pinot
Meunier that are immaculately vinified to produce flattering,
fruit-driven champagnes offering excellent value for money.
This group of growers at Château Thierry
farm 410 hectares/1,013 acres mainly in the Vallée
de la Marne but have access to grapes from the Montagne de
Reims and the Côte des Blancs. Tradition Brut, with
more than 50 per cent Pinot Meunier, has an inviting, pale
yet vital colour, a fine persistent mousse, clear fruit definition,
and a supple yet vinous flavour.
The prestige cuvée, Égerie de Pannier can be
a memorable bottle: Chardonnay adds refinement and a toasty
scent. The opulent 1985 Égerie has been replaced by
the 1988, which should be kept until 1995.
Perrier-Jouët has always been one of
the most prestigious champagne houses. Its superb vineyards
at Avize and neighbouring Cramant account of the hazelnut
aromas and creamy flavours of top-flight Chardonnay that are
so typical of Perrier-Jouët vintage champagnes.
Founded in 1811 by Pierre Nicolas-Marie Perrier,
who had married Adèle Jouët, Perrier-Jouët
quickly became known in the English-speaking world: its first
shipments of champagne were dispatched to the UK in 1815 and
to the USA in 1837. Pierre's son, Charles Perrier, was a deft
politician and a famous Mayor of Epernay who built the grandiose
Château Perrier opposite the firm's elegant premises
in the Avenue de Champagne. It now houses the town library
and museum and is well worth a visit. Charles Perrier greatly
expanded the firm's exports to the UK, and by the time of
his death in 1897, PJ (as it was nicknamed) numbered among
its devotees women as different as Queen Victoria and the
actress Sarah Bernhardt, who reputedly like to bathe in its
Charles Perrier had no children but the firm passed into the
safe hands of his nephew, Henry Gallice, who was an important
figure in the fight against phylloxera in the Champagne region
during the early 1900s. In 1934, Perrier-Jouët was acquired
by Louis Budin, who had married a Gallice. His son Michel
became managing director in 1959, the same year that Mumm
Champagne later to be owned by the Seagram group) took a majority
shareholding in the company. Budin, a very fine taster, was
wisely allowed to go on making the excellent type of champagne
which had established the high reputation of the house in
the 19th century. Budin's greatest coup, both aesthetically
and commercially, was his launch in 1970 of the firm's distinctive
flower-decorated prestige cuvée Belle Epoque. Budin's
choice of venue and occasion was inspired: a Paris nightclub
to celebrate the 70th birthday of the American jazz musician
Duke Ellington; at a stroke PJ's grande marque image was strongly
reinforced in the USA, where by 1987 it has become the third
largest champagne brand.
PJ's major assets are its 100 hectares/247 acres of vineyards,
especially the superb Chardonnay sites on the Côte des
Blancs. The firm owns 27 hectares/67 acres in Avize alone,
and 9 hectares/22 acres at Cramant. The house's other vineyards
include 9 hectares/22 acres at Mailly-Champagne on the Montagne
de Reims, 20 hectares/49 acres at Dizy and Ay in the Grande
Vallée de la Marne, and a sizeable 31.5 hectares/78
acres of Pinot Meunier at Vinay and Orbais. Nevertheless the
company still buys in about 60 per cent of its grape needs.
The non-vintage Grand Brut is made from all three champagne
grape varieties but is dominated by the two Pinots, which
give the wine a foursquare, meaty style. The Blason de France
Brut is altogether finer; the better-class grapes in the blend
and the longer time in bottle produce a champagne with an
evolved yeasty complex nose and a poised richness on the palate
- a classy bottle. The Blason de France Brut Rosé is
an excellent well-aged cuvée; rose-coloured with brick
and orange tints, the black fruit and grilled bread aromas
soar out of the glass, while the Pinot flavours are mouth-enveloping
and persistent. The Vintage Réserve Cuvée Brut
1985 is a classic example of the PJ vintage style with its
nutty creamy Chardonnay character - class in a glass and what
great champagne is all about. The Belle Epoque Brut 1985 is
one of the finest champagnes I have ever drunk; a 50/50 Pinot
Noir-Chardonnay blend, this wine has everything; supreme elegance,
aromas of flowers, a toasty richness, and terrific complexity.
Each time I taste it I discover new flavours.
Off the beaten track in Châlons-sur-Marne,
Joseph Perrier is one of the hidden jewels of the champagne
Thanks to its low profile, this small grande
marque house, founded in 1825, had been left in peace to make
mellow fruit-laden champagnes whose price has not yet caught
up with their quality. The ripe generous house style comes
form the sunny location of the firm's 20 hectares/49 acres
of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vineyards at Cumières,
Damery and Hautvillers.
The non-vintage Cuvée Royale Brut is consistently pleasurable.
Straw-gold in colour and made from one-third Chardonnay and
two-thirds black grapes, it has an expansive smell of raspberries
and a broad spicy flavour; mellow too, with at least three
years' bottle age. The vintage 1985 Brut is paler, more refined
with a classy taste of citrus fruits (45 per cent Chardonnay
in this blend). The firm has wisely decided to go on to the
excellent 1989 vintage for release in early 1995, by which
time the 1985 will be sold out. The Rosé Brut is strictly
for those who like a full fruit style, since this wine is
pervaded with the taste of cherries and raspberries. The real
star here is the Cuvée de Luxe Josephine 1985, a true
three-star champagne and a wonderful expression of ripe mature
Chardonnay that, although accounting for only half of the
blend, dominates the wine's flavour.
A small traditional firm which deserves to
be better known, Philipponnat makes champagnes for the true
This house was founded in 1910, although the
family have been growers in the Vallée de la Marne
since the end of the 17th century. Philipponnat's prize possession
is the 5.5 hectare/ 13 acre Clos des Goisses at Mareuil, the
largest walled vineyard in Champagne. Across the board their
champagnes are wines of vinosity and character, delicate and
gently sparkling, with a high proportion of reserve wines
in the blends.
The non-vintage Royale Réserve Brut, made from 70 per
cent black grapes and 30 per cent Chardonnay (one-fifth of
the total being reserve wines), is an admirable flagship champagne,
mellow yet with well-defined sprightly fruit and a classically
dry clean finish. Dominated by 70 per cent Pinot Noir, this
champagne is made by highly traditional methods including
a first fermentation in wooden casks. The result in the 1986
vintage (very difficult elsewhere) is first-rate, with an
impressive ripeness and concentration (a true three-star champagne).
The more recent Le Reflet cuvée is a classic mix of
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the latter grapes coming form the
Clos des Goisses. The honeysuckle aromas and brisk acidity
of Chardonnay characterize this wine, which would make a fine
partner for that greatest of deep-water fish, the sea bass.
Philipponnat has been owned since 1987 by the Marie Brizard
family-run drinks group.
Wine-making by this "boutique" champagne
firm is traditional. The prise de mousse takes place in cool
deep cellars, and the champagnes are given plenty of bottle
Gérard Ployez and his daughter Laurence
own a vineyard at Ludes and Mailly-Champagne, but buy most
of their grapes from highly rated crus in the Côte des
Blancs and the Vallée de la Marne. Chardonnay accounts
for a least 50 per cent of the blend - and more in exceptional
years. The range includes a rich, well-rounded Extra Quality
Brut, and exceptional Blanc de Blancs 1985 and a barrel-fermented
prestige Cuvée Liesse d'Harbonville.
For consistently pleasurable champagnes, the
house of Pol Roger has few equals. I have never drunk a disappointing
bottle from this model family firm, which says a lot about
the people behind the label.
Christian de Billy and Christian Pol-Roger,
great grandsons of the founder, are totally committed to the
highest standards of quality, and they have never been tempted
to overexpand this smallish grande marque or to diversify
into other wine making ventures. The cousins simply make sure
that the firm sticks to classic precepts of champagne-making,
yet a lightness of touch is reflected in their wines, which
are among the most subtle, nuancé and delicious in
The house was founded in 1849 by Pol Roger, a native of Ay.
In 1876 he shipped his first champagnes to England, which
was to become the firm's major market. It was his son Maurice
Pol-Roger who really made the brand famous. He was an outstandingly
brave mayor of Epernay during the German occupation of the
town in 1914. By 1935 he had established the champagne as
the number one in the UK, which was a pretty remarkable achievement
for a small quality-first house. Maurice was also a great
hunter and fisherman. His tastes in champagne were as robust
as his field pursuits, for during his time the wines were
dominated by Pinot Noir: he seemed to have little love for
Chardonnay, which he described as "la flotte" (water).
The big bouncy flavours of old-style Pol Roger clearly appealed
to Winston Churchill, who became the brand's greatest fan.
His loyalty to the house was strengthened by his friendship
with Odette Pol-Roger, Maurice's daughter-in-law and a great
Anglophile, after whom he named one of his racing fillies.
Pol Roger champagnes are now much more Chardonnayesque in
flavour, the style shaped by the 80 hectares/198 acres of
vineyards around Epernay and along the northern Côte
des Blancs, which the firm started to acquire in the mid 1950s.
Several of these vineyards - especially those in Mardeuil,
Epernay, Pierry, Cuis, and Chouilly - produce, I reckon, quite
forward, beautifully fragrant wines, which is the quintessential
PR touch. The wines are also extremely fresh but age exceptionally
well, thanks to the firm's excellent chef de caves James Coffinet
who used to work for Billecart-Salmon.
The non-vintage White Foil is a classic assemblage of all
three champagne grapes in equal proportions. It is a fine
example of the house style, light but structured, fresh yet
ripe and fruity, and ready to drink. The Sec is of identical
composition but with a slightly higher dosage. The vintage
1986 Extra Dry is a 60/40 mix of Pinot Noir Chardonnay, the
latter dominating the aromas but with a big expansive Pinot
flavour and a very long finish. The vintage-dated Blanc de
Chardonnay is usually one of the most beguiling blanc de blancs
on the market. The 1985 was a lovely wine of lace-like delicacy
with aromas of hawthorn; the 1986 initially looked less impressive
but at a recent tasting (March 1994) blossomed into a champagne
of refined richness. The vintage-dated Rosé is also
worth seeking out; light salmon-pink in colour, it has a positive
Pinotesque red fruits smell but is "lifted" by good
proportion of Chardonnay. At the top of the range there are
two prestige cuvées. The Réserve Speciale PR
1986 is made from equal parts of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
from six grands crus; a wine of finesse, depth and real complexity.
The grape composition of the Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill
is not disclosed but it is almost certainly greatly dominated
by Pinot Noir (as much as 70 or 80 per cent, perhaps). This
is a very big champagne of which the old war lord would have
certainly approved. Some tasters note a delicacy and smell
of lilacs in the 1985 vintage; I am more struck by its power
and the need to keep it until 1997-98.
Pommery is the sleeping giant of the champagne
world, a firm with a fascinating past but one which has never
quite realized its full potential in the post-1945 world.
Founded in 1836, the firm achieved greatness
under a famous champagne widow, Louise Pommery, who took control
on the death of her husband in 1858. "Qualité
d'abord" ("Quality first") was Madame Pommery's
motto. She decided to concentrate on the English market. Her
intention was to produce champagne in as delicate, fine and
dry a style as possible. Her legendary 1874 vintage, which
took Victorian London by storm, was the first genuinely Brut
or dry champagne as we would understand the term, with a dosage
of just 6-9 grammes of sugar per litre.
Madame Pommery's boldest move was the acquisition of a large
area of land on the outskirts of Reims covering 120 Roman
chalk pits. Above these she built a series of hideous edifices,
their design based, it is said, on the baronial mansions of
her aristocratic English customers. The Roman pits below she
used as storage cellars, decorating them with beautiful sculpted
bas-reliefs, all connected by a network of 18 kilometres/11
miles of galleries and passages. These magnificent cellars
can be visited every day of the week. American visitors will
be interested in the splendid carved blending cask in the
reception hall, with a capacity of 100,000 bottles, which
was sent by the firm to St Louis, Missouri, for the Universal
Fair of 1904. The carved figures on the cask depict Franco-American
Pommery's 307 hectares/759 acres of vineyards are among the
largest of any firm's in Champagne. There are particularly
fine ones on the Montagne de Reims. Nearly every cru has 100
per cent echelle des crus rating. Yet these only account for
about one-third of the firm's needs. And since LVMH acquired
Pommery in 1990, the company has decided to go for volume
sales, hoping to reach 8 million bottles a year by 1996. This
will make it less dependent on the magnificent vineyards which
are the firm's greatest assets and source of profit. A sure-fire
way, some might say, of killing a brand.
Worrying as this trend is, in fairness I have to say that
Pommery's wines have improved in recent years, thanks to its
talented chef de caves, Prince Alain de Polignac. The Brut
Royal (non-vintage), a classic mix of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay
and Pinot Meunier, is an intricate assembly of 30 to 40 crus
with a good amount (20 per cent) of reserve wines in the blend.
Released after three to four years in a bottle, it is a friendly
easy-drinking champagne of broad fruitiness, though the dosage
seems quite high. The Vintage Brut 1988 (60 per cent Chardonnay,
50 per cent Pinot Noir) is a fine, delicate wine with real
purity of fruit - a de Polignac signature - while the prestige
Cuvée Louise Pommery 1985 is first-rate. It is sourced
from the firm's grand cru holdings in Cramant and Avize for
Chardonnay, and Ay for Pinot Noir. It has a lovely floral
note on the nose, and in the mouth is rich, and long-flavoured,
but perfectly balanced. This is a house capable of achieving
a two-star rating, though a question mark must hang over future
quality in view of its over-rapid sales growth.
Le Mesnil-sur-Oger - site of Alain Robert's
grand cru vineyards - is probably the best village on the
Côte des Blancs for making Blanc de Blancs champagne.
Alain Robert is the current head of an old
family of growers who came to Le Mesnil in the 17th century.
He owns 12 hectares/30 acres of grand cru vineyards in seven
villages of the Côte des Blancs. Robert's champagnes
are made entirely from Chardonnay, and though they do not
carry a vintage year they are in fact, wines from a single
year. The Blanc de Blancs Brut is a blend of wines from his
vineyards in the 1985 vintage; it has lots of Chardonnay character
and a nice touch of maturity, but lacks a little finesse.
The Blanc de Blancs Sélection (1986 vintage) is finer
and more delicate and comes from Robert's better vineyards.
Le Mesnil (1982) strikes a perfect balance between mellow
richness and exquisite elegance. Blanc de Blancs champagne
does not come any better than this.
Louis Roederer is a very great champagne house
and also one of the most profitable. Its great brand, Cristal,
is probably the most sought-after prestige cuvée in
the world at the moment.
Roederer's high reputation and financial soundness
rest on a near self-sufficiency in grapes from its 180 hectares/445
acres of vineyards, controlled sales, and its one great brand.
The first Louis Roederer, who was born in Alsace, joined his
uncle's champagne business at Reims in 1827, and six years
later inherited the firm. Young Louis's early prospecting
of foreign markets paid dividends. By the time of his death
in 1870, the firm had become the third largest shipper of
champagne to the USA, and it was soon to challenge Veuve Clicquot's
dominance of the Russian market. For in 1876, at the request
of Tsar Alexander II, the now famous Cristal was specially
created to satisfy the imperial sweet tooth. It was presented
in a clear lead-crystal bottle exclusively for Alexander's
use. With the October Revolution of 1917, the firm's Russian
market collapsed, but its fortunes were revived in 1932 by
another of the industry's strong-willed widows, Camille Olry-Roederer,
who led the company for 42 years and developed the brand very
successfully with unusual showmanship. While she was looking
for a new market, she would enter one of her champion trotters
in a race and then throw a lavish victory party afterwards.
The name of her champagne would be on everyone's lips for
months. It was Madame Roederer who shrewdly bought the firm's
vineyards in the 1930s. She died in 1975, leaving the company
to her daughter, Madame Claude Rouzaud. It is now run by her
grandson, Jean-Claude, a trained oenologist the proud of it.
Jean-Claude is a perfectionist, for whom the wine is more
important than the bubbles. He restricted the amount of champagne
produced because he wanted as much control as possible over
the grapes. "Seventy per cent of the quality of our wines
comes from our own vineyards," he says, "so if you
have to buy in poor grapes, you often have to grip the table
when you drink the finished champagne."
The Roederer vineyards are exceptionally well sited (averaging
98 per cent on the cru echelle) and intelligently spread across
the three classic champagne districts: on the Montagne de
Reims at Verzenay, Verzy and Louvois; in the Grande-Vallée
de la Marne at Cumières, Hautvillers and Ay; and on
the Côte des Blancs at Chouilly, Cramant and Avize,
Le Mesnil and Vertus. In the cellars at Reims, the attention
to the smaller details of fine wine-making is very impressive.
All the wines are fermented in stainless steel vats of small
capacity so that the flavour and individuality of each cru
may be better shaped. The really distinguishing feature here
is the use of large oak barrels (foudres) to age the reserve
wines, for it is the spell in wood that gives Roederer champagnes
their honeyed vanilla taste.
The Brut Premier is an upmarket non-vintage champagne, aged
for longer than usual (three to four years) and intended to
give immediate pleasure on release; its red fruit flavour
dominated by Pinot Noir (66 per cent) is probably the best-made
grand marque champagne from the difficult year; unlike a lot
of the competition, it has real structure and an "animal"
Pinot character. The Rosé is one of the most distinctive
around: made form Pinot Noir grapes that have been put in
contact with the juice, it has a very light salmon colour
that belies its rich vinous flavour and makes an excellent
match for sautéed kidneys. The newly released Cristal
Vintage Brut 1988 is a worthy successor to the 1985; a dry
wine these days, it has a lovely toasty flavour, the fruit
definition is exceptionally fine and really deserves keeping
until 1995 before pulling the cork. In cool Anderson Valley
of Northern California, Rouzaud's Roederer Estate has produced
a stunningly good sparkling wine called L'Ermitage from the
best 1989 cuvées.
This, the oldest champagne house, was founded
in 1729 by Nicolas Ruinart, a linen merchant and nephew of
Dom Thierry Ruinart, a well-known wine-maker and colleague
of Dom Pérignon.
The firm prospered through the politically
turbulent Napoleonic era, though the family's royalist sympathies
were made clear when Irenée Ruinart, as mayor of Reims
and deputé for the Marne, welcomed Charles X to his
coronation at Reims Cathedral in 1825. Irenée's son,
Edmond Ruinart, was an early prospector of the US market.
He was received in 1832 by President Jackson, to whom he presented
a case of Ruinart champagne. Nearly 30 years later his heir,
Edgar, was travelling to Russia where he had an audience with
Thanks to adventurous men like the Ruinarts, the total exports
of champagne quadrupled between 1850 and 1899. During the
First World War the firm's premises in Reims were all but
destroyed. Undaunted, André Ruinart, then head of the
firm, set up an office in one of his Roman chalk cellars and,
when this was badly flooded, installed his working desk on
a raft so that business could continue as usual. The house
remained a family affair until it was bought by Moët
& Chandon in 1963.
Of the great champagne houses, Ruinart has perhaps the lowest
profile, for this is a brand known essentially to connoisseurs
and is distributed on a very selective basis to fine restaurants
and speciality wine and food shops. The premises, restored
to their austere 18th century style, ooze tradition and the
firm's Gallo-Roman chalk cellars (known as "Crayères")
are the finest in Reims and classified as a national monument.
Every two years the Crayères are the dramatic venue
for the presentation of the Trophée Ruinart, the prize
in a prestigious international competition to find Europe's
best wine steward.
Ruinart champagnes are especially fine and elegant, but they
have a mouth-filling richness, and body too, because this
is a Chardonnay house of a very particular type. The firm
owns 15 hectares/37 acres on the eastern side of the Montagne
de Reims, chiefly at Sillery and Puissieulx. The Chardonnay
grapes in these vineyards have much more power and "flesh"
than those from the Côte des Blancs; hence the richness
in the wines, especially at the higher end of the range.
Jean-François Barat, Ruinart's chef de caves, is a
very clear-headed and articulate wine-maker. The exceptionally
high standards he has achieved rest on the fundamental notion
of intricate blending, a compact range of just five cuvées,
a low dosage in the finished champagnes, and important stocks
of reserve wines.
The non-vintage "R" de Ruinart (45 per cent Chardonnay,
55 per cent Pinot Noir) has four years' bottle age and a fine
gentle mousse; there is no fizzy aggression on the nose, just
fine floral notes; and it is very supple and easy to drink
but with real persistence of flavour thanks to a lot of premier
cru grapes in the blend. The "R" de Ruinart vintage
1988 (50 per cent Chardonnay, 50 per cent Pinot Noir) is a
yellow-gold colour with a typically ripe evolved nose touched
with lemon, but with more complex secondary aromas too. All
the power and vinosity on the palate is shaped by the presence
of 100 per cent échelle des crus Pinot Noir grapes
from the Montagne de Reims. This is a wine with enough character
to match a sauced fish dish.
The prestige cuvée Dom Ruinart is one of the best two
or three Blanc de Blancs on the market. It is made from 100
per cent Chardonnay, of which 30 per cent comes from the lower
slopes of Sillery and Puissieulx. As Jean-François
said of the 1986 Dom Ruinart when I tasted I with him, "this
wine has the power and body of Pinot Noir in a Chardonnay."
It is also wonderfully buttery and fat but extremely elegant.
The Dom Ruinart Rosé 1985 is for me the finest pink
champagne currently on the market. It is made from exactly
the same Chardonnay provenances as the Blanc de Blancs, but
with 20 per cent Bouzy Rouge added. It has an extraordinary
bouquet, almost Burgundian in its sensual appeal, elegant
yet ripe and evolved with tertiary woodland smells, and a
wonderfully complex flavour. If it weren't for the bubbles,
you might be drinking something very grand from the Côte
d'Or. The standard "R" de Ruinart Rosé (non-vintage)
is in a very different style, more strongly coloured and with
a simple but agreeable red fruits flavour. It is only champagne
in the current Ruinart range to be made with a proportion
of Pinot Meunier grapes.
Salon is a story of perfectionism. It is the
only house to produce just one type of champagne, always a
Blanc de Blancs, always vintage-dated, and only released in
years when the chef de caves thinks the wine is worthy of
The marque was the creation of Eugène
Aimé Salon, a Champenois born in the tiny village of
Pocancy on the plans east of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in 1867. Aimé
learned the art of champagne-making as a boy, but he became
a teacher and later a successful furrier and politician in
Paris. He was one of the greatest gourmets of his day, a member
of that ultimate dining club, the Club des Cents, and an habitué
Chez Maxim's where he had a table permanently reserved.
In 1911 Aimé bought a vineyard in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger
so that he could create the perfect champagne made exclusively
from Chardonnay grapes grown in that greatest cru of the Côte
des Blancs. At first, Aimé's own champagne was a hobby;
he would offer it unlabelled to his country guests at Pocancy.
But demand for this sensational wine became so strong that
Aimé decided to commercialize it, and Salon was born.
Aimé began to buy grapes from other vignerons in Le
Mesnil. Only the healthiest grapes were used for his champagnes,
which were made entirely from the first pressings and in exceptional
vintages. Grapes and years not thought up to scratch were
sold off to other merchants.
Salon reached the zenith of its reputation in the late 1920s
and 1930s, when it was the house wine at Maxim's. Nowadays,
this champagne has a much more discreet image, but it is revered
by certain connoisseurs, particularly in France, the USA and
the UK, because the perfectionist wine-making principles of
the founder are still followed to the letter, especially by
the new owners of the firm, Laurent-Perrier, who took over
The firm owns 1 hectare/2½ acres of vines at Le Mesnil
which accounts for about one-fifth of its needs; the majority
of the grapes are bought in from growers owning grand cru
Mesnil plots in the village. Champagne-making is very traditional,
the wines do not go through malolactic fermentation and are
aged in wooden demi-muid casks. Dégorgement à
la vole is still employed to preserve the aromas of the wines.
The Salon house style is for rich, intensely fruity flavours
with (say some) a whiff of walnuts, and strong life-giving
acidity (a characteristic of all Mesnil champagnes). All salon
vintages need to be aged for at least 10 years before easing
My own experience of the wines is limited to one visit to
the house in January 1994. But I was lucky enough to taste
the 1983 and 1982 vintages, both with and without dosage.
I have to say that owing to the superb natural ripeness of
the grapes in each of the two vintages, the sugarless versions
were splendid, and extra brut cuvées may well be released
in future years. I loved the 1983 with its firm fresh attack
and bell-like clarity of fruit; the 1982 was altogether richer
and will probably have more fans, though I found it almost
overripe and gamy (in the released version with dosage). Since
1911, vintages at Salon have been declared about three or
four times a decade. Among these, the "greats" were,
say the pundits, the toasty perfectly balanced 1979; the fine-drawn
1973; the intense 1971 Cuvée "S"; the similarly
subtle 1955; and the outstanding 1949. Of pre-war vintages,
the 1928, of which there are some bottles in the cellar, is
Anselme Selosse, who heads this small 6 hectare/15
acre family estate at Avize and Cramant is one of the most
interesting growers in Champagne.
A serious-minded fellow, turning 40, Anselme
Selosse trained at the Lycée Viticole in Beaune, and
his originality has been to apply the hand-made approach of
classic white burgundy-making to the larger-scale, dare one
say industrial, world of champagne. So at Jacques Selosse,
the grapes are hand-picked and the first fermentation always
takes place in oak vats or barriques; the wines remain on
their lees for four to six months and are stirred once a week
with a baton à la Meursault to give added character
to the final flavours; and the champagnes are given up to
eight years' bottle age before being disgorged - by hand of
course. One of Anselme's innovations has been his introduction
of a solera system for the reserve wine. In this system one-third
of the reserve wine is drawn off for use in the non-vintage
cuvée, and replaced by wine from the current vintage,
so producing a reserve wine of increasing complexity. The
results are wines of inimitable vinosity and original flavours
that extend the taste spectrum of champagne.
All Selosse champagnes are made from 100 per cent Chardonnay
grapes, are emphatically dry, and reflect the minerally chalky
soil of Avize in their flavour. What puts them into the top
league is their Meursault-like gras tastes, which are always
beautifully balanced and never militate against finesse.
A good introduction to the house style is the Tradition Blanc
de Blancs, which has finesse and richness in equal measure
and just the right amount of dosage to ease its definite dryness.
The Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs is for aficionados of bone,
bone dry, sugarless champagne. It is a truly impressive wine
of terrific complexity, but its awesome austerity will not
appeal to everyone and it would benefit from keeping until
1995. Selosse also produces a wood-fermented Rosé,
at once deep-flavoured and elegant, and minuscule quantities
of single-vintage champagnes from 1982, 1983 and 1985. However,
all these delights pale by comparison with the Cuvée
d'Origine 1987. First released in January 1994, this is Anselme's
first cuvée made from wines fermented entirely in new
small oak barriques - a fabulous, smoky, less austere wine
with succulent orchard fruits flavour, it is a truly original
tasting experience. Try it at L'Arpège Restaurant in
Taittinger's name as one of the most famous
grandes marques is a relatively recent phenomenon, although
the firm can trace its origins back to 1743, when Jacques
Fourneaux went into the champagne business.
During the First World War, Pierre Taittinger
was billeted as a French officer at the historic Château
de la Marquetterie near Epernay, which had been a favourite
haunt of Voltaire and Beaumarchais. After the Armistice, Pierre
bought the Château and its vineyards, and in the 1930s
acquired the defunct firm of Fourneaux, which he eventually
Since 1945, the firm has become one of the most important
new forces in the champagne world, thanks to the dynamism
of Pierre's two sons, François, who died in an accident
in 1960, and Claude, the current chairman of the company.
The firm's post-war expansion has been dramatic. It acquired
the champagne house of Irroy in 1973; the Concorde hotel chain
in 1975; and, most recently, Domaine Carneros in Napa Valley.
The firm also has interests in the construction and printing
Throughout its expansion, Taittinger has been an important
purchaser of vineyards, its current holdings now totaling
260 hectares/642 acres in the best sites of the Montagne de
Reims and the Côte des Blancs. These account for half
its needs. Although Taittinger is wary about revealing the
exact grape composition of its cuvées, the style of
the champagnes is strongly shaped by Chardonnay, with unmistakable
The non-vintage Brut Réserve can be a maddeningly variable
champagne in my experience: sometimes it has a diffuse soapy
taste; on other occasions it can be delightful, with soaring
floral aromas and a poised, elegantly defined flavour. When
last tasted in January 1994 it seemed to have quite a high
dosage, which may give it street appeal but is likely to be
less appealing to serious champagne buffs. I have no such
reservations about the Brut Prestige Rosé, a subtle
salmon-coloured wine of real finesse driven by Chardonnay.
With this wine the noticeable dosage seems a boon rather than
The 1988 Vintage Brut is another slightly off-dry wine with
a nice touch of maturity and complexity. The top-of-the-range
Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 1986 is one of the best
Chardonnay champagnes on the market, an expansively scented,
silken-textured wine which will develop a near-burgundian
nutty flavour with age: a marvellous partner for sauced fish
dishes like salmon with sorrel sauce.
Taittinger's Collection champagnes are not just beautifully
packaged deluxe items - the wines in the bottle can be superb,
notably the 1978. the first in this series and decorated by
the Hungarian artist Victor Vasarely. In the mid 1990s this
wine has glorious ripe flavours of old Pinot Noir. More recently,
the 1985 has a lovely design by the American Roy Lichtenstein
and the 1986 one by Hans Hartung.
Alain Thiénot is a man who get things
done. In his own quiet way, he is one of the most interesting
characters on the French wine scene.
A former champagne broker, Alain Thiénot
now has his own shipping house in Reims and two fine Bordeaux
properties, Château Rahoul in the Graves and Château
Ricaud in the Haut-Loupiac where he makes lovely sweet wine.
Thiénot champagnes are rather like the man himself,
natural, vital, with considerable strength of character. The
firm owns 14 hectares/35 acres of vineyards which, although
only accounting for about on-fifth of its needs, are mainly
in grand cru sites such as Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Ay.
The non-vintage Brut made from all three champagne grapes,
shows good clear fruit, is fresh and sprightly but the bubbles
are not too aggressive. The 1986 vintage is nicely evolved
with a nutty flavour while the Grande Cuvée 1985 is
a true three-star champagne. With 20 per cent fermentation
in wood, there is real structure and complexity here, but
the wine is so supple. It drinks beautifully and is something
of a tribute to the blender's art; interestingly for a Grande
Cuvée there is 10 per cent Pinot Meunier in the blend.
I am less keen on the Thiénot rosés, but the
red still wine from Ay is recommended.
Based in Avize on the Côte des Blancs,
the Union de Champagne is the outstanding cooperative-conglomerate
of the Champagne region, with a reputation for wines of excellent
The Union Champagne is one of the region's
relatively few cooperatives that exports its wine. The Union
takes in grapes from 11 sub-cooperatives whose member-growers
own prime vineyards mainly on the Côte des Blancs but
with smaller holdings on the Montagne de Reims. Remarkably,
all the growers' vineyards are classified as premier cru or
grand cru, and only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are grown,
with no plantings of the prolific but less fine Pinot Meunier.
The Union's vinification plant at Avize is probably the most
modern in Champagne, and it has developed a special wine-making
technique which avoids the malolactic fermentation, ensuring
longer life and vitality in its champagnes.
The Union works well on several levels within the industry.
About 60 per cent of its annual production is the supply of
still wines (vins clairs) to the grandes marques. These wines
contribute to the blends of such prestige cuvées as
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle
and Moët & Chandon Dom Pérignon.
The Union also markets about 40 per cent of its production
as finished champagnes for export, the best-known label being
St Gall, which is imported by Marks & Spencer into the
UK. Composed of 55 per cent Pinot Noir and 45 per cent Chardonnay,
this cuvée has a fresh green-yellow colour, a lively
small-bubble mousse and a sprightly, definitely dry flavour.
The Union's best non-vintage cuvée is probably Pierre
Vaudon because of the high production of Pinot Noir (70 per
cent) in the blend; it is soft, rich, round and fine, and
terrific value for money, selling for about £14 a bottle.
The 1983 vintage Orpale Blanc de Blancs (100 per cent Chardonnay)
is a splendid wine with and almost white-Burgundy opulence;
it recently came top in a blind tasting of prestige champagnes
Tom Stevenson has called Vilmart the greatest
champagne grower he knows. Having visited this perfectionist
producer, I think he is right.
The house was founded in 1890 and is now run
by René Champs and his son Laurent. They own 11 hectares/27
acres of premier cru Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which they
cultivate with an infinite capacity for taking pains. They
use no chemical pesticides, even getting rid of the grass
between the vines with a hand hoe. "Respecting our natural
environment develops exceptional flavour in our wine,"
say the Champs. In the cellars, all the wines are fermented
in oak casks, the vast majority of which are large foudres.
Much of the range is aged for a very long time in bottle before
dégorgement. The result is a brilliant repertioire
of memorable champagnes of Krug-like richness, always balanced
by exemplary acidity. To give you a measure of René
Champs' character, his hobby is making stained-glass windows.
Apparently it takes him 200 hours to create a single pane.
The Grande Réserve is a relatively young wine by Vilmart's
standards. Made from 70 per cent Pinot Noir and 30 per cent
Chardonnay, about one-fifth of the must used comes from premiére
taille pressings, as "this makes the wine round and gives
body"; it is then aged for 10 months in foudres before
being given at least two years in bottle before release -
a delightfully fruity full-blown champagne which kills the
myth that all good ones are made from the cuvée (very
first pressings). The Grand Cellier d'Or, though expensive,
is worth every last penny, for its quality is on a par with
prestige cuvée from the greatest houses. It is splendidly
rounded on the nose with a whiff of pain d'épices,
and its honeyed opulence in the mouth is wonderful.
The latest releases from Vilmart are its innovative Coeur
de Cuvée champagnes; as the name implies,
the wine comes from the best part, "the
heart" of the cuvée. The 1989 has extraordinary
complexity and vinosity; the barrique-fermented 1991, last
tasted in January 1994, has a strong overlay of woody flavours
and I would like to taste it again before judging its future
potential. The house also produces good rosé champagnes,
the Grand Cellier having more class than the Cuvée
Vilmart is typical of smaller grower-producers (récoltant-manipulant)
in that their main business remains within the domestic French
market. In the economic recession of the 1990s they suffered
less of a fall in sales than many of their colleagues in the
By Michael Edwards
A HISTORY OF VINTAGE WHISKY
& HISTORY OF SINGLE MALT WHISKY
** Decent, if simple.
*** Very Good.
***** Simply the best.
Highland Park 12-year old
A gorgeous, honeyed combination of heather
root, sweet spices, fruit peel/marmalade and a drift of peat
smoke. A seductive dram that mixes butter tablet, dried herbs
and heather-honey, all bound together by that wispy peat smoke.
Highland Park 18-year-old 43% ABV
Soft, with dried fruit, butter tablet and
sherry. Silky smooth, rich and complex. Slightly sweeter than
the 12-yar-old, with some chocolate, heather, polished wood
and Moorish spices. Complex and rewarding. *****
Old Pulteney 12-year-old
Huge nose of oilskins, leather/wax, peach
and coconut chocolate. Coats the mouth and has great weight.
Mellows into honeycomb, ripe peach and a salty tang on the
Old Pulteney 15-year-old 60% ABV
Rich leather/beeswax nose with a touch of
prune. Sweeter than the 12-year-old, but just as unctuous
with that signature ozone prickle. ***(*)
Perfumed but robust nose, with waxed jackets/honeycomb,
seashells, a hint of peat and sea breeze. Sweet Moroccan spices.
A wonderful mix of beeswax, sea-spray and mellow, ripe fruit.
Brora 21-year-old 56.9% ABV
That beeswax still comes through, but there
is more peat smoke/autumn bonfires. A chewy start, then a
volley of lightly smoked flavours: sweet spices, oil, heather,
lanolin and sea breeze. ****(*)
The benchmark distillery style: pear drops,
light orange and citrus fruit, light spice and a crisp note.
Delicate but with a good, smooth and soft body. ***
Glenmorangie 15-year-old finished in new wood
Crème Brûlée, orange peel
and vanilla. Light spice and a hint of sooty wood. A mix of
bracing air and vanilla on the finish. ***(*)
Glenmorangie Cellar 13 aged in first-fill
A fragrant nose with apple blossom, fresh
pear, ozone and lemon icing. Soft and long, with a great mix
of blossom-like top notes, a creamy palate and a salty tang
on the end. Brilliant. ****
Finishes all 43% ABV
Port wood (****) has touches of anise, red
fruit spices and a long rosehip syrup finish; Sherry Wood
(***) has full-on oloroso notes, tending to nut and spice
with some cake mix and pear; and Madeira Wood (****) is a
fascinating mix of dried mushroom, spice and charred wood
ending with a salty tang.
Fresh nose, with dried apple, malt, soft fruits
and clover. A pleasant mix of sweet vanilla, toffee cream
and a crisp, slightly salty, crunchy finish. ***
Balblair Elements no age
Fresh, biscuity nose with touches of sandalwood.
Soft palate, with a smooth vanilla pod/buttery quality. Uncomplicated,
but highly drinkable. ***
A big, bracing aroma, with blackcurrant sweetness
behind. A rich start, then complex flavours fizz across the
palate: orange, heather, smoke and black fruits. ***(*)
Glen Ord 12-year-old
Freshly turned earth, sultana and cake mix/malt
on the nose. Clean and smooth on the palate, with some clootie
dumpling, sugared almond and spice balancing the sherry wood.
Glen Moray Chardonnay finish no age statement
Mix of Vanilla slice/milkshake, with spice
and green apple. A mix of creamy wood and spicy, estery spirit.
Do not dilute. **
Glen Moray 12-year-old Chenin Blanc
An aromatic blend of lemon, vanilla and bran/hay
on the nose. Lively, with a spicy, white pepper lift underpinned
by soft, lightly-honeyed fruit. **
Glen Moray 16-year-old Chenin Blanc
Grassy notes, with some ripe malty notes and
spices. A spicy, appley palate with a lick of golden syrup.
LONGMORN AND GLEN GRANT
Glen Grant no age statement
Pale colour. Lime peel, lychee and ginger
on the nose and palate. Simple, a good mixer. *
Glen Grant 10-year-old
Pale, with crisp cereal and biscuit aroma.
A touch of fennel, lemon and hay lofts. Good, with a crisp,
nutty finish, but still very young. Look for the older bottlings
from Gordon & Macphail, as this is a malt that needs time.
Glenrothes 1987 43% ABV
A charming, gentle nose with bran/cereal notes,
vanilla slice, walnut and sultana. Subtle, sweet and chewy,
with some high lemon icing/ginger notes. Very attractive.
Complex nose of lime, nutmeg, muesli and apricot.
Rich and mellow with a weighty, substantial palate mixing
crisp acidity, dry hay and mellow fruits. ****
Lightly floral, with a touch of nutty wood
and honey. A fruity dram with good weight of ripe apple, roast
hazelnut and light clover honey. Charming stuff. ***
Mortlach 16-year-old 43% ABV
A massive nose: meaty, smoky and leathery,
with touches of beeswax, prune and palo cortado sherry. It
oozes along the palate, leaving traces of tanned leather,
blackberry and damson. Enormous. ****
The Balvenie Founder's Reserve 10-year-old
A nose of clover honey, jasmine and cumin.
Very soft mixing spice, honey, sandalwood and some raisin.
Precocious and one of the best 10-year-olds on the market.
The Balvenie Double Wood 43% ABV
Sherry notes on the nose, along with dried
apricot, honey and burnt orange. Soft and smoky, with touches
of date and sweet spices. Superbly balanced. ****(*)
The Balvenie Port Wood Finish
Silky, rich and complex; a stunning mix of
red jelly fruit, guava, orange peel and honey. Magnificent.
Glenfiddich Special Reserve
Hay-like and grassy, with some pear. A sweet
start, with a touch of peanut butter on the finish. *
A malty/oatcake nose with some grassiness.
Sweet in the mouth with a mix of white chocolate and gorse.
A spicy, creamy little number with a tingling finish. ***(*)
Glenfiddich 15-year-old Solera Reserve
A mix of dried fruits and milk chocolate on
the nose. Touch of fruit and some walnut/orange sherry notes.
Crisp, with a finish of fresh raspberries, chocolate and cream.
Glenfiddich Ancient Reserve 18-yea-old
A waft of cereal/bran notes and some sherry
wood. A little peat smoke and mocha. The finish has a hint
of caramel. ***
Glenfiddich Millennium Reserve 21-year-old
Lovely nose of fresh flowers, nuts and ripe
red plums. Soft and quite chocolatey to start; velvety, with
a mix of vanilla pod and coffee bean of the very long finish.
Subtly charming. ***(*)
The Macallan 12-year-old
A savoury mix of fresh coffee, incense, autumn
bonfires and Seville oranges. The palate has barbecue wood,
smoke, dried fruit and nuts and lemon marmalade. A cracking
The Macallan 18-year-old distilled 1979
Amber colour, with richly aromatic nose of
heather blossom, chestnut, orange, pine resin and allspice.
Slightly oily on the palate. Fragrant but muscular - like
a drag queen. *****
The Macallan Gran Reserva
Liquorice, prune and lapsang suchong on the
nose, along with a strange lift of pink grapefruit and clove.
Huge, but the wood is a little too dominant. ***
The Macallan 30-year-old
Ripe and powerful, with orange and ginger
marmalade, smoke, allspice, clove and bergamot. Filled with
mellow autumnal fruitfulness. ****(*)
Aberlour 10-year-old 43% ABV
Burnt toffee/treacle on the nose. Sweet as
Aberlour 15-year-old 43% ABV
Light nuttiness with currant leaf, flowers,
raisin and mint. Clean, with a mix of cedar wood and creamy
toffee on the finish. Very good. ****(*)
Aberlour 18-year-old sherry matured 43% ABV
Fruit and nuts, with a hint of tablet and
peat smoke. A sweet start, but increasingly savoury and tannic
in the mouth, with hints of chestnut and walnut. ***(*)
Aberlour a 'bunadh no age statement 59.6%
Fragrant mix of bonfires, mint leaf, burnt
orange peel and a coffee/toffee finish. A beauty. ****
Light and faintly meadow-like, with a hint
of lemon peel. Sweet-tasting with a lick of cream, but pretty
Tamdhu no age statement
A crisp, straw-like green nose. Crisp yet
Knockando 1986 bottled 1998
A mix of grass, meal and apple blossom on
the nose. Slightly acidic on the palate. Very drinkable. **
Glenfarclas 105 60% ABV
Juicy, muscated nose with some butter. The
alcohol is a little too obvious, throwing it out of balance.
Pine needles, spicily aromatic. A muscular,
rich core but on the drier side of the family. ***
Great mix of polished wood, malt loaf, peat
smoke and sweet fruit. Powerful, robust and rich. ****
Sweet, pruney nose with a touch of rancio
- fruit peet, nuts (roasted almond/walnut) and mushroom. Some
bitter Seville orange fruit and a powerful, huge finish. ****
A complex, aromatic nose of fresh fruit, heather
honey, pencil shavings, sweet malt and a hint of smoke. Unfolds
across the palate in a flowing fusion of constantly changing
flavours. Marvellous. *****
Cragganmore Distillers Edition Port Wood Finish
Rich, gorgeously ripe autumnal nose with sweet
wild fruits (sloe berry, plum), wine gums and rich malty notes.
Massively complex palate. ****(*)
The Glenlivet 12-year-old
Restrained and light, with some flowers and
crisp nuts. Pretty. **(*)
The Glenlivet Archive 43% ABV
Wonderful nose of wholemeal bread, heather,
ginger, butterscotch, dried mushroom and ripe pear/quince.
Silky and mellow. ***(*)
The Glenlivet 18-year-old 43% ABV
A classic: aromatic, with hints of demerara
sugar, flowers, pear and apple, anise, sandalwood and gentle
peat smoke. Long and fruit-filled. A superb, complex dram.
Glen Garioch 8-year-old
Some turfy/peaty notes, with bonfires and
a hint of sherry. Smoky, roasted flavour with a lick of ginger
on the finish. ***
Glen Garioch 15-year-old
Pungent, intense mix of fresh ginger, fabrick
conditioner and leather car upholstery. ***
Ardmore 1981 Gordon & Macphail bottling.
Robust nose, with smoke, dried fruit and some
cream. The palate is richly layered with smoke, malt and a
teasingly spicy finish. ***
For reasons best known to themselves Allied Domecq has yet
to bottle Ardmore as a single malt - though rumours of a policy
change persist. Thankfully, the independent bottlers have
always managed to get their hands on some.
Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve 43% ABV
Mahogany in colour. The nose mixes treacle,
raisin, chestnut honey with some meat juice/roasting tin notes.
Rich, deep flavour - all in all a powerful bugger, ripe and
chewy, with layers of Dundee cake/raisin and plenty of sherry
Dalwhinnie 15-year-old 43% ABV
Peachy, floral nose with light heather honey.
Gentle, but broadens in the mouth - showing honey, malt and
a tickle of smoke. Surprising weight for an apparently gentle
Dalwhinnie Distiller's Edition Oloroso finish
Rounded, honeyed nose with cake mix, sultana
and a hint of sulphur. Long and sweet with a hint of smoke.
The 15-year-old's plumper cousin. ***
Dalwhinnie 15-year-old Cask Strength 56.1%
Mead-like nose (cooked apple and honey) with
heathery notes. A mix of crisp malt ginger and preserved lemon,
with a long heather-honey/barley-sugar finish. Excellent.
(Edradour has recently been relaunched. This
is the old expression with the watercolour label.)
A little boiling milk on the nose, which fades to reveal leaf,
nut, dried fruit, grass and some cedar wood, and light-tanned
leather/oil. A silky texture, with flavours starting on the
nutty side and moving to a buttery finish. Attractive. ***
Edradour 10-year-old (new style)
Amber/mahogany colour. A nose of coffee cream
icing and cream sherry, with a hint of nut and slight oiliness.
Sweet and silky. Bigger than the old style, and a bit heavy
on the sherry. **
Mix of grass, green grape and nut on nose.
Touch of cereal and apple blossom. Pleasant. ***
The delicately complex nose shows a bouquet
of flowers with fresh pear, sandalwood, canvas and nut. Unfolds
in the mouth to a long, silky-red fruit finish. A little-known
A hint of mint, cream and apple. Rounded,
with a mix of flowers, nuts and a little smoke on the finish.
A fresh mix of grass, butter churns and malt.
A very clean, smooth mix of gentle malt and cream. Very attractive.
Oban 14-year-old 43% ABV
As fresh as a sea breeze. Softly smoky, rounded
with some attractive dog rose aromas. Clean and fresh. ***
Oban Distiller's Edition Montilla Fino finish
A fat nose with a hint of ozone and a whiff
of lanolin. Mellow and lightly salted. ***
Ben Nevis 10-year-old 46% ABV
Huge vanilla/orange aroma with some smoky/mossy
notes. The palate is big and muscular, mixing dried spices,
rounded nutty/chocolate notes and vanilla. A powerful beast.
Talisker 10-year-old 45.8% ABV
Powerful, pungent nose filled with peat smoke,
charred heather, ozone and rich fruit. It explodes onto the
palate, balancing mellow fruit with salty flavours and a tingle
of pepper on the finish. ****
Talisker Distillers Edition Amoroso finish
Good peat smoke nose overlaid with treacle/muscated
notes. There's some heather and chocolate but Talisker's natural
rumbustiousness is swaddled up against the cold. Sweet and
ripe with glints of fruit cake, heather root and pepper. ***(*)
Talisker Cask Strength limited edition
Lustrous, almost amber. Complex nose: juicy
fruit (dried and overripe) with a touch of tar and leather,
even a whiff of iodine. The peat gives a lightly smoky lift.
Powerful, with the smoke smouldering around the rich fruit
and a long, dry, sooty/savoury finish. ****(*)
Isle of Jura 10-year-old
Round and malty. Straw, lemon peel, fresh
barley and butter. Sweet, with a prickle of sea air and a
touch of peachy fruit. **
Jura's parent firm also owns the mothballed
Bruichladdich on Islay. That this wonderful place remains
closed is baffling - and a criminal waste of distilling talent.
The 12-year-old (***) remains the favourite malt of the Ileach
(native of Islay), but the 15-year-old (****) is the one to
look for, with its taste of seashells, fresh flowers and delicately
A fresh nose, with light salt/brine. Clean
and creamy, with light smoke, some sweet fruitiness and a
jab of ginger/marzipan on the finish. ***
A decent introduction, all peat smoke and
maritime edges. ****
Is better still, with some ripe sweetness
mingling with the light smoke and sea air. *****
This is the one to beat: intense and elegant,
it balances peat smoke, Jaffa cakes and fresh malt. A magnificent
Bowmore Cask Strength
Hugely aromatic, with a touch of lavender,
toffee butter and fragrant, chocolatey peat smoke. ****
Bowmore The Darkest
Proves that peat and sherry can work. Tangerine,
raisin, ozone and thick cut marmalade on the nose; coffee,
clootie dumpling and smoke on the palate. ****
Laphroaig 10-year-old Cask Strength 57.3%
Ultra-crisp malt fresh from the kiln with
layers of tar, lapsang souchong, orange, germoline, and peat
fires on the beach. Crashes into the mouth with a mix of bonfires,
iodine and crisp malt. Long, smoke-filled finish. Savour and
tremble at its power. ****(*)
Laphroaig 15-year-old 43% ABV
The peat has dried down, leaving behind a
smooth, oily/creamy nose with hint of tar. Sweet and surprisingly
mellow to start, with a slow-burning peat smoke flavour building
up towards the finish. ***
Laphroaig 30-year-old 43% ABV
A complex, nose of dried peel, tar and sweet
perfume. It's Laphroaig mellowed into old age - all leather
armchairs and peat fires. Starts smoky, then fruit, then the
tarry ropes/iodine, all building relentlessly before finishing
with a burst of rich smoky fruit. Great balance. ****(*)
Lagavulin 16-year-old 43% ABV
An evocative sea-shore aroma, mixing aromatic
smoke with marmalade, nutmeg and heather. Complex, with cocoa
powder and ripe Shiraz/blackcurrant pastille fruit on the
finish, all smothered in a deep blanket of peat smoke. *****
Lagavulin Distiller's Edition PX finish 43%
Subtly sweet, peaty nose with walnut, tar,
treacle. The Lagavulin signature a little muted by the layers
of rich sultry, sumptuous fruits. The fragrant smoke finally
wraps itself round the tastebuds on the long, lingering finish.
UDV also owns the massive Caol Ila, whose
glass-fronted stillhouse gazes across to Jura. Though peated
to the same level as Lagavulin, this is a different beast,
more oily than smoky and a must-try. ***
Ardberg 10-year-old 46% ABV
Astoundingly smoky, yet delicate with a subtle
mix of tar, raisin and caramelized apple notes. Robustly flavoured,
like someone's lit a peat fire under your nose. A salt-tinged
complex finish. It manages to be flavour-packed yet delicate
at the same time. ****(*)
Hugely complex, mixing tangerine, tar, fragrant
peat smoke, gingerbread and smoky malt. Silky and smoky, with
an astoundingly long finish. Superb balance. ****
Sweet mix of fruit, heather and smoke on the
nose. Big, almost leathery; then the fires are stoked up and
smoulder on forever in the mouth. *****
Springbank 10-year-old 46% ABV
Full, malty nose with some sea air, spice,
pigskin and toffee apple. Very smooth and sweet to start then
a fusillade of flavours - dried herb, butter, salt, smoke,
vanilla pod, moss and flowers. A great package. ****(*)
Springbank 15-year-old 46% ABV
Well balanced between vanilla, crème
brûlée, salty sea air burnt range and smoky wood.
A silky mouthful though the wood is a little prominent then
a splash of sea spray on the finish. ***(*)
Springbank 21-year-old 46% ABV
Amber colour, Peach, raisin ozone, smoke.
Fluxing between caramelized orange and salt. Smooth start,
then some heather, raisin, clootie dumpling coconut matting
and the signature salty finish. ****
Springbank 1966 Local Barley 54.4% ABV
Huge nose mixing coal bunker, sweetly ripe
fruit, hickory wood and almost rancio-like aromas of mushroom,
leaf-mould, anise and smoke. Explodes on the palate: biscuity,
then some toffee, hickory chips, smoke and sea air. A fascinating
mix of sweet and sour. *****
Attractive mix of muted/turfy peat smoke with
a perfumed rose-petal lift. A drop of water kindles the peat
fires but always balanced by a lavender/rose-scented perfume.
Silky, briny with a rich coal-tar/perfumed finish. ****
Old Fettercairn 10-year-old
Golden with a nose of freshly turned earth,
hay and crisp notes and a hint of sandshoe. Biscuity palate
with some sweet malty notes. Clean. **(*)
Light and lemony, with lots of sweet bran/cereal
notes. Light, sweet and mixable. **
Fuller nose, but bran is still predominant.
Lightly perfumed and more solid then the Select. **(*)
Auchentoshan 21-year-old 43% ABV
Amber, Elegant, with a mix of red plum, tobacco
leaf, apple with fresh sweet grass and nut. Almost jammy fruit
on palate, with some grass and butterscotch. Silky and long.
Auchentoshan Three Wood
Rich, slightly pruney nose, with walnut, chicory
notes. Sweet, with a mass of flavours: roast nut, coffee,
prune and ripe fruit. Sweet and stylish. ***(*)
Glenkinchie 10-year-old 43% ABV
Grassy, fresh nose with a little lemon peel
livening up the palate. Very fresh and clean. ***
Glenkinchie Distiller's Edition Amontillado
finish 43% ABV
Grassy with a hint of sulphur/burnt match
and roasted almond. Soft and gentle with an almost syrupy
start then the fresh-mown grass gives it a lift. Gentle. ***
UDV bottles two other Lowland malts. Bladnoch
10-year-old (40% ABV) has a delicate, almost minty nose, with
a hint of caramelized orange and hay. Bladnoch is up and running
again under new management. ***
The triple-distilled Rosebank 12-year-old
(43% ABV) has a complex, aromatic nose with green grass, apple,
lemon grass and an undercurrent of bracken/hay-accented fruit.
Wonderfully balanced, with some smoke on the palate leading
to a huge lift of sweet fruit and acacia honey. With the reopening
of the Forth & Clyde Canal, on which it stands, there's
a good chance whisky will be made here once again. ***(*)
UDV (UNITED DISTILLERS AND VINTNERS)
JOHNNIE WALKER o J&B o BELL'S
The world's top selling blended Scotch started
life in John Walker's Kilmarnock grocer's shop in the 1880s.
By 1908 his grandsons had registered Johnnie Walker as a trademark,
and allied by clever marketing - and consistently high-quality
blending - it was soon a world player. Black Label is still
the blend to beat.
Johnnie Walker Red Label
The nose mixes light toffee peat smoke and
fresh wood notes. Fresh and vivacious, it packs a crunchy,
lightly peaty punch on the palate. ***(*)
Black Label 12-year-old
Gorgeously complex: perfume, peat and peaches
in honey, soft grain and leather all in harmony. Silky and
multi-layered on the palate, it balances a huge range of seductive
flavours beautifully. *****
Gold Label 18-year-old 43% ABV
Another stunner: richer than Black, with a
hint of sea air and honey/beeswax. A complex palate of iced
biscuits, ozone and rich malt. *****
Peat fires smoulder in the glass and lead
to a slowly unfolding palate, with all manner of dark truffle
flavours: smoke, orange and bitter chocolate. Deep and profound
- but is it worth the money? ****
This blend was created for top London wine
merchants Justerini & Brooks in 1933, although the firm
had been dealing in whiskies since 1768, and blending its
Club Blend for private customers since 1884.
Made specifically to suit the post-Prohibition American palate,
J&B soon rose to become the second-largest selling blend
in the world, and in recent years has spearheaded the whisky
boom in Spain.
Very pale and delicate, with a hint of sweetness
mixed with fragrant malt. Silky green fruits and hay on the
palate. Ultra-light. **
Perth wine merchant Arthur Bell started blending
in the 1860s, but it was his son 'AK' who first sold the whisky
as Bell's in 1904. Still the UK's largest-selling whisky,
its reputation suffered during the 1970s when overproduction
brought quality crashing down. Relaunched as an 8-year-old
in 1994, it is unrecognizable as the bad old whisky it briefly
Mellow, fragrant nose with good depth of flavour.
Some fruit cake, light perfume, leather, cocoa and cereal.
Soft and chewy. Take time to rediscover it. ****(*)
BLACK & WHITE
James Buchanan was one of blending's greatest
characters and the man who, from the 1880s onwards, brought
blended Scotch to the attention of the English middle classes
- thanks to his creation of a lighter style of blend, which
he renamed Black & White, in 1904. Once a major player
for DCL, it's now sadly rather lost in UDV's massive portfolio.
Black & White
A hint of heather on the light nose, with
plenty of fresh grain and light smoke. A crunchy almond centre
with some mint toffee and a hint of smoke mid-way through.
Created by Sir Peter Mackie, the despotic,
eccentric blender (and owner of Lagavulin), White Horse always
wore its Islay heart on its sleeve, until recently. Now repositioned
as a 'fighting' blend, it has been toned down slightly to
appeal to a new audience.
Some ripe apple and a hint of smoke on the
nose. The palate has an immediate whack of turf/peat. Dries
out in the middle, then broadens and becomes quite sweet.
GROUSE o BLACK BOTTLE
Perth wine merchant William Gloag started
blending whiskies in the 1860s, to warm the cockles of the
huntin', shootin', fishin' set. In 1896 his nephew, Matthew,
created The Famous Grouse. It remained a little-known classic
until the 1970s, but since then has become Scotland's favourite
dram, number two in the UK, and is spreading its wings into
The Famous Grouse
A fat juicy, succulent nose with a hint of
menthol, lavender and a drift of smoke. Lovely weight on the
palate, which is sweet, lightly spiced and tinged with peat.
First made in 1923 by London wine merchants
Berry Bros & Rudd, Cutty Sark was specifically made as
a light-flavoured blend that would appeal to the American
market, even though Prohibition was in force. It was smuggled
into the United States by one Captain William McCoy and became
so popular that people began demanding 'the real McCoy' as
their choice of bootleg liquor.
Gentle, light nose with oat, butter, icing
sugar and some delicate raspberry. A mix of cream and grass,
with a touch of lemon sherbet on the finish. ***
Originally conceived by Aberdeen tea merchant
Gordon Graham in the 1870s, Black Bottle passed through many
different hands before landing in Highland Distillers' lap
in 1995. John Ramsay has since reformulated it to be 'the
malt with the heart of Islay' and uses all seven Islay malts
in the blend. It's a brand to watch.
Black Bottle 10-year-old
Islay personified: ozone, ginger, ripe fruit
and ginger. With water, an intense smoky perfume leaps out,
then mingles with soft cakey fruit before a blast of salt-spray
halfway through. Stunning. *****
BALLANTINE'S o TEACHER'S
George Ballantine was another of the great
grocer-blenders, this time based in Glasgow, who began blending
whiskies in the late 19th century. In 1922 the firm started
supplying the thirsty Prohibition-struck US - often through
Canada, where the blend caught the attention of Hiram Walker,
who promptly bought the firm and built the elegant grain distillery
in Dumbarton whose whisky still acts as the foundation stone
for the blends. Now part of Allied Domecq, Ballantine's is
a massive brand in Europe.
A cream toffee-sweet nose, with gentle grassy
notes. Clean and soft with a crisp mid-palate, it's a sound
standard blend. ***
Gold Seal 12-year-old
A creamy nose, with hints of smoke and high-toned
perfume. Well-balanced there's a light tingle of grain on
the soft finish. ***(*)
Magnificent, with soft grain pulsing through
aromas of coffee extract/chicory, walnut, cake mix, smoke
and lavender. A multi-layered, chewy palate with vanilla,
peat and spun sugar. A powerful, seductive dram. *****
Packed with rancio notes: leaf mould, mushroom,
floor polish, cigar boxes and Bourbon-like woody notes. Strangely
attenuated to start with, it moves into chocolate, burnt orange
and a rich peat surge. Bags of character, but a little too
woody for many. ****
William Teacher was a Glasswegian blender
who established his blend through his 'dram shops', which
only sold his whisky! A popular blend in England, it was another
old-style brand which fell on hard times during the 1970s.
Teacher's Highland Cream
A ripe, meaty nose mixing toffee with good,
smoky notes. There's a smoky belch to start on the palate,
then the toffee comes back with a spicy, grainy undercurrent.
The Chivas brothers owned a high-class grocery
business in Aberdeen and started blending whiskies (for, among
others, the Royal household) in the 1880s. Regal appeared
at the turn of the 20th century and was another light Speyside-dominant
blend to make it big in the United States during Prohibition.
It was bought by the Canadian distiller (and one-time bootlegger)
Sam Bronfman in 1949 and is still a major player in the US
and Far East markets.
Chivas Regal 12-year-old
Deceptive weight behind the apparently light
mix of grass, apples and cereal on the nose. A grassy, almost
mossy start to the palate, it crisps up deliciously mid-palate.
A magnificent mélange of currant leaf,
orange pulp/peach cobbler, barley malt and turfy smoke. The
palate explodes with flavour, but always in the elegant, restrained
family style. *****
The finest in the range. Peatier still, with
a rich, complex mix of citrus notes (tangerine, lemon) heather,
fruit and spicy grain. Stunning. *****
DEWAR'S o BNJ
Tommy Dewar knew what he was doing when he
set off around the world in 1893. If James Buchanan was the
gentleman, Tommy was the prankster and he soon established
White Label as the biggest-seller in the US. When UD and IDV
merged, Dewar's was forcibly sold off, and was snapped up
by Bacardi. Quite what its secretive new owner is planning
Dewar's White Label
Light, with good malty notes and a touch of
lemon meringue pie and honey. Soft and easy, with a lemon/ginger
malt-driven mid-palate. ***
Named after a fictional character in Walter
Scott's Rob Roy, Bailie Nicol Jarvie first appeared in the
1860s, but was reformulated in 1994 by owner Glenmorangie,
though it still sports a wonderfully anachronistic Victorian
Bailie Nicol Jarvie
Medium weight, with flowers, vanilla, pears
and apples on the nose. Very subtle and rounded, bursting
with malty flavours. Superb length. *****
One of the most famous families in whisky,
the Grants had already built their Glenfiddich distillery
three years prior to the launch of their blend - originally
Standfast, now Family Reserve.
Grant's Family Reserve
A fragrant nose, mixing honey/lime blossom,
pear and light smoke. Very soft toffee/vanilla start before
a good, subtle interplay between malt and grain, a crisp and
deliciously nutty finish. ****
Sweet, toffee-like nose with plenty of sherry
notes in evidence. The palate is silky and soft, balancing
ripe malt, raisined sherry wood and rich fruitiness. *****
Clean and crisp, with apple blossom, clover
and bran. Lightly creamy on the palate, with some almond paste
and gentle grassiness on the finish. Pleasant and soft. ***
Bushmills Triple Wood
Ripe and full on the nose. A taste of molasses,
then some raisin mixed with powerful, plummy fruits. Well
JAMESON o POWERS o PADDY
One of the great names in Irish distilling
history, John Jameson was a Scot who established a distillery
in Dublin's Bow Street in 1780. It became one of the major
names in world whiskey, at the leading edge of distilling
techniques and maturation. The Bow Street plant closed in
1971 and now all Jameson's is made in Midleton, County Cork.
A generous, soft and slightly malty nose,
with a crisp edge. Good intensity on the palate, with sherry
notes and a creamily smooth finish. ***(*)
A generously-sherried nose, with an attractive
lifted perfume. Sleek, but with a refreshing peanut brittle
crunch mid-palate. ****
Elegant and juicily ripe, like peaches in
syrup, with a delicious crisp and spicy note on the nose.
A wonderful interplay between light spices, hickory, lemon
balm and juicy, cakey flavours. Gorgeously complex. A long
finish, with Brazil nut/hazelnut, soft juicy fruit and lemon.
Another of the great Dublin distillers, John
Power began distilling in 1791 and his John's Lane distillery
was one of the greatest and grandest plants in Ireland. He
was the first distiller to bottle his whiskey and the first
to bottle miniatures. His brand is still Ireland's favourite.
Full and luscious, with masses of peachy fruit
bursting out of the glass. Soft and unctuous, with a great
balance between soft pulpy fruits and a crisp crunch from
the unmalted barley. ****(*)
Even more hedonistic, with a mix of rich fresh
fruit and mouth-watering malt. Almost indecent in its plump
Technically part of the Jameson stable, with
a weighty, malty nose leading to a broad sherried, even tarry
palate that coats the mouth. Huge flavours and a long, elegant
The Crested 10 pales in comparison with this
unblended pot still whiskey. Has a ripe sherried character
with delicious cumin/lemon spiciness to liven the mouth up.
Originally owned by Cork Distillers, this
brand was named after their most famous salesman, Paddy Flaherty,
who - by the cunning technique of buying a round for everyone
in a bar - not only established his brand but had people asking
for 'Paddy's whiskey'. Well, it was easier than asking for
a glass of Cork Distilleries Company Old Irish Whiskey!
The lightest of the main Irish Distllers'
brands; slightly hot on the nose, with a touch of tangerine
peel. A nice crunch on the palate, but a little lean. **
On the lighter side of the Irish fence. Clean,
crisp and light, but not hugely exciting. **
Tullamore Dew 12-year-old
So different from the standard bottling that
you wonder initially if it is from the same stable. Ripe,
fleshy and rich, this is the one to try. ***(*)
KILBEGGAN o LOCKE'S o MILLARS o TYRCONNELL o CONNEMARA
The original name of the Locke's distillery
in County Westmeath, founded in 1757. John Locke bought the
plant in the 1840s and expanded steadily until the disastrous
1920s struck. Kilbeggan stumbled on before finally giving
up the ghost in 1953. Cooley now ages its whiskey in the old
warehouses and has converted the site into a museum.
Very clean and faintly grassy, with a touch
of camphor on the nose. Sweet and gentle, with grass and nuts
playing off each other. **
Broader and riper than Kilbeggan, showing
a sweeter, fruitier palate. Pretty young, with a crisp and
peppery finish. **
Originally an old Dublin whiskey made for
one of that city's wine and spirit merchants.
Fragrant and peachy. Well rounded with good
malty, sherried notes. A deliciously juicy little number,
with an oomph of fruit to finish with. ***
Tyrconnel Single Malt
Young and lively, with a pleasant clover/cut
grass nose and a touch of sulphur. Sweet, biscuity and light,
with a lemon-pie kick and cereal on the finish. Young and
Locke's Single Malt
Delicate and fresh, with some rounded apricot
yoghurt/custard notes. Ripe on the palate, with a malty finish
mixing grass and juicy fruit. Attractive. ***
Connemara Single Malt
Attractive turfy peat smoke aroma, with some
germoline/band aid and floral perfume behind. Seems to split
on the palate, with the smoke going one way and the fruit
the other, but like all the Cooley brands its getting better
and better as the malts get older. ***
Jim Beam White Label 4-year-old 80° proof
Lightly oaked, with some light spicy notes.
Clean and sound. **
SMALL BATCH RANGE
Basil Hayden 8-year-old 80° proof
Light and rye-accented, with plenty of lemon
and tobacco leaf notes. Clean, with crisp rye mixing it with
dark, ripe, nutty fruit. ***
Baker's 7-year-old 107° proof
Richer, with a leather armchair kind of nose
and lots of overripe fruit. Slightly biscuity to start with,
then good sweet vanilla fruit. ***
Knob Creek 9-year-old 100° proof
Rich and sweet with honey, blackberry and
spun sugar. Elegant and super-ripe, with a hint of vanilla
and some light cinnamon spice on the finish. *****
Booker's 7-year-old 126.5° proof
Amazingly complex without water, for such
a powerful Bourbon - and a bit like a grizzly bear dancing.
Huge flavour-packed with raisin, chestnut honey, black cherry,
pepper, cinnamon and toffee. Rich and immensely powerful,
mixing orange peel, crème brûlée and tobacco/cigar
blown along by a hickory wind. Immense. *****
Wild Turkey 80° proof
Big nose, mixing geranium orange peel and
dark fruit. Some smoke on the palate, which is rich with light
cinnamon/perfumed notes, then a crisp vanilla/toasty finish.
Solid stuff. ***
Wild Turkey 8-year-old 101° proof
Wonderfully rich and complex nose of acacia
honey, caramelized fruits/crème brûlée,
faded roses and dried spices. Starts sweetly then sits heavily
in the mouth. Hugely rich, mixing tingling sweet spices, honeyed
fruits, vanilla and some red fruit. Succulent, and a meal
in a glass. *****
Wild Turkey Rare Breed 108.6° proof
Slightly sweeter than the 8-year-old 101°:
more barley sugar/candy notes. Big and honeyed, with a light
floral lift. Lovely mix of roses, fragrant spice, plum, nectarine
and cigar box. A slow, soft start in the mouth, then a lift
of charred wood, honeyed wood and a mix of chocolate and lemon
on the finish. ****(*)
Maker's Mark 90° proof
Lovely, complex mix of flowers, cumin, cinnamon,
marzipan/anise, vanilla and light honey. A soft start, then
great interplay between silky-soft honeyed fruit, vanilla-toffee
and balanced oak flavours. Some chocolate on the finish. Gentle,
easy and complex. *****
Four Roses Yellow Label
Gentle and lightly oaked, with fragrant lemon
notes. A great mixer. ***
Firmer and smokier, with hickory wood, honey
and a crisp rye-accented finish. ***(*)
LABROT & GRAHAM
Gorgeously silky mix of bitter orange, honey,
smoky wood and a hint of mint. Beautifully balanced between
sweet vanilla/honey fruit and grippy wood. Long and utterly
Ancient Ancient Age 10-year-old 86° proof
Spicy menthol nose: some marzipan, beeswax,
vanilla custard and a hint of clove. Clean, fruity palate
of tangerine, apple, lemon and a nice vanilla crunch on the
Buffalo Trace 90° proof
A rich mix of cocoa butter, cedar wood, honey,
chocolate and hickory smoke. Soft palate, the wood showing
a little, with a rounded mocha/cigar box finish. ***(*)
Eagle Rare 10-year-old 50.5° proof
Plush, spicy nose with vanilla and some honey.
Soft and sweet with light cocoa, honey and black fruits. A
rich, rounded treat. ***
W.L. Wellar 7-year-old 90° proof
Fragrant nose of fresh herbs, berry fruits,
some tar, caramelized orange/marmalade, tanned leather and
cinnamon. Soft and mellow in the mouth, mixing vanilla, coffee
and cream. Fragrantly beautiful. *****
Old Charter 8-year-old 80° proof
On the leaner side, with some white pepper,
orange/lemon peel and light oak. Easy palate, mixing almost
oily honeyed fruit and a crack of rye. ***
Benchmark 8-year-old 80° proof
Incredibly fragrant nose, like warm hot cross
buns. Dry and slightly dusty palate, with crisp wood. **
Blanton's Single Barrel 93° proof
Sweet - almost syrupy - nose, with cedar,
cocoa, vanilla and plum and lifted clove/lemon notes. Raisins
in a cigar box. The palate has ripe dark fruits with some
chocolate, underpinned by chewy honeyed fruit. In the precise,
well-balanced distillery style. ****(*)
Evan Williams 7-year-old 90° proof
Graceful, Spicy wood, cinnamon, caramel and
a little smoke on the nose. The palate has mixed roast nut,
leather and some tobacco leaf, with a fine bite mid-palate.
Elijah Craig 12-year-old 94° proof
Rich, with balanced woody notes, spice, smoke
and some nutmeg. Chewy, fruity palate and great length. ****
Elijah Craig 18-year-old
Almost heathery nose, with some saddle soap/leather
and rich nuttiness. Soft, rich fruit on the palate and a balancing
spicy pepperiness. Excellent. *****
Evan Williams Single Barrel 1989 86.6°
A leafy nose, with a nice balance between
lemon leaf, dry nut, white pepper, varnish, cedar wood, herbs,
honey and a touch of sesame oil. Soft yet fresh. ****
Ten High 80° proof
Assertive nose, with plenty of dry spice (nutmeg/cinnamon)
and some lemon notes. Whipcracks into the mouth, with light
caramel fruit and a zap of high-toned rye on the finish. Uncomplicated
but fine. **
Very Old Barton 6-year-old 80° proof
A charred, slightly sooty nose with some Olde
English marmalade notes. That sootiness is on the palate as
well, followed by a short sharp shock of rye on the finish.
Jack Daniel's Black Label 80° proof
Very sweet and clean, with a touch of licorice,
smoke and caramel. A good mouthful with a great, sweet finish.
Gentleman Jack 80° proof
Even sweeter, with black fruit and a sooty
rich finish. ***
George Dickel No. 12 90° proof
Lightly honeyed, with a little touch of cedar
and some basil and mint. Lovely length. Stylish. ****
George Dickel Special Barrel Reserve 90°
A good unctuous nose, with sweet butterscotch/caramel
notes. Cinnamon, nutmeg and cumin on the palate, with ripe
fresh fruit - apple, orange and tangerine. Sexy. *****
Delicate, with a crisp and lightly smoky nose.
There's a hint of rye and a soft, easy palate. A good all-rounder.
Canadian Club 12-year-old
Gentle, with cream toffee notes. A ripe, soft
start with lots of vanilla/custard and a ripe maltiness. The
palate is silky-smooth, like chocolate-chip ice cream, with
a bite of rye on the end. ****(*)
An aromatic, delicate nose leading into a
soft yet complex palate, with some lemon, sweetcorn, malty
notes and mature pulpy fruit. ***(*)
More succulent, with lots of light spice and
creamy toffee fruit. Elegant and gentle, yet mouthfilling.
Forty Creek Three Grain
Light amber in colour, this one needs dilution
to reveal a vibrant mix of light honey, dry spices, vanilla,
sandalwood and lemon zest. Soft and smooth on the palate before
a good zap of rye on the finish. A whisky (and distillery)
to watch. ***(*)
Forty Creek Barrel Select
Mellow and soft on the nose with silky toffee/vanilla
notes combined with plump rainined fruit and dry spiciness.
The flavour is softer and more chewy than the 3 Grain with
mix of prune and custard. ***(*)
By Dave Broom
A HISTORY OF VINTAGE WATCHES
This dual name is on the dials of some of
the greatest classic watches ever to be designed and constructed,
and, for many enthusiasts, it has the same resonance as the
words Rolls-Royce do for automotive buffs. Indeed there are
many fascinating parallels to be found within the contexts
of the two meetings between Jules Audemars (1851-1918) and
Edouard Piguet (1853-1919) in Le Brassus in the Swiss Jura
mountains in 1875, and between Sir Charles Rolls and Henry
Royce in England at the turn of the century. It is never a
surprise to find an Audemars Piguet on the wrist of a Rolls-Royce
owner; such a purchaser undoubtedly appreciates beauty in
At the time of their meeting in 1875, Audemars was a maker
of dial frames and Piguet was just starting as a finisher.
Apparently they stated collaborating immediately. Their trademark
was officially registered in December 1882, and by 1889 Audemars
Piguet & Cie SA was in business, with ten employees, making
both simple and complicated unsigned movements for other local
watchmakers and for export to America, where the import tax
on complete watches was then very high. The two gifted pioneers
continued their business together until 1918, when Jules Audemars
died; his partner died the following year. To this day the
company has remained in the hands of the descendants of the
founders, together with those of a few other original investors
in La Vallée de Joux.
Audemars Piguet has always maintained a detailed register
of every watch made and sold; thus, as with Rolls-Royce chassis
numbers, each product has a unique serial number, which makes
a fake watch difficult to pass off (unless to unwary or uncaring
buyers in, say, Hong Kong, to whom a ridiculously huge saving
In its early years, when wristwatches were in the first stages
of development, the firm naturally concentrated on pocket
watches. Today some of them command astonishingly high prices
in the auction rooms. The most famous of these are La Grande
Complication, of which only 100 have been made between 1915
and 1989; the Grand Sonnerie, the Perpetual Calender Watch
with Minute Repeater, and the Skeleton Watch. However, after
the First World War had finally established the wristwatch
industry, most Swiss makers turned their attention to the
worldwide non-military requirements of the market in the 1920s
- good design, jewels, beauty, watches as fashion accessories,
and so on. Audemars Piguet had been early into the market;
in 1909 they made a wristwatch with a minute repeater which
was sold in 1925 to Metric Watch Company, New York, then their
American agent. Its design is elegant and simple - a cask-shaped
face on which no name or logo appears, only bold Arabic numerals,
and the hour and minute hands.
Early on, Audemars Piguet adopted the policy of delivering
quality watches and complete movements to internationally
renowned houses, who could sell them under their own names.
Audemars Piguet's name does not appear on the face and, sometimes,
not even on the movement. Among the prestigious companies
for whom the Swiss firm produced watches in the first three
decades of the century were Van Cleef & Arpels of Paris
and Tiffany of New York. Novice collectors should be aware
that some of the early wristwatches bearing these names may
be, in fact, made by Audemars Piguet. Checking the movement
number and Audemars Piguet's record book can confirm this.
From the beginning of the century until the 1930s, finished
watches were rarely imported into the USA. Audemars Piguet,
along with other Swiss watchmakers, provided only movements,
usually equipped with dials and hands. These were to be inserted
in cases actually made by the importer - the reason being
to avoid the very high American customs duties on gold and
finished watches. To maintain quality, Audemars Piguet always
provided a detailed plan of the case, so that there would
be no difference between the finished watch and the original
Another Audemars Piguet speciality also dates from just prior
to the First World War. From about 1910 onwards, the company,
in keeping with current fashions, concentrated on a range
of men's and ladies' wristwatches, which appealed to the tastes
of their wealthy clientele. One striking, if not to say extravagant,
example from these early days was a small ladies' wristwatch,
made in 1911. It was richly set in diamonds, with a minute
repeater and central second hand; the lugs were also diamond-studded.
Similar but even more spectacular was a ladies' wristwatch
produced in 1920. This was placed inside a case set with diamonds
and measured barely 18mm in diameter. The watch's minute repeater
worked by pressing on the diamonds of the case set at 6 o'clock.
The owner of this miniature marvel could also remove the watch
and insert it into the pocket watch case supplied with it.
Audemars Piguet watches like this now fetch fabulous prices
when they turn up in salerooms, but, during this period, Audemars
Piguet also produced high-quality watches of more sober design.
Catalogues and advertisements show simple watches with top-quality
movements, as well as watches with special features, such
as digital display with alternate hours, or various complications
such as calendars, chronographs and striking cases, the white
faces featuring mainly boldly legible Arabic numerals. In
design terms, these are timeless classics, as functional and
stylish now as they were then. Eminently wearable, with no
hint of vulgarity, these are aristocrats among antique watches
and very much in demand among those with taste as well as
Another charming range from this period were ladies' sports
wristwatches. Designed for daytime, casual use, as opposed
to formal wear, these are something of a misnomer, since they
are not 'sports' watches in the modern sense with chronograph,
shock-resistant qualities and so on - although, no doubt,
ladies went motoring or played golf while wearing them. Usually
in slender rectangular cases, these are undeniably feminine
and decidedly chic in the then fashionable Art Deco style.
Linear or geometric patterns are inset in the case in shimmering,
often brightly-coloured enamel, while, on some pieces, part
of the face itself is enameled. Small and slim, these were
made to look good on the wrist, their appearance enhanced
by the soft suede or lizard-skin straps on which they were
often mounted. Like the plain, elegant men's watches of the
period, these are practical, wearable timepieces today and
as much sought after because of the revival of interest in
1930s styles as for their high-quality movements.
At this time, of course, other illustrious Swiss watchmakers
were producingwristwatches, seemingly as attractive and as
well designed as Audemars Piguet's watches, at a somewhat
lower price, even if by no means cheap. What made Audemars
Piguet's watches so special and so expensive? The reason lies
in the nature of the initial philosophy of the company's two
Early in their partnership Audermars and Piguet adopted the
practice - revolutionary at the turn of the century - of controlling
the manufacture of their watches, piece by piece, from start
to finish. The majority of watchmakers, then as now, 'assembled'
watches from externally supplied parts. Although Audemars
Piguet's suppliers were invariably highly skilled craftsmen,
the partners realized that the only way they could maintain
absolute quality was to bring together all such craftsmen
under one roof, supervising each individually handmade piece,
finishing and testing it in Le Brassus workshop. To this day,
Audemars Piguet ignores mass production. From the first roughing
out of the basic movement to the ultimate finish, each watch
is the work of a master watchmaker who can take from six months
to a year to produce just one watch. It goes without saying
that only the highest quality materials are used. The quantity
of gold and platinum is never stinted in the interests of
economy and only the finest diamonds and precious stones are
incorporated (each watch carries a certificate confirming
its authenticity and quality). Because of the individual attention
given to each watch, no two watches are exactly alike, even
if they are of the same design.
Audemars Piguet's main claim to fame, however, lies not so
much in the supreme quality of its watches but in the technical
innovations it has pioneered from the early years of the century
to the present day. Indeed, this company has won more gold
medals in the Olympics of watchmaking than any of its rivals.
Although its early firsts relate to pocket watches, the vigorous
striving for technical perfection is obvious. The Grande Complication,
created in 1915, required the assembly of some 400 pieces,
is still made today and is one of the most expensive non-custom-made
pocket watches in the world; in 1925 Audemars Piguet created
the thinnest pocket watch in the world measuring 1.32mm; the
skeleton pocket watch followed in 1934 and in 1946 the thinnest
wristwatch in the world (1.64mm) was created.
During the 1970s and 1980s Audemars Piguet continued its research
and development to produce the modern classics available today.
These, too, were firsts in the history of watchmaking. One
of the most enduring in more ways than one was the Royal Oak,
the first luxury wristwatch ever created in stainless steel.
Two years of work elapsed before, in 1972, technicians and
stylists were able to produce this elegant sports watch, which
became and has remained a highly popular classic. The company
named the watch after the hollow tree trunk in which Charles
II of England is said to have once sought refuge and which,
since then, has come to symbolize sheltering Strength - it
is no accident that Britain's Royal Navy has christened at
least three of its ships with this name over the years. Steel,
the most intractable and demanding of metals, was combined
with 18-carat gold in the famous octagonal design - which
looks rather like a porthole - and in which the visible screws,
intended to show the strength of the watch, are an integral
part. The watch was an instant success and its design copied
- but as Audemars Piguet say, 'never equaled' - worldwide.
Today, Royal Oak watches are available in steel, steel and
gold, gold, or gold with precious metals. The Royal Oak 'dress
watch', for example, has a bezel set with 32 diamonds; the
magnificent 'jewelry watch' shows a lavish use of gems with
its dial set with 237 diamonds and 11 rubies, and its case
and bracelet set with 454 diamonds - rarely, if ever, has
a sports watch displayed so much conspicuous wealth! And rarely,
too, has such a dazzling brilliance been seen beneath the
sea for, regardless of model, all Royal Oak watches are water-resistant
to a depth of 50 meters (164 feet). Spurred on by the original
Royal Oak's success, Audemars Piguet developed further refinements.
The Royal Oak with day, date and moonphases was introduced
in 1983 and the Royal Oak perpetual calendar in 1984.
Audemars Piguet, as specialists in complicated watches since
the late 19th century, created numerous perpetual calendar
watches, many of them manually-wound pocket watches. In 1978,
the company launched a Perpetual Calendar in the form of the
automatic wristwatch, programmed with such a complex mechanism
that leap years are accounted for, keeping perfect time, untouched,
until the year 2100. The classic design of this most elegant
watch has spawned hundreds of imitations, all incorporating
the attractively coloured moonphase on the dial, probably
its most visually arresting feature. Like other Audemars Piguet
models, the Perpetual Calendar is available - at a price -
as a jewelry watch. In the platinum version, the pavé
dials are set with 271 diamonds and the bezel with 40 diamonds
and eight sapphires; this sells for over $44,000 (in 1989).
The more austere gold Perpetual Calendar has a bezel set with
80 small diamonds with a bracelet in 18-carat yellow gold
and mother-of-pearl. By contrast, the remaining available
model in platinum with automatic skeleton movement is unadorned
and strenuously muscular.
Another first in the Audemars Piguet records was the development
of the automatic tourbillon wristwatch. The tourbillon movement
was invented in 1795 by Abraham-Louis Breguet, the master
watchmaker renowned for his brilliant mechanical expertise.
His invention was remarkably ingenious - and guaranteed perfect
timekeeping in a watch. Instead of being placed separately,
wheel, lever and balance are held together in a very light
mobile cage. Drawn by the wheels, the cage revolves at about
one turn per minute. The constant motion of the escapement
assures the watch's precision.
After much research, Audemars Piguet was able to incorporate
the tourbillon es
capement - which is expensive and difficult
to produce - into an extra-thin automatic wristwatch. The
design of the 18-carat gold dial, in the form of sun rays,
was inspired by the Egyptian Sun God, Amun-ra, who, according
to legend, gave the world the gift of fire. Since its development
in 1986, only a few numbered and preordered examples of this
exceptional watch have left the Le Brassus factory, so it
is already on the way to becoming a rare collector's item.
Audemars Piguet's range of watches is relatively small. Among
the plainer models are the Philosophique watch, made for both
men and women, and the automatic Sportive. Its Jewelry watches
are spectacular and the Baroque and Dôme models, to
name but two, are as much pieces of high-fashion jewelry as
they are watches, and obvious symbols of status and wealth;
the Rivière Dôme costs in the region of a staggering
The sumptuousness of these jewel-encrusted pieces should never
blind anyone to the refinement and quality of Audemars Piguet
watches as instruments of precision. Unlike many of their
rivals, the company is uncompromising in producing a limited
and exclusive range of watches for the connoisseur. In 1986,
a year which saw the production of 320 million watches, Audemars
Piguet contributed just over 11,000 to the grand total; Patek
Philippe and Vacheron & Constantin together produced some
22,700, while Rolex contributed 450,000 to the global figure.
In Audermars Piguet's opinion, quality rather than numbers
increases profitable turnover.
BAUME & MERCIER
The history of Baume & Mercier began around
1830 when the Baume family were already making watches in
the Jura near Berne. Nearly a century elapsed before a member
of the Baume family met a Geneva jeweler of high repute, Paul
Mercier, and in 1918 the two joined forces, with their headquarters
in Geneva. Their complementary skills insured success. With
Baume producing movements of great precision and Mercier designing
cases and dials with the artistry for which he was renowned,
they soon became one of the top watchmakers of Switzerland,
and in 1921 were awarded the coveted Poinçon de Genève,
official recognition of the faultless quality of their products.
Watches dating from this early period are now rare collectors'
finds, worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Baume & Mercier continued to produce a range of high-quality
watches forthe next three decades, but by the 1960s, a once
flourishing market had shrunk to include only Italy and some
US outlets. Although Baume & Mercier were still good at
making watches, they lacked the aggressive management and
marketing skills that were so necessary to maintain credibility
in a competitive international market.
By good fortune, they were introduced to the revitalized Piaget
company by their Italian distributor - who also sold Piaget
watches - and in 1964 Piaget acquired the major shareholding
in the company. For Piaget the benefits were obvious. They
had access to a potentially wider market (the average cost
of a Baume & Mercier is about $2,550) without devaluing
their own 'haute couture' image. Their management skills,
moreover, meant that by the 1980s Baume & Mercier watches
were sold in 70 countries across five continents. The company
was allowed considerable autonomy and encouraged to develop
its own brand image. This sound policy has paid off handsomely.
In 1989, Baume & Mercier accounted for about 40 per cent
of Piaget's turnover, with the US taking about 20 per cent
of the company's output, Italy, France and Switzerland accounting
for another 60 per cent, with the remainder going to the Far
East, notably Japan.
The modern Baume & Mercier image is based on two distinctive
watch styles - the classic and the sporting. These are exactly
suited to the middle price range market, but with some 600
models Baume & Mercier constantly monitor their collections,
discarding old watches and introducing new ones in deference
to current trends. Despite this, fashion does not dictate
to Baume & Mercier, whose styles really do possess a timeless
elegance, which could be the envy of their more expensive
rivals. Baume & Mercier watches are generally unpretentious
timepieces of high quality designed as watches, not pieces
To be sure, Baume & Mercier watches are not produced in
house entirely from start to finish like Piaget's. The company
relies on outside suppliers to provide basic components, but
all the assembling and finishing is done in the company's
workshop, which employs about 50 people. Baume & Mercier
produce about 100,000 watches per year, so inevitably their
approach is fairly industrialized. They are watchful of modern
developments as well. They were quick to recognize the potential
of the new quartz watches and from 1970 phased out mechanical
movements, so that by the 1980s nearly all their watches had
quartz ones. Platinum, gold and precious stones are not used
to excess, simply because they are rarely appropriate to the
style - or price - of Baume & Mercier watches.
One of their most successful models, launched in 1980, is
the Riviera, a sports watch par excellence in gold and steel
with a distinctive 12-sided bezel and a bold, uncluttered
face. To test its durability and precision, this watch was
mounted on the wheel of a BMW M1 before the start of the Le
Mans 24-hour auto race. It withstood high speeds as well as
the pressure of enormous acceleration at the beginning of
the race; the centrifugal force of the spinning car wheels
failed to affect it, as did intermittent heavy rainfall and
the intense heat of overworked disk brakes. The watch ran
with as much precision after the race as it did before. But
Baume & Mercier watches are like that - they do what they
are meant to do perfectly.
Take the Medicus watch, for example, especially designed for
doctors. Clean and clinical to look at, it includes a date
indicator as well as a pulse scale to test a patient's pulse
rate. The Avant Garde, another sports watch, is reminiscent
of Piaget's hugely successful Polo, perhaps deliberately so.
Water-resistant to a substantial depth, this is even more
durable than the Riviera. Bands of tungsten carbide are interspersed
with strips of gold to form both the bracelet and the face.
Linea, available in both ladies' and gent's sizes, is gold-plated,
its case style having that faintly utilitarian quality associated
with the 1940s and 1950s; a chunky wedge-linked bracelet cleverly
offsets this. This is an example of the trend towards nostalgic
designs, fashionable in the late 1980s.
Among Baume & Mercier's deluxe range are the Haute Joaillerie
models. These do display dazzling gems, but, unlike Piaget's
jeweled watches, they are stylish and chic in a fairly subdued
way. Even with these top of the market models, Baume &
Mercier still make watches that are superbly functional timepieces
- and above all look like watches.
Remo Bertolucci has jumped out of an airplane
more than 1,500 times, and it is the 40 seconds or so of free-falling,
before he pulls the parachute cord, that he really enjoys:
this proves he has no nerves and can count, and is therefore
clearly qualified to be a maker of wristwatches. He is also
a very good one.
Remo is a lucky Tuscan, brought up in Pisa and trained in
electro-technical engineering At 14 he was on a skiing holiday
in Grindelwald, where he met a pretty girl called Pierrette
Michelotti. Her father had bought a small watchmaking business
in 1939 at Evilard, above Biel; its original founder in 1911
was Robert Chopard. He married her, acquired Swiss nationality,
and soon took over the family business. Today the firm bears
his own name and has some 35 employees, who are responsible
for a small but impressive range of classic quartz and automatic
wristwatches. A distinctive feature of Bertolucci's Pulchra
(the Latin for beautiful) collection is the way in which the
gold (18 carat), steel or mixed bracelets are an integral
part of the watch design. Top of the range is a ladies' pavé
18 carat gold watch and bracelet, cobbled with 1,105 diamonds.
It is restrained and elegant, the ostentation of the diamonds
is minimal because of their even distribution around the wrist,
while the diamond numberless dial, with no second hand or
date indicator, is correctly understated. This $85,000 watch
is a beauty.
The story of Blancpain is the longest and
probably the most remarkable in the history of watchmaking.
Some of their dials feature the initials I.B. and the date
1735; with these the whold, moving story begins.
Imer Blancpain was christened on 13 May 1639 in the village
of Villeret, beside the river Suze in the Swiss Jura valley
of Erguel. Parts for watches had already started to be manufactured
in the area, and Jehan-Jaques Blancpain (born 1693), great-grandson
of Imer Blancpain, started the family business, making ébauches
and parts in 1735, according to the earliest records. He put
workshops on the first floor of his 100-year-old farmhouse,
right beside the banks of La Suze. His son Isaac concentrated
on being the Mayor of Villeret, but one of his grandsons,
David-Louis (born 1765), began exporting the family's goods,
which was an extremely hazardous occupation in those revolutionary
days. It was profitable enough to allow the business to begin
expanding on a very modest scale. Davie-Louis had five sons,
and one of them, Frédéric-Louis (born 1811)
took over the firm, introducing serial production - a new
factory was opened in about 1860 - and, in 1869, watches with
crowns, instead of cumbersome keys. Again, a son, Jules-Emile
(1832-1928) succeeded, followed by a grandson, Frédéric-Emile
(1863-1932). Frédéric-Emile Blancpain was the
great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson of Imer
Blancpain, and sadly he was the last of his line.
Jules-Emile and Frédéric-Emile made many innovations
including lever and cylinder watches; among them was the introduction
of a 3¾ ligne baguette movement, which led to the manufacture
of wristwatches. By 1926, after a late entrance into the wristwatch
field, Blancpain contributed to history by making a prototype
of the first wristwatch to have an automatic winding mechanism;
it was powered by the wearer's movements, and was the invention
of John Harwood, a brilliant English horologist. In 1929 Blancpain
produced the watch for the French market. This truly important
contribution to the craft of wristwatch manufacture soon produced
variations, and, starting in 1930, the company made the Rolls,
the dial design of which recalled the famous radiator shape
of Rolls-Royce motor cars. This watch was a pun: the movement
was mounted on ball-bearings inside the case, and, as the
movement 'swung' back and forth or 'rolled', powered by the
wearer, so the winding mechanism operated. This system had
been invented by Léon Hatot, a Paris horologist.
The company was now dedicated almost exclusively to the production
of wristwatches. They produced under the supervision of the
redoubtable Madame Fichter, who took over the running of the
company after the death of Frédéric-Emile Blancpain
in 1932, and continued to run it for nearly 40 years. It traded
under the name Rayville SA, succ. De Blancpain; Rayville is
a single phonetic anagram of Villeret, where the firm's first
workshop was located. The production of the Harwood automatic
and the Rolls continued, and today, depending on their condition,
they are collectors' items. The Second World War came and
went; the next noteworthy watch was the Air Command (1951);
it was a chronograph with a 30-minute timer and a steel case
with a movable glass (collectors should note that only about
1,000 were made). The first great postwar success was the
Fifty Fathoms (1953); its excellence and water-resistance
(200m/656ft) were confirmed by Jacques Cousteau and his crew
who wore these watches during the filming of 'Silent World'
(1956). Successors were Bathyscope, which was the name of
Cousteau's diving chamber, and the Fifty Fathoms Milospec;
the latter had a hole centered above the baton six, which
indicated when damp had affected the mechanism. In the year
that 'Silent World' was astonishing film and television audiences
around the world, Rayville launched a notable ladies' watch,
called Lady Bird; it incorporated the world's smallest ladies'
automatic movement (5 lignes/11.85mm). After 1959 only wristwatches
It has been thoroughly documented elsewhere that the beginning
of the 1970s witnessed a decimation of the Swiss watch manufacturing
industry, because of the huge inroads made into their markets
by Japanese quartz watches which caught the Swiss unprepared.
Many of the old firms stopped trading, some voluntarily merged
to form large, stronger groups, whilst others were faced with
being taken over at more or less any price they could obtain:
one of the latter was Rayville. In 1970 the company was acquired
by SSIH (known as SMH today), primarily because the big combine
wanted to acquire the little firm's centuries-old 'tricks-of-the-trade',
its accumulated knowledge, experience and tooling. At this
time Rayville and Blancpain ceased to appear on the dials
of wristwatches; and the old company was put, not to death,
but to sleep.
Then a happy event occurred. Another of the companies taken
over by SSIH was Omega, and several years later its managing
director, Jean-Claude Biver, became fascinated by the history
and achievements of the ancient, dormant associate company.
So he bought it. By January 9, 1983 the name of Blancpain
was once again in independent use. Biver had previously been
sales manager for A udemars Piguet; now he invited his friend
Piguet (whose ancestor was Louis-Elisée Piguet) to
join him in his new venture.
Today Blancpain is most deliberately old-fashioned, and is
unique within the wristwatch manufacturing industry for several
reasons. The factory is installed in the very farmhouse in
which Louis-Elisée Piguet made his first movement in
the watch-making village of Le Brassus. Employees grow flowers,
fruit and vegetables for themselves in the garden. Among the
30 or so employees, there are 15 watchmakers who really do
assemble, polish and finish all the parts which go into a
watch themselves; then the movement and case are numbered
and signed for in the register. The key to the whole operation
is simplicity. The total output is about 6,000 watches a year;
workers work whenever they please; there is only one shape
and basic design of case (round) and only two sizes (gentlemen's
and ladies'). They have never used a quartz movement and never
will. Of course, there are choices of dials (always on white
with roman numerals) and metals, but now a Blancpain watch
is always recognizable: a handmade classic, of limited quantity,
and always traceable to that register and therefore to its
maker. In what other major industry, involving mechanics,
is it possible to meet (and Blancpain encourage you to do
so) the man who made the whole of what you now own?
In 1984, Blancpain introduced a unique ladies' 8¾ ligne
watch; it revived the moonphase calendar, showing the month,
the date, and the moonphase. A year later they brought out
their first perpetual calendar, in gold and steel. These innovative
models were part of a deliberate manufacturing and marketing
philosophy which had been proudly and conscientiously evolved
by Jean-Claude Biver. For this reason, it is relevant to repeat
here the six great masterpieces in wristwatch-making. These
are: Chronometer; Minute repeater; Moonphase calendar; Perpetual
calendar; Tourbillon regulator; Ultra-thin chronograph.
Blancpain now produces all six of these great watches, and
is determined ultimately to combine them all in one case;
it will be one of the finest and most collectable wristwatches
of all time. Blancpain watches are distinguishable by the
movements (listed above) and materials they incorporate: 18
carat gold, which may be pink, white or yellow, platinum and
18 carat gold with steel, with or without precious stones,
metal bracelets and hand-sewn leather straps (which are interchangeable).
The watch glasses are all scratch-resistant sapphire, and
all dial indicators are in 18 carat gold.
Here is a description of Blancpain's minute repeater watch,
of which only about ten leave their farmhouse workshop each
year: a summary of its ingredients certainly proclaims a classic
wristwatch. The ultra-thin self-winding movement, with a central
rotor in 22 carat gold, is 3.2mm thick and 21mm in diameter;
it uses more than 30 rubies and has more than 300 parts (weighing
less than three grams together) and some of them are thinner
than a human hair (which is 0.06mm in diameter). This watch
can repeat, whenever required, the hour, the quarter hour
and minute, in a combination of chimes (by two hammers, each
with its own tone and vibration), without hindering the main
recording timepiece. On the side of the case beneath the bezel
at nine o'clock, there is a slim loading lever which releases
the sound of the chimes when it is pushed towards 12 o'clock.
It is a sort of signature tune, confirming the continuing
existence of a long line of masterpieces which rank among
the most desirable ever made; little heirlooms which are both
beautiful and useful.
'Time is the greatest innovator', wrote the
17th-century English philosopher, Francis Bacon. Abraham-Louis
Breguet (1747-1823) was one of the few whose innovatory genius
has had an impact on time, or more precisely its measurement.
So extraordinary was the mechanical ingenuity of this Swiss-born
watchmaker that he gained and maintained the patronage of
royalty, the rich and the powerful throughout Europe at one
of the most turbulent times in its history.
Breguet thus found himself in the uncommon position of providing
watches for the ancien régime and later the power brokers
of the new revolutionary France; in 1815 both Napoleon and
Wellington were consulting their Breguets at Waterloo. A Breguet
watch accompanied Alexander von Humboldt to the New World
and was the preferred timepiece of the tsars of Russia. Indeed
so legendary did these horological masterpieces become that
they were immortalized in fiction. Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo
sported one, as did Phileas Fogg, the intrepid and very time-conscious
hero of Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days.
The master watchmaker himself was of French Huguenot descent,
whose family had been forced to flee Paris as a result of
Catholic persecution. After Abraham-Louis' father died in
1758, his new stepfather, Joseph Tattet of Verriers (a successful
watchmaking business based in Neuchâtel and Paris) was
quick to note the young man's talent. At the age of 15 Breguet
was sent to Versailles to become a watchmaker's apprentice.
During his five years' apprenticeship, Breguet attended evening
classes in mathematics at the Collège Mazarin, an essential
background and training for a man who was intending to distinguish
himself in the production of precision instruments. Through
a series of fortunate incidents, he soon came to the notice
of Louis XV, an auspicious beginning to a career at a time
when royal patronage was important for success.
Breguet married in 1775, and his dowry permitted him to set
up both home and business in the prestigious Quai de L'Horloge
on the Ile de la Cité, the heart of Paris. It is ironic
that only 18 years later his first great patron, Marie Antoinette,
was to spend her last days on this same quai, incarcerated
in the firm 14th-century prison of the Conciergerie.
Breguet's carefully kept registers are still preserved. Dating
back from 1787, each Breguet watch is recorded with the name
of the individual maker, the cost price, sale date and identity
of the purchaser. The name of the French queen appears frequently
in the first few pages. With the characteristic extravagance
that was finally to prove her undoing, she is recorded as
buying her pocket watches in batches of six, a fashion which
was imitated by the court. Breguet was already at the top
of his profession.
It is to Breguet that we owe the first automatic watch (the
perpetuelle). The principles of the self-winding watch were
probably first invented and unsuccessfully put into practice
in 1765, but it was Breguet who undoubtedly brought the perpetuelle
effectively into existence. According to extant writings of
the watchmaker, Marie Antoinette and the Duc d'Orléans
each possessed such watches by 1780, no doubt inscribed, along
with the earliest examples, 'Inventé et Perfectionné
par Breguet à Paris'.
Breguet's genius was to transform the basic but inefficient
self-winding mechanism of A.L.Perrelet into a sophisticated
machine. Two barrels, connected to a platinum weight pivoted
on an edge of the backplate, were constructed into the watch
mechanism, so as to derive maximum response from every movement
of the wearer. Four turns of the barrels powered the equivalent
of 60 turns of the center wheel (less than two turns can run
the watch for a day).
It has been estimated that a mile or so of ordinary walking
will wind the perpetuelle sufficient for 60 hours' operation.
The earliest extant Breguet self-winding pocket watch dates
from October 1783, though there are records for a similar
model sold to Marie Antoinette for 4,000 francs exactly a
year previously. A special feature of these models was a fan-shaped
hand and scale ranging from zero to 60 on the dial to indicate
the number of hours' running time left to the user. Another
trademark introduced by Breguet, and universally imitated,
was the tiny circular moon on the hour and minute hands. Both
appear on Breguet watches to this day.
In the meantime Breguet financed his experiments by importing
complete watches and ébauches from Switzerland, which
were finished to his exacting artistic and mechanical standards.
These inevitably fall a little short of the extraordinary
quality of those he had custom-built for his wealthy clients.
The intellectual excitement of applying his invention to the
subtle problems of horological engineering was the breath
of life to Breguet.
The perpetualle was being manufactured in quantity by 1786,
and Breguet entered into a partnership to raise sufficient
capital to finance his expansion. His association with Xavier
Gide was of six years' duration, serving to put the business
onto a firm financial footing; it marks the beginning of his
records. Some of the perpetuelles produced at this period
feature for the first time a new Breguet invention, Le parachute
pour le balancier: shock-proof jewelling that protected the
delicate watch movement from the damaging effect of being
Many of Breguet's pocket watches were repeaters, sounding
the hours, quarters and half-quarters. More complicated versions
also registered each ten minutes, five minutes or minutes
with a cunning series of distinguishing blows, testimony to
Breguet's fascination with the solution of highly complex
horological engineering problems.
By 1793 Breguet's position as the leading Parisian watchmaker
had become increasingly perilous. The majority of his aristocratic
connections had either fled the Terror or, like Marie Antoinette,
had ended their lives as the guillotine. That August Breguet
escaped to Switzerland, where he was to remain for nearly
two years. This difficult time was nevertheless a highly creative
one. It was there that he conceived the perpetual calendar,
la montre à tact, the souscription or one-hand watch,
La pendule sympathique and, most important of all, the tourbillon
or rotating carriage watch. The patent is dated 1801 but needless
to say there was a long period in which Breguet was perfecting
La montre à tact was, like the repeater, an invention
for determining the time in the dark in the days before luminous
dials. An arrow, which could be ornamented with precious stones,
was set into the bezel and the time was ascertained relative
to touch pieces made of diamonds, pearls or other material.
Breguet's sympathetic clock was another invention which did
not survive. A specially designed watch was positioned into
a table-clock with a half-moon fork and overnight both wound
and set to the exact time registered by the clock. It was
also during this period of exile that Breguet began to use
his secret signature. The method of inscription which utilized
a small pantograph was devised by his friend the medalist
Jean-Pierre Droz. The result (the name of Breguet and the
watch's individual coding with the addition of 'Souscription'
if of that variety) is so tiny that it can only be read with
the aid of a magnifying-glass.
Breguet was not however allowed to stay away from France for
long. His talents were demanded for the reorganization of
the Versailles watchmaking center and the equipping of the
army and navy with advanced horological instruments. Both
his house and workshops were restored, and Breguet continued
to produce his marvelous watches, each taking months to complete
by a master-craftsman (a repeating watch could take up to
twelve months; two years for a perpetuelle). About four thousand
clocks and pocket watches have been manufactured between 1794
Perhaps the acme of his craft was the celebrated complex watch
known as the Marie Antoinette. Ordered in 1793 by an officer
of the guard of that unfortunate queen, it was requested that
it should include all the complications then known, regardless
of expense and time. The parts usually reserved for brass
were manufactured from gold and could be seen through the
rock crystal dial and backplate. It included the perpetuelle
winding mechanism and indicator, a time equation, perpetual
calendar with day of the week and date indicators, thermometer,
and repetition for hours, quarters and minutes. Completed
in 1820, this marvel of the 18th-century horologist's art
had cost a total of 16,484 francs and was finally kept by
the master himself, a fitting tribute to his lifetime's work.
Tragically it disappeared from sight after a break-in at the
L.A.Mayer Memorial Institute in Jerusalem, and today its whereabouts
The house of Breguet has continued producing watches to this
day, though the business passed out of the hands of a member
of the family in 1870. Exactly a century later it was owned
for a time by the Parisian jewelers Jacques and Pierre Chaumet,
who were determined to revive the flagging reputation of this
once great business. Recently Breguet changed hands again.
A workshop was set up in Le Brassus in the Swiss Vallée
de Joux staffed with watchmaking craftsmen of the highest
caliber. Each watch is traditionally made by hand, often using
the methods and tools of two centuries ago. Breguet watches
were never merely finely tuned precision instruments. They
also had to satisfy the artistic sensibilities of sophisticated
clients, a task they still manage today, in an era when the
wristwatch has all but superseded the pocket watch.
The style of the modern Breguet wristwatches echoes the pocket
watches of Breguet's best period. The dials are still engine-turned
by hand. The elegant milling on the silver-plated face is
distinctive as is that which also traditionally ornaments
the edges of the 18 carat gold watch case. Jewels are used
with taste and flair on the case, bracelet or lugs of some
examples, in contrast to some of the more vulgar displays
of modern watchmakers. Skeleton watches, whose visible movements
are set with diamonds and rubies, are a triumph of the jeweler's
The modern Breguet wristwatch - many of them extra-flat -
offers a variety of options. Indicators for the date, phases
of the moon, variable second hands, perpetual calendar with
leap year indication, are the basic mechanical possibilities,
set off by 18 carat gold woven chain bracelets or leather
straps. All bear the name Breguet and each carries its unique
production number on the dial, a homage to their inspirer
and a testament to a continuing tradition of unique craftsmanship.
Breitling exhibits each year at the world's
biggest airshow in Wisconsin; to realize why is to recognize
and understand the trading philosophy of this impressive independent
company. The Breitling watch owner is very likely to be an
active person - in outdoor sport, sailing on the world's oceans,
diving beneath them, or flying above them.
Léon Breitling first opened a workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds
in 1884, making pocket watches and chronographs. His son Gaston
initiated the production of wristwatches in 1914 to provide
for the wartime necessity for synchronized military action:
these early models incorporated a stop-watch and had a luminous
dial and hands. In 1936, Willy Breitling, Léon's grandson,
launched a chronometer for instrument panels in aircraft cockpits,
and the firm has been supplying them ever since, to customers
such as Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed.
In 1952 a logical manufacturing extension to this close association
started; this produced the famous Navitimer, a superchronograph
designed specially for pilots, and used for preparing flights,
checking flight plans and for calculating speeds and fuel
consumption. This sturdy mechanical watch is very collectable,
and is much preferred to Breitling's GMT in quartz, in different
casings, introduced in 1983. The latter, though, was a novelty
at the time, simultaneously showing the time zones; there
are two analog and one digital versions with a chronograph;
it also has two separate movements, with independent sources
of power, the value of which pilots obviously recognize.
The first Navitimer went supersonic in 1962; a 24-hour display
quartz version of it was launched with the name of Cosmonaute,
and the astronaut Scott Carpenter was in turn launched with
this watch somewhere near his wrist. For less ambitious supersonic
air-travelers, Concorde regulars and customers with international
business interests, Breitling introduced in 1970 the Breitling
GMT, a chronograph with not one, but two, hour hands (one
on a 12 hour dial and the other showing 24 hours). A year
later the company surely anticipated the needs of even the
busiest tycoon: the Breitling Unitime simultaneously shows
the time in all the countries of the world.
Breitling customers are demanding, and since Ernest Schneider
(a qualified pilot and electronic expert) acquired the company
in 1979, he has been most careful to continue its long tradition
of observing minutely the requirements of a particular market
sector. A classic wristwatch may or may not be very beautiful,
but it must always be useful - compatible with its wearer's
Breitling's quartz steel Deep Sea (1985) is such a model,
built to withstand underwater pressure at 1,000m/3,280ft (a
10 times safety factor). A gloved diver can record different
dive times with the one-direction click-stop bezel timer,
and he can read the dial at any depth (the minute hand is
much wider than the hour hand, because diving times are naturally
short). Divers at great depth often fear the battery running
out: the second hand on the Deep Sea progresses only at four-second
intervals when its battery begins to run down, thus conserving
power and alerting the wearer. This watch also has an unusual
patented feature. Helium gas can permeate anything, including
a steel watchcase; the Deep Sea would explode on arrival at
the decompression stage after a deep dive, if it was not for
the twin release valves set into the bottom of the case; they
open fractionally for a few thousands of a second to release
accumulated helium, without letting water in.
A watch than can save lives? The Breitling Emergency can,
and James Bond fans and other adventurers will greatly approve.
The prototype of this amazing watch was introduced at the
Basle Fair in 1988, but Ernest Schneider, ever conscious of
his alpine military experience, was determined to perfect
the piece in terms of battery life, and full production has
been slightly delayed. Essentially, the lower part of the
case contains a miniature transmitter with an activating antenna,
which has a range of between 3 miles and 12 miles, depending
on the nature of the surrounding terrain. Its unmodulated
AM signal will transmit at two pulses per second, uninterrupted,
for between 20 and 28 days, at temperatures between -20°C/-4°F
and +100°C/+212°F. The transmitter, which is watertight
and works underwater, can be switched on manually, or automatically
when the antenna is extended. Additional features include
a highly polished watch back, engraved with international
air/ground symbols, which can be used as a sunlight reflector,
tritium dial and hands for increased legibility, and a silicone
rubber bracelet with clever parallel halves, that can be used
for map reading.
Remove the letter I from Cartier, and a very
ordinary English surname remains; replace the I, and once
again you have an instantly recognizable synonym for an object
of beauty. Cartier is one of the most famous brand names in
the luxury goods market of the world; venerable, respected,
admired, hugely stylish, expensive, exclusive, exciting -
it possesses all these attributes and many more. How strange
then that Cartier has also produced what is perhaps the most
famous wristwatch ever manufactured - and also in great numbers,
at a comparatively low retail price, and with an apparently
simple dial and case design, black and white and all squared
off. It is known as the tank watch and, due to its worldwide
reputation, it is probably the most faked wristwatch. The
tank made its first appearance in 1917, but the history of
Cartier's association with the design, manufacture and retailing
of wristwatches goes back to the last century and to the fabulous
traditions of Cartier's jewelry.
It is on record that in 1888 Cartier had for sale ladies'
wristwatches, with diamond and gold bracelets; these were
probably the earliest fashion wristwatches manufactured for
general sale, instead of being specifically ordered by a customer
beforehand. It seems that they did not appeal to the passing
public; a few more were made in 1892 and 1894 and took several
years to sell. In fact, however, two events were occurring
at this time which, in wristwatch-making terms, were momentous.
First the military one: as early as 1880 Girard-Perregaux
supplied a sturdy utilitarian wristwatch to officers of the
Imperial Austrian Navy; it is known that in Germany in 1902
no less than 93,000 wristwatches were sold. Now for the second
event - this was the year when the dictates of fashion no
longer required the grandly dressed ladies of society to wear
long sleeves or the previously obligatory long gloves at soirées.
The coincidence of the needs of the military and the suddenly
available feminine wrist led the old established firm of Cartier
to ally the watchform to the bracelet. Cartier's earlier watches
are heavily jeweled, definitely feminine, most beautifully
designed, and expensive.
More than this, Cartier, as a company, had just hit a pivotal
point. The first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896; local,
national and international sports activities were increasing
at the turn of the century; motor cars were speeding along
newly paved roads; the ultimate in trans-Atlantic liners were
under construction; canals, dams, tunnels and bridges were
being planned; and early flying machines were taking to the
air. Outdoor life was becoming more practical, more generally
shared, more fun. In the skies over Paris in the middle of
the dizzy first decade of the 20th century, one man was thrilling
crowds below, while he demonstrated that all these changes
had occurred. He was a balloonist and an early aviator, and
his name was Alberto Santos-Dumont (1873-1932). This fearless
and wealthy Brazilian (Santos is the leading coffee port in
the world, south of Rio de Janeiro) had a talented and wealthy
friend, whose name was Louis-François Cartier. Stories
of meetings of men and their subsequent collaborations are
a happy and constant feature of this book; the Dumont-Cartier
friendship was to bring about a pivotal event in the history
Louis-François Cartier clearly had vision, leadership
and the essential added quality of perception. When his friend
Alberto Santos-Dumont asked him to produce a watch to attach
to his wrist, instead of to a chain, he immediately foresaw
the eventual market for such a convenient object. His balloonist
friend in his basket would have both hands free to manipulate
the controls, and it should, for this elegant man, be a handsome
and well designed object as well, but not at all feminine.
By 1904 the first Santos-Dumont was made, either for pendants
or wrists, in a wide variety of beautiful designs, often heavily
jeweled. In 1910 Cartier invented the deployant buckle. In
1911 a Santos wristwatch went on general sale, and it has
remained available ever since: its bezel is square, but with
rounded corners, it has eight holding screws, and its simplicity
is unmistakably classic. The golden years of mechanical wristwatches
had now begun; they were to end with the Second World War.
In 1912 Cartier brought out two more memorable designs - the
oval Baignoire (French for bath or bath tub), with a rounded
or rolled bezel, just like a bath edge of the period, and
the Tortue (tortoise, the shell of which is recalled in the
watch shape). These watches, together with the Tonneau (1906;
French for barrel or cask), are all still sold, with variations
and only slight modifications. So, too, is the most famous
Cartier wristwatch of all - the tank. Louis-Joseph Cartier
had the inspiration for this design in 1917, which he derived
from the appearance of a First World War army tank with its
twin tracks longer than the body of the vehicle between them;
the tank watch went on sale in 1919 and has been sold (and
illegally copied) ever since.
The next great watch to come from Cartier was the Pasha (1932);
this was the world's first luxury water-resistant wristwatch
(the Rolex Oyster was already on the market in an inexpensive
model), and it was initially designed for the Pasha of Marrakesh,
so that he would know when to get out of his swimming pool.
A year later came the Vendôme, inspired by Cartier's
observation (with Ernest Hemingway, it is said) of a horse's
harness and shaft attachments with distinctive single lugs,
in Paris's Place Vendôme. The stirrup-shaped Calandre,
with double lugs below and a simple one above, was another
beautiful design innovation.
Cartier maintain records of every watch they have ever sold,
which means that all collectors can establish the provenance
of their watches. Cartier ébauches have been supplied
over the years by many of the great makers and are so marked.
The European Watch and Clock Co. of New York supplied many
beautiful cases for Cartier, and also acted as their importers
from 1919 to the mid-1950s; EWC can be found on cases. Today,
the wristwatch catalogues of Cartier and Must de Cartier feature
all the old names and shapes, but in the modern clothes and
decorations; they are worthy inheritors of some of the richest
watchmaking traditions that exist. They also look ahead to
new generations of customers, and several exciting entirely
new models are at the design stage.
The full trading name of this glamorous company
is Le Petit-Fils de L.U.Chopard & Cie SA, but the Scheufele
family, who now own it, must feel like true inheritors. Louis-Ulysse
Chopard, himself a member of a distinguished watchmaking family,
founded the firm in the town of Sonvillier, in the Swiss Jura
mountains, in 1860, and in the early days he was a major supplier
of pocket watches to the Swiss railways. Business expanded,
and in 1920 the company moved to Geneva.
The founder's grandson, Paul-André Chopard, started
to think of retirement in the early 1960s; he had heirs who
were not interested in the business, and in 1963, he sold
his firm to Karl Scheufele Sr. The Scheufele family had been
involved in jewelry and watchmaking for one generation longer,
in West Germany's Black Forest region, at Pforzheim, which
had long been (and continues to be) a center of technical
watchmaking excellence. The company of 12 employees started
to expand again, and in 1968, the year of Paul-André
Chopard's death, it was moved to Servette in north-west Geneva.
In 1972, it moved again to its present modern factory in nearby
Meyrin. Today, the firm of Chopard is once again a fully-fledged
family company. Karl Scheufele Sr heads it, his wife, Karin,
looks after the Pforzheim end, their son Karl-Friedrich is
Vice-President, and their daughter, Caroline, maintains client
contacts, services and promotional services (she also features
attractively in some of the brochures).
The point of this brief two-family outline is to highlight
one more set of historical reasons for a company's profile
and image. Chopard today is an outward-looking company with
a vibrant feel, a long tradition of jewelry manufacturing,
making fresh products of wide appeal at the top ends of different
luxury markets; those markets like precious stones on their
wristwatches. A typical Chopard wristwatch is Happy Diamonds,
incorporating, between the bezel and the dial, loose gold-hooped
diamonds which move with the wearer's wrist motion. The patented
Happy Diamonds concept was the creation of Roland Kurowski
in 1976 and there is now a very wide range of wristwatches
available, many of them with matching cuff-links, brooches,
pendants, rings and earrings. These are the jewelry watches,
mostly for the ladies' market, which clearly likes the range
of choice, their gleaming originality, and the idea of diamonds
softly rattling around on the wrist holds a unique attraction.
The most expensive, Solitaire, retails at about $192,100.
The 1980s have seen a succession of new Chopard wristwatches,
all of which demonstrate the glamour and vigor of the company's
approach to different markets. Like many watch manufacturers
during this decade. Chopard has strongly identified individual
ranges with particular sporting events and venues. In 1980
came the St. Moritz, their first sports watch, which has four
distinctive sets of twin screws around the bezel. The Gstaad
collection (1986) was followed, in 1988, by the handsome Mille
Miglia watch; this commemorates the re-starting of the world-famous
Mille Miglia, the road sports-car race held from 1927 to 1957.
In 1987, 292 of some of the greatest sports-cars ever made
once again raced the 1,000 miles from Brescia to Rome and
back. The Mille Miglia naturally incorporates a tachometer,
luminous baton numerals and hands on a plain white-dial, an
18 carat gold or stainless steel water-resistant case (to30m/100ft),
and a non-reflecting, shockproof, scratchproof sapphire glass.
The annual watch output at Chopard runs at about 20,000; 70
per cent of these have quartz movements and the rest are mechanicals.
One can visualize more mechanicals coming from the Scheufele
family in the near future, as their lines of contemporary
classics increase and as they look again at the possibility
of expanding the handsome classic ellipticals.
1955 is unfashionably recent for the foundation
of a classic watchmaking company, but there is no doubt that
Corum has established, in a few years, a wide reputation for
highly imaginative and innovative wristwatches. The adjectives
apply to Corum's designs: these are sophisticated, fresh and
thoroughly considered. Design-led they may be, but technically
they are often highly competent, as in, for example, the Golden
Bridge (1980). The comparative youth of the company and its
management should in no sense distract the attention of wearers,
collectors and investors from the virtues of Corum wristwatches.
The name derives from the Latin word 'quorum', which means
the minimum number of people required (according to the relevant
rules) at a meeting to validate a vote. The classic calligraphy
of the word 'Corum' on the dials of the company's watches
was inspired by a chiseled Latin script, and the logo of the
equilateral golden key (facing upwards instead of left or
right in search of a lock) was designed by René Bannwart
as 'the key to perfect time'. Bannwart, and his cousin Simone
Ries, started their company with her father Gaston, who had
been operating a small watch factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds
since 1924. To this day the firm of Corum Ries, Bannwart &
Co remains a family concern in the same valley; each watch
in its small output is assembled and crafted by hand, and
carries its own unique serial number and certificate. For
collectors who care for pedigree, here are some Corum watches
to look out for from their range of 100 models.
The Chinese Hat (1960) has an exotic gold headdress surrounding
the bezel; it has an elegant simplicity and is wholly unusual.
The Longchamp (1957) also has a gold surround, a flat pitted
disk in which the crown is imbedded; the winding finger is
rolled over it. This watch set a trend with the placing of
its lugs beneath the case, so that the watch appears just
to sit atop the bracelet. The bracelet also goes through the
bottom of the famous Golden Tube (1957), in which the movement
is inserted in a horizontal tube, with the crown at the top;
a tassel is sometimes found in the normal right-hand side
crown position. The simple outsize Buckingham (1965), with
its ten distinctive horizontal baton numbers, is a timely
reminder of the bulk of early automatic movements.
The notion of a coin converted into a watch may not seem attractive,
but Corum believed that an ultra-thin movement inserted between
the faces of a gold coin might find a market as a wristwatch.
The firm was correct in its guess, because it was wise enough
to look back to the days of the 1870s Californian gold rush.
It selected the Double Eagle, a $20 gold coin, which was officially
approved by Congress on March 4, 1849, and decided that the
dial side should be the reverse of this famous coin, showing
the American coat-of-arms, supported by the bald eagle and
surmounted by a scroll with the motto 'In God We Trust'. Only
the thin black hands 'interrupt' this handsome and historic
coin, and today collectors appreciate early versions of the
quartz Coin Watch (1977), in which only the hands pierce an
authentic Union Bank of Switzerland ingot of 99.99 per cent
pure gold, weighing (in various models) up to 15 grams (also
available in platinum). Each ingot is numbered and accompanied
by an official certificate from the Swiss assay office, confirming
its gold content.
Corum's Romulus (1966), named after Rome's legendary founder
and first king, was the first wristwatch to have the hours
hand-engraved on the bezel: a typically fresh innovation which
has been imitated widely ever since by other manufacturers.
This ultra-thin quartz watch is water-resistant and comes
in a number of different metals.
The positioning of Corum's name and its immediately identifiable
logo are the only slight blemishes on the remarkable appearance
of the Golden Bridge (1980), surely a future classic mechanical.
The wheels are assembled in a straight line, beneath a vertical,
jeweled 18 carat gold bridge; the clear white sapphire glass
is faceted, which adds a depth and mystery to the movement.
Finally, there are two major ranges with distinctive dials
to look out for from this highly original low-quantity manufacturer.
The quartz Admiral's Cup (1982) is a marketing triumph, and
(produced as it is with official permission from the Royal
Ocean Racing Club, London) commemorates the famous Admiral's
Cup yachting race off Cowes, in the Isle of Wight, every two
years. Within its twelve-sided case, the dial features coloured
miniatures of the flags of the international maritime code,
which is used for visual signals between boats; naturally
it is water-resistant. The second notable dial is on the Météorite
range (1987/88); some of the watches feature slices of one
of the larger meteorites ever to fall to earth. Corum bought
enough of the 34-ton 'Cape York' (in Greenland) to make only
999 dials, and no two can be the same. This variable range,
showing a material more rare than gold, will one day be collectors'
Definitions of classic wristwatches are elsewhere
in this publication. Notice should also be taken of the words
of Alfred Dunhill, founder of the now widely diversified luxury
goods manufacturers and retailers bearing his name: 'It must
be useful. It must work dependably. It must be beautiful.
It must last. It must be the best of its kind.' Certainly
his definitions of his early products ring down the years
and apply equally today to the Dunhill range of wristwatches.
From the very beginning, in 1907, the Dunhill operation has
been a commercially-successful exercise in marketing to gentlemen
of taste, excellent design in luxury goods. Alfred Dunhill's
first shop was located in London's St. James's, then, as now,
the heart of clubland. Clocks and watches first arrived in
his windows in 1926; the Unique lighter, which incorporated
a watch in its side, is a collector's item. Two years later,
with shops by now in Paris and New York as well, came the
ingenious Belt watch. This was incorporated in the clasp of
a trouser belt; a gentle touch on the crown pushed the mechanism
downwards slightly, enabling it to spring open and discreetly
reveal the time of the day to its downward-looking wearer.
In 1929, Dunhill launched its first wristwatch; its plain
rectangular appearance reflected the influence of the basic
requirements of the First World War, but a closer look revealed
the exotic, almost digital, black, Arabic numerals (the hourglass
figure eight, for example). Its gold case was visibly and
serially numbered on the front lower side. In the 1930s came
a succession of fine gentlemen's wristwatches, featuring early
luminous dials, their first chronograph, and the wonderfully
original ball-race watch.
Dunhill wristwatches began their trend toward today's ranges
in the 1960s, with 18 carat gold cases, and sometimes with
special features, such as alarms or date calendars. Then came
the round, distinctive Vermeil (1975), displaying the now
familiar company logo on its gold machined dial, large roman
numerals and stark black baton hands, and a crown with cabochon
terminal. The single flat lugs of the Vermeil were carried
over to Dunhill's quartz Millennium range (30 different styles),
which was launched in 1982. This range has been highly successful
and is another masterpiece of Swiss engineering, based on
Dunhill's own London designs and specific requirements. It
offers a choice of three sizes, round or square dials, baton,
roman or diamond numerals, and various dial finishes. Dunhill
have achieved a range of future classic with the Millenium;
its designers have done so by laying down a number of interesting
rules: baton sweep second hands only, no subsidiary dials
(except on the recent Multifunction and Chronograph), no Arabic
numerals, date calendar at 6 o'clock (except on model DQ 1728),
a distinctive gold bezel within the case (which survives on
the Sports models), broad single lugs, protected crowns and
sapphire glass for maximum protection.
The 1986 Elite range of slim wristwatches basically adheres
to the same rules, but they have ratchet lugs with more elaborate
bracelets, and their dials and bezels have diamonds on some
models. Among Dunhill's acclaimed Dress Watches, the 18 carat
gold gentlemen's model DQ 1855 is coolly distinctive; to borrow
an expression from a good wine merchant, it is a good watch
to lay down. There are five dial finishes to choose from,
the cabochon is a blue sapphire, the numerals are in bold
roman for quick reference and the hands are black batons.
Collectors and investors should take a close look at the Limited
Edition Dress Watch; it features an automatic movement which
is visible from the back, behind special sapphire glass. The
18 carat white gold rotor can be engraved with the customer's
initials: a wonderful possession, and truly in accord with
Alfred Dunhill's original dictum.
Ebel is a modern success story par excellence,
for the meteoric success of the Ebel range of watches over
the last decade is a rags-to-riches story in the best fairy
tale tradition. The hero of the story is Pierre-Alain Blum,
grandson of the original founder, who has succeeded in turning
around a declining firm to create a multi-million-dollar business
in a little over a decade.
Blum typifies the new breed of businessman who believes in
a dynamic and innovative approach to marketing. This may not
endear him to the more traditional members of the watchmaking
fraternity, but Blum has had to cover much ground in a very
short time. No one can deny the effectiveness of his approach.
By 1984 Ebel's turnover had multiplied 40 times in a decade
and the workforce increased from 55 to 550 full-time employees.
Ebel now holds the number three position in the luxury watches
market and its ambition is to better this.
A five-year stint in Lucian Picard's watch shop in New York
during his early twenties had taught Blum the value of aggressive
marketing and meticulous attention to detail. When he returned
to La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1972, it was in time to prevent his
father fulfilling his threat to liquidate the 60-year-old
family concern. A difficult partnership terminated when his
father retired after an accident. Two years later Pierre-Alain
Blum had bought out his father and become sole shareholder
with absolute control.
Luck was on his side. The company, since its inception, had
survived as a watch assembler, only rarely putting its name
to the finished product. However, in 1972 Ebel had managed
to secure a valuable watch manufacturing contract for the
new Cartier 'Must' range at a time when other companies were
suffering in the recession caused by the arrival of quartz
movements. Precious time and money were gained to invest in
an exclusive range of wristwatches carefully designed to appeal
to the post-war generation: young, successful and upwardly
Blum was ruthless, replacing old-style management with a motivated
and innovative marketing approach. By 1977 the first Ebel
watch was on the market. Designed by Edy Schoepfer, the Sports
line bears all the hallmarks of the Ebel image - a watch geared
to the modern consumer who expects technologically high performance
and durability without forgoing the refinements of aesthetics
or conspicuous luxury.
In 1985 Ebel felt confident enough to launch the Beluga range.
This designer watch is geared for the luxury end of the market,
each example crafted from 18 carat gold, two of the models
echoing the semi and perpetual calendar modes of the Sports
The image of the durable Sports watch has been given a high-profile
sponsorship coverage, an innovatory concept for the watch
industry. The world's top snooker champions, Dennis Taylor
and Steve Davis, both sport Ebel watches, and so do Formula
One driver Nikki Lauda, Three-Day Event Olympic Medalist Virginia
Leng and world champion tennis player Stefan Edberg. Sponsorship
has extended into the realm of culture with the involvement
of such luminaries as conductor Leonard Bernstein.
As with the Beluga line, the straps, bracelets, clasps, dials
and bezels are interchangeable, with two or four different
sizes for men and women. The basic stainless steel Sports
model is distinguished by its two-piece case, the movement
held in by the bezel and five very small screws with the recessed
setting crown balancing the screw set by the nine hour mark.
The white dial has black roman numerals and option date and
seconds functions. The curve of the watch case is cunningly
echoed in the interlinked 'wave' bracelet, an Ebel trademark,
consisting of more than 190 different hand-assembled parts.
Those with more expensive taste can choose to have their watch
face incrusted with a ring of tiny diamonds and the dial display
similarly enhanced. 18 carat gold or a combination of steel
and gold for both watch and strap, available also in leather,
are additional options.
The special feature of both the Beluga and Sports lines is
their water resistance, all models guaranteed to 30 metres
(100 feet) except the Sports Discovery which is resistant
to 200 meters (660 feet) when locked (unlocked this is reduced
to 50 meters), and their ability to cope with the hazards
of an active life. Stringent quality tests are performed for
an entire week, after assembly; they begin by testing the
watch in a water-filled cason with the pressure raised to
three atmospheres (100 feet), subsequently drying it for 10
minutes at 60 degrees centigrade. The constant movement a
watch experiences is tested by the movement simulators, while
resistance to corrosion and natural wear and tear is monitored
in a similar laboratory environment. The watch is subjected
not only to a salt-laden mist to check how much it can resist
corrosion, it is also vibrated for two hours and then driven
through a layer of sand and gravel 60 times to test its ability
to withstand scratches and blow. The bracelet's flexibility
is also put under pressure by mechanical twisting and vigorous
pulling, to determine potential breaking points.
Such tight quality control is a hallmark of the company, which
has its own separate workshops for the manufacture of movements,
cases and bracelets and final assembly. The wristwatches are
either run on an integrated circuit with a trimmer regulatory
device or a high frequency chronograph movement with an equivalent
error margin of one centimeter in 300 meters.
The Discovery was made with the diver in mind. Quartz versions
have an end-of-battery indicator - the second hand moves in
four-second time jumps. Each five-minute marker as well as
the second hand is highlighted with a fluorescent point to
ensure perfect visibility in total darkness. The one-way ratcheted
rotational bezel, always colour coordinated with the dial
is a precision instrument for pre-setting diving times.
A particularly interesting addition to both the Sports and
Beluga lines that well prove to become a collectors' item
is the perpetual calendar chronograph. A stopwatch function
that can record elapsed time from hours to a tenth of a second
is combined with an accurate reading of the day of week, the
date, month and phases of the moon, without forgetting leap
years, all backed up by a power reserve of 48 hours. An advance
on this type of complex micromechanics is the recently launched
Pierre-Alain Blum does not intend to extend the range, preferring
to maintain its exclusivity. He is keen to emphasize that,
though the business uses up-to-the-minute technology, there
are still areas in which manual labour is unbeatable.
In 1986 the self-styled Architects of Time celebrated their
75th anniversary with the launching of the 1911, a more sophisticated
version of the Sports watch with a three-piece case and domed
sapphire crystal (a difficult technical achievement). The
company, despite its international profile, is still based
where it began in the Swiss watch manufacturing heartland
of La Chaux-de-Fonds. A measure of how far Eugène Blum's
small company has come in the intervening years was his grandson's
purchases and renovation of the Le Corbusier-designed villa
La Turque, inaugurated in 1987 as Ebel's public relations
headquarters. It is an impressive monument to Pierre-Alain
Blum's extraordinary success story.
The name of Georg Jensen has been synonymous
with the best and most innovative in Scandinavian silver design
since its inception in 1904. Just 20 years ago the company,
now owned by Royal Copenhagen of Denmark, went one step further.
Today Georg Jensen is still unique as being the only silversmith
in the world to produce its own range of wristwatches, all
of which have Swiss ETA quartz movements.
The original George Jensen (1866-1935) was an artist whose
fascination and affinity with his craft resulted in the creation
of outstandingly classic silverware. In the years prior to
the First World War had gained an international reputation
as one of the important figures of the Arts and Crafts movement.
His designs betray a remarkable sensitivity to form while
the celebrated, almost matt-hammered finish became an international
hallmark of the Jensen style.
'Silver', he wrote lovingly, 'has such a beautiful moonlight
gleam, like the light of a Danish summer night. Silver can
be dusky, and condensation can make it cloudy like a ground
mist.' This remarkable man did not live to see the highly
successful launch of the first Jensen wristwatch in 1968 in
response to an increasing demand for watches that would complement
the attractive elegance of Jensen silver jewelry. Designed
by Vivianna Torun Bülow-Hübe, Sweden's first woman
silversmith, the no. 326 watch rapidly became a byword in
classic design. The organically curved open integral bracelet,
manually shaped in stainless steel, terminates in a T-bar
to facilitate removal from or replacement on the wrist. The
crown is stylishly set at an angle for accessibility, while
the plain mirror-like dial is a masterpiece of refined understatement.
Later matt black versions (which like the steel variety are
manufactured in four sizes, extra small, small, medium and
large to suit every taste) strikingly sport gold hour and
minute hands or glassy plain black hands set off by a gold
central pivot. In 1975 Torun Bülow-Hübe, already
a worldwide name with an impressive customer list that included
Picasso, Ingrid Bergman, Duke Ellington and Brigitte Bardot,
had the satisfaction of seeing this design bought for their
permanent collection of the Bergen Museum, Norway. Nine years
later the same watch was included in the design collection
of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, a testimony to its
Georg Jensen has maintained its primacy in the world of silver
by being open to new ideas. Since the death of the master,
modern designers with widely differing artistic personalities
and backgrounds have contributed their skills while still
maintaining the traditional Jensen emphasis on outstanding
workmanship and the highest quality.
Although stainless steel is the predominant metal used in
Jensen wristwatches, many parts of the watches are handmade,
while the steel is treated and burnished with all the skill
and care that is lavished on Jensen silverware. After all
it has to complement top designer jewelry from Georg Jensen
Sculptor Henning Koppel was responsible for the design of
another stainless steel classic in 1977, the no. 321 watch,
which as well as being bought by the Danish State Foundation
in 1980 has also found itself a niche in the design collection
of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Koppel broke with the traditional method of numbered marking
of time divisions (a numbered series in this model, marked
up with roman numerals, is also marketed for those with more
traditional tastes). Instead, the white dial is divided into
minutes by delicately contrasting black minute dots and hands
surrounded by an elegantly ridged steel bezel set off by a
simple black face and contrasting hands and dial markings,
in matt black with a white dial and black dots and hands and
matt black with black face and white dial markings and hands.
A smaller version of each variety, the no. 320, also exists,
which, owing to the proportions of dial to strap, is less
impressive. As if aware of this, Koppel has launched a giant
steel model with a diameter of 38mm - only for the big boys.
An 18 carat gold version of his masterpiece at four times
the price was introduced in 1989. This boasts a sapphire glass
on a tooled brown leather strap and comes in the traditional
In 1985 the combined talents of architects Torsten Thorup
and Claus Bonderup were responsible for the introduction of
watch no. 347, another designer classic. Both the flat case
and the woven strap are made of steel, polished to a semi-matt
perfection with diamond dust. The rounded bezel contrasts
with the square cut of the strap clasp and the watch lugs
while a sense of solidity is balanced by the delicacy of the
strapwork, the tiny dial markings and simple steel hands.
Only two years later the duo launched a further more exclusive
version of the 347 in 14 carat gold on a lizard-like strap
with matching gold dial and hands. A sporty version of the
new 1347 in anthracite grey was also introduced, with a choice
of a matching linked grey steel or leather strap.
A third architect, Jørgen Møller, is responsible
for the latest Jensen model, which clearly owes much to the
321. The 351 includes two novelties, a date function and a
sweep second hand. The date function on the left is balanced
by the maker's name on the right, where it also remains for
those versions that do not include this refinement. There
are two sizes for each model, which is produced in steel and
matt black with contrasting dials and seconds dots.
Gerald Genta is one of the most exotic makers
of wristwatches in the world today - and yet he is also one
of the most respected for his craftsmanship and technical
skill. This combination is rare indeed, and, because his output
is only about 5,000 watches a year, they are highly collectable,
as their occasional successful appearance in the saleroom
Genta's original designs illustrate perfectly the traditional
link between the twin arts of the jeweler and the watchmaker,
which remain right through to the retailing stage. It is no
surprise to learn that he initially trained in Geneva (from
the age of 15) for four years as a jeweler. After that he
might well have remained out of view as one more person now
competent in his craft. However, he then worked first in advertising
and, almost unbelievably, in the haute couture business; this
must have taught the young Gerald Genta something of the unusual
demands of personal vanity, in the waspish and demanding world
of fashion. Gradually his attention was drawn to the one luxury
fashion accessory that moves all by itself.
During the following 20 years Gerald Genta designed wristwatches
for most of the leading manufacturers described in this book;
he was responsible for models such as the Bulgari, the Royal
Oak (Audemars Piguet), the Nautilus (Patek Philippe) and the
Titiane (Omega). By 1972 the time had come for him to strike
out on his own account - to see his own name on dials of watches
which he had designed. He bought factories in Geneva (for
cases, dials and clasps) and in Le Brassus (for the movements),
painted them pink, and started to assemble teams of outstanding
craftsmen. A master Cabinotier Genevois was commencing work,
and soon masterpieces began to appear. Some of them will never
appeal to purist wristwatch buffs, but as brilliant fusions
of those twin arts they have timeless appeal for many others.
Genta wristwatches may have quartz, mechanical or automatic
movements, chosen precisely and with economics in mind: thus
his perpetual calendars with moonphases offer choices of each,
and come with varying dials and cases. A distinctive feature
of some of his ranges is his use of the octagonal shape for
the bezel, but with the line of each side very slightly curved,
softened in a sense: it is (for reasons of good luck) particularly
appealing to Asian markets, but also to sensitive eyes everywhere
else. Purists should note that Genta has, in this shape, an
automatic watch with a gold and steel bezel, a plain white
dial, with baton numerals and hands and date indicator (at
three o'clock). He has another automatic version in a round
shape, made of gold, with black roman numerals, gold baton
hands and sweep second hand, and date indicator at six o'clock;
a different and gorgeous slightly mottled dial is also available.
Collectors of skeletals should know that Gerald Genta has
an elegant example (with black baton hands and crocodile strap)
in his catalogue; years ago he designed a famous skeletal
Grande Sonnerie pocket watch of great beauty and dazzling
complication, and also minute repeaters; his children's department
includes some expensive and delightful watches featuring Mickey
Mouse and Minnie Mouse.
Gerald Genta is the only important watchmaker today who both
manages his company and designs all its products. He has tremendous
flexibility in his design concepts and established ranges;
there is a definite high seriousness in the appearance of
each model design which proclaims the distinct possibility
(if there is no name on the dial) that it might be a Gerald
Genta wristwatch. His Gold and Gold, Secret Time, Gefica Safari
(with its compass on the clasp) and gentlemen's dress watches
all possess that rare quality called style. And then there
are his jeweled wristwatches. If the Duchess of Windsor was
alive and in her collecting heyday, she would certainly be
acquiring animal watches from the Menagerie collection: they
are as captivating as any Cartier model. Genta's L'Esprit
de Genève range of watches, each with a large semi-precious
stone as a dial showing only gold hands and with jeweled bezels
and bracelets, are certainly exotic; they are made in very
small numbers indeed.
Collectors should note that all Gerald Genta wristwatches
are numbered, starting at number one, with the exception of
the minute repeaters, which have their own special series.
The place of this maker in horological history
is secure, for it was in 1880 that Constant Girard designed
and produced the very first production wristwatch. It was
intended for officers in the German navy and its dial was
protected with a four-by-four metal grille; not beautiful,
but practical and, above all, new. If a genuine 'first' is
a classic, then this watch has a welcome and special place
in any collection.
Ultra-thin wristwatches have always been widely popular, and
collectors know that it was actually the founder of Girard-Perregaux
(in 1791), J.-F.Bautte, who produced in numbers the first
ultra-thin or extra-flat watches. Innovative flair quickly
became the firm's outstanding tradition. In the early 1850s
the company that was to become Girard-Perregaux (in 1856)
designed the extraordinary pocket watch now known as the Tourbillon
With Three Golden Bridges; it incorporates the tourbillon
invented by the master Swiss-born watchmaker Abraham-Louis
Breguet (1747-1823), and won a gold medal at the 1855 World
Fair in Paris, where Breguet himself had settled and worked.
This outstanding pocket watch re-appeared in 1982 as an exact
replica of the original, after years of planning the necessary
're-invention' of the movement.
In 1966 Girard-Perregaux produced the first high-frequency
mechanical watch (36,000 vibrations per hour) and three years
later the firm developed the first quartz watch to be mass-produced;
the quartz oscillation selected (32,768 Hz) is now used as
standard in all quartz watches. Contemporary Girard-Perregaux
buyers will be familiar with the Equation range, which bids
fair to enter the 'classic' category in years to come. It
was created in 1985, and comes from a company which is the
second oldest Swiss watch manufacturer, is privately owned,
and has only 80 employees in its factory at La Chaux-de-Fonds
in the Swiss Jura. Again technical innovation is the highlight
behind the Equation range's appeal: the time standard and
its divisions are electronic quartz. The longer periods of
time are integrated and memorized by micro-mechanics: days,
seasons, normal and leap years, moonphases, equinoxes and
solstices, and periods of the signs of the zodiac (as in the
Equation Espace Perpétuelle). All the watches' functions
are easily controlled by the crown, the battery operates for
five years (whether or not the watch is worn), and, in a simple
and imaginative design stroke, the back is clear glass so
that the polished golden gear-trains on the circular brushed
plates and the unique serial number of the custom-made ébauche
are clearly visible.
TOURBILLON WITH THREE GOLD BRIDGES
Girard-Perregaux has for many years been following
a policy of re-purchasing examples of its earliest classic
watches. In the 1960s it bought back a famous watch - the
Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges. This gold hunter pocket
watch has a white enamel dial with Roman numerals, Louis XV
gold hands and a subsidiary seconds dial.
The company also decided to rebuild the 1880 tourbillon (invented
by the master watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet between 1787
and 1795), but with 1980s technology, which was all that was
available. The toolmakers and micromechanics had to work out
the necessary, century-old techniques by dissecting the original
movement, making detailed constructional drawings and recalculating
every gear ratio.
The plates and bridges for the re-invented tourbillon were
crafted in nickel silver because, like gold, the alloy does
not oxidize and did not require electroplating. The colour
of the engine-turned parts harmonize perfectly with the gold
bars holding the barrel, centre wheel and tourbillon as well
as the colour-matched gold wheels. It is difficult to imagine
the fine details of the mechanical work involved. For example,
the detent arm has a rectangular section which, at its thinner
end, is only 20 hundredths of a millimeter in height and ten
hundredths of a millimeter in breadth. The detent has a ruby
locking stone set in a hold four-tenths of a millimeter in
diameter; the hold itself has a lining which is only seven
hundredths of a millimeter thick. The chamfering of the parts
and case is of a remarkably high quality.
André Curtit, a recent Curator of the International
Museum of Horology in La Chaux-de-Fonds, has described this
watch as 'the finest piece of work I've seen so far in my
Those who remember the Ingersoll as the reliable
low-cost quality British watch may be surprised to learn that
both concept and company originated on the other side of the
Atlantic. Despite somewhat unorthodox beginnings, Ingersoll's
revolutionary success was achieved by turning a formerly crafted
and hand-finished product into a mass-produced item, sold
by an innovative and large-scale use of advertising. Both
design and marketing approach were the brainchild of Robert
Ingersoll, the son of a Michigan farmer, who had no previous
experience of watchmaking.
The story starts in 1880, by which time the 21-year-old Robert
and his younger brother Charles had moved to New York. In
a short time they started up a general mail order company,
specializing in a variety of goods uniformly priced at a dollar.
Success was sufficiently rapid, no doubt as a result of Robert's
entrepreneurial flair, that in 1892 the company felt confident
enough to risk the launch of a pocket watch at a dollar and
a half, the equivalent of a day's pay, at a time when a comparable
model cost around $15. The Universal pocket watch, consisting
of a tiny clock mechanism housed in a watch case complete
with back winder designed by Robert Ingersoll, was a gamble
that paid off with the aid of heavy advertising. As a result
the Ingersolls decided to concentrate solely on the watch
Three years later, Robert's ambition to create a dollar watch
became reality and the Yankee was born. Later advertising
puffs would talk of 'Ingersoll - the watch that made the dollar
famous'. Year-long guarantees slipped into the back of each
case were an early feature, establishing what was to become
a hallmark of the Ingersoll reputation - reliability.
Their phenomenal success encouraged R.H.Ingersoll & Brother
of New York to open up fresh markets and in January 1905,
Robert and an old friend and business associate Estée
S. Daniel sailed for Britain. It was not long before the 'Yankee'
and the 'Crown' watch priced at five shillings had cut a swathe
through the British market, spearheaded by intensive advertising
targeted at both the public and the jeweler.
The retailer received point-of-sale material, sales training
and a monthly magazine with up-to-the-minute information.
By the 1920s Ingersoll's reputation for reliability was backed
up by the addition of standard practice instructions and a
school for training assemblers and repairers.
In the meanwhile, advertising copy relied on genuine testimonials
from the general public as well as those in the public eye.
Such intense advertising was unique for the period and a basic
feature of marketing policy up until the 1970s. Ingersoll
were also one of the first companies to take advantage of
commercial television in the late 1950s.
The 1908 ladies' Midget was a prototype wristwatch. Smaller
than the previous models, it was issued with a leather strap
or holder. By 1913 lugs had been added to the watch case and
the winding crown was moved from the 12 o'clock to the 3 o'clock
position. This first wristwatch was manufactured in time to
benefit from Robert Ingersoll's origination of the luminous
radiolite dial, a feature that was found of inestimable value
to the fighting services in the First World War, particularly
in the trenches.
By the end of the war Ingersoll had expanded to own four factories
in the USA and was trading on an international scale. However,
by the mid-1920s the London branch was looking increasingly
to Europe for supplies. The Wall Street crash of 1929 severed
the already weakened link with the opening of a large factory
in Clerkenwell, London, equipped with advanced assembly processes.
In 1933 Ingersoll came up with another first, the character
watch. Contrary to popular belief, the Mickey Mouse watch
was produced before Ingersoll by Disney. It was followed up
in 1960 by Dan Dare and Jeff Arnold watches, both characters
featured in the popular boys' comic of the day, The Eagle.
A readers' competition for a suitable advertisement for the
watches was won by the young Gerald Scarfe, today a celebrated
cartoonist. Runner-up with a commendation was none other that
David Hockney, who has subsequently become one of Britain's
best-known contemporary artists.
The advent of war in 1939 meant that the company's efforts
were directed into the war effort. From watches for the services
they diversified almost totally into instrument production
which was to lead Ingersoll into high-security lock production.
The company's watch manufacture began again through an amalgamation
with Smiths and Vickers at the suggestion of Sir Stafford
Cripps, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was the strategic
necessity of a homebased watchmaking industry. In 1948 an
Ingersoll factory was set up in Ruislip, north-west London,
and the busiest period of the British company's history began.
By 1955, exactly half a century after Robert Ingersoll had
arrived on British shores, production averaged a million watches
a year, most being sold for under $9, though more luxury jeweled
watches had been imported as early as 1925. A ladies' watch
with seven jewels sold for just under $7 while a five-jeweled
men's watch was marketed at just over half that price. Five
years later the company could boast more than 100 different
models, which included the enormously popular boys' and girls'
watch range, waterproof and specially designed varieties.
After the Second World War, during which time a number of
Ingersoll's own outlets were bombed, the sale of Ingersoll
watches was restricted to jewelers only, which could but enhance
the product's reputation for reliability and the jeweler's
brand loyalty. But with the quartz revolution all this was
The 1970s saw the influx of quartz watches onto the market.
Ingersoll fell behind at this time, finding the competition
uneconomical until the appearance of sophisticated microelectronics.
The company, by this stage a small conglomerate with cutlery,
electonics, printing, travel and merchandizing interests,
was in its turn taken over by the Heron Corporation and lost
Fierce competition, lack of investment in advertising and
the breakdown of the traditional relationship with the local
jeweler network reduced Ingersoll's once impressive position.
Today the company is handled by Steven Strauss & Co Ltd,
who are rejuvenating the company, and it is fortunate that
the assiduous and committed approach to marketing initiated
by Robert Ingersoll and his successors has resulted in a legacy
of goodwill and a reputation that endures to this day.
INTERNATIONAL WATCH COMPANY
The plain but ambitious name of this famous
maker was dreamed up by an American, who most fortunately
decided against using his own - Florentine Ariosto Jones!
The new watchmaking business he set up in 1869 was located
in Schaffhausen on the banks of the Rhine in German-speaking
north-east Switzerland. Jones's inspiration for such a grandiloquent
name is interesting to trace, and it led indirectly to a handsome
annual income for a Dr Carl Gustav Jung.
F.A.Jones (1841-1916) had worked until 1867 for the Howard
Watch and Clock Co., which had built its movement-making factory
in 1857 in Roxbury (now part of Boston), Massachusetts. It
was the first of its kind in America. At that time watchmaking
in the USA was becoming a boom industry; the pioneer of mechanized
watch production was Aaron Lufkin Dennison (1812-1895), who
is sometimes called 'the Father of the American watch industry'.
Dennison had moved to Switzerland in 1865, the first full
year that peace returned to the USA after the trauma of the
Civil War - paradoxically just before some of the most famous
early US watch manufacturing companies were created. The American
Watch Co., Waltham, Massachusetts (1859-1885), which became
American Waltham Co. (1885-1921), was intimately associated
with A.L.Dennison; it spawned associate and successor companies,
such as Tremond Watch Co., Melrose, Massachusetts (1866-1868);
The National Watch Co., Chicago, Illinois (1864-1874), which
became the Elgin National Watch Co., Elgin, Illinois (1874-1954,
and the name is still used today). The spirit of the age was
one of innovation and expansion, with the three leading companies
(Waltham, Howard and Elgin) together producing more than 100,000
watches in 1868.
In 1865 a simple event took place, which turned out to be
crucial to the foundation of the International Watch Company.
The pioneering A.L.Dennison moved to Zurich, to set up a branch
of Melrose Watch Co., in order to take advantage of lower
wage rates and local expertise. Dennison had previously traveled
around Europe and was confident enough to emigrate with his
whole family, but, despite his great experience and contacts,
the firm failed in 1868. In January 1869 F.A.Jones made his
decision to move to Switzerland, to take advantage of his
friendship with Dennison, and accept an offer of inexpensive
premises in Schaffhausen from Johann Heinrich Moser (1805-1874),
a watch and clock maker, whose hydro-power station on the
fast-flowing Rhine and the cheap power it offered for orderly
mechanized watch production greatly appealed to him. He took
with him an old watchmaking friend, Charles Kidder, with whom
he had worked for three years previously. At about the same
time, Jones had noticed the foundation of the Illinois Springfield
Watch Co., Springfield, Illinois, and he reckoned that his
plan to export watches from the old world to these fledgling
companies in the new world made business sense and fully justified
the market-embracing name he invented for his new company.
Unfortunately, almost from the start, the new enterprise was
not successful. IWC used brand names, such as Stuyvesant,
on its watches, to find US markets, but Americans preferred
own-country models; in 1864 the US government put a prohibitive
24 per cent import duty on complete watches; the initial investment
in inexpensive Swiss labour began to fail, and Jones never
made the 'break-even' number of complete watches, in spite
of A.L.Dennison's presence in the background and all his advice.
Within two years F.A.Jones urgently required fresh capital,
and late in 1873 he set about promoting yet another joint
stock company with new investors: the initial annual watch
production was to be 10,000 units, enough to enable the company
to make profits. A new factory building was commissioned,
whilst problems with the supposedly inexpensive hydro-power
to be supplied by J.H.Moser were being slowly sorted out.
The economic scene had been shaken by the 1873 stock market
and banks crashes in Vienna; America (his only planned market)
was not taking the anticipated number of watches that Jones
forecast in his financial prospectus, and the factory site
and construction costs had been wildly underestimated. His
co-directors gradually lost confidence in his managerial abilities,
and in December 1875, just before the dawn of the age of the
wristwatch, the International Watch Company was put into the
hands of a receiver.
The special relationship with the watch industry in America
was not, however, yet at an end. The company was bought from
the receiver by a local banking consortium in order to save
it from falling into foreign hands (still a feature of business
life in Switzerland today), and this group promptly appointed
another American to run it: Frederic Frank Seeland, who had
worked with the American Watch Co., in Waltham, Massachusetts,
and in London, re-established the factory in October 1876;
but he spoke neither German nor French, and was incompetent.
In August 1879 Seeland and his family suddenly vanished from
Switzerland; an immediate investigation into the company's
affairs discredited the modest profits of the two previous
years and revealed dramatic stock and work-in-progress overvaluations.
In November 1879 bankruptcy proceedings were opened for a
second time. The American connection was finally ended; Florentine
Ariosto Jones's brave dream was unfulfilled.
The second of the three chapters in the story of the International
Watch Company is decisively headed 'The Rauschenbach Family',
and once again J.H.Moser and the Rhine harnessed for his hydro-power
play their central part. Moser had sold buildings and land
in Schaffhausen on the Rhine in 1872 to Johannes Rauschenbach-Vogel
(1815-1881), a successful engineer, engine manufacturer, industrialist
and entrepreneur; the bankers had put him on the board of
the International Watch Company after the first bankruptcy,
and at the second he was left the main creditor. It was agreed
that he should acquire the entire business to try and earn
dividends for the other creditors, but a year later he died.
His son and successor, Johannes Rauschenbach-Schenk (1856-1905),
had the misfortune to go slowly blind during his short life,
and he greatly relied on the abilities of Urs Haenggi, a thoroughly
trained watchmaker and sound businessman who joined the company
in 1883 and stayed with it for the rest of his life. He put
the company firstly on to an even keel and on the road to
successes which matched its name. One of them was the world's
first quantity production of a digital pocket watch (Pallweber,
1884/5). Almost unbelievably, an American company once again
knocked on the factory doors in Schaffhausen at the beginning
of the 1890s: the Non-Magnetic Watch Company proposed a merger.
Haenggi prevented his inexperienced and unqualified chairman
from agreeing to this, and, as it turned out, the American
company went bankrupt a few years later, creating financial
problems for three major contemporary Swiss watch manufacturers,
Aebi (in Bienne), Agassiz (St Imier) and Badollet (Geneva).
Electricity replaced pure water power in the factory in 1895,
and production facilities were constantly being updated by
Haenggi and a new, very talented, technician, Johann Vogel.
By the turn of the century the 12.5 ligne calibers 63 and
64 existed, and the International Watch Company stood ready
to supply the new market for wristwatches. During the First
World War the company produced severely practical watches
for the wrists of officers who needed synchronization and
It is at around this time that Jung's links with the concern
began. The second daughter of Johannes Rauschenbach-Schenk,
who died in 1905, had married Ernst Jakob Homberger (1869-1955),
a Schaffhausen industrialist, two years previously, and in
July 1905 he was awarded sole powers of attorney to act for
members of the family; they naturally included the eldest
daughter and her husband - Dr and Mrs C.G.Jung. Jung was practicing
in Zurich as a psychiatrist in the years before the war, and
was doubtless very glad of the augmentation to the family's
income by way of dividends received. Indeed he wrote several
times to Haenggi and Vogel saying so: 'Gentlemen', he wrote
on February 8, 1911, 'Permit me on behalf of my wife and myself
to thank you both for the encouraging results of the past
financial year and for your competent and successful management.
Yours respectively and obediently Dr C.G.Jung.'
E.J.Homberger's eldest son Hans Ernst Homberger (1908-1986)
became, by inheritance, the last private owner of the International
Watch Company in 1955; when the quartz revolution arrived
in the early 1970s the company was already looking to different
markets with new designs (some by Ferdinand Porsche), slimming
overheads, advertising in export markets, and keeping in close
touch with their bankers. The struggle proved too much, however,
and in 1978 the company passed into the control of the West
German VDO Adolf Schindling Ltd; a large conglomerate of watch
manufacturers was to be created and floated off as a separate
company, but finally only Jaeger-LeCoultre became a sister
This chronicle of the many financial vicissitudes of the International
Watch Company serves to underline the fact that there has
to be profit in the maintenance of traditional ways - 'yes,
but will it sell' has to be the refrain. And now to some wristwatches.
In 1884/85, the company began manufacturing, under licence
from Joseph Pallweber of Salzburg, the first-ever series of
pocket watches with digital time indications - hours on top,
minutes below: a true first which later reached their wristwatches.
The next classic came much later on, in 1940: it was the Fliegerchronograph
or pilot's watch, with a large blackened dial, bold luminous
sans-serif Arabic numerals, hour and minute hands and a sweep
second hand. The movement was protected from the influence
of magnetic fields by an inner case of 'soft iron'; the extra
long strap meant it could be strapped over a flying suit.
In 1989 the International Watch Company launched the Aviator's
Chronograph, which is said to feature the world's smallest
chronograph movement for an analog display with a quick adjust
device. This new version is stainless steel as before, has
a 60 second indicator, with one quarter of a second accuracy,
a minute indicator up to 30 minutes and an hour indicator
up to 12 hours; its 233 parts are assembled by hand.
The Ingenieur range came in 1946 with a patented movement
with two automatic constructions with click mechanism, limited
rotor movement and an automatic winding mechanism. 1969 saw
the introduction of the extremely collectable Da Vinci wristwatch,
in an 18 carat yellow gold case, containing the company's
first-ever quartz movement: its characteristics are the 'continuous'
progress of the sweep second hand and the slight but audible
'whistling' sound of the tuning fork watches. The Compass
watch of 1978 was the first to be designed by Ferdinand Porsche,
of car fame, with moonphase, baton numerals and date display;
the whole can be used as a prismatic compass. A year later
the Titanchronograph appeared, again designed by Porsche;
titanium was used for the case and bracelet for the first
time. Today the flagship model is again an automatic Da Vinci
chronograph (1986; about $14,000), with perpetual calendar
and moonphase: unique features are that all display corrections
can be made with the winding crown, and that it will run until
the year 2499 (with adjustments to be made at a watchmaker's
in the years 2100 and 2200).
Stainless steel case, scratch resistant sapphire
crystal, ultra-thin movement, integrated alarm - such phrases
are scattered throughout the watchmaker's promotional literature,
and trip lightly off the tongues of international sales representatives.
So familiar are they that one takes for granted the practical
advantages of these inventions, and forgets to inquire, who
actually invented them?
Jaeger-LeCoultre, of course: one company that has never been
satisfied with resting at the limits of the possible. The
smallest mechanical movement in the world, the smallest quartz
movement, the smallest analog chronograph movement - they
all belong to Jaeger-LeCoultre. This company has an extraordinary
record for research and invention that has benefited the horological
industry as a whole and given a special resonance to the phrase
Other companies have reason to be grateful for these inventions.
Jaeger-LeCoultre is, quite literally, the driving force behind
their own success. In the early 1900s, Jaeger-LeCoultre manufactured
parts for Patek Philippe, Cartier and Omega, and today it
supplies raw movements to leading names in the industry: Audemars
Piguet, Chopard, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, and its own
sister company IWC.
When crowned heads, leading statesmen and other emissaries
visit Switzerland, the gift presented by the Swiss government,
as the pick of the nation's artistic and technological victories,
is a Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos Clock. Queen Elizabeth II, Winston
Churchill, J.F.Kennedy, General de Gaulle, Haile Selassie,
Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II all received one. This
'almost perpetual motion' clock is driven by thin air. Impossible?
No such word in the Jaeger-LeCoultre vocabulary. Temperature
changes of as little as 1°C cause a very volatile gas
in an hermetically-sealed capsule to expand and contract,
and the motion of the capsule is sufficient constantly to
wind up the mainspring. The Atmos, with its very special low-friction
movement, has a working span of at least 600 years, although
atmospheric pollution necessitates a cleaning every 25-30
At present, wristwatch movements require 100 times more energy
than the Atmos to function - and, as environmentalists know,
to manufacture even a standard battery requires 50 times more
energy than the battery itself gives back. With the focus
on energy saving and renewable sources, perhaps the Atmos
technology will eventually be transferred to the wrist. Impossibilities
have always been the raw material of Jaeger-LeCoultre's inventions.
They obsessed Antoine LeCoultre, who founded the firm in 1833.
The date makes Jaeger-LeCoultre one of the oldest of the surviving
Swiss watchmakers, and even today, when visitors arrive at
Le Sentier in the Vallée de Joux and ask for 'the factory',
they are automatically directed to Jaeger-LeCoultre. The large,
present-day manufactory stands cheek-by-jowl with the small
workshop which Antoine LeCoultre set up.
In 1833, his company was known simply as LeCoultre. It was
more than 90 years before Antoine's grandson, David LeCoultre,
joined forces with the Alsatian watchmaker Edmund Jaeger,
and only after 1937 did all their watches bear the fine Swiss
brandname. For nearly a century, the LeCoultre expertise remained
at the service of other watchmakers in the Vallée de
Antoine LeCoultre invented his own machinery and tools to
produce the top quality, high precision movements and parts
that he supplied to other makers. Special milling machines
were designed to cut wheels and pinions. But the invention
which revolutionized the entire industry was LeCoultre's 'millionometer',
the first instrument which was capable of measuring accurately
to one thousandth of a millimeter. The benefits for precision
manufacture were obvious, and this exceptional instrument
caused the metric system to be adopted as the official measure
in the Swiss watch industry.
Antoine won a gold medal for his inventions at the 1851 World
Exhibition in London, and from 1847 to 1910 Patel Philippe
selected LeCoultre components for his own watches. During
these decades, pioneering technology resulted in the first
watch with a crown instead of a key to wind the mechanism
(1860), the first minute and quarter repetition movements
(1870), and in 1903 the world's flattest movements, a mere
1.38mm thick. This ground-breaking invention led to extra-flat
chronographs and a super slim minute repeater wristwatch (3.2mm
movement), launched in 1906. A self-perpetuating obsession
with miniaturization has gripped the wristwatch industry ever
It was not until 1925 that LeCoultre merged with Edmund Jaeger.
Technical facilities were then expanded, and the potential
to manufacture a complete, autonomous 'Jaeger-LeCoultre' watch
in-house existed for the first time. Inventions swiftly followed:
in 1926 the first stainless steel case, and the duoplan movement
(allowing a large balance for better time-keeping), and in
1929, scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and the 2 Ligne -
a very special watch that had a success out of all proportion
to its size. The 2 Ligne was, and still is, the smallest mechanical
watch in the world. The 74 parts of its miniature movement
are packed into a tiny space 3.4mm x 4.85mm x 14mm and, together
with the dial, weigh less than one gram.
This diminutive masterpiece, which could be fixed as discreetly
as a tiny clasp into a bracelet of pearls or diamonds, was
well suited to the era of luxury liners and Hollywood glamour.
Today, about 30 of these unique watches are produced every
year, and the model has the royal seal of approval: Queen
Elizabeth II owns one (white gold, with a diamond-encrusted
case and band) and she wore it for her Coronation in 1953.
And what of the curious name? A 'ligne' is a unit of measurement
(2.256mm) used to indicate the size of a movement. 2 ligne
is thus the smallest ever made. Or as Jaeger-LeCoultre puts
an object of exquisite taste, of great class, which
exceeds the genius of its creator to such an extent
he was unable to find a name for it'.
The fame of this watch has perhaps only been eclipsed by the
Reverso, Jaeger-LeCoultre's rotating sports watch, which made
its debut in 1931. The Reverso is now one of the company's
bestsellers, and is one of several successfully relaunched
classics. Both the 2 Ligne and the Reverso were certainly
fashion novelties in their day, though the distinction between
'fashionable' and 'classic' hardly applies to Jaeger-LeCoultre
models; the company has a knack of sidestepping transient
or capricious design ideas.
The Reverso was tailored to suite the sportsman of the between-the-wars
era, with a stainless steel case that pivots 180°, so
that the dial and crystal can be turned face down; thus protected,
it was a shockproof and corrosion-resistant watch, designed
for the ski slope, the tennis court and the polo pitch. The
distinctive rectangular dial and case tooled with parallel
lines typify Art Deco elegance. When shut, the watch doubles
as a piece of jewelry. In the 1930s, the case was often personalized
with the owner's crest or coat of arms, and can still be engraved
according to the customer's wishes.
During the Second World War the Reverso went out of production,
but it was later rescued from obscurity by an Italian dealer,
who discovered a handful of old, empty cases in a drawer at
the Jaeger-LeCoultre factory. Fitted out with a new caliber,
they immediately found purchasers back in Italy. The Swiss
makers responded and in 1979 Jaeger-LeCoultre relaunched its
Today, Reversos account for some 2,500 of the 12,000 complete
watches that leave the Jaeger-LeCoultre factory each year.
This watch is entirely crafted in-house, and is considered
to be the factory's most perfect example of technological
and esthetic harmony, making it an essential item in any collection
of classics. The new Reversos come in 18 carat gold or steel,
with leather straps or bracelets and with or without diamonds.
Coloured dials, with leather straps stained to match, are
also available. The dial is still defiantly Art Deco in style,
but the quartz technology inside is modern (although a few
mechanical models are also available). Since 1987, the Reverso
has become water-resistant and there are now versions with
a moonphase indication. A special two-tone steel and gold
Intergrated Reverso with an articulated gold bracelet was
launched in 1983, to celebrate Jaeger-LeCoultre's 150th anniversary.
The 2 Ligne and Reverso did not exhaust Jaeger-LeCoultre's
creative ingenuity, and world firsts kept coming. In 1953
the 'Futurematic' was born - the first fully automatic wristwatch,
which dispensed altogether with a winding mechanism. If the
watch stopped, a flick of the wrist was sufficient to get
it going. In 1956 came the first automatic wristwatch with
an integrated alarm. Slimming records were broken with an
automatic movement 2.35mm thick in 1967, and the world's smallest
ever quartz movement, 1.8mm thick and 11.7mm across, in 1982.
Somehow Jaeger-LeCoultre never makes its earlier efforts redundant
by new inventions. This is proven by the successful reintroduction
of old models like the Memovox of 1951 and the rectangular
Phases of the Moon watch of 1940. Both of these have recently
been reproduced in limited editions, the moonphase to mark
Jaeger-LeCoultre's 150th anniversary in 1983, and the Memovox
to celebrate its own 35th birthday in 1986.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre archives carefully preserve the plans
and ébauches needed to recreate these mature and complicated
masterpieces, and collectors have to be swift off the mark.
Although every single Jaeger-LeCoultre watch has the prestige
of an individual number, there is special cachet attached
to limited editions.
Phases of the Moon retains the distinctive 18 carat gold rectangular
case which, in 1940, was taking its cue from the shape of
the popular Reverso. It has day and month indications and
a subsidiary moonphase dial. 600 of these watches exist, each
stamped with a laurel wreath and the date of the company's
There are even fewer owners of the Memovox Jubilee. 350 pieces
were made, honouring the Memovox's traditional style with
two crowns, one to set the time and the other to set and wind
the alarm. It is now the only wristwatch to combine an automatic
movement with a mechanical alarm. In 1951, the Memovox was
one of the very earliest alarm watches, and collectors may
recall its signature tune: the distinctive, mechanical 20-second
'buzz' emitted when the crown was pushed in to wind the alarm.;
The Memovox Jubilee is water-resistant and comes in 18 carat
gold or gold and steel with a champagne, gray or ivory-coated
The success of Jaeger-LeCoultre's old models is matched by
the new lines. After the Reverso, the current favourite is
Albatross, dubbed the 'genuine factory product' since every
single part of the watch is manufactured and assembled in-house.
And that includes each of the 150 links, in 14 different sizes,
which make up the unique and anatomically-contoured bracelet.
Naturally this bracelet, introduced in 1986 for the Albatross
II, is patented. The other design signature of the Albatross
is its subtly shaped hexagonal dial which comes in three sizes,
with or without diamonds. A 1983 Jubilee model to look out
for is the titanium-clad Blue Albatross. This gun-metal blue
and gold water-resistant watch would be at home, like its
namesake, in the Pacific and southern oceans.
Two other modern classics should be mentioned: the Gaia, with
a crown and hoop-shaped lug at 12 o'clock which transform
the case into a 'stopwatch', and the Lyre, which is Jaeger-LeCoultre's
no. 3 bestseller. The Lyre, so-called because the serpentine
profile of the dial and integrated lugs resembles the curved
horns of the archaic musical instrument, comes with baton
or Roman numerals and with optional date and moonphase indications.
The most expensive version is the ladies' model Lyre, with
83 diamonds on an 18 carat gold case.
For many, the classical simplicity of the Lyre epitomizes
the Jaeger-LeCoultre style. But no company can afford to dismiss
clear market trends, and at present these are toward increasingly
complex technical watches with numerous indications, calibrated
for sporting and executive lifestyles. 1987 saw the launch
of Jaeger-LeCoultre's Odysseus Perpetual Calender, incorporating
and ultra-slim automatic movement programed until the year
2100 (no. 166.740.803). At a glance, wearers can read the
time, date, day and month, as well as the year, decade and
phase of the moon. Odysseus's memory is probably a little
more sophisticated than its owners': the watch will never
forget whether there are 28, 30 or 31 days in a month, or
a Leap year. By Monday, March 1, 2100, owners should have
booked an appointment with a watchmaker to adjust the one-day
discrepancy which will have accumulated as a result of the
In 1988, the Odysseus line was extended with chronographs
incorporating another world first for Jaeger-LeCoultre: the
smallest ever analog chronograph movement. This remarkable
movement combines quartz technology with mechanical components,
and took over three years to develop. Only 23.2mm across,
and 3.7mm thick, it is one third of the size of a conventional
mechanical chronograph and 40 per cent smaller than the smallest
quartz chronograph. That has meant a new generation of elegant,
slimline chronographs, including one for the ladies a mere
30mm in diameter.
Odysseus chronographs have 18 carat yellow gold cases with
distinctive pink gold 'ribs' clasping the bezel. There is
also an alluring dusky version in tantalum - a material with
the shimmer of black pearl. The functions are simple to operate
with two push buttons, all models are water-resistant, and
there is an in-built safeguard against unpopular trans-continental
telephone calls: when you travel abroad, and particularly
when you cross the international date line, you can set the
chronograph dials to keep the time of the country you have
The new JLC 630 chronograph movement is now built into selected
models of Jaeger-LeCoultre's technical triad - Odysseus, Kryos
and Hera, which are all available in quartz, automatic/mechanical
and chronograph versions. The Kryos is essentially a masculine
chronograph, with a chubby, tire-like bezel notched from 0-60.
This can be set to perform a countdown before races, for example,
or to enable divers to check the minutes left before their
ascent. Kryos comes in 18 carat gold, steel or two-tone, and
with a gold, steel or untanned leather bracelet.
Hera, by contrast, has as much appeal for sporting women as
for men - not least because Hera was the Greek goddess and
protectress of women who spent her days plotting savage revenge
on the many lovers of her faithless husband, Zeus. The top
of the range is the JLC 630 chronograph - but all models share
Hera's special feature: a gold bezel graduated to give you
your pulse rate per minute (count 30 heartbeats, starting
with the second hand at 12 o'clock). This could be a life-saver,
particularly in a high impact aerobics class, where its wearer
would not only be fit but both elegant and time-wise.
In 1927 Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator,
completed his conquest of the Atlantic in an historic flight
lasting 33 hours and 39 minutes. During those long lonely
hours, he dreamed of a timepiece for aviators, a wondrous
device that would give the time in degrees of the arc and
make it easier to read the longitude. What a boon for pilots
such a watch would be. Lindbergh himself sketched the design
which fired the enthusiasm of J.-P.V.Heinmüller, Longines'
American director who, fortuitously, was also a pilot with
a passion for aeronautics. Was it possible to make such a
watch and could Longines, renowned as a timekeeper of sports
events even then, do it? They could - and did. Lindbergh wrote
personally to Heinmüller expressing his appreciation,
declaring it would save 'seconds in obtaining a position'.
From 1932 onwards, Longines' Lindbergh Hour Angle watch rendered
great service to a whole generation of pilots in an age when
modern navigational aids such as radio, radar and satellite
were unheard of. But then, Longines have always made watches
for special people and this is the basis of their worldwide
Longines' history goes back to 1832 when a young merchant,
Auguste Agassiz, came to live in the watchmaking district
of St Imier in Switzerland. He set up as an assembler of watches,
farming out components to different workers, many of whom
were craftsmen working from home. They finished the watches
which were then sold through this company, Agassiz & Cie.
This traditional method of watchmaking was profitable and
worked well enough for a couple of decades. In 1854, however,
the ailing Agassiz handed over the responsibility of his business
to Ernest Francillon, his youthful nephew. Ernest quickly
realized that quality could never be assured while all the
products were finished by different craftsmen of varying skills,
and were practically never identical. Obsessed by the idea
of making all his watches under one roof and taking complete
responsibility for their quality, he built a factory at St
Imier in a place called Les Longines (Long Meadows). Longines'
early success owed much to the pioneering spirit of Francillon
who was determined to push back the frontiers of what was
Early on, Longines started making chronographs; the first
came out of the factory in 1879. In 1912 the company met a
new challenge by inventing the first automatic timekeeping
device - the wire-cutting system, inaugurated in Basle at
the Federal gymnastics meeting. Human error in timekeeping
was eliminated as the athlete at the start of a race broke
a tape supporting a weight which, in falling, caused a contact
by cable with a chronograph at the finish. When the contestant
crossed the finishing line, he cut a second tape which worked
on the same principle. Bearing in mind that the reflexes of
a good timekeeper, operating a chronograph manually, can vary
between plus or minus 1/10th of a second, it is clear how
this revolutionized the precision timing of sporting events
such as the Olympic Games and Formula 1 motor racing, its
name familiar to television viewers all over the world. What
better recommendation for a timepiece can there be?
Always in the forefront of new technology, Longines began
making wristwatches as early as 1910. Its first men's wristwatch
with a lid and small second hand achieved popularity in tragic
circumstances - in the trenches of the First World War. Longines
continued to make wristwatches of the utmost precision until
the quartz revolution. Unpretentious and supremely functional,
these early wristwatches have a timeless dignity and class.
Not surprisingly, considering the firm's inventive capabilities,
Longines were responsible for the world's first quartz cybernetic
watch in 1969. This was a considerable feat at the time when
the module did not even have an integrated circuit; yet the
quartz corrected the rate of a vibrating movement, achieving
a degree of accuracy in time-keeping that had never before
been reached by a watch of this size. Three years later in
1972 Longines launched its LCD (liquid crystal display) at
the Basle Watch Fair, a quartz watch with crystal display
developed with Ebauches SA and Texas Instruments which enables
the hours, minutes, seconds and date to be permanently displayed.
Many of Longines' watch models are designed for the specialist.
Its Conquest VHP (Very High Precision) is the world's most
advanced wristwatch with an accuracy of about one minute in
five years - five to ten times the accuracy of common quartz
watches. This watch incorporates a new development, the thermo-compensated
quartz movement, a clever combination of circuits that defeats
the principal enemy of quartz watch accuracy - temperature
changes. A distinctive timepiece in the sporty style popular
in the late 1980s, it is characterized by 12 notches surrounding
the dial, and a bracelet with alternating bands of different
metals. It is available in various combinations such as titanium
and gold, steel and gold, gold, and with a diamond-set bezel
and bracelet. Moreover, it is also water-resistant. This is
clearly a watch for the individual who values precision above
With the specialist in mind, Longines has developed this watch
even further. The Conquest GMT, for example, has a rotating
bezel and a 24-hour hand and can therefore display local time
as well as that in another time zone. For the gambler, the
Conquest Las Vegas is a must. On the reverse side of the watch
is a mini gaming table. The Conquest 1000 Oe is designed for
people whose profession brings them into frequent contact
with the powerful magnetic fields. Longines rightly reckoned
that there were enough engineers, technicians and radiologists
to constitute a market for this antimagnetic watch. A normal
quartz watch easily withstands the magnetic fields generated
by everyday objects like television sets or electric shavers,
but technicians and scientists are often exposed to far greater
magnetic fields. Shielding the VHP movement of the Conquest
1000 Oe against magnetic flux are two shells of pure iron
which deter the magnetic fields. This watch was subjected
to intense magnetic fields in the laboratory and only stopped
when the magnetic field exceeded 1000 Oe - although, when
worn on the wrist, a watch rarely undergoes such exposure.
Longines' Conquest Quartz Chronograph is possibly the ultimate
in sports watches. Obviously invaluable to the serious athlete
or motor-racing driver, it can also be used by the jogger
or anyone who wants to time an egg perfectly. As a watch pure
and simple, it displays the hour, minute, second (small seconds
hand) and date. Time zone adjustments can be made by moving
the hour hand so there is no interference with the setting
of the minute and seconds hands. As a chronograph, it records
hour, minute, second and 1/100th second for periods of up
to 12 hours; there are 30-minute and 12-hour counters. In
addition up to 99 results can be stored in the watch's electronic
memory of which the first ten are individually stored and
can be called up one by one.
Longines' specialist watches exemplify the company's technical
inventiveness but as well as these Longines produce a diverse
range of precision wristwatches for the ordinary person who
wants something 'individual'. Les Grandes Classiques are exactly
what their name suggests - uncluttered, classic designs that
will still look good in 50 years' time. The Charleston range
includes replicas of Longines watches made in the 1920s and
obviously reflects the popular nostalgic trend in watch styles.
By contrast, the Rodolphe watches, launched in 1987, are 'designer'
watches, aimed at affluent fashion-conscious young people.
Named after its young stylist, this watch, in Longines' own
words, is 'round, smooth and polished', and has been remarkably
successful with a new generation of buyers worldwide.
Collection Mode deliberately follows changing fashion trends
in haute couture and ready-to-wear clothes. These are youthful
and stylish 'accessory' watches, complementary and rather
understated in design. Perennial favourites among connoisseurs,
however, are the Planetarium and the Complication. The Complication,
which shows the phases and age of the moon, month, season,
equinox, solstice and the signs of the zodiac, is indubitably
a masterpiece, the ultimate of the traditional watchmaker's
art. Its complicated movement, which is difficult and expensive
to produce, was perfected at the turn of the century and this
is one of the few watches with a mechanical movement that
Longines makes. This watch perhaps sums up Longines' ethos,
in which traditional craftsmanship and precision constantly
strive to meet the challenges and needs of the 20th century.
The name 'Mido' is practically synonymous
with 'waterproof'. Since 1978 the company has focused exclusively
on the production of water-resistant watches - a clever marketing
policy which has enabled Mido to target the increasing number
of water sportsmen, leisure-seekers and holidaymakers heading
for long-haul destinations. The Mido wristwatch has found
its niche as the perfect companion for windsurfing and scuba-diving
executives. Nautical references on the watches themselves
reflect this theme; a rope-motif adorns the bezel of the Cable
watch, and an echo of Art Deco elegance can be found in the
chevrons or stylized waves on the dial of popular Ocean Star
There is a history behind the outward-bound image of the Mido
man and his timepiece. In 1934 the company launched a watch
to brave the elements - the Mido Multifort; it became an instant
bestseller. The first self-winding, water resistant, shock-proof
and non-magnetizable wristwatch, it was designed to withstand
arctic or equatorial temperatures, tropical humidity, and
every imaginable natural or man-made behavioral extreme. Anecdotes
from satisfied customers helped create a Multifort mythology.
This was the watch that an icecream seller in Sãn Paulo
plunged into icecream as a promotional stunt; that a gaucho
strapped to the foot of his cow; that Monsieur le Comte S.B.,
a burly explorer, dragged through desert sandstorms and so
on and so on.
The Mulitfort was also a favourite with Second World War heroes.
It accompanied one American pilot on 68 air raids. When he
was finally hit in the wrist by a bullet the glass protecting
the dial shattered - but the movement kept ticking! Apocryphal
or otherwise, the anecdotes testify, at least, to the international
market that Mido commanded from its early years. By 1947,
the Multifort was selling in 65 different countries, and in
1952 the Superautomatic model was promoted in advertisements
designed by Salvador Dali (who had the right apocalyptic approach
for the task).
Mido rightly rests on a reputation for design expertise, technical
innovation, and above all, practicality and durability. When
Georges Schaeren founded the firm in 1918, he made it company
policy to carry out market research and establish the precise,
practical requirements of clients before any watch went into
production. His directors set out from the offices at Bienne,
at the heart of the Swiss watch-making trade, and built up
a worldwide network of personal contacts with wholesalers,
retailers and clients.
Mido has continued to expand, and is still based in Bienne,
though new factories were built in 1947 and 1963, and in 1972
the firm joined forces with ASUAG, Switzerland's large watch-making
concern. This ensured Mido a position at the cutting edge
of technological developments, and, together with the decision
to promote water resistant watches, has consolidated its position
in the market place.
After more than 70 years of trading, Mido has moved on from
the fashion-conscious timepieces of its earlier years to haute
couture: a timeless, refined and understated look which characterizes
the entire output. The easy legibility of the classic Mido
face with elegant baton numerals, uncluttered by subsidiary
dials and hands, is practically a formula - repeated with
the subtlest of variations, on the Cable, Baroncelli and Commander
watches, and other models in the leading Ocean Star series.
Early watches from the 1920s and 1930s, which perhaps show
a greater variety of invention, are also keenly collected.
During this era, Mido created baguette wristwatches encrusted
with emeralds for the post-war female flapper, and pocket
and pendant watches - some disguised as aeroplanes and footballs
- reflecting the sporting life of the jazz age. The premier
example is the Bugatti Mido, a wristwatch in the shape of
a car's radiator which was created in 1930 for L'Associazione
Automobilistica Knac. Early in January 1989, this piece fetched
44,500 DM at auction in Frankfurt. The Bugatti Mido was the
first in a series of radiator wristwatches for motoring enthusiasts
which are now classic collectors' items for the sportsman-horologist.
The dial has chic Art Deco numerals and carries the Bugatti
logo above 12 o'clock. Over the logo is the crown, cleverly
placed to reinforce the radiator motif.
It was during the 1920s that Mido began the search for a watch
to 'conquer the exigencies of modern life', resistant to shock,
water, dust, magnetism, temperature fluctuation, perfume,
oil and other chemicals. The Mido Multifort, produced in numerous
models from 1934 on, was just the first of many breakthroughs
which established the firm's technical reputation. In 1935,
Mido launched an automatic wristwatch (not the first, but
certainly one of the most reliable of early automatics). In
1936 came the Mido Permadur, a watch with an unbreakable mainspring,
and in 1934 the invention of the Powerwind system for automatic
watches, which coupled simpler construction with greater power
Mido's flagship invention, however, and the one which still
dominates its image and advertising, was the Aquadura water-resistant
system. Technical enthusiasts will know that the winder, or
crown opening, is the Achilles heel of the watertight watchcase.
Mido stole a secret from the wine trade to solve this problem.
Bottles of wine are laid horizontally to keep the cork moist.
As it is organic material, this insures that it remains elastic
and expands to plug the neck of the bottle, keeping the system
airtight. Similarly, a specially shaped and lubricated piece
of cork was used to plug the crown tube of the watch, protecting
the movement inside from water penetration.
Mido's Ocean star series, fitted with this revolutionary Aquadura
system, was launched in 1959. Over the years, the popular
collection has been constantly enlarged, and discerning wearers
have noted a progressive refinement of detail. One watch to
look out for is the Ocean Star No. 1, first launched in 1981
when Mido signed up Bjorn Borg, fresh from his Wimbledon triumphs,
as its promotional ambassador.
The No. 1 models share the quartz ETA movement, Aquadura sytem,
steel case and sapphire crystal glasses in common with most
Mido watches. But the stylized 'waves' cut into the solid
steel bracelet, set off against the simple rectangular dial,
give a special fillip to the desgign (models 156 8712 for
gentlemen and 153 7712 for ladies). The contrast of gold,
navy and steel gray, and of matt and polished surfaces, is
very striking. A novel feature, when first launched, was the
seamless sapphire crystal covering the case. Detail on the
plain dial is pared down to the bare essentials - not necessarily
including even the baton numerals - making the No. 1 series
the acme of elegant understatement, even by Mido's standards.
Another classic for collectors is the beautifully crafted
Cable watch (1987), of which only 1000 were made. An anchor
replaces the baton numeral at 12 o'clock, and a delicate rope
motif decorates the bezel. For those who like the official
seal of approval, the Mido Commander, another limited series,
won first prize at the Swiss Watch Styling Trophy for automatic
watches in 1984, underscoring Mido's combination of craftsmanship
and esthetic finesse.
Mido is not totally exclusive, or high-priced, in its orientation,
however. To service the young, fashion-conscious, cocktail-shaking
sector of the market, Mido launched the Swing Line in 1986,
creating a sophisticated and non-plastic answer to the ubiquitous
Swatch. This series will not have rarity value, but Swing
Line is already a minor classic of modern functionalism.
Movado, a company whose name means 'always
in motion' in Esperanto, began its life in 1881 in a small
workshop at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Talented watchmaker
Achille Ditesheim and his team of six employees made every
watch by hand - a necessarily slow and expensive process.
By 1890 Achille's two brothers, Leopold and Isidore, had joined
him as partners and LAI Ditesheim, as it then was called,
employed 30 people. The aims of the three brothers remain
motivating factors in the company today; they wanted to concentrate
on fine watches that would achieve an international reputation
Recognition of their efforts followed, and in 1899 the company
was awarded six first-class official rating certificates and
16 refining certificates by the Neuchâtel Cantonal Observatory.
A prestigious silver medal from the Universal Exhibition in
Paris followed in 1900. Encouraged and inspired by their early
success LAI Ditesheim began to concentrate upon modernizing
production methods. But technical expertise was not enough
- the three brothers were equally concerned about good design.
They consulted artists, and set up a research department and
drawing office as well as building a brand-new factory filled
with the most up-to-date machinery they could find. Fresh
capital was injected by yet another Ditesheim brother, Leopold's
twin, Isaac, who was an engraver by profession.
The year 1905 represented a crucial turning-point for Movado,
for it was then that the company chose this brand name, its
'hand' symbol, and won a gold medal and grand diploma of excellence
at the Universal Exhibition in Liège. During the next
nine years the firm went from strength to strength, and although
this rapid progress was temporarily halted by the outbreak
of the First World War, it afterwards continued apace. Indeed,
Movado manufactured special military watches known as the
Soldier's Watch, which were very popular at the time.
Movado was the first to manufacture 8½" and 5½"
jeweled lever movements mechanically - these improved the
accuracy of wristwatches, which were still a fairly controversial
item. They won the Grand Prix at the Universal Exhibition
in Brussels, and by 1910 were represented in Paris, Rome,
Brussel and Rio de Janeiro.
The futuristic Polyplan wristwatch, launched in 1912, was
another major achievement. Machines were used to make a movement
with a profiled middle, which have mobile wheels and a second
hand. Polyplan's revolutionary curved case fitted the contours
of the wrist; these watches are now highly sought-after at
auctions. Both Curviplan (1931) and Novoplan (1934) represent
later refinements of this early design success.
Another Movado invention, the Ermeto (1926), is equally prized
by collectors. The case is fitted with a device which allows
the watch to wind itself automatically, as well as protecting
the delicate mechanism from shocks, and temperature and pressure
variations. These functions were certainly put to the test
when Piccard and Cosyns took an Ermeto watch with them on
their ascents into the stratosphere in the 1930s.
During this era American designer Nathan George Horwitt was
exploring various ways to create an uncluttered watch face.
These early experiments eventually led to the creation of
the famous Museum Watch in 1947. His initial efforts resulted
in what was probably the first digital watch, with a number
for the hour and minute. But, Horwitt says, '
looked like a scoreboard.' He continues, 'It was in the right
direction, definitely more direct and faster to read
unfamiliar and perhaps less esthetic
There is a geometry
(worth preserving) in the old-fashioned watch-face. It's been
part of the experience since the sun-dial. That familiar space-time
sequence is like recognizing high noon by seeing the sun directly
overhead. We really do not know 'time' as a number sequence.'
The Museum Watch design is a stunning visual representation
of these ideas. A single gold dot at twelve o'clock suggests
the sun at its zenith, high noon. The moving hands, also gold,
are set against a completely plain black face framed by a
gold rim. Art and design experts were singularly impressed
by Horwitt's outstanding achievement.
'I believe your design for the face of a watch is the only
really original and beautiful design that I have ever seen.
It places the element of design on an esthetic basic parallel
to that of a painter's work,' wrote Edward Steichen, Director
of the Department of Photography in New York's Museum of Modern
Art. The famous American illustrator Norman Rockwell reacted
in a more down-to-earth way, 'It is so damn original that
I've never seen anything like it before. It is such a swell,
modern simplified design.'
Yet between 1956 and 1960 Horwitt unsuccessfully approached
13 watch companies with this design. In 1960 the Museum of
Modern Art selected the watch face for its Design Collection,
the first time a watch had ever been included as an example
of modern design. By 1961, Movado had acquired the design
- registering it under the name Museum Watch - and began to
manufacture it. The present Museum Watch is, according to
Horwitt, closer to his original design concept than the models
displayed in the Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum.
'The model displayed
is not the ideal (case) design,
but at the time no other was available. It has a curved crystal
to give the impression of thinness that unfortunately made
for highlights that went in direct opposition to the initial
design concept which was to create a completely flat dial
and a completely flat face (as in the present Movado Museum
Watch).' The original mechanical movement has been replaced
with quartz, which has considerably slimmed down the case
size: an ageless classic.
Movado's most recent venture into the world of art is equally
progressive. This watch is unquestionably a collectors' item
for it was made in a limited edition numbering only 250; 50
pieces are being retained by Movado themselves, while 200
went on sale for $18,500 each in the summer of 1988. This
timepiece, the Andy Warhol Times/5, was the avant-garde artist's
first watch and final work of art before his death in 1987.
How was this unusual project conceived? Andy Warhol was already
fascinated by watches, and had a collection numbering around
300. As might be expected, his tastes were eclectic: '
really got into watches in the mid-1970s. He was very knowledgeable
he was a very well-known face in auction
houses,' said Vincent Fremont, the executive manager of Andy
Warhol's Studio. 'He ran the whole gamut from junky, juvenile
watches to very expensive. If he liked anything
more than one of anything. Multiples.'
Warhol was also already connected to Movado through his long
friendship with Gerry Grinberg, the chairman of North American
Watch Corporation (Movado's parent company). In 1981 Grinberg
suggested the idea of a limited-edition art watch, Warhol
was enthusiastic - but nothing happened. However, as Fremont
pointed out, 'Andy didn't do things by quickly going out
something just to put it out there. Sometimes he'd put things
away for years
' When Warhol found a string of five watches
wired together into a kind of bracelet, he began to see how
he could create an exciting design of his own, and discussed
the idea with Grinberg.
Warhol then experimented with the shape and decoration of
the watchface, rejecting painted designs as unsuitable. He
decided that the watch should have five working faces, and
that he would use photographs to decorate them. Again, another
period of selection and rejection followed.
About six weeks before he died, Warhol showed Grinberg some
idiosyncratic shots of New York City and told him that these
were the kind of pictures he wanted to use for the watch.
His final picture selection and design for the Times/5 was
found in an envelope after his death. Perhaps the last word
should come from Theresa Morello, who had been making Warhol's
photographic prints at the time of his death. 'For a man who
he thought about and worked on this for
a long time
He wanted it to be special
all working. I think he would be very pleased with what came
Some companies have an enviable knack of being
in the right place at the right time. At 10.56 pm Houston
time, on July 20, 1969, it was Omega that first touched down
on the moon. Neil Armstrong's Speedmaster Professional, the
watch that timed his moonwalk, is still the official chronograph
issued to every NASA astronaut.
It is Omega, too, that splits the seconds when Flo Jo smashes
another 100 meter record. Since 1932, Omega has served as
official timekeeper at every Olympic Games - an appropriate
honour, perhaps, for a company with a Greek name that stands
for the summum, or ultimate achievement.
Omega rarely misses an epoch-making event. Its association
with grand achievements has attracted clients like Christian
Lacroix, the Parisian fashion supreme. What hope, then, for
lesser mortals? Recent years, in fact, have seen Omega work
hard at placing its five leader lines in the upper middle,
rather than the luxury, market for wristwatches. The majority
of models in the Art, Symbol, Constellation, Seamaster and
Speedmaster series now retail at between $500 and $1,500.
Since 1987, this positioning has been backed up by the 'Significant
Moments' advertising campaign, adroitly targeting the status
conscious purchasing sector.
Any watch enthusiast will probably be familiar with these
advertisements, which persuade us that moments of personal
triumph are, if not of world-shaking importance, still worthy
of an Omega wristwatch. The personal touch seems to have given
Omega a clear edge over competitors in terms of brand awareness
amongst the public. But any boasts of excellence are hardly
idle. They come from a company with over 140 years of watchmaking
experience, and an altogether exceptional record in precision
Omega's present factory grew from an assembly workshop at
La Chaux-de-Fonds, opened in 1848 by Louis Brandt. Here, Brandt
manufactured key-wound precision pocket watches in silver
cases which found a ready market throughout Europe. In 1877,
he formed the Louis Brandt & Fils Company with his eldest
son, Louis Paul, and in 1880 Louis Paul and his brother César
moved the company to Bienne, where it remains today. There
was a plentiful labour supply in Bienne, and the Brandt brothers
began to manufacture all the components of their watches in-house.
During the 1880s, the first brand names were launched, incorporating
a novel cylinder escapement caliber developed in the factory.
These names - Jura, Helvetia, Patria, Gurzelen - are an amusing
reminder of a more parochial marketing era in the Swiss watch
The company grew fast. Within a decade, it was employing over
600 workers and producing 100,000 watches a year - far more
than many Swiss firms produce today. The Brandts reorganized
manufacturing methods at their factory, introducing the 'divided
assembly system' (like a conveyor belt systems, based on the
standardization of parts). Rival makers were quick to follow.
The economies of the system meant that quality watches could
be produced at a relatively modest price, opening up a vast
Using the new system, the Brandts launched their famous Omega
19 line caliber in 1894. In 1896, it was awarded a gold medal
at the Swiss National Exhibition in Geneva. The name, Omega,
was the inspiration of the Brandts' banker, Henri Rieckel,
and it was chosen to emphasize the fact that the 19 line caliber
represented the ultimate in watchmaking technology.
This watch, accurate and above all affordable, was a huge
and a transforming success for the company. Louis Brandt &
Frère (the company's name from 1891) became Louis Brandt
Frère - Omega Watch Co. in 1903, then Omega, Louis
Brandt & Frère in 1947 and simply Omega Ltd in
This great 'O' (O-mega), last letter of the Greek alphabet
and symbol of divinity, has been associated with infallible
performance throughout the 20th century. The first Omega wristwatch,
with a crown at 9 o'clock, appeared in 1902. In 1917 and 1918,
Omega watches were chosen to equip combat units of the British
Royal Flying Corps and the American army, and during the Second
World War, the British government commissioned water-resistant
steel wristwatches for crew members of the Royal Air Force
- which led to commercial production of the Omega Seamaster
It is hardly surprising that Omega wristwatches have been
entrusted with coordinating decisive moments in man's history.
Their records in observatory tests are unmatched. In 1963,
at the Neuchâtel and Geneva observatories competition,
Omega wristwatches beat every precision record in their category
- the only time a single company has ever achieved this feat.
At about the same time, NASA officials were casting around
for a reliable wristwatch to coordinate the maneuvers of astronauts
on the Gemini and Apollo space missions. A handful of top
quality makes were bought anonymously from a Texas jewelry
store. Only Omega's Speedmaster Professional survived the
rigorous two-year program of tests.
In 1965, the Speedmaster was confirmed as NASA's official
chronograph. Five years later, the wisdom of the choice became
clear, when explosions aboard Apollo XIII destroyed the spacecraft's
timing instruments. With communications from NASA severed,
the astronauts' wristwatches provided the sole - and crucial
- link with earth time. To find the correct trajectory for
a safe return to earth, the firing of the rocket engines had
to be timed to a tenth of a second. The Speedmaster's lifesaving
performance won Omega the 'Snoopy Award' - NASA's foremost
honour. The watch also played a historic role in synchronizing
the East/West rendezvous in space on July 17, 1975, during
the Apollo-Soyuz mission: all the Russian and American astronauts,
shaking hands on neutral territory, wore Speedmaster Professionals.
First created for sports use in 1956, the Speedmaster Professional
is now universally known as the moon watch. For collectors,
there is a special solid gold version, which combines the
heavy-duty professional appearance of the dial with the allure
of precious metal. The 18 carat case also has a transparent
back, allowing a glimpse into history. To commemorate Neil
Armstrong's touchdown, this version is engraved 'First watch
worn on the moon - Apollo XI 1969'. As a symbol of peaceful
progress, it should hold a significant place in any collector's
The last two decades have seen a succession of technical and
esthetic triumphs from the Omega factory. In 1969 came the
Omega Dynamic, a distinctive elliptical wristwatch with a
novel, streamlined dial and bracelet and hands of contrasting
colours. The following year, at Basle, Omega exhibited prototypes
of the revolutionary Megaquartz 2400. This watch, launched
in 1974, was the first high frequency (2.4MHz) quartz wristwatch,
and it has a precision ten times greater than any ordinary
quartz model. The caliber 1511 version also holds a unique
record as the only wristwatch to qualify in observatory tests
as a marine chronometer. Megaquartz 2400 is a handy gadget
for frequent fliers: the TSA (time zone and second adjustment)
device will change the time zone without disturbing the minutes
or seconds precision.
In 1980, Omega pulled its Magic watch out of a hat with the
tap of a commercial wand. This super-slim bestseller has been
a great success in the fashion market - and small wonder.
Within the elegant rectangular case is set a completely transparent
dial and inside the dial, two 'floating' gold hands keep time,
with no apparent mechanism attached to drive them. For as
long as you stare (and resist the temptation to have the watch
prized open) it is impossible to see what keeps them moving.
A sliver of a watch at 1.48mm thick, there is even a special
collector's version of Magic, a mere 1.35mm thick. Those who
prefer to double-check the time should probably opt for Omega's
dual displays Equinoxe instead. Unveiled in 1981, this was
the first reversible wristwatch with analog display on one
side and LCD digital on the other as well as chronograph and
Today, Omega's bestselling line is the Constellation, first
introduced in 1952 and redesigned in 1982. There are numerous
models, all of them identifiable by the current design signature:
four 'claws', which grip the dial at 9 o'clock. Most of the
men's models have subsidiary date and day dials and large
Roman numerals engraved around the bezel. For ladies, a halo
of diamonds around the dial (models C29 and C40) is an elegant
alternative. The Constellations come in steel, 18 carat gold
or steel and gold mixed, with an integrated bracelet or leather
strap. All are water-resistant and selected models (C36, 37
and 38) have the transparent crystal back which is fast becoming
a sine qua non for mechanical movements. Investors looking
for something exclusive, however, can choose from top of the
range models with natural stone dials in onyx, mother of pearl
or lapis lazuli (C31, 32 and 33). Predictably, this series
for successful executives has worked its way into the American
business community, where it is worn as a badge of masculine
Also successful, but more overtly masculine, is the Seamaster
series, targeted as divers and water sportsmen. This chunky,
no-nonsense watch is made of titanium, a space-age metal twice
as light as steel but equally tough and resistant to scratches
and corrosion. The first titanium Seamaster was launched in
1982. It was water-resistant and had a screw-down crown. Recent
models incorporate a thermocompensated quartz movement, subsidiary
date and day indications, a luminous dial and hands, and glareproof
sapphire crystal. The Seamaster Professional (models Sr 36-41)
also has a 0-60 minute rotating bezel and is water-resistant
to a greater depth. For those who perhaps identify with the
image rather than the reality of diving, there is one tiny
concession to fashion: the non-professional models also come
with diamond chips instead of luminous hour markers.
The high-tech and overtly macho appeal of watches like the
Speedmaster and Seamaster has perhaps obscured, or overshadowed,
Omega's success in the ladies' and jewelry watch markets.
In fact, Omega has won the most prestigious styling awards,
through its association with top designers like Gilbert Albert,
Luigi Vignando and Andrew Grima. Three Oscars at the Diamonds
International Award in 1957, 1963 and 1964 secured Omega full
membership of the New York International Diamond Academy -
the leading authority of jewelry. The 1970s brought a string
of awards including two Geneva City Prizes for LED digital
display watches in 1975 and 1976, and several roses at the
Golden Rose of Baden Baden for wristwatches by Luigi Vignando.
Vignando's Ramses II (1970), Salammbo (1971), Osiris (1977)
and Structura (1978) models are classics for collectors of
signature jewelry watches combining metals and stones.
Three technological breakthroughs also deserve a mention:
in 1977/78 the smallest ladies' quartz movement in the world
(caliber 1350) at that time, and the first 'baguette' quartz
movement (caliber 1352), which redefined the shapes and designs
achievable in the fashion watch market - as the baguette-cut
diamond did for Art Deco jewelry in the 1920s; and in 1979,
the Memomaster Quartz, the first ladies' multi-memory LCD
In 1987, Omega added the Art and the Symbol series to its
leader lines, and both continue the company tradition of fine
styling. The Art collection is a limited edition, with a choice
of original designs on the reverse of the watch by Max Bill,
Richard P. Lohse or Paul Talman. These miniature works of
art are very much in the Bridget Riley 'Op Art' spirit, and
the geometric style is a clever visual complement to the 'division
of time' theme. Segments of colour, arranged in rhythmical
patterns, seem to pulsate and rotate - expressing time and
motion and echoing the movement of the watch's hands. The
colourful backs contrast with the stark black and white dial,
which bears only the logo, a date indication and black baton
hour and minute hands. Each piece is numbered and signed on
the reverse, making this a series for collectors.
Finally, Omega has launched into the metaphysical realm with
its Symbol series, based on the Sun and Yin/Yang themes. All
these watches have a choice of multi-two-tone or mono-tone
dial, and 18 carat gold or two-tone water-resistant case,
leather straps or bracelets, scratchproof sapphire crystal
and quartz movements.
The distinguishing feature is the dial. On Yin/Yang models,
a circle expressing the 'perfect whole' is divided into two
equal halves, one dark (the Yin, which stands for the earth
and female aspect), the other light (the Yang, which stands
for the celestial and male aspect). Naturally the two are
interdependent, so each half has a contrasting spot on the
other as a reminder. In some models (S 18 and 19) the circle
and bezel are incrusted with diamonds. The Sun dial is divided
by a disk and radiating lines, which are intended to express
the 'concrete' and the 'abstract' respectively.
Whether business, sport, or culture is your major motivation,
Omega can now claim a leader line to match your aspirations.
There are around 120 models in the Art, Symbol, Seamaster,
Speedmaster and Constellation series, and they account for
over two-thirds of Omega's sales worldwide. Altogether, some
250 Omega models remain from the 1000 or so available before
1985. This streamlining is a wise strategy in an increasingly
tough and competitive market.
What do Queen Victoria, Walt Disney and Albert
Einstein have in common? They, along with many other rich
and famous people, have all owned a Patek Philippe watch.
This company, 150 years old in 1989, is one of the most prestigious
watchmakers in the world. Both artistic and technical excellence
have been its watchwords since the company began; Patek Philippe
never deviates from the highest possible standards.
Antoni Norbert Patek de Prawdzic was born on 12 June 1812
in Piaski, a small town in Poland. As a young man he fought
against Russia in 1831 in the Polish revolution. The following
year, when Tsar Nicholas I crushed the revolt, he was one
of the thousand who fled the country in fear of their lives.
He moved to France, working as a typesetter in Cahors and
Amiens. Settling in Gevena, he Frenchified his name to Antoine
Norbert de Patek, and began studying art with a landscape
painter, Alexandre Calame.
Patek became intrigued by watches at some point during this
period, and put some together by buying first-class movements
from master craftsmen. He commissioned goldsmiths, engravers,
enamellers and miniature painters to decorate and make beautiful
cases for these movements, and by the age of 27 he was a success.
In 1839 Patek entered into two important partnerships: he
married Marie Adélaïde Elisabeth Thomasine Dénizart,
a French merchant's daughter, and formed a company with François
Czapek - Patek, Czapek & Co.
François, who had also been involved with the Polish
revolution, had studied watchmaking in Vienna and Prague before
going to Geneva. Together with a small staff of five to seven
they began to produce about 200 pocket watches per year. Some
of these exquisitely crafted watches had repeat striking,
and most were richly decorated. The embellishments show characteristically
Polish themes: notably, the Madonna of Czestochowa and the
Madonna of Ostrobrama are often found represented on the case
backs. Each watch is numbered, the number punched into the
bottom plate of the movement. On November 21, 1839 Patek and
Czapek produced one of the first pocket watches which could
be wound and set from the crown. Previously, a key had always
been used to wind the mechanism.
But Czapek proved a difficult business partner, and Patek
became restless. Then in 1844 he met Jean Adrien Philippe
at an important trade exhibition in Paris. Philippe was a
French watchmaker's son, and had been fascinated by his father's
trade since childhood. After further training with a chronometer
maker in Le Havre, and a period in London, he started a small
factory in Versailles with the help of a loan from the French
government. Of course, he had to repay this loan and needed
to be profitable. He worked long and hard to perfect an extra-slim
pocket watch with a crown winding mechanism. Rejected by a
number of watchmakers, he took his innovation to the Paris
Exhibition - where he won a gold medal and met his future
business partner. Patek and Czapek had often disagreed with
one another, and their association was amicably dissolved.
The following year, on May 15, Patek & Co. was founded
in Geneva, with Philippe as technical director of the new
The Victorian Industrial Revolution was affecting manufacturing
of every kind. Watchmaking was no exception to this unstoppable
trend, and Philippe set about modernizing production methods.
In addition to inventing new machines, he patented his crown
winding mechanism in 1845. During the next five years Patek
& Co produced 2,618 watches - a notable achievement at
a time when many craftsmen watchmakers were out of work.
By 1848 Patek decided to broaden his market, and began to
travel widely, although not always willingly. In November
1854, for example, he wrote: 'My friends, the difficulties
of the trip are beginning now. When will we be able to sell
watches favorably and then wait for the customers at home,
instead of having to travel all over the world with our products,
incurring high costs and endangering our health?' Patek proved
to be a reliable correspondent during these trips, and seemed
to enjoy writing, for in 1863 he wrote a book entitled 'The
Keyless Pocket Watches, that are wound and set without a key'
and became a regular writer on the subject of watches for
the Journal de Genève.
Patek Philippe & Co. was officially named in 1851, a move
which recognized Philippe's considerable contribution to the
firm's fortunes. The new name coincided with great success
at the World's Fair in London, where Queen Victoria bought
one of their pocket watches. This model hung from an 18 carat
gold brooch decorated with 13 diamonds. Its ornate cover is
enameled blue, with engraved flowers and diamond roses completing
the embellishments on the cover of the gold case. It has ten
jewels and, of course, Philippe's distinctive crown winding.
Prince Albert chose a gold hunter with quarter-hour repeat
striking, crown winding, and chronometer escapement. From
now on Patek Philippe & Co. began to produce special watches
for every exhibition and trade fair they attended.
We may think that cheap, 'pirate' copies of prestigious brands
is a modern phenomenon - but as long ago as 1885 Patek Philippe
discovered a forgery: a pocket watch signed Pateck & Cie.
Genève. The extra 'c' in Patek gave the game away.
A court case resulted, and it was decided that Patek Philippe
should be paid the profits on these forgeries - 15,000 francs.
The perpetrators of the fraud, Armand Schwob & Frère,
were also forbidden to use Patek's name, however it was spelt.
The firm continued to expand. A new headquarters, six stories
high, was built, and is still the headquarters today. In the
leather-lined showrooms on the ground floor the firm's most
expensive watches were displayed, along with all their medals
and awards. By 1901, when Lèon de Patek (Antoine Patek's
son) left the company, the Patek family's involvement came
to an end. However, two members of the Philippe family, Joseph-Emile
and Joseph-Antoine Benassy, were still numbered amongst the
seven directors who founded the new stock company, the Ancienne
Manufacture d'Horlogerie Patek Philippe & Cie SA. Yet
another storie was added to the headquarters in 1908, and
an electric clock was set into the gable. This clock is now
connected to the circuits of Patek Philippe's master quartz
clock, the same model which also keeps time in the Vatican.
During the early years of this century as the wristwatch became
increasingly popular, Patek Philippe began to concentrate
their resources on developing mechanisms and designs for these
then controversial items. A women's platinum wristwatch, with
five-minute repeater, was made by the company in 1915, but
only one was ever produced. In 1925 Patek Philippe launched
a men's wristwatch with minute repeat. A range of 40 of these
watches continued to be made until 1962.
By 1925 they had produced the first wristwatch with a perpetual
calendar, basing the design on a ladies' pocket watch which
had first been made in 1898. Production difficulties meant
that this design had a short life, and it was not until 1941
that series production of wristwatches with perpetual calendars
was economically feasible. This model, number 1518 (chronograph),
is now a collectors' piece, very popular whenever it comes
up at auction. One of this series, made in rose-gold, was
bought by the famous American boxer Sugar Ray Robinson in
1957. Sadly, it was stolen nine months later - a fact recorded
in the discreet archives at Patek Philippe's shop.
The great financial crash of 1929 affected business all over
the world. But out of this apparent disaster came one of Patek
Philippe's lasting classics - the Calatrava (Model 96). This
elegantly simple timepiece is still being made today - the
only difference from the original being the frequently updated
mechanism; the outer design remains the same as the 1932 original.
The Calatrava cross became a recognized Patek Philippe symbol,
and is found on a number of their wristwatches - although
not all, as some people mistakenly believe.
How did this positive reversal of fate come about? The company,
in common with countless others, found that there was simply
no market for luxury goods during a time of severe economic
recession. They were running out of money, and decided to
sell off a majority shareholding in the firm. This was bought
by Fabrique de Cadrans Stern Frères, which has long
supplied Patek Philippe with raw movements. The company lost
its last links with the original founders, for Jean Adrien
Philippe - grandson of the first Jean Adrien - resigned. However,
watchmaking is a business that seems to inspire family loyalty:
two members of the Stern family are today president and general
manager. They intend to keep Patek Philippe in the family.
Jean Pfister, the new chairman brought in by the Stern brothers
in 1932, made an historic decision; Patek Philippe would manufacture
their own raw movements instead of relying on outside suppliers.
The Calatrava represents the 'new' company's resurrection,
and the foundation of the company today. Pfister's second
major innovation was to streamline production by limiting
the variety of calibers to a select, first-class few. Running
precision was thus vastly improved; Patek Philippe successfully
entered around 500 watches in the Geneva Observatory's precision
contest between 1944 and 1966.
Technical innovations followed financial stability. In 1948
an electronics department was set up, which was to create
the first fully electronic quartz watch without moving parts,
and the first independent quartz pendule during the 1950s.
Their first commercially-available quartz watch was launched
in 1970. However, decisions taken during the 1960s are still
adhered to today; Patek Philippe do not manufacture quartz
watches with digital indication via light diodes or fluid
crystals. Their quartz models with analog indication are offered
as an alternative to mechanicals - both types are of an extremely
high quality. They still produce about 20 to 30 per cent more
mechanical watches than quartz models, most of which are made
for the women's market.
Of the 40 Patek Philippe patents registered in Berne between
1949 and 1979, three are especially notable. In 1949, the
Gyromax balance was developed. Not only did this balance improve
precise regulation, but it could also be adjusted once it
was built into the mechanism. In 1958 Patek Philippe devised
a new method for attaching the hairspring to the balance block.
The following year they launched a more efficient mechanism
for changing local times when traveling, without moving the
minute hand. Developments in the mechanical field have continued:
the world's slimmest automatic movement (2.4mm), launched
in 1977, is still in production. And in 1985 they added a
perpetual calendar module to this movement, increasing its
size to a still-slender 3.75mm.
Yet 20th-century technology, mass-production, and the twin
evils of built-in obsolescence and disposability have failed
to permeate Patek Philippe's exemplary standards. Production
is limited to about 50 watches each day. These are lovingly
created in every detail by the firm's team of master craftsmen;
one watch may take from nine months to five years to produce.
Indeed, the attention to quality is unprecedented. Master
watchmakers must undergo what amounts to a second apprenticeship
once they join the company, while the chainsmiths will have
trained for a total of eight years before being considered
suitable employees. The company's enamellers are similarly
among the very best representatives of their art. Any design
or motif you can dream up can be painted on to the watch case
by these talented artists - who often paint exquisite miniature
pictures using just one hair. Patek Philippe are the only
company in the world to offer this elite service to their
customers. The engravers, goldsmiths, and jewelers are similarly
gifted, displaying a formidable combination of artistry, training,
and patient hard work. The result is that these watches are
all subtly unique, for they are hand-crafted right down to
the last tiny screw, which is polished before taking its place
in the mechanism.
Apart from the classic Calatrava, there are a number of models
particularly worth mentioning. The Golden Ellipse (1969) is
available with quartz, automatic, or hand-wound movements.
Its proportions were inspired by the Golden Mean - primarily
an architectural measure of harmonious proportion which was
employed in the building of ancient Greek temples and medieval
cathedrals. The most popular design has a blue and gold dial;
there are also diamond-set, white, and gold dials, and a skeleton
model with a visible mechanical movement. Early Golden Ellipse
watches had crowns decorated with the Calatrave cross, but
this was later abandoned since it was felt to interfere with
The Nautilus range have cases made form a block of metal -
gold, or stainless steel. This means that they are water-resistant;
to 60m/200ft for women's watches and 120m/400ft for men's.
Most models show the date, and are protected by a sapphire
crystal. All mechanical Nautilus watches are made with automatic
winding. Some Nautilus models have simple faces with baton
numerals, and the date appearing on the right-hand side of
the face. Others are lavishly decorated with diamonds emeralds.
Recently, in 1985 and 1987 two multifunctional watches were
launched. Model 3940 (1985) has a perpetual calendar, and
indicates the moon's phase, leap-year, and the 24-hour clock.
It is also the slimmest of its kind with a thickness of 3.75mm.
The first series of Model 3970 (1987) sold out straight away
- before the watches even reached the normal retailers. It
has a chronograph, and perpetual calendar, plus leap-year
and 24-hour clock indicators.
Another highly successful recent model is the 3919, with the
porcelain coloured dial, and Clous de Paris bezel. Its simplicity
is dateless, and it has proved to be very popular. Fascinating
skeleton models, where all the delicately complex workings
may be seen, are also manufactured.
Confidential archive records are kept in fireproof safes at
Patek Philippe's shop in the Rue du Rhône, Geneva. These
books list all the company's famous clients - at least, all
those who have purchased their watches at this luxurious address.
Should one of these watches be stolen, this regrettable fact
is also entered in the records. If the watch ever turns up
again - perhaps for servicing - it can be retuned to its original
Of course, Patek Philippe also make very special watches -
one of a kind - to order. An early example is a pocket watch
they made for J.W.Packard, the American automobile millionaire,
in 1927. Packard requested that his mother's favourite song
should replace the usual alarm tone. The craftsmen succeeded,
and for 8,300 Swiss francs Packard was able to hear La Berceuse
from Godard's opera Jocelyn instead of a plebeian buzz.
On April 9, 1989 Habsburg Feldman, the Geneva auctioneers,
held an exclusive Patek Philippe sale to celebrate the 150th
anniversary of Patek Philippe; the last lot number 301, was
the Calibre 89, only just completed, and it fetched SFr 4095m.
This astonishing pocket watch is the most complicated the
company has ever made - it has 33 complications divided into
five main categories: timekeeping, calendar, chronograph,
the chime and operational functions.
Patek Philippe watches are necessarily expensive to buy, since
they are masterpieces of the highest quality. However, initial
investment is rapidly rewarded. Watches with minute repetition
have been known to increase in value as much as 1,000 per
cent within a few years, while other models usually realize
gains of around 100 per cent in the same timespan.
As befits the director of one of the most
exclusive watchmakers in the world, Yves Piaget spends more
than 35 nights each year in a plane. A high-profile jet setter
with a passion for equestrian sports, M.Piaget always launches
a Piaget collection in style. St Tropez or Monte Carlo might
be the venue and among the hand-picked guests who dance until
dawn to the sound of champagne corks popping are international
celebrities such as Boris Becker, Gina Lollobrigida, Gunter
Sachs and Sammy Davis Jnr. This kind of high-level exposure
is what the Piaget business is all about - selling watches
to the rich and famous.
The rise and rise of the Piaget company, a relative latecomer
in the watchmaking field, has a fairy-tale quality, appropriate
enough since the business began on a small farm in the village
of La Côte aux Fées (Hillside of the Fairies)
in the Jura valley above Neuchâtel. In the mid-19th
century Georges Piaget was one of a few farmers who eked out
a meager living in summer and turned to tinkering with watches
in the long lean winter months. In 1874 he established a tiny
workshop where members of his family (he had 14 children)
could work, at first part-time, turning out watch movements
for different watchmakers. Over the next few decades the business
became successful enough to occupy the family full-time. Only
rarely in these early days did the company self complete watches
on the local market - marking Piaget and Co. on the dials
- and indeed the trading name was not even registered.
It was not until 1937 that the watchmaking business moved
out of the farmhouse and into proper workshop premises, and
only after the Second World War that Piaget established itself
on the international market as a top-quality watchmaker. This
was due to Gérald and Valentin, Georges Piaget's grandsons,
who reorganized the company, created its first wristwatch
collection and began marketing its products worldwide. Development
from the 1950s on has been nothing short of spectacular.
In 1960 the family opened a jewelry workshop in Geneva (the
movements were and still are made at La Côte aux Fées);
in 1961 the firm opened its first foreign branch in Offenbach,
West Germany, and in 1964 it acquired a majority shareholding
in Baume & Mercier, the respected but ailing firm of Swiss
Piaget have always concentrated on haute couture jewelry watches
and until the mid-1980s, ladies' models accounted for some
70 per cent of total production. Indeed, the company employs
more jewelers than watchmakers, a fact explained by the richly
embellished dress watches inset with hundreds of diamonds,
rubies and sapphires that form a major part of Piaget's range.
Add to this the matching necklaces, ear clips and rings available
with certain models and one realizes that Piaget is as much
in the jewelry business as it is in the watchmaking trade.
The company has led the field in producing dials set with
precious and semiprecious stones. Not only diamonds and rubies
decorate watches but coral, onyx, mother of pearl, opal and
lapis lazuli - all distinctive, stylish materials - are also
used. The Diamond Heart Watch, set with 132 stones, has a
gem-studded dial, a heart-shaped bezel encrusted with 18 large
diamonds and a matching diamond bracelet. This is of relatively
conservative design, if such dazzling brilliance can be so
called. By contrast, the sumptuous Galaxy, with its black
onyx dial and sinuous gold and diamond case and bracelet,
is streamlined and ultra-modern.
Piaget's forte as jewelry designers lies in the integration
of watch and bracelet. Early on, Piaget realized that if its
watches were to be worn as items of jewelry the bracelet must
receive as much attention as the watch itself; in many models,
such as the famous Polo, the face moves imperceptibly into
the bracelet so that the immediate visual effect is of a heavy
gold wristband which is also, almost as an afterthought, a
timepiece. This is artifice at a high level, but so skillful
is the design that it pays off. After all, as Yves Piaget
nonchalantly remarks, 'You don't read the time from a Piaget
- you admire it
Yet if this implies that Piaget are cavalier about watchmaking,
nothing could be further from the truth. Like four other top
names in the watchmaking world (Vacheron Constantin, Audemars
Piguet, Patel Philippe and Rolex) Piaget have scored some
notable technical triumphs. In 1959 it launched a ladies'
watch with ultra-thin 9P movement; in 1960 it created the
world's thinnest self-winding watch movement, the Piaget caliber
12P with a thickness of 2.3mm.
Unlike many rivals who could not believe that the appeal of
quartz precision would last, Piaget embraced the new technology
enthusiastically. Indeed, in cooperation with an electronics
research centre (in which the company also has a shareholding)
Piaget beat the Japanese at their own game to manufacture
in 1976 the world's thinnest quartz watch movement, the 7P
caliber. There is even a Piaget quartz movement, caliber 30P,
with perpetual programming that will work until 2100. The
only one in the world with the memory of the exact time. Even
when the watch was switched off to save battery power, it
automatically set itself to the right time when turned on
again. Instantaneous time-zone change could also be achieved
by using a simple switching device. Not only does it make
automatic adjustments for leap years but it also takes into
account the Gregorian calendar correction at the start of
the next century.
Piaget's most enduring model is Polo, launched in 1980. A
distinctive sports watch featuring horizontal gold bars on
case and bracelet, it was an instant success and its avant-garde
design much imitated. A water-resistant timepiece, it is now
available in many combinations - interspersed with diamonds,
with gold and stone dials, with round faces and diamond bezels
or as a perpetual calendar watch. Similarly masculine and
perhaps inspired by Polo's success is Chukka, with its heavy
bracelet made up of gold wedges. The Diplomat, a classic design
launched in 1965, is still a best seller. Rectangular in shape
with cut corners, the original has vertical fine guilloche
lines continuing through the watch face. An elegant female
version of this is now available with quartz movement, with
gold and brown lines on the bezel and face.
Piaget continue to produce mechanical watches, which make
up a third of the output, and the popularity of sports and
'daywear' models (including the new Dancer model) has meant
a slightly lower production of jewelry watches. Piaget make
only 12,000 to 14,000 watches per year, so when they do launch
a new model, it is certainly stylish. One of the latest, L'Aura,
is a jewelry watch and a symbol of Piaget's remarkable virtuosity.
Made entirely of diamonds and coloured stones, it is as spectacular
a watch as one is likely to see and an example of the company's
sure touch in producing objects d'art which will become the
rarities of tomorrow.
Raymond Weil is the most recently founded
independent maker of wristwatches to be mentioned in this
'A to Z'. After 25 years in the trade, he commenced his business,
with Mme Simone Bedat, in 1976 in the village of Les Brenets,
a few miles south-west of La Chaux-de-Fonds, and from the
very beginning it was clear that Weil was going to take unusual
routes to fame in the middle market for wristwatches.
Mozart and Vivaldi are his favourite composers, flying is
his hobby, and his preferred writer is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
(1900-1944), the French novelist and aviator. It is therefore
entirely to be expected that Raymond Weil travels very widely
and that he has produced watches bearing names such as Fidelio,
Othello, Traviata, Adagio and Amadeus. However, his chosen
sector of the market is the quality fashion one, and he has
attacked it vigorously, with clever marketing, advertising,
sponsorship and special promotions. Older watchmakers are
noting with interest, and perhaps envy, his progress, as his
annual unit sales approach the half-million mark; retail prices
range from around $187 to $1,700. He does not directly manufacture
himself, but stays very close indeed to his suppliers (many
of whom work almost exclusively for him); this is certainly
not a new business concept, but it is generally a successful
one, affording maximum flexibility whilst steadily approaching
the stages at which some processes can be profitably brought
in-house and under 100 per cent control.
All Raymond Weil watches have quartz ETA modules (Flatline
3, and he has initiated his own 1.2mm module), with extra-thick
18 carat gold electroplating on the backs, bracelets and strap
buckles; their glasses are either scratch-resistant mineral
or sapphire, they are water-resistant, and come in ladies'
and gentlemen's sizes. No unusual specifications here; it
is the highly creative designs which make these watches stand
out. For instance, the firm launched in 1988 the Traviata
range - and, of course, there is a musical reference: the
tuning fork. An integral strip of metal on the bezel at 6
o'clock starts across the dial towards 12 o'clock, but then
separates into two parallel forks which finish at 11 o'clock
and 1 o'clock. Specially coloured and shaped mineral glasses
are set into the divided spaces. On some models, all or part
of the dial is pavé-set and the glass plain. On another
model, a single integrated metal strip is set off-centre from
the top of the bezel to the bottom. The full pavé dials
contain 443 stones, all set by hand. Raymond Weil's eight-style
Othello range came the year before, in 1987, and, again, these
modern, simple and ultra-thin timepieces have originality,
instant appeal and lasting value (change the battery every
two years, and check the bracelet or strap at the same time).
Model 126P, without numerals and black-dialed, has a turban-like
twisted black and gold bezel - very Othello.
Readers of Britain's Daily Mail in 1927 were
somewhat surprised by the front page news for Thursday November
24. The headlines were neither the latest information on the
increasingly volatile situation in Germany nor concerning
Trotsky and Zinoviev's recent expulsion from the Communist
party. Instead the entire page was given over to an advertisement
proclaiming 'the greatest Triumph in Watch-making'. A Rolex
Oyster, 'The Wonder Watch that Defies the Elements', had seemingly
performed the impossible. Worn by a young London stenographer,
Mercedes Glietze, throughout her 15-hour 15-minute swim across
the English Channel seven weeks previously, the watch had
not only survived unscathed, it was still keeping perfect
Today, in an age when waterproof watches are taken for granted,
it is difficult to appreciate the impact of such a story.
But six decades ago this announcement was more than just a
clever advertising ploy, it was the vindication of one man's
Bavarian-born Hans Wilsdorf had decided to concentrate in
an area that was then viewed with a certain amount of derision
- the wristwatch. In the early years of this century, when
the larger pocket watch was still de rigueur, the wearing
of a watch on the wrist was considered a mark of effeminacy.
But even with the considerations of current taste and fashion
put to one side, it was generally considered that the required
size of movement would be insufficiently robust or accurate
and easily damaged by its proximity to harmful elements such
as dust and damp. Wilsdorf was unconvinced.
His first move was to lodge the largest order for ébauches
recorded up to that time for a small lever escapement movement
from Hermann Aegler of Bienne in Switzerland. Hundreds of
models of the 'wristlet' watch, as it was called in those
days, were tested in the Far East and British Empire markets,
proving particularly popular in Australia and New Zealand.
A series of silver ladies' and men's wristwatches were followed
up by models in gold, all with leather straps. The expanding
bracelet, now the hallmark of the Rolex watch, was added after
Watches during this period were still being issued under the
name Wilsdorf & Davies, a company that in five short years
had become one of the leading forces in the British watch
trade. For generations the English watchmaker and importer
had inscribed the product he was to sell with his own name.
Wilsdorf had other ideas. He wanted to include a trade name
of his own that would be short, easy to pronounce and remembered
the world over. So the title 'Rolex' was born.
Acceptance of this radical break with tradition took many
years. That is the reason why in the two decades prior to
1927 there are Rolex watches that bear both the name of the
dealer and the new trade name, or the dealer's name alone.
That November 24 was a landmark in the history of the company
not only for the launch of the first water-resistant watch-
it also put the name Rolex irrevocably on the map.
Protection of delicate watch movements had exercised the ingenuity
of watch movements had exercised the ingenuity of watchmakers
from the early days of horology. Despite attempts to protect
the movement with a dustproof band and Borgel's endeavor in
1891 to produce a single-piece case that screwed directly
onto the movement, the possibility of water resistant models
seemed an uncommercial proposition, fit only as 'web watches
for ducks', as one wit remarked.
Wilsdorf's solution was threefold. A Crystal specially adapted
to the bezel precluded condensation. The casing, first patented
in Switzerland in September 1926, featured a casing ring,
back and bezel all threaded. When assembled all the case components
were clamped together, thus rendering the joints totally proof
against water and dust.
The third problem to be solved was to create an impermeable
winding crown. Wilsdorf's Swiss patent for such an invention
was issued only a month later than that for the waterproof
casing. The mechanism consisted of the winding crown screwed
onto an outer tube, which screwed in its turn into the caseband,
and an inner sleeve threaded to receive the winding mechanism.
The watch can be wound only when the crown is unscrewed, freeing
the spring to engage the winding crown with the watch mechanism.
When closed, the two metallic surfaces hermetically seal the
This basic system is still used in the classic Rolex Oyster
watch of today. Guaranteed to a minimum depth of 100m/330ft,
many a contemporary Rolex boasts an extremely hard and virtually
scratch-proof synthetic sapphire crystal, while all possess
the traditional tough casing, hewn out of solid ingots of
stainless steel, platinum or 18 carat gold. The winding crown
twinlock mechanism is assembled in 32 minute and precise stages.
The triplock offers additional protection for the two deep-sea
diving models, the Submariner (300m/1,000ft) and Sea-Dweller
Modern Rolexes are tested electronically in a dry medium even
more stringent than the traditional testing in water. If a
leakage is discovered, the Oyster case is submerged in a Étancheiscope,
an instrument, like many of its specialized testing machines,
developed by the company. A vacuum is created causing air
bubbles to escape, thus indicating the precise location of
Wilsdorf was not prepared to stop there. In a prophetic letter
written in 1912, he was to lay down the philosophy that characterizes
the ethos of Rolex today. 'It is not with low prices', he
wrote, 'but on the contrary it is with improved quality that
we can not only hold the market but improve it.'
With the creation of the water-resistant wristwatch, Wilsdorf
could turn his attention to the efficient solution of the
self-winding watch mechanism. Originally invented in a crude
form by Abraham-Louis Perrelet of Le Locle, Switzerland, in
the mid-18th century, it was perfected in many details by
the great French watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, and issued
under the name 'perpetuelle'.
Various watchmakers had made attempts in this direction, but
with minimal success. Wilsdorf's contribution was the rotor
mechanism, a metal mass of unstable equilibrium with the ability
to rotate in two directions on a central axis which in its
turn is connected to and capable of winding the movement at
the slightest flick of the wrist. The mainspring is thus maintained
fully wound to ensure lasting precision.
Rolex was also the first to include a date (Datejust) or day
and date (Day-Date) function by windows cut in the dial. The
latter, available in 26 languages, is a feature of the 18
carat gold and platinum models only.
For faultless accuracy the workmanship must be impeccable,
a promise that comes with every Rolex watch. Every chronometer
dial (out of total of 41 models of masculine wristwatch in
the Oyster range, 37 are chronometers) bears the legend 'Superlative
Chronometer Officially Certified' and is accompanied by the
Rolex red seal. This certification is testimony that the watch
has been qualified as a chronometer according to the exacting
standards of the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres
Rolex is no newcomer to such rigorous testing. In 1910, the
very first Rolex wristwatch chronometer was awarded a first-class
certificate. Four years later Rolex received the accolade
of producing the first ever Class 'A' Timing certificate awarded
by a testing observatory for a wristlet chronometer of 25mm
(11in) in circumference, involving five positions and three
temperature tests (ambient [around 18°C], freezing and
In 1925 Kew was again the testing observatory for an oval
chronometer which also gained a class 'A' certificate, again
the smallest contemporary wristwatch to receive such a result.
Serial manufacture of chronometers began in earnest in 1936
after a special order of 500 Rolex chronometers for King George
V's Silver Jubilee. The consignment was not only completed
in 146 days; each watch also received a rating certificate
with the comment 'specially good' from the Bienne station.
Such testimonials have kept Rolex in the forefront of horological
science and Rolexes on the wrists of many of the 20th century's
most famous explorers and achievers, such as landspeed world
record-breaking Sir Malcolm Campbell, tennis star Chris Evert
and voyager Tim Severin. A Rolex Oyster accompanies Sir Edmund
Hillary to the summit of Everest in 1953 and Reinhold Messner's
conquest of the same mountain without oxygen equipment 25
years later. Sir Ranulph Fiennes' TransGlobe Expedition tested
the Rolex in polar conditions, while Commex, leaders in the
deep-sea diving industry, automatically equip their divers
with Oyster watches. The list is long and impressive.
Wilsdorf's early awareness of the value of advertising and
promotion, so effectively used in the Daily Mail lead mentioned
previously, has long kept Rolex in the position of a world
market leader. More recently his successor, Andre J. Heiniger,
who joined the company after the Second World War, has promoted
Rolex in other fields. Golfer Arnold Palmer, conductor Lorin
Maazel, opera star Kiri Te Kanawa and film director Franco
Zeffirelli have all featured in recent Rolex advertisements.
It is probably less well-known that Rolex also manufacture
a luxury line of watches - Cellini. Named after the celebrated
Renaissance goldsmith, sculptor and auto-biographer, Benvenuto
Cellini, the 80-odd wristwatches in the collection are fashioned
only from 18 carat white or yellow gold. Their production,
no doubt, contributes to Rolex's high annual requirements
of gold, making the business the biggest consumer of this
precious metal in Switzerland.
Rolex do not advertise their connection with Tudor watches,
a line introduced more than four decades ago to satisfy a
market that required high quality combined with modest price.
Nevertheless, their Oyster casing, together with day and date
functions and rotor mechanism, leave no doubt as to their
Both Cellini and Tudor watches can come with a leather strap
or bracelet. Not so the Oyster. Each is issued with a bracelet,
the President for Day-Date models in matching 18 carat gold
to platinum, the Jubilee for the Datejust in 18 carat gold,
stainless steel or mixed metal and the classic Oyster, originally
designed for the whole range and obtainable in a similar choice
Hans Wilsdorf died in 1960, when Rolex's name in the history
of the wristwatch was assured. He had seen his empire grow
from a small headquarters in London to an international concern,
relocated in 1919 to the center of Geneva. The years since
his death have seen further expansion, with the construction
of a modern building in 1965 on the outskirts of the city
that was effectively doubled in size by additions completed
in 1981. Montres Rolex SA now own 19 subsidiary companies
and have service centers in 24 of the world's major cities.
Continual striving for perfection has made Rolex watches sought-after
collector's pieces. If Wilsdorf were alive today he would
no doubt derive much satisfaction from the perusal of the
watch sale catalogs from some of the major international auction
houses where Rolex models of all periods vie with such illustrious
names as Patek Phillipe, Longines and Cartier. But would he
really be surprised?
The Dreyfuss family have been making watches
in La Chaux-de-Fonds for over 100 years, and today the business
is still both owned and managed by them. Edward Dreyfuss,
grandson of the founder Moise Dreyfuss, is proud of the family's
continuing reputation for well-designed, good quality gold
and gold-plated wristwatches at reasonable prices, and his
own son Robert looks set to maintain and expand the ranges.
A London branch of the original company was founded soon after
1905 by Moise's oldest son Georges when he went to England;
his brother Sylvain arrived a few years later. Together they
stimulated world-wide demand for Rotary watches, causing a
new factory to be built in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1967. The
third of Moise Dreyfuss's three sons, who had stayed in Switzerland,
died in 1982 at the age of 93: his name was René. Soon
afterwards the notable René Dreyfuss range of handmade
mechanical watches was launched; this includes a gold-plated
wristwatch, which is an hour and five minute chiming repeater
(MP 006). They also produce two handsome gold-plated automatic
skeletons (MP 008 and MP 009) which are less expensive. These
watches are serially numbered.
For the past two hundred years, Switzerland's
watch industry has been world-famous - synonymous with quality,
precision, and style. Perhaps one of the best-known Swiss
companies is Tissot, founded in 1853 by Charles-Félicien
Tissot and his son, Charles-Emile, at Le Locle, where Tissot's
modern factory is still located.
Charles-Emile had spent five years in New York; this had given
him an innovative approach to marketing his family's watches,
and the first beautifully crafted pocket watches were sold
in the USA. Clearly a born traveler, Charles-Emile then set
about selling Tissot watches to the wealthy imperial Russian
market. His 52 visits were well rewarded, for until the Russian
Revolution in 1917, Russia was Tissot's main outlet.
Charles-Emile's son, Charles, and his son, Paul, created their
own revolution, which was to insure the survival of their
company. Charles supervised the building of a new factory,
and introduced machines that could do the work more efficiently
than before. Paul refined production methods still further,
and following family tradition broke into new foreign markets.
By now Tissot was becoming well-known; some of their watches
had won coveted prizes at the 1893 World Fair, Chicago; the
Paris Exhibition, 1889; Geneva, 1896; and the Paris World
Exhibition of 1900.
A sense of originality and innovation forms a continuous theme
which links this company's early history with the present
day. In the 1900s it launched a comprehensive range of wristwatches;
in 1930 the Tissot anti-magnetic watch was the first of its
kind. Tissot's Navigator watch was another first - a self-winding
watch with universal calendar. (The latest quartz analog Navigator
displays local time in all 24 time-zones.) The 1958 watch
collection not only introduced the single caliber, but offered
quality watches at realistic prices - an enduring policy to
which Tissot still adheres.
The electronic quartz watch was a revolution in itself. Tissot's
contributions to this field include in-depth research into
the magnetic clutch, which facilitates accurate automatic
time-zone changes, and the first analog quartz watch with
combined multi-functional digital display.
Most recently, the Tissot PR Sonor contains a minuscule micro-processor
which can change time-zones and program alarm times with absolute
accuracy. The letters PR stand for 'proof': Tissot's PR100
range is water-resistant to a depth of 100m/300ft, and represents
the top end of their traditional range of affordable classic
watches in steel, gold plate and two-tone metal. They are
still manufacturing charming pocket watches, too, although
these days they are quartz rather than mechanical.
Tissot's latest innovatory achievement is the TwoTimer (1987).
Newly perfected technology and highly-sensitive computer-controlled
machines were employed in its development and subsequent manufacture,
reducing the number of parts by ten per cent and production
costs by 30-35 per cent. The TwoTimer is a modern, multi-functional
watch that represents another first in Tissot's pioneering
history. Both movement and case are combined for the first
time in a metal watch. This single piece is called the plate.
Traditionally, the components of a watch are manufactured
separately: the movement, case, dial, assembly and finishing
are divided between different departments or even different
companies. Charles and Paul Tissot would undoubtedly applaud
the efficiency and economy of this recent invention.
The watch itself must be a modern collectors' classic for
technological reasons alone. It is also symbolic of our data-hungry
era, for its functions include the date, with relevant day
of the week in English, French or Spanish; time in another
programmable time-zone; chronograph to the hundredth of a
second; timer with visible countdown; and a 24-hour alarm.
At present there are nine models, all water-resistant to 30m/100ft.
As with all Tissot models, these watches are reasonably priced.
Technology aside, Tissot's most intriguing and unusual range
of watches was launched in 1985. The RockWatch (a name coined
by its inventor, Tissot's president, Dr. Ernst Thomke) is
genuinely unique - for its case is made of Swiss granite,
millions of years old, and no two pieces are the same.
The granite for these extraordinary watches is mined from
quarries at Graubunden, Ticino, Valais, and Gothard-Furka-Julier.
Different traces and striations of minerals and semi-precious
stones are found in the rock, depending upon where it was
mined. These include quartz, pyrites, topaz, garnet and tourmaline;
tiny sparkling specks light up the grey granite watch face.
Such geological variations also mean that the colour of the
granite ranges from dark, somber grey to lighter tones with
green or red overtones. Apparently, the vivid red and yellow
hands were inspired by the stakes which mark out Alpine hiking
While the TwoTimer reflects high-tech chic, the RockWatch
is in tune with another worldwide modern obsession - nature.
Since their launch they have clearly struck a chord, for more
than one million have been sold to a public hungry for something
different. This range of watches has been further developed
to include 'Jewels of Nature' - watch faces made from semi-precious
stones, basalt, mother of pearl, coral and shell rock.
In 1988 WoodWatch was launched - its satisfyingly simple case
carved from ecologically-sound Corsican briar, a wood traditionally
popular with pipe manufacturers. Certainly, Tissot have done
much to make original design and reliable quality widely available.
No doubt further originality and invention will carry them
into the 21st century.
Ulysse Nardin is currently the astronomical
and mechanical wizard among Swiss watchmakers. To the uninitiated,
it is not a high-street name like Omega or Rolex. Nor does
the firm service high-street clients. The Ulysse Nardin collector
is a rarer species, with a mechanical heart and mind, and
a deep pocket.
A prize Ulysse Nardin wristwatch, such as the Planetarium
Copernicus (1988), retails at around 45,000 Swiss francs and
the limited edition with six planets cut out of meteorite
would be considerably more. Those who covet the Planetarium,
or Ulysse Nardin's Astrolabium Galileo Galilei (1985), do
so in the spirit of the 18th-century collector who cherished
the astrolabes, pocket globes, orreries and other scientific
instruments in his cabinet as miniature mechanical embodiments
of science, art, history and progress.
That said, Ulysse Nardin has not had a smooth commercial run
in recent years. Its fortunes were nearly spiked by competition
from quartz technology, and in the early 1980s the company
was on the brink of collapse. Salvaged in 1983 by a small
group of investors under Rolf W.Schndyer's entrepreneurial
direction, Ulysse Nardin made an overnight comeback with the
presentation of the sensational Astrolabium in 1985. It is,
once again, spearheading the renaissance of mechanical watchmaking.
And now that we are on the crest of the 'Aquarian Age', and
a renewed interest in astrology has rekindled nostalgia for
moonphase and astronomical watches, the trading prospects
of the company look secure.
Ulysse Nardin's headquarters are in Le Locle, high up in the
Neuchâtel Jura. It was here, in 1774, that Ulysse's
grandfather, Jean Léonard Nardin, set up a modest business
making trustworthy stoves and water systems. His son Léonard
Frédéric (born 1792) inherited these mechanical
and manual skills, and became the family's first watchmaker,
preparing the ground for Ulysse Nardin (1823-1876) the third
generation. It was in 1846 that Ulysse set up the company,
which swiftly won international recognition for the supreme
precision and elegance of its pocket chronometers and alarm
watches. Ulysse's exacting standards were respected by his
son, Paul David Nardin, who took over the management in 1876.
Paul David steered the business through its peak phase as
the premier supplier of high-precision marine chronometers
to international shipping lines. These chronometers, every
captain's lifeline before the advent of quartz technology
and navigational satellites, won Ulysse Nardin some 4,300
official awards from observatories.
After the Second World War, Ulysse's descendants began to
specialize in slim automatic wristwatches, but the fast-moving,
novelty-seeking market was slipping away from their grasp.
When the marine chronometer was superseded by quartz and satellite
technology, the generations of mechanical knowledge and skill
invested in the company's products seemed virtually redundant.
The company's position was sorely shaken by the economic crises
of the 1970s and the relentless advance of quartz technology.
Attempts to seduce the Near Eastern market with wristwatches
that offered plenty of gold but no 'unique' promotional features
were an expensive failure. Stockpiles mounted, while the network
of wholesalers and retailers fragmented.
In 1983, Rolf W. Schnyder rescued Ulysse Nardin from impending
disaster. For 1½ million Swiss francs, he acquired
a 60 per cent stake, and in recent years Schnyder has skillfully
rebuilt the company's image.
With the unsaleable stock he inherited melted down, and a
stable network of retailers found for some fine new mechanical
wristwatches, the search was on for a totally unique, record-breaking
wristwatch which would eclipse all competition and revolutionize
the company's fortunes.
The Astrolabium Galileo Galilei, as aficionados know, did
exactly that. In 1988, it made the front cover of the Guinness
Book of Records. This unique astrolabe, a tribute to the inventor
of the telescope, was publicly unveiled in 1985, at the Basle
Watch Fair. It was the first wristwatch in the world to offer,
in addition to the time of day, local time and month, many
astronomical indications - at least for those who could understand
them. Schnyder had to rewrite the operating instructions to
make the many functions of this watch understandable for those
who had no knowledge of astronomy. However, those who do not
know one end of a telescope from another can easily appreciate
the consummate craftsmanship of the Astolabium, while for
amateur astronomers it will indicate, at a glance, the ruling
zodiac sign, the height and direction of the sun, moon and
fixed stars, sunrise and sunset, dawn and dusk, moon phases,
moonrise and moonset and the eclipse of the sun and moon.
Different dials are produced to suit the owner's geographical
location, and the watch is water-resistant to 30m/100ft. Around
the bezel, the equinoctial and local hours are engraved in
Roman and Arabic numerals, and the case is 18 carat gold.
Interesting patented features include the epicycloid mechanism
with six simultaneous indications on a single arbor, and a
special space-saving ball-bearing system to stabilize the
mechanism. To guarantee shock protection, the movement parts
are made of a light metal alloy, a third of the weight of
the brass normally used.
This movement, a mere 9mm high, encapsulates the genius of
Galileo Galilei. Once the cosmic science has been grasped,
his learning does not weight too heavily on the wrist. The
Astrolabium was the brainchild of Rolf Schnyder and of Dr.
Ludwig Oechslin, the archaeologist and scientific historian
who developed the concept. And the story of its genesis is
just as remarkable as the watch itself.
In 1978, Dr. Oechslin was commissioned by the Vatican to restore
the Farnesian Clock, a complicated and magnificent 17th-century
astronomical timepiece that had stood mute for more than 70
years. Since it had been donated to the Vatican, no one had
ever been able to make it work. Unraveling its secrets took
four years, and a comprehensive study of astonomy, mathematics,
physics and philosophy. In the evenings, Dr. Oechslin earned
his living as a cook at a restaurant in Rome.
Schnyder was first introduced to Dr. Oechslin's work at the
studio of Jörg Spöring, where he spotted a 3-foot
astrolabe which indicated the position of the stars as well
as the time. With sound commercial instinct, Schnyder immediately
saw the potential for an astronomical wristwatch. The partnership
with Dr. Oechslin was forged - and remains active today (in
his spare time, Dr. Oechshlin, who is curator of the Swiss
Museum of Transport in Lucerne, is shaping the future of Ulysse
A prototype of the Astrolabium was ready in 18 months. First,
however, its unwieldy thickness had to be reduced, to give
it a chance in a market dominated by ultra-slim automatic
wristwatches. Urs Gyger, the creator of the extremely flat
'Eterna-matic', was called in to revise the mechanism with
Dr. Oechslin. The result is a miracle of precision engineering.
The Astrolabium's mechanism is so accurate that, according
to computer calculations, there will be only a one-day deviation
from the exact position of the stars after a staggering 144,000
Ulysse Nardin has not rested on its laurels, however. The
company now produces around 40 mechanical models, and up to
3,500 pieces a year. For collectors and investors the choice
is wide open, but since so few companies are capable of making
them, the wristwatch minute repeaters must hold a very special
place. The San Marco Automatons is unique among these, having
a miniature reproduction of the automatons of San Marco's
clocktower in Venice on the dial. Two tiny male figures flanking
a bell hammer out the hours, quarters and minutes. Figures,
bell, baton numerals and hands are all of 18 carat gold, exquisitely
offset by the translucent blue enamel covering the dial. These
figures and indices are supported on 32 micro-tubes inserted
into the enamel, each with a diameter of only 16 microns.
The dial alone requires more than 100 working hours.
In 1987 Ulysse Nardin created the one-minute tourbillon chronometer
regulator with separate hour and minute indications, and the
popular 'Michelangelo', a sophisticated 18 carat gold rectangular
wristwatch with date, day, month and moonphase indications.
Both these models have clear sapphire backs - showcases for
the mechanical wizardry which is applauded by Ulysse Nardin's
competitors as well as its clients. Like a piece of jewelry,
the craftsmanship is always best judged by looking at the
For collectors, Ulysse Nardin's pièce de résistance
is without doubt the Planetarium Copernicus. Unveiled at the
planetarium in Lucerne in 1988, it is the first wristwatch
in the world to display the entire solar system with the planets
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. As the name indicates,
the Planetarium is a tribute to Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543),
the East Prussian scientist and canon whose revolutionary
theory that the planets, including earth, moved around the
sun, incurred the wrath of the Church. Copernicus's magnum
opus, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, remained on the
index of prohibited books until 1835.
The dial of the Planetarium combines Copernicus's heliocentric
universe with Ptolemy's geocentric universe (based on the
belief, which Copernicus rejected, that the sun, moon and
planets revolved around the earth). The combination of these
two systems, with both sun and earth motionless, makes it
possible to track both the astronomical positions of the planets
which revolve on separate rings around the sun, and also to
calculate the angles between them, as measured from earth.
It is these angles which give the astrological configurations,
or the 'planetary aspects', which can be interpreted when
charting a horoscope. The dial also indicates month, day,
ruling zodiac sign and moonphase - and it is possible simply
to read the time!
The mastermind behind the concept was, of course, Dr. Oechslin,
and the Planetarium is his own tribute to the Swiss astronomer
and inventor of logarithms, Jorst Burgi (1552-1632), who designed
the first astronomical clock to combine the heliocentric and
The rings of the Planetarium's dial are driven by a complex
and ingenious mechanism developed by Dr. Oechslin with Bruno
Erni, an ETA watch engineer. This movement, patented worldwide,
is made up of 213 separate parts, and comprises a slim winding
mechanism 3.6mm high and the Planetarium movement 3.25mm high.
Together with dial and handsetting, the whole movement is
only 8.5mm high, and, like the Astolabium, the parts are made
of an extra-light metal alloy to protect against shock. A
unique friction clutch mechanism, preventing damage to the
gearing system, provides an additional safeguard.
Prospective purchasers, and particularly mobile executives
crossing the time-zones, may wonder how problematic it is
to reset this gadget. But since all the planetary cycles are
synchronized and geared into the single movement, the watch
basically takes care of itself. If the watch has not been
worn for a long time, it can be reset using the optional 'quick
corrector' position of the crown. This means that the wearer
need not wind the hour hand.
The seventh and outer ring of the dial is the perpetual calendar.
One turn of this corresponds to a true year, or precisely
365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds.
It hardly needs to be added that the esthetic appearance of
the Planetarium is equal to its technological wizardry. The
case and the hand-engraved nameplates of the planets are in
18 carat gold, contrasting with the deep blue rotating rings,
and the dial is protected by a domed sapphire glass.
A very special edition of the Planetarium, limited to 65 pieces,
incorporates the material as well as the mechanics of outer
space. The planet rings are cut from the meteorite round by
Admiral Peary at Cape York, Greenland, in 1897. Most of these,
however, are destined for museums.
How would you feel about driving around in
a luxury Royce? Or shopping for all you need at Spencer, the
highly successful retail chain store? Perfectly normal of
course; but to read of what might have been is certainly a
little puzzling! The fusing of the abilities and personalities
of two gifted people can produce highly original and successful
results which we identify totally with both names. After all,
Audemars met Piguet, Patek met Philippe, Baume met Mercier,
Girard met Perregaux, and so on.
Well-read watch collectors also know that Jacques-Barthélemy
Vacheron went into partnership in 1819 with François
Constantin (1788-1854), and indeed we know that he was relieved
and happy with the new arrangements. He was thereafter able
to devote his time to the problems and ambitions of the production
side of the new business. His grandfather Jean-Marc (1731-1805),
who founded his business in the St Gervais quarter of Geneva
in 1755, and his father Abraham (died 1833), who succeeded
Jean-Marc in 1785, both traveled widely, and often with the
greatest difficulties in those stormy days, seeking orders
and new markets. Constantin turned out to be an ideal partner;
he was both an excellent businessman and an indefatigable
traveler. Their new watches appeared in exclusive shop windows
in America (where they had their own agency in 1864) as early
as 1833, in Rio de Janeiro in 1840, and in 1850 they reached
In June 1839 a crucial appointment was made. Vacheron and
Constantin took on Georges-Auguste Leschot as technical director.
This man later came to be regarded as one of the founding
fathers of modern watchmaking, because, with newly-developed
part-making machinery, he was able to shake off the 'cottage
industry' approach to assembling watches and bring a degree
of standardization of ébauches and movements to hitherto
time-consuming, and therefore expensive, manufacturing procedures.
Then, as now, the company's policy was based on small production
numbers and the highest quality. Movement thinness and classically
elegant dials were the outstanding features, and the company's
traditional aims were well-known and secure as the dawn of
the wristwatch era arrived.
In 1854, François Constantin died, and he was succeeded
by his nephew Jean François Constantin (born 1830);
however, in 1867, in still unexplained circumstances, he reverted
to being just an ordinary salesman, and César Vacheron
succeeded him (only to die in 1869). Charles Vacheron (1845-1870)
died after only a year in the chair, and was succeeded by
his widow Laure Vacheron-Pernessin; she promptly brought in
her 88-year-old friend Catherine-Etiennette Vacheron (widow
of Jacques-Barthélemy Vacheron) and together they ran
the firm for an astonishing five years. In 1875, Jean-François
Vacheron was returned to the senior management, and in 1883
Catherine-Etiennette Vacheron died at the grand age of 101.
The second old lady died in 1887, just as the first wristwatches
were being privately worn. During this very unsettling period,
the company was known variously as Abraham Vacheron-Girod,
Vacheron-Chossat, César Vacheron & Co, Charles
Vacheron & Cie and Vve César Vacheron & Cie.
Finally, by 1896 both the directorship and the company's name
stabilized: Vacheron Constantin it became once more, and is
The famous name first appeared on the dial of a wristwatch
in 1910, joining the fashionable trend, and with it the Maltese
Cross logo which had been adorning its pocket watches ever
since 1880. This particular cross shape recalls a toothed
wheel which was used in antique precision watches to regulate
the tension of the spring. During the first World War, the
company turned out military pocket watches and compasses,
but thereafter the production of exquisite pocket watches
continued, together with a modest output of wristwatches.
In 1936, Charles Constantin assumed the presidency of the
company, but renewed family pride was to be shortlived. The
Second World War greatly reduced the company's fortunes, and
Georges Ketterer took control in 1940, His son Jacques (died
1987) succeeded him, and in the post-war years, some fine
and most collectable watches came form Vacheron Constantin.
Imagine a watch as thin as a toothpick! To mark the company's
centenary in 1955, it produced a wristwatch with a movement
just 1.64mm thick. It 20.8mm diameter held a five-part bridge
with over 60 parts to it, the whole being recognized at the
time as the world's thinnest watch. Another potential entrant
for the Guinness Book of Records came in the late 1970s, when
Vacheron Constantin, shrewdly anticipating the worldwide publicity
it would receive, produced what was at that time the most
expensive wristwatch in the world; it was called Kallista,
which is Greek for 'most exquisite'. Its 140 gram case and
band came from the same kilogram gold bar; they were then
decorated with 118 emerald-cut diamonds, at the inspiration
of Raymond Morette, a painter. He also fashioned the watch's
unique logo and his signature above the hands; about 6,000
hours of work on this jewel/watch over about 20 months resulted
in a sale price of $5,000,000.
Even today Vacheron Constantin produces only about 6,000 watches
in its Geneva factory. Every watch drawing since 1840 has
been kept, and there are full records of manufacture and sale
dates, with movement and case numbers. Through many vicissitudes,
the company has kept steadfastly to its founders' traditions;
the finest of the older models feature in auction saleroom
catalogs, and the newest and future classic wristwatches find
ready sales through nearly 450 retail outlets around the world.
At the top end of the price scale are the Lord Kalla and Lady
Kalla; the second was apparently to be seen at special occasions
on Princess Diana's wrist. It was a wedding gift from the
United Arab Emirates; they were perhaps guided in their choice
by Sheik Yamani, and it is indeed an outstanding example of
a jewel/watch. It has 108 emerald-cut diamonds weighing a
total of 30 carats on the dial and around the gold bracelet
(the Lord Kalla has no less than 316 diamonds), and its movement
is one of the smallest of its type in the world.
Vacheron Constantin's classic style for an everyday gentlemen's
watch is seen in model 33060. This elegant mechanical retails
at about $4,000; it has an elegant yellow gold case inclosing
an ultra-thin 1.64mm movement; baton numbers, hour and minute
hands, no second hand, no subsidiary dials, a white enamel
dial decorated only with the gold Maltese Cross, no chronograph,
no fussy lugs, and a plain black leather strap. This is the
kind of wristwatch which makes a clear statement about its
owner. There are two notable skeletons which should reach
dealers' and saleroom catalogues in the years to come, bearing
in mind, as always, that Vacheron Constantin produce so few
watches each year. Model 33014 costs around $9,350, and has
Roman numerals hand-carved around the visible 14 carat gold
movement; there are several models in this subtle range. The
second skeleton is a grander, fuller affair. For less than
$34,000, model 43032 brings you an automatic yellow gold or
platinum watch with three subsidiary dials giving the day,
date (including leap year), the month, perpetual calendar
With most old-established manufacturing industries,
their history is social as well as industrial. This is particularly
true of the Swiss watch-making industry, which from its very
beginning has always been concentrated in small towns and
villages such as La Chaux-de-Fonds, Le Locle, and St-Imier
and in the mountains to the west of Bienne. In the early days
tools and machinery were naturally primitive and the larger
early makers relied heavily upon village inhabitants who were
recruited as out-workers. Even today some of the major makers
are surprisingly small, and subcontractors still play an important
role in the manufacturing process.
One example of continuity is to be found at Longines. In 1782
Jonas Raiguel started trading in watches at St-Imier; in 1832
his son was joined by Auguste Agassiz, and in 1876 Ernest
Francillon, Agassiz's nephew, built the company's first factory
near St-Imier at 'Les Longines'.
The history of Swiss watch-making is studded with illustrious
names which have survived on dials through remarkably long
periods; Blancpain is one, and the company is described elsewhere
in this book. Ownership of the company was handed down directly
through nine generations. Also described in the 'A-Z of important
Makers' is the story of one of the most significant figures
in watchmaking history, Abraham-Louis Breguet, many of whose
inventions, such as the tourbillon, have remained unsurpassed
to this day. Readers will soon find that family histories
are closely integrated with the development of the watch industry;
many were the heirs who, just a century ago, were confronted
with a whole new market - the wearers of watches on wrists.
Even today, new young master watchmakers are emerging, such
as Remo Bertolucci and Gerard Genta. Both are heavily involved
in their family-run business, exactly following the pattern
of historical precedent. Like their predecessors, they take
care to keep in the vanguard of developments in technology
and design, and combine this with a strong awareness of market
The watch industry at the turn of the century
in America was enormous and was to spawn very fine makers.
The establishment in 1882 of railroad time standards started
the trend of popularity of watches for the wrist rather than
the pocket. With this industrial growth the profit margins
were never generally maintained; reinvestment in new machine
technology and marketing techniques were limited. At the turn
of the century the Swiss industry was becoming seriously established
and their early 'bracelet watches', in elaborate and beautiful
styles, successfully competed against the American mass-produced
dollar watches. In the 1900s lack of tooling meant ladies'
wristwatches predominated. The First World War boosted production
of military men's watches, and government assistance enabled
the larger firms to re-tool. The 1920s and 1930s saw the height
of American wristwatch making, particularly in the Art Deco
period. Thereafter, as the brief summary beneath indicates,
only a handful of firms survived through to the 1970s.
Bulova was at one time the biggest maker in
America. It is most famous for its Accutron (1960; production
ended in 1976). Also notable are their 1920s and 1930s decorative
Excellency range, and their highly collectable doctors' watch
(circa 1930) and the Charles Lindbergh Lone Eagle watch (1927).
Elgin was founded in 1867 in Illinois. They
introduced ladies' convertible wristwatches in 1912. In about
1917 they produced a soldiers' watch with a pierced anodized
case, outlined luminous Arabic numerals and hands with a khaki
strap. In about 1926 came an attractive cushion form watch
with an over-large crown. In 1928 and 1929 came their famous
Art Deco ladies' watches, which are well worth looking out
for; they include Madame Alpha, Madame Premet, Madame Agnès
and Parisienne. Elgin produced its 50 millionth movement in
1951 but by then was in its last years.
Gruen was founded in 1874 in Columbus, Ohio,
and had the advantage of Swiss family connections. More professional
than some of the manufacturers, it marketed widely. In 1921
Gruen advertised a wristwatch as follows: 'Cushion, square
strap watch, sterling silver, 17 jewel, adjusted, radium dial:
$35 and $42.50. 14ct green solid gold: $65 and $5'. Heavily
collectable are Gruen's famous range of doctors' watches brought
out between 1929 and the mid-1940s; these had separate hour
and minute dials with Roman and Arabic numerals, jump-hour
variations available, in 14 carat white and yellow gold and
gold filled cases. In about 1932 they launched the famous
Curvex General, which had an extremely curved case to cover
the top left half of the wrist. The Varsity, circa 1933, is
Hamiliton was founded in 1892 in Lancaster,
Pennsylvania. Its first wristwatch was produced in 1915, as
a result of war requirements, and it has become perhaps the
finest American wristwatch maker. In the late 1920s it produced
enamel bezel watches: Coronado, Spur, Piping Rock. One of
its most famous watches is the 1936 Seckron, a doctors' watch
with separate hour and minute dials, in black and white, in
an elongated stepped tank case. Two years later the Otis model
was produced. In 1957 Hamilton launched its famous Electric
Model 500, with a battery as a power source; then followed
the asymmetric Pacer, Pulsar, Vega and Ventura. A strange
but collectable watch to track down is the quaint, but very
much of its period, Everest Electric (1958): it had a two-tone
dial, but with the 12 on the bezel outside the dial, with
the shape of the bezel area continued down onto the dial.
The Thin-O-Matic came in 1963. Sadly the company was gradually
broken up and sold in the 1970s.
Illinois was founded in 1869 in Springfield,
Illinois. The company began making women's wristwatches in
1905 and men's in 1921. Illinois joined with Hamilton in 1927
and thereafter Illinois watches were Hamilton in all but name.
It went on to give its name to some quality watches with offbeat
designs: asymmetrical cases, very large curved models, Art
Deco design with auxiliary seconds in some models at 3 o'clock
and 9 o'clock.
The maker is described fully in the 'A to
Z of Important Makers' elsewhere in article.
Waltham was founded in 1885 in Waltham, Massachusetts;
it first produced women's wristwatches in 1912, and men's
two years later. Very collectable are their pierced case soldiers'
watches (circa 1917-1919). An entertaining watch of about
1917 is the 20 Year Gold-Filled, which charmingly shows its
pocket watch origins, as did so many of the early American
wristwatches. In 1931 some interesting baguette models were
introduced. In 1955 the wristwatch side of the business was
sold off. Waltham figures in the story of the International
Watch Company, which is described in detail in the 'A to Z
of Important Makers'.
There are a number of other American wristwatch manufacturers
with the occasional interesting product to look out for. Prominent
among them are Agassiz (active 1915-1950s), Ball Watch Company
(active 1950s-1969), Dueper Hampden (active 1921-1931 but
then sold to Russia where it still manufactures), Hampden
(1920s), E. Ingraham Company (comic character watches, 1930-1968),
Mohawk (1930s and 1940s), Newhaven, New York Standard (mass
producer of dollar watches), Rockford (1900-1915), Seth Thomas,
Southbend (1903-1929), one of only two wristwatch manufacturers
started after 1900 in America (which highlights the demise
of the industry), and Waterbury Clock Company (out of which
were born both Times and Westclox).
By Michael Balfour