Movado Watch History: Swiss Tradition Meets American Modernism

Movado Watch History: Swiss Tradition Meets American Modernism 2018-06-22T01:58:30+00:00
Movado Mens Museum Classic Watch

Image: Movado

Movado is a watchmaker focusing on a unique modern-art aesthetic that reduces the wristwatch’s form to a clean, elemental essence.

The company is under the Movado Group, which played a big role in popularizing watches as status symbols in the USA.

Founded in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, the company moved its headquarters to the United States after an American businessman bought it.

As a watch company, Movado has an uncommonly singular visual underpinning in its Museum Watch. In this article, we will see how it discovered and established its unique minimalist aesthetic.

The Art Deco Era: Movado’s First Watches

Movado’s aesthetic is informed by modern art; in the brand’s earlier days, the Art Deco movement was at the forefont.

Movado Origins: The First Trailblazing Model

In 1881, the 19-year-old Achille Ditesheim founded a watch movement and pocket watch workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.

In 1905, he changed his company’s name to Movado, from LAI Ditescheim & Freres SA. He chose the name, meaning “movement” in the motion sense and also the horological sense, from the Esperanto language.

The thoroughly modern, international nature of the constructed language was emblematic of the company’s forward-thinking design philosophy.

By this time, Movado was moving from pocket watches to wristwatches, and soon released a particularly memorable wristwatch design. The 1912 “Polyplan” was a watch with a form-fitting rectangular case which curved around the wearer’s wrist. Because of the company’s solid movement design background, they were able to engineer a caliber to make this possible.

Movado Polyplan Watch

The Polyplan’s movement was spread out over a plate that angled downward at either end. This gave the movement’s form three “planes,” hence the name “Polyplan.” Due its clever design, it fit snugly into a case which was, at the time, very unusually-shaped.

Certainly, this watch stood ahead of the curve; this shape of watch became popular with men after World War I. The Polyplan boasted pronounced curvature for watches of this type, even compared to competitors’ later models.

The Modernist Pocket Watches

Movado Art Deco Pocket WatchIn the 1920s, Movado began to explore novel, modern art-inspired designs for their pocket watches.

The pocket watches made in this period came at the height of the Art Deco period of modernist aesthetics.

Because of this, Movado detailed them with lavish colors and playful, delicately enameled and gilded contours.

These stylized watches explored unconventional ideas not only in their shapes, but also their functions.

The Movado Ermeto, for example, featuring a case with two sliding halves, concealed its dial while closed in the pocket. Opening and closing the case wound the movement in later models.

Movado Ermeto Watch

The Ermeto pocket watch

Movado’s First Minimalist Watches

Minimalist aesthetics, which would come to dominate Movado’s image, were first used by the brand in the 1930s.

The 1930s: The Movado Digital Watch

Movado Early Digital Display WatchIn another forward-thinking move, Movado released its line of “digital” watches in the 1930s.

Rather than a dial, these watches had apertures on their faces through which the wearer could read the time. Movado accomplished this with a series of rotating metal discs with inscribed digits.

This worked similarly to digital day and date displays on calendar watches.

These discs took up a lot of space, therefore the numbers displayed very small on the watch’s face.

Though it exhibited this technological limitation, the collection showed typical Movado ingenuity in design and presentation. Also, the extremely minimal aesthetics of these early digital watches represented a sign of things to come from the company.

The First Movado Museum Watch

Movado Original Museum Watch In 1948, Movado would begin producing their most iconic model, one which came to define the brand. In 1947, designer Nathan George Horwitt created the Museum Dial Watch.

This design simplified the wristwatch to its essentials, so that a bare minimum of elements would distract from its function.

The Museum Dial’s hands float over a clean black face marked only at 12 o’ clock with a golden circle. The lone index was included to represent the sun overhead at noon.

The crystal extends almost to the edge of the case, with only a thin margin of a bezel visible. The perfect circle of the bezel seems to hover over the crown and thin, straight lugs.

At the time, the Museum Watch was only a one-off model for the company.

This classic of industrial design informs Movado’s watch aesthetics today, because of its timeless visual clarity. Movado’s later variations on the design started with this basic foundation while accommodating demand for extra features and functions.

Movado’s Elegant Calendar Watches

Movado Calendomatic WatchAround this time, the watchmaker released several dress-styled collections featuring calendar complications.

Like typical dress watches, these watches used thin, understated gold cases and leather straps.

Like the Museum Dial watch and the Movado Digital watch, their crystals extended almost to the edge of the case.

The Calendomatic incorporated plenty of information in its dial, displaying month, day, hour, minute, and second. It also had a self-winding mechanism, hence, it was the first of its kind on the market.

The Calendoplan also featured a calendar function and seconds hand, but its dial used a subtler cream-and-gold scheme.

It employed a magnified date aperture, so the day counter can be made smaller and less obtrusive. As a result, the calendar is small, but the wearer can easily read it when looking at the watch face-on.

Movado Calendoplan Watch

The Calendoplan, with magnified date aperture visible

Movado Early Datron Model Watch

1970 Datron model

During this period, the company also began producing ultra-accurate quartz watches, such as the 1970 Datron chronograph.

This was the company’s most popular model at the time. The Datron line, recognizable for its barrel-shaped case, continues today.

The Modern American Revival Of Movado

In 1983, the North American Watch Corporation acquired Movado. The NAWC was a company with the ambitious goal of making luxury watches a status symbol in the USA.

This would be a feat because, as NAWC founder Gedalio Grinberg realized, even the richest Americans preferred to wear cheap watches. He saw that even the Rockefellers were wearing watches that cost less than $20.

In order to make a luxury watch to appeal to Americans, Grinberg looked to modern art. Over the course of the Cold War, modern art gained purchase as a Western, first-world aesthetic, contrasting with communist art. In the late 1960s, Museum Watch creator Nathan George Horwitt, who had befriended Grinberg, drew the watch magnate’s attention to Movado.

Grinberg saw the brand as an opportunity to forge a fresh new modern-art based style for American watches. Hence, Grinberg sought out many of Horwitt’s modern art colleagues and contemporaries.

A Profusion Of Modernist Styles

After moving its headquarters to the USA, Movado became deeply involved in the American modern art scene.

The Movado Artists’ Series

Grinberg befriended Andy Warhol and met with many other modern artists of the time to create the Movado Artists’ Series. This line represented major figures from pop art, kinetic art, op art, and street art.

For this series, Warhol designed the Andy Warhol Times/5, a five-faced watch displaying five photos of New York by the artist. Therefore, in true Warhol fashion, the five dials all track the same time.

Movado 1987 Times/5 Watch

Andy Warhol Times/5

Also using multiple movements, three sets of hands track three different time zones in James Rosenquist’s “Elapse, Eclipse, Ellipse.” The faces of Rosenquist’s watch meld into one another, and a sapphire crystal with a complex, convex form covers them.

Yaacov Agam, a leading figure in the Kinetic Art movement, designed sixteen watches for Movado, including four wristwatches. These are the “Galaxy,” “Lovestar,” “Multidimension,” and “Rainbow.” These watches used transparent disks painted with colorful shapes overlaid on one another instead of traditional hands.

Concrete Art movement founder Max Bill brought a slightly more traditional design to the Artists’ Series, the “bill-time.” Movado produced this watch in an edition of only 99.

Movado Artists Series Watches

Left to right: “Elapse, Eclipse, Ellipse,” “Rainbow,” “bill-time”

The Museum Watch Legacy Lives On

By this time, Nathan George Horwitt, the Museum Watch designer, was around 90 years old. He had approached many watch companies over the years with this design. In the end, he found only Movado to share confidence in his vision.

Because of this, working with Grinberg, he was finally realizing his vision for the Museum Watch. The company’s success with the watch landed Horwitt’s design in many art and design museums globally, detailed in this list. And so, in time, the Museum Watch’s golden dot came to symbolize Movado.

So, they continued to create new versions of the Museum Watch design after Horwitt’s death in 1990. In 1981, they released the Imperiale, a variant of the Museum watch with a steel link, rather than leather, bracelet. The golden dot motif at the top of the dial repeats itself in the metal links of the bracelet.

"<yoastmark

A Bold New Millennium For Movado

Movado has a history of forward-thinking design, so they use new technologies in new takes on the Museum Watch design. For example, ion vapor deposition allows the BOLD series’ steel cases to match the colors of their leather straps. New materials, such as TR90 “memory plastic,” appear in the newer watches.

This watch is offered in an exercise watch version

The BOLD series also includes quartz-movement chronographs, which show a characteristically minimal amount of information. Small black markers punctuate the dial and subdials, with a single numeral at the top of each subdial.

Movado Bold Watches In 3 Styles

Movado Edge Watch

Movado Edge

The Movado Edge was designed by Swiss artist and designer Yves Béhar, who often uses simple forms with patterned texture. This watch shares the proportions of the original Museum Dial Watch, so it has an ultra-narrow bezel and low-profile crown.

Béhar’s signature use of texture manifests here in radiating blended grooves on the Edge’s concave face.

The Series 800 Rethinks Movado Chronograph Classics

Movado also offers watches with less minimalistic detailing, because many users prefer to have legible numbered indices.
Movado Series 800 Watches
The Series 800 offers this style with a case that recalls, but does not copy, the 1970 Datron’s tonneau shape. This watch uses a super-accurate quartz movement, and its case is made of aluminum and steel.

The Smartwatches: A New Kind Of Movado Digital Watch

In the 2010s, Movado began producing smartwatches, including models with fully digital displays and also ones with analog dials. All of these watches are Android and iOS compatible.

The Movado Bold Motion, a joint project with HP, has a dial with LED indicator lights around its bezel. These light up in conjunction with watch vibrations to announce notifications on the connected phone.

These notifications are enabled, disabled or prioritized through the watch’s app, so the user can toggle specific types of notification. On the Bold, the 12 o’ clock Museum Dial dot is also an LED indicator, available to be used by the app.

Movado Connect Smart Watch Dials

Movado Connect

The Bold Motion and the Museum Sport Motion, another analog-dial smartwatch, synchronize their date and time with the user’s phone.

Both watches also have basic fitness watch functionality, including step counters which can be tracked with the watches’ respective apps.

The fully-digital-display lines are the Connect and the Bold Connected II.

These are more like typical smartwatches, therefore, they have full smartphone integration with their displays.

Their apps offer a range of virtual dials, styled after the Museum Watch, Movado Bold, and more.

For Further Information On Movado

To read more about Movado, check out their official site, and for videos on new collections, see their YouTube channel.

If you want to learn more about watches, watch brands, or read reviews, check out our main watch page.

Movado Watches
Reviewed by Paul Anthony, on .
"A brand built on elemental design. Movado's approach to watches has a visual clarity and simplicity that gives their watches a rare timelessness."
Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★