When attending Basel World, it’s impossible to see everything. We chose what we thought would be best to cover and scoured the halls in the brief spaces of free time we had for new and interesting brands. Unfortunately, you inevitably miss something you really wish you saw, and in our case it was Nivrel Watches. Not a brand that is commonly discussed, at least in the States, Nivrel is a German brand with an interesting history and product line.
There are two sides to the story of Nivrel, the history of the original Swiss brand and the history of the current owners. Nivrel was a sub-brand of Marvin watches that was established in 1936. Along with many other Swiss brands, Nivrel disappeared in the 70’s during the Quartz crisis. Gerd and Gitta Hofer revived the brand in 1993, but moved it to Saarbrücken, Germany. Gerd Hofer has a long history in the watch industry himself, having been a designer and salesman for brands, such as Milus, since the 60’s. With his expertise and connections, he sought to revive Nivrel as a modern brand of German made watches with Swiss movements. For a more detailed history, check out this page.
Part of what makes Nivrel an intriguing brand is that they have a very interesting philosophy about their production, and a surprising amount of transparency about their process. First off, they are very dedicated to producing as much as possible in Germany, which includes the cases, dials, straps, etc… That being said, they totally stand by the use of Swiss ebauches (i.e. ETA 2824-2, 7750’s, etc…) for their movements, with decorating, tuning and complications design being in-house, and are not interested in pursuing in-house manufacture calibers. In their words:
“Why should we? Within the watch industry, customers are often told that an in-house movement is always better than an external, supplied ebauche movement. From our point of view, the fantastic in-house movements of the 2-3 top watch manufacturers are an outstanding accomplishment, and too many competitors try to run after them and try to do the same. For us, the equation ‘in-house movement = better watch’ seems to be too flat and dishonest.”
They also do something very cool on occasion, which is use interesting old stock movements in new watches. A great example is their Heritage Alarm, which uses an AS (A. Schild) 5008 movement. This 25-jewel automatic with day/date, alarm, hacking seconds and a frequency of 28,800 was manufactured only from 1970-75, making it quite rare. Nivrel took the movement and decorated it with flame blued screws and perlage, and put it in a vintage-appropriate 37.8mm case with a black German Silver guilloche dial. The whole package is gorgeous, and while far from inexpensive at around $3k (without VAT) the price seems fair for something so unique.
Apart from seeing and handling something as cool as that alarm watch, I’m disappointed that we missed them Basel World 2013, because they launched a new line at a price point that we, and you, can really get behind. To celebrate their 20th anniversary they created a line of 4 limited edition watches, 200 of each, called Coeur de la Sarre (heart of the Saar).
Each watch is given a sub name of one of four cities in the Saar region, 2 cities in Germany and 2 in France, and a unique color palette. The general design of the watch is based off of an original Nivrel design back from the Swiss era of the brand.
It’s a very simple, but masculine and elegant design, with hints of a military sensibility, that speaks to early-mid 20th century design. Each watch has a sunburst dial with applied markers, numerals for the even hours and lume filled rectangles for the odd. The hands are lozenge style, which compliments the vintage design. The cases have a more modern size at 42×12.5mm with a 22mm lug width, and feature domed mineral crystals. ETA 2824-2 movements power all four of the Couer de la Sarre watches. For approximately $660 dollars (actual price is 630 Euros including 19% VAT) to the US, these are a great value for a German made watch with a 2824-2 movement, especially a limited edition.
The four versions, despite having the same design, have quite distinct personalities due to their varying colors. The Sarrebruck has a silver dial, markers and hands for a conservative and refined aesthetic. The Sarrelouis has a black dial with silver markers and hands for a bolder look that has a bit of a field watch feel to it. The Sarreguemines has a deep blue dial with silver hands and markers for a more vibrant and opulent appearance. And lastly, the Sarrebourg has a champagne dial with rose-gold hands and markers for a more decadent, but still elegant design. Clearly, there is enough variety that one can likely find a version that really speaks to them. Personally speaking, the way the Sarrebourg’s rose-gold markers and hands stand off of the champagne dial really interests me, and the combination is a bit less common making it all the more appealing.
Should this aesthetic interest you, your pockets run a bit deeper and obscure movements excite you, there is also the new Repliqué Lemania Limited. This limited edition of 30 has a nearly identical dial design as the Sarrebourg, with slightly different hands, a date aperture, a smaller and very thin case measuring 40 x 7.4mm, an onion crown and a stepped bezel, for a more dress look. But what makes this watch particularly exceptional is the Lemania 8810 automatic movement inside. The 8810 is an evolution on a caliber originally developed and produced by Longines around 1977 called the 990.
It was considered one of the best and for a time was actually the thinnest automatic movement. While I’m sure there are plenty thinner now, considering the movement has a full rotor and the watch is only 7.4mm thick, it’s still very thin. The other interesting aspect of this movement is that it featured a double barrel system… The reasons for which are highly technical, so I recommend reading this super in-depth dissection of the movement, if you are interested. The Repliqué Lemania Limited goes for approximately $2,100 (actual price is 1,990 Euros including 19% VAT), once again making it pretty fairly priced for such a unique piece.