Total Recall: A Guide to Forgotten Watch Brands

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Watch brands come, and watch brands go. For every Rolex, Oris, Omega, or Seiko, there are dozens of brands that either no longer exist, or have changed ownership operate in a fundamentally different way than they did in the past. Over the course of decades upon decades, manufacturers that were once strong and revered have faded away altogether or changed so dramatically they’re barely recognizable. Like the old country song, we’ve forgotten more than we’ll ever know.

Today we’re going to take a tour through several watch brands that we think you may have forgotten about. These brands have come and gone, and been through many changes throughout their sometimes very long histories. Some were once revered by many, while others were always made for a very specific niche. But just because these brands might not be the first to come to mind for many collectors and enthusiasts doesn’t mean they don’t have truly great watches in their archives – there are a lot of wonderful timepieces made by brands that we simply don’t discuss a lot anymore. Here are ten brands that we think are worth remembering. 

Girard Perregaux

Girard Perregaux still exists, and is among the oldest watch brands that are still up and running. We’ve included GP here because while you may not have completely forgotten about them, they’re rarely included in the now never ending conversation around integrated bracelet sports watches, in which they have a very worthy entrant in the Laureato. While the Nautilus and Royal Oak generate long waitlists and dominate that particular discussion (along with a great many imitators that have their moment in the spotlight and then recede – looking at you Alpine Eagle), the Laureato sits unbought at authorized dealers everywhere. It’s a bit of a shame – the watch is really well designed and the brand’s history is nearly unmatched. 

That long history means that Girard Perregaux has a truly vast back catalog of vintage watches, and because the brand isn’t at the tip of everyone’s tongue in 2020, there are deals to be had. Watches in the Gyromatic line, for example, are particularly historic, being the first watches to be outfitted with high frequency movements beating at 36,000 vibrations per hour. Gyromatics from the late 60s often feature interesting case designs with fancy lugs, and depending on condition and originality can be found between $1,000 and $4,000, fair prices for unique watches with real heritage from a brand that dates to 1791.


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Triton  

There are a few reasons you may have forgotten about Triton. First, if you’re reading this in the United States, well, you can’t buy a Triton, at least not through any sort of official dealer network. While they’re retailed throughout Europe, they currently have zero presence here in America.

Second, this is a brand with history dating back to the 60s, but went dormant and has now been resuscitated (a theme that will emerge as this list continues). Unlike some heritage brands that attempt to do this with mass market appeal, the new iteration of Triton is, as ever, after a niche audience. Their signature watch from the past, the Spirotechnique, was a truly advanced dive watch that had the backing of Jacques-Yves Cousteau. The sharply angular case and 12:00 crown position made the watch distinctive even among a bevy of wild 1960s designs. It’s lore at this point, but the original Spirotechnique was more expensive than the Submariner of its day.

Sixty years later, Triton’s marquee watch is the Subphotique. It’s still on the expensive side coming in at around $6,000, but as a high end sports watch with a pseudo integrated bracelet design, you’d think it would get more attention, even without American distribution. We’re here to remind you that Triton exists, and that if you’re looking for a unique and well made diver, the internet has no borders.


Gerald Genta

I’m guessing that very few reading this now have forgotten that Gerald Genta, the man, the watch designer, was a person who existed. His iconic watches, the Royal Oak, Polerouter, and Nautilus chief among them, have kept his name on the lips of watch enthusiasts for decades. But you might not be familiar with his eponymous brand, and some of the truly head turning watches that literally bear his name.

Photo courtesy Christie’s

For example, did you know that Gerald Genta produced a series of watches with Disney character dials featuring the brand’s signature retrograde time telling complication? Another often overlooked piece of history when it comes to Genta’s contribution to watchmaking is that his brand was acquired by Bulgari in 2000. While watches with the Genta name on the dial would no longer be made, you could make a strong case that in acquiring his brand, Bulgari took up the mantle of creating forward thinking watch designs. This is most evident in the Octo Finissimo collection, which owes a clear debt to Gerald Genta the designer, and Gerald Genta the brand.


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Movado

If all you know of Movado is the ubiquitous “Museum Watch,” a department store staple that was advertised in every glossy magazine that went to print for decades, there’s potentially a lot you don’t know about the brand. It’s easy to forget a brand’s early history when the contemporary stuff is so prevalent, but vintage Movado is worth remembering and seeking out.

Photo courtesy A Blog to Watch

Movado traces its history to 1881, but hit a peak of sorts in the middle period of the 20th century, when they were making beautifully designed watches in what we now think of as a classic style, often using their own movements. This is about a million miles away from the mid tier fashion watches that an entire generation grew up associating with the brand, and speaks to the power of a brand name, and how the products produced under that name can change dramatically as markets and economies shift.


Cuervo y Sobrinos

The modern incarnation of this Cuban brand dates to 1997, when it was resurrected by Italian entrepreneur Marzio Villa. This brand is a good example of a marque that is the victim of bad timing. Using heavily modified ETA movements, the brand has produced a number of unique designs that, while certainly not for everyone, are definitely worthy of discussion. But because they were just getting their feet under them in the years right before the microbrand scene really took hold, they never really caught on beyond some enthusiastic fans on the forums. 

Cuervo y Sobrinos still exists today, but suffers from weak distribution in key markets, and they don’t have the type of presence on social media that can generate a viral response to a watch online. It’s too bad, because the watches themselves offer something genuinely different.


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Favre Leuba

This isn’t the first time Favre Leuba has popped up in one of our guides, so this brand may not be forgotten so much as misunderstood, at least in its current incarnation. They proudly refer to themselves as “the second oldest” Swiss watch brand, with history that goes back all the way to 1737. Today, the brand produces extremely technical, highly specialized sports watches, in addition to more traditional “everyday” designs. But, for better or worse, the thing that Favre Leuba will always be most associated with is likely the Bivouac, a watch with an integrated altimeter.

The modern Favre-Leuba Bathy 120 Memodepth

But even if you’re not interested in unusually complicated watches that may or may not have much practical purpose in your life, fans of vintage watches with genuinely interesting design should absolutely not sleep in Favre Leuba. Consider that the vintage inspired sports watches we cover here that feature bright and bold colors and cases with unusual shapes and proportions are basically a riff on what was once the Favre Leuba house style. Rectangular and cushion cases, high contrast dials, and facets and bevels that make your head spin were all common in the adventurous Favre Leuba watches of the 60s and 70s. And we’re not just talking sports watches, either. Exceptionally discreet, oval dress watches (for men and women) were a staple of the brand at one time.


Eberhard

Eberhard is a brand that many chronograph enthusiasts eventually find once they venture outside the realm of the Speedmaster, Daytona, and El Primero. Their chronographs made in the 1930s and 1940s are notable for a few reasons. Of course, their design is as classic as it gets, and is newly in vogue now as we look to previous generations for inspiration in watch design. Looking at old Eberhards you’ll find lots of sector dials, multiple gauge layouts, and well chosen typefaces. You’ll also notice that the brand was fond of making watches in much larger sizes than was common for the time. Watches with diameters up to 40mm were not unusual, making these 80 year old chronos incredibly wearable today. 

The current iteration of the Eberhard Scafograf

Modern Eberhard is worth exploring as well. The brand still exists and creates watches using their historic naming conventions: the Scaforgraf and Extra-Fort have been updated and reinterpreted for a modern audience. That means, of course, using modern materials and manufacturing to create durable and robust watches, with design DNA that dates back to the mid 20th century heyday for the brand. The Scaforgraf, in particular, is a really well executed fully featured sports watch with a lot of vintage inspired charm in a modern package, and can now be had with a GMT complication as well.


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Dodane

Dodane, like Eberhard, is another brand with a rich heritage that prominently features classic chronographs. Dodane’s most collectible vintage watches are likely their Type 20 and Type 21 chronographs, used by the French Army in the 1950s and 1960s. These oversized, military issue chronographs were built to stringent specifications and surviving watches are highly prized by military and chronograph collectors alike. 

Photo courtesy Analog Shift

Dodane is still around, and is still making a version of the Type 21. The modern incarnation of this watch has plenty of military and aviation style cues, and features flyback functionality thanks to a Dubois Depraz module. While Dodane’s bread and butter most certainly involves evoking design elements from the past, they also offer more contemporary looks in black PVD with acid green lume. Additionally, they’re one of only a handful of watch brands that still produces chronographs designed to be mounted in the cockpit of an airplane or helicopter. While these chronographs are powered by a quartz movement for enhanced reliability, there’s still something incredibly cool about the fact that they’re still being made.


Enicar

Like a lot of brands on this list, Enicar has been around for a long time. It makes sense, of course, that very old brands would be those that dominate in a list of those that may have been forgotten about. The irony is that for those who are deep into collecting and have spent considerable time researching and enjoying vintage watches, these brands haven’t been forgotten at all. If anything, they’re appreciated that much more by the people who take the time to keep their memory alive. Enicar is a brand that definitely fits into that mold as a brand with a long history and an enthusiastic collector community behind it. 

Photo courtesy Analog Shift

The Sherpa is likely the best known watch that Enicar has produced, and over the years it has been made in chronograph, GMT, and diver configurations, in a dizzying array of styles and colorways. It’s an enduring sports watch, named with exploration and adventure in mind. The brand still operates today – it went dormant in the late 80s but was brought back to life by new owners, and the brand largely focuses on the Asian market. While contemporary Enicar watches trade on marketing the themes of exploration and adventure that the vintage models embodied, they are, for the most part, very different in most cases. This is an example of a brand that, once resurrected, went in a very different direction. But the vintage watches live on, and remain sought after by those in the know.


Lip

Lip is one of the best known French watch brands, and their idiosyncratic 1960s designs are still much loved by collectors of the offbeat. The brand shuttered in the mid-70s, but like a lot of heritage watchmakers survives under new ownership today. Without American distribution, Lip is not much on the mind of contemporary American collectors, but their watches (both vintage and new) are worth a look if you’re interested in something with a distinct French flair. 

The Lip Mach 2000

Vintage Lip, in particular, is a treasure trove of affordable funky design. In the 60s and 70s the brand was known for sports chronographs with distinctive block style hour markers and dials with lots of color, and cases that were large for their day and often featured interesting shapes in anything but a circle. These watches are time capsules, right down to the distinctive and very of-its-time Lip logo, in a modern and highly stylized typeface that couldn’t belong to any time other than the late 60s. 

There’s also the Mach 2000, covered here by Sean Lorentzen. This whimsical chronograph with large, spherical, colored pushers was designed by Roger Tallon, and is a fascinating combination of spare minimalism and an adventurous use of color, materials, and shape. Even if you’re not deeply familiar with Lip as a brand, this is the watch that likely comes to mind when you hear them mentioned, which is definitely the sign of a timepiece that approaches iconic status.

Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.
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