Have you ever asked yourself how long it takes to make a watch, probably not. If you had asked that question of the selection of Tissot watches in our next sale, the answer would be literally millions of years, trick questions aside, the bodies of all the Tissot RockWatches are carved out of Swiss granite. These watches were an early form of fashion watches, were they supposed to last and be handed down to your children, again probably not. But they were designed to fulfill a very important part in the re-emergence of the Swiss watch industry.

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If you were around in the 1970’s and early 1980’s and were interested in watches, particularly Swiss watches you would have been aware of the Quartz Crisis (probably coined by the Swiss) or the Quartz Revolution. The traditional Swiss industry was being turned on its head by the development of first the electronic movement and then the quartz movement. Not that these were supposed to be cheap and disposable at first, the early ones were not by any means, but it changed the way the industry operated. The Swiss trade lost about 2/3 of its workforce due to this upheaval and a few well known houses disappeared altogether. By the early 1980’s the total number of watchmakers was down to around 600 from a high of 1,600, something had to be done and in 1983 the Swatch Group was formed to save the industry. The Swatch Group is the largest watch manufacturer in the world, making watches, movements & retailing the finished goods around the world.

004 - CopySo where does Tissot fit into all of this? They were an independent watchmaker and started out in Le Locle, Switzerland (the centre of the Swiss watchmaking world) in 1853 but merged with Omega in 1930 to form the SSIH Group (Societe Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogere). By the way, Le Locle was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2009, for its exceptional and universal value in its dedication to urban planning dedicated to a single industry, in this instance, watchmaking. This new union was to be joined by other well-known brands throughout the years until they were part of the grouptogether with ASUAG (the world’s largest manufacturer of watch movements) who reorganised to form the Swatch Group.

One of the questions the Swiss had to ask themselves back then was how do you fight the inexpensive influx of watches onto the marketplace? Well, you fight back with equally inexpensive (for Swiss) fashion watches, thats how, and by its very nature they are fleeting and disposable unless they keep pace with the times. This can be seen with Swatch Watches that are still around as they keep re-inventing themselves each season with the latest trends and fads from around the world.

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The RockWatch was equally successful when it first came out in 1985, it was new and there was nothing else like it in the shops. The case was a one off, no two cases were the same as each was made from a single piece of granite, you literally had a one of a kind watch, and how tough was it? A diamond is rated as a 10 on the hardness scale and granite is a 7, it also has a sapphire crystal, virtually shatterproof and scratch proof. The granite itself came from the Grison, Ticino & Valais regions of the Swiss Alps, and the story goes that the red & yellow hands represents the markers used on the Swiss walking trails. The watches we have are rather un-emotionally labelled as R150 & R151, representing a small by todays standard of 30mm and 33mm respectively, but back then they were the mid or unisex size and the men’s size. It was also rated to 30 meters for diving, maybe when it was new but now I would probably not take it for a swim. It is powered by a Swiss ETA quartz movement (the Swiss were good at playing catch-up when it came to technology) and has an integrated leather strap,

Tissot tried to keep the line going by adding a WoodWatch in 1988 but by the early 1990’s their time was literally up. They are certainly a fun, distinctive and an affordable way to tell the time in a world where you now look to your phone if you need to be somewhere on time, unthinkable back in the 80’s.