Wempe Watch Blog

Wempe Watch Blog

Last week, we traced the early rise of Switzerland as the premiere country for watchmaking. Today, we take a closer look at how Switzerland's watchmaking expertise transitioned from clocks and pocket watches to wristwatches – as the 19th century turned to the 20th century.

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Boer War military watch via oobject.com

It was predominantly during the Anglo-Boer Wars that the British military recognized the value of having a watch on the wrist instead of in the vest pocket. There was no need to stop, put down weapons, pull out a watch and synchronize time. Thus, military officers began wearing watches on the wrist.

As the concept of wristwatches began taking hold, many discussions ensued among watchmakers about where to put the crown, as no one knew on which wrist people would prefer to wear their watches. Audemars Piguet decided that since most people were right handed, the left wrist would be most likely. That precedent has been in place for more than a century – except for in certain watches made for left-handed individuals. Those have the crown on the opposite side.

Alberto Santos-Dumont

Alberto Santos-Dumont

The first real large-scale production of wristwatches did not happen until the first decade of the 20th century. In 1904, Cartier produced a wristwatch for Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont so he could see time quickly while flying his dirigibles around Paris. That watch – the Santos – was later the first wristwatch to be put into serial production. From there, Swiss wristwatch inventions surged.

In 1908, Eterna won a patent for the first wristwatch with alarm mechanism. The year 1909 saw the first chronograph wristwatch. During World War I, governments globally saw the usefulness of wristwatches, and Swiss brands complied with rugged pieces, chronographs, and watches with luminous materials for easy night reading. Open-worked grids that covered the crystal but allowed for viewing of the dial protected most of those watches.

In the 1920s, wristwatches became mainstream. The Swiss offered creative designs in women’s watches during the heady days of the Roaring Twenties, with many watches adorned with marcasites, diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies. Additionally, highly geometric designs emerged, with many women's watches in square and rectangular formats.


Technological advancements also reigned. Rolex, for instance, made headlines in 1927 when Mercedes Glietze swam the English Channel wearing a Rolex Oyster. After more than 10 hours under trying conditions, the first truly water resistant watch maintained perfect time without condensation or penetration of water.

World War II saw new wristwatch innovations from the Swiss. Breitling introduced slide rule bezels for pilot calculations, and in 1938 IWC unveiled its antimagnetic pilots’ watch, the Mark X. In 1945, wristwatch chronometers took hold, and the Swiss Observatories held international chronometer trials. In 1948, Eterna introduced the first ball-bearing mounted rotor in a self-winding watch, a standard still used today in automatic wristwatches.


The next era to emerge was the rugged watches that competed for a spot in space exploration. While American-made watch brands, such as Hamilton, vied for a space, it was Omega that became the official watch for NASA. In 1969, the first man to walk on the moon was wearing an Omega Speedmaster wristwatch.


The early 1970s saw the introduction of quartz watches out of Japan. This development nearly destroyed Switzerland’s watch industry, which had not embraced quartz technology in its infancy – falsely believing that no one would opt for battery powered watches over mechanics – but the quartz story is one for another time.

Early Audemars Piguet opening travel pocket watch

Early Audemars Piguet opening travel pocket watch

It is said that Swiss watches are considered the best in the world, but did you know that the country's ascent to the pinnacle of watchmaking was spurred nearly 475 years ago by the "anti-bling" decrees of Protestant Reformist John Calvin.

Beginning today, we will be bringing you a series of articles that will track the early history and subsequent rise of Switzerland as the epitome of fine watchmaking — a reputation that was centuries in the making.

Planetary clock, 1830

Planetary clock, 1830

Swiss Watch Beginnings

Perhaps the earliest driving force propelling Switzerland to its eventual role as the premiere watchmaking center of the world was an act promulgated centuries ago. In 1541, when the stern Protestant reformist John Calvin banned the wearing of jewelry, Geneva’s jewelers and goldsmiths were faced with destitution. Out of necessity, they were forced to seek other lines of work. Interestingly enough, Geneva had become a haven for Calvin followers, and many French refugees brought the knowledge and skill of watchmaking. According to Calvin, unlike jewelry, a watch was a necessary item – making watchmaking acceptable. The jewelry craftsmen quickly joined forces with clock makers and cabinotiers, and Geneva made its foray into the clock and watch arena—raising the bar on aesthetic beauty and technical prowess in timepieces thanks to the melding of crafts and creativity.

Table Clock from 1700's

Table Clock from 1700s

In 1601, Geneva’s watchmakers formed the first Watchmakers’ Guild of Geneva — with 500 members. By the beginning of the 18th century, watchmaking had spread throughout Switzerland, reaching into outlying areas such has Neuchatel and the Jura mountains. The 18th century was ripe with growth and invention, and by the latter half of the century, table clocks with multiple features emerged — fast becoming much-coveted by Royal Courts of the world. Clockmakers focused on perfecting escapements and developing even more precise methods of timekeeping.

Thanks to a constant yearning for perfection that paved the way for the future of this arena, a host of inventions emerged: perpetuelle mechanisms (the forerunner to the automatic watch); Lepine caliber (a flatter movement that enabled pocket watches to be made; constant-force escapement; overcoil balance spring; gong spring; perpetual calendar; tourbillon escapement; keyless winding. Watch brands sprang up in Switzerland throughout the 18th and 19th centuries – with many perfecting watch mechanisms via inventive patented concepts. Vacheron Constantin had already established itself in 1755, but others ensued — most being the great names we recognize today: Breguet, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Longines, Girard-Perregaux and so many more. Their history, heritage and generations of knowledge make them pillars of success.

Gun with watch built into it, 1800's

Gun with watch built into it, 1800s

Thus, hundreds of years ago, the watchmakers in Switzerland pursued the world’s most important watchmaking feats – accomplishments without which the building of accurate pocket, and eventually wristwatches, would never have been possible. This was the start of the Swiss watch as the Gold Standard in watchmaking.

Grand Complication pocket watch from Jaeger-LeCoultre, 1895

Grand Complication pocket watch from Jaeger-LeCoultre, 1895

For centuries, the country continued making timepieces that ranged from table clocks and portable clocks to pocket watches and more. Some, including Breguet and Patek Philippe, even built watches with wrist bracelets by order of certain aristocracy. Technological advancements, inventions and innovations in watchmaking spurred the birth of astronomical pocket watches, repeater watches, chronographs (including mono-pusher and dual-pusher chronographs) and more.

It was in the 1800s that Switzerland finally embraced industrialization — after a visit by Swiss watchmaking delegates in 1876 to the Philadelphia World Exhibition where they were shocked to learn of the American watch industry’s strength in mass production processes. Their move to industrialization not only increased productivity, but also enabled the production of more affordable Swiss-made watches so that the country could retain its reigning position in world watch production. Of course, the high-end timepieces were still built and assembled by hand, but this new growth ushered in a new era for the tiny land-locked country.

watchmaker's bench

Watchmaker's bench

Check back with us next week, when we enter the 20th century and the birth of wristwatches to see how Switzerland held its own.


With summer here, we are all out enjoying water sports and just indulging in swimming. But is the watch on your wrist ready to get wet with you?

Interestingly enough, even though a watch may say it is water resistant, it may not be resistant enough to be protected from simple things like taking a shower, let alone jumping into the deep end of that swimming pool.

To be deemed water resistant, a watch is subjected to certain pressure tests. Watches with no water resistance markers are NOT tested and should not be worn in water.


Watch brands use a number of methods to mark their watches for water resistance. These include meters, feet, Bars and ATM (atmospheres). The breakdown equates as follows:

1 Meter = 3 feet rounded (actual is 3.28 feet)
1 Bar = 33 feet rounded (actual is 33.455 feet)
1 ATM = 1 Bar or 33 feet rounded

You can find the markings (if there are any) for a water resistant watch either on the dial or on the caseback. Of course, no watch will say it is water resistant to just 1 meter, but many watches do offer some water resistance.


Even if a watch is water resistant to 30 feet, it still doesn’t mean you should shower with it or even swim with it. Often these watches do not have water-tight gaskets or screw-in crowns, and water can seep inside when they are exposed to pressure or direct flow.

Watches that are water resistant to 100 meters can be used in water sports, but not for diving. Furthermore, one should never operate the crown or try to set the watch while in the water or while it is wet.

A good rule of thumb is to swim with a watch that has a screw-in crown and is water resistant to at least 200 meters. Dive with one that is resistant to at least 300 meters.


Is your guy a Paneristi? Lover of big watches? Panerai is the way to go this Father's Day, especially thanks to the new  high-tech  Luminor 1950 3 Day Chrono Flyback Ceramica. The case and dial are made of black ceramic and bead-blasted for ultimate finish. The 44mm watch houses an in-house-made flyback chronograph movement.

The ceramic black case is based on zirconium oxide, which is up to five times harder than steel and significantly lighter in weight. To create the compound, a complicated, multi-step process that involves the transformation of zirconium powder into black ceramic must be undertaken. Additional steps take place — including the bead-blasting — and the end result is a dial and case that are resistant to scratches and general wear and tear.


The dial features oversized 12, 6 and 9 numerals and a date indication at 3:00. At the 9 o’clock position sits the signature small seconds hand, while the chronograph hand is created in blued steel and, like the minute hand, is centrally mounted. The watch is powered by the P.9100 caliber — visible via a sapphire case back. This is Panerai’s first in-house automatic chronograph caliber. It includes two spring barrels that allow for three days of power reserve, and a bidirectional rotor that winds both barrels. The watch is finished with a rubber strap and an interchangeable leather strap.


Yes, the season of Dads and Grads is upon us. It is hard to believe that Father's Day is just 10 days away. Similarly, many people are celebrating graduations this month. Both of these events are perfect opportunities to give the gift of time — in the form of a wristwatch.


Not only are watches a constant reminder to the wearer that you took special care in selecting a perfect gift, but also, watches make an individual statement — a way to express something personal without saying a word.

In the coming week we will bring you some great gift ideas, but we can't stress enough how great a watch would be. Maybe the young graduate would like a sporty watch, or has an eye on something dressy, but still casual? Maybe hubby has a hobby that involves diving or flying? We have the perfect watch for every occasion, for every interest — and for every budget.

Stop in and see us. We won't steer you wrong.


Is there anyone who doesn’t love a good James Bond movie? Since their first appearance on the silver screen more than 50 years ago, the James Bond films have regularly captured international acclaim for the props, the cars, the gadgets, the girls and 007 himself. What we like most about Bond are… well, the watches, of course.

Seiko Quartz LC James Bond watch, model DK001, case number 0674-5009 "The Spy Who Loved Me". photo (C) JamesBondWatches.com and Dell Deaton

Seiko Quartz LC James Bond watch, model DK001, case number 0674-5009 "The Spy Who Loved Me." Photo © JamesBondWatches.com and Dell Deaton

Several watch brands have had leading roles in the Bond movies. Back in 1962, according to JamesBondWatches.com, Bond wore a Gruen Precision sub-seconds wristwatch 510 in the movie “Dr. No” with Sean Connery as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007. In subsequent films, Connery wore Rolex watches, as well. In the early 1970s, when Roger Moore took over as 007, other brands, including Hamilton and Rolex, made it to the star’s wrist in a variety of movies.

But, in the late '70s and early 1980s when the quartz revolution came into play strongly, Bond led the charge. No self-respecting agent could wear anything but the coolest, latest technology. In fact, a new exhibition entitled “James Bond Wore the Quartz Revolution” is being presented at the National Watch & Clock Museum in Columbia, Pa. (near Philadelphia). Beginning June 3, the exhibit (curated by Bond expert Dell Deaton) displays important watches worn by the James Bond character in the EON Productions movies of the time period.

In fact, throughout most of the early 1980s, the quartz-powered battery-operated wristwatches that were the favorite of the Bond movies were predominantly Seiko (the first watch brand to have full-production quartz watches). Later, in 1987, Timothy Dalton portrayed 007 in “The Living Daylights," wearing a TAG Heuer Professional watch and, in fact, another four characters in that movie wore a TAG Heuer Night Diver watch.

Heuer Night Dive model 980.031 quartz James Bond watch, "The Living Daylights". Photo (C) JamesBondWatches.com and Dell Deaton

Heuer Night Dive model 980.031 quartz James Bond watch, "The Living Daylights". Photo © JamesBondWatches.com and Dell Deaton

It should be noted that once the mechanical watch recovered ground, it became a coveted timepiece once again for 007. In 1995, Pierce Brosnan donned the OMEGA Seamaster for “GoldenEye,” and Omega has since dominated the leading role. For those who may be traveling to the Philadelphia area next month, and who may be game for a little adventure in life, you may want to think about visiting the National Watch & Clock Museum.


We often get questions about what constitutes a watch wardrobe. Is it five watches or six watches, or a dozen or more? There is no easy answer, and the answer varies depending on the person. But with June being the month of graduations and Father's Day, the subject is worthy of discussion because watches are the perfect gift to help start or boost a watch wardrobe.


Watch pundits say you can never have too many timepieces, and watch collectors often buy again and again (though many are hard-pressed to sell their beloved stash). According to the last watch collector survey conducted by LGI Network, the true collector owns approximately 19 watches. The average person, however, may not need a "wardrobe" of so many watches and, instead, may be able to get started with just a few.

Generally, for young adults just starting their collection (grads), finding a nice, classic watch as they enter the working world is a good bet. Similarly, they should also own a good sports watch that they can get rugged with on weekends  and not worry too much about harming it. In fact, most men (and women, for that matter) should have at least one sporty watch, a dress watch and maybe a high-tech watch, as well.


Many men see the watch as the one item that can make a true statement about their personalities, hobbies and likes. After all, you can't bring your car to the boardroom with you, but you can bring your watch. As such, men may want a nice selection of timepieces that reflects their take on life, work, play, etc.

Women, especially the fashion-conscious, see watches as a true accessory. Often for them it is not so much a question of a sports watch, a classic watch and a dressy watch, per se, but more a question of a steel watch, a two-tone watch, a gold watch and watches with varied color straps.


The key to owning watches and making them into a wardrobe that fits your lifestyle is wearing them, talking about them and — believe it or not — checking out what's new in the world of watches on a regular basis. But beware: When you start searching around, you may get smitten. The watch-love bug often bites when you see all of the amazing timepieces on the market.


Not all luxury watches are created equal. A few select brands submit their watches for the Geneva Seal, the ultimate certification of quality in fine watchmaking. Here is a guide to what it means when a watch is stamped with the Hallmark of Geneva.


The Geneva Seal — a.k.a. Poincon de Genève, Geneva Hallmark and Hallmark of Geneva — is a quality seal awarded to watches submitted for inspection to an independent bureau operating under state control in Geneva. The Poincon de Genève is currently the only watchmaking label to benefit from State guarantee, and that effort is fulfilled by TimeLab – the Geneva Laboratory of Horology and Micro-engineering.

To receive the seal, the watch movement must meet 12 criteria relating to the quality of its finishing and materials. The certificate is only awarded to timepieces with remarkable decorative finishes, qualifying them as works of art. Additionally, the certificate guarantees the watch is of top-quality craftsmanship and chronometrically precise. The finished watch is also tested for water resistance, power reserve and more.

Most importantly, to be acknowledged by the Canton of Geneva and therefore even be eligible to be inspected for the Seal, the watch – and all of its parts – must be manufactured in Geneva. If a watch is diamond set, even the diamond setting must be done in Geneva. The seal (with the Geneva Coat of arms on it) is stamped on the watch movement when approved.


Earning the Poincon de Genève is no easy feat — especially in a watch with hundreds of components, as each and every part (from wheel trains to the adjustment system, balance wheel, spring, and all shaped parts, including screws and pins) must be finely decorated and finished to flawless perfection. Screws and pins must have polished chamfers and straight-grained sides. Currently just a small number of brands submit their watches for the Geneva Seal. Since September 2013, any watch issued the Geneva Seal receives a unique key or code that a purchaser can use to check the authenticity of the certification.