Tissot takes its name from its father-and-son founders, Charles-Félicien and Charles-Émile, who founded the watch company in their family home.
They were situated on Crêt-Vaillant, Le Locle, in the northwest of Switzerland, and the company remains there today.
Tissot is known for its sports chronographs, mechanical watches designed with sophisticated simplicity in mind, and the original touchscreen watch.
Today, the company is part of the celebrated Swatch group and continues to produce reputed albeit surprisingly affordable mechanical Swiss watches.
Since 1853, Tissot has often adapted and reimagined their classic collections to come up with new, innovative watch concepts.
This article follows Tissot as they adapt and lead in the changing watch industry over more than 150 years.
We’ll be covering Tissot with the following points:
- The First Watches: Tissot Goes Overseas
- Fresh And Adventurous Ideas By Tissot
- Back To Basics: Tissot’s New Classic Collections
Scroll down to read it all or use the links above to jump ahead.
The First Watches: Tissot Goes Overseas
Tissot began exporting watches internationally very early in its history, and was often ahead of the pack in watch trends.
Tissot’s Watches Fit For Noble Pockets
Because Tissot started in the mid-19th century, their first watches were gold pocketwatches. In their first year, the company had already released something groundbreaking: a one-movement pocket watch with two time zones.
Tissot began exporting their watches internationally in the same year, bringing their products to the American watch scene.
They next brought their watches to the Russian Empire. Charles Tissot, son of Charles-Émile, started a family in Moscow with a Russian woman, and the country soon became their biggest market.
The company sold many delicately ornate pocket watches there, some of which found their way to Tsar Alexander II’s court.
These savonnette-style pocket watches, which flipped open to reveal the dial, lent themselves to ornamentation due to the closeable lid.
Tissot also continued to create pocket watches with convenient complications, for example, an 1887 model which had a minute repeater.
During this period, the company found international acclaim at competitions and exhibitions, such as the 1900 World’s Fair.
Another notable watch from this era was the one given to Swiss president Numa Droz. Recently, the company reaqcuired this particular watch, and now displays it in the Tissot museum.
Tissot’s Wristwatch Debut
Tissot set up a factory in Chemin de Tourelles, Le Locle, in 1907, within walking distance of their original Crêt-Vaillant workshop.
Here, they began to use state-of-the-art electrically-powered equipment to machine their case components. These efforts were made to meet increasing international demand.
A few years later, they designed their first wristwatches, starting with womens’ models.
Tissot first designed and made in-house movements at this location, gaining the status of a manufacture.
The first Tissot men’s wristwatches came not long after this. The company worked with innovation in mind, and in the 1920s and 1930s, wristwatches became immensely popular among men.
At the time, the watchmaker primarily made luxury dress watches, but they also continued to explore new technologies.
For example, the 1930 Antimagnétique used non-magnetic components in its movement, making it the first mass-produced antimagnetic wristwatch.
This avoided the problem of accidentally magnetizing tiny, sensitive watch components, which renders a watch inaccurate.
Tissot and fellow watchmaking giant Omega formed the Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH) in 1930. That would later in 1983 become part of the Swatch Group.
Tissot expanded its wristwatch collections and styles greatly in this period, and began making self-winding watches and chronographs.
Tissot’s Self Winding Wonders
The company’s collections became more diverse in their appearances and features; luxury metal dress watches contrasted with rugged active watches.
The 1944 Automatic, made of stainless steel with a leather strap, used a self-winding mechanism with a 40 hour reserve. This watch boasted a tough shock-resistant movement, which would become a common feature, especially in Tissot’s sportier watches.
The Automatic series went global with the 1951 Navigator, an ambitious watch which displayed 24 time zones at once.
No other wristwatch in history had attempted such a feat of visual design. Tissot needed a clever way to maintain an elegant look despite all of the information on the dial.
So, they used a circular, satin-finished steel case, with 12-hour numeral markers on the bezel, not the dial.
This left space on the face for the 24 hour display with 24 time zones, perfect for world-traveling businessmen.
Tissot continued to design new automatic models with different complications, such as the Visodate, which offered a calendar function.
After this period’s profusion of movements and styles, in the late ’50s, Tissot sought to streamline their manufacturing of movements. Edouard-Louis Tissot increased the company’s efficiency of production by instituting the “single calibre” principle. Most of their watches would use a single base movement, which accommodated the addition of complications.
Fresh And Adventurous Ideas By Tissot
The Quartz Crisis prompted Tissot to come up with radical and novel new designs to offer something competitors did not.
The Birth of Tissot’s Sporting PRS 516
The 1960s saw the creation of the PR and PRS 516, some of Tissot’s more iconic and enduring collections. The elements of these watches’ distinctive design emulate the precision engineering and speed of a racecar.
A thin, slab-sided case gives the watch a graceful-yet-rugged appearance. A regular pattern of holes punctuates the leather or metal bracelet. This is to suggest the metal-and-leather steering wheel of a racecar.
Tissot’s Space Age Collections
The PRS 516 came along with other watch lines created for the free-spirited youth of the 1960s and ’70s. Because of the threat quartz movement technology posed to traditional Swiss mechanical watchmaking, the watchmaker created many adventurous new designs.
Quartz watches were much cheaper than their precision-engineered mechanical counterparts, therefore Tissot experimented in making a cheaper mechanical movement. The Astrolon movement was built from fiberglass and plastics and so, many parts, like the base plate, are transparent.
The Astrolon powered the Idea 2001, a unusually-styled watch with a clear case to showcase the movement. The Idea 2001’s hands and bezel seem to float over the clear plastic movement. Because most of the components are made from clear or translucent plastic, they highlight the metal balance wheel.
The Sideral also used fiberglass in its bracelet and case. The marketing described the Sideral as “super-resistant” because of fiberglass’s resilience towards shock and extremes of temperature.
In this period, Tissot struck partnerships with Formula One racing teams Renault, Lotus, and Ensign. The watch company created high-accuracy quartz chronographs suitable for racing teams.
So, the company’s F1 watch became the official watch of the Lotus team. The F1 came in several variations, including a dual display digital-and-analog chronograph.
Other watches of the era were made with playfully imaginative materials: a prime example is the 1986 RockWatch.
As the name suggests, a case carved from a single piece of Alpine granite houses the movement.
Similar designs followed the RockWatch: The WoodWatch, with a case of briarwood, and the PearlWatch, with mother-of-pearl case.
Tissot’s 21st Century Tool Watches
In 1983, Tissot and Omega’s SSIH joined other Swiss watchmaking groups, forming the conglomerate now known as The Swatch Group. Growing market pressures and foreign competition compelled the Swiss watch industry to adapt and cooperate to stay relevant.
In 1999, Tissot released the world’s first touchscreen-operated watch, the T-Touch. This used a capacitive sensor array, similar to those in modern smartphones, to detect electrical variations across the sapphire crystal.
Touching different zones on the crystal activates different functions.
The exact capabilities vary by model; each T-Touch has up to six functions, but more are available. Hence, each T-Touch model has a different set of readouts, such as altitude, temperature, weather, speed, compass, and timer.
Sport-specific features are also available, namely timers for racing splits, regattas, diving, and a tide indicator for sailing or surfing.
Due to this, competitors in nearly any sport can select a T-Touch especially suited to them.
Many of Tissot’s current models are sport-related tool watches, which is appropriate because of the company’s exceptional sport timing expertise.
Throughout their history, they have served as official timing partner for more than a dozen sport leagues and many teams.
Some of these leagues include the NBA, Tour de France, MotoGP, ITTF, FIE, RBS, and IHHF.
The T-Race collection illustrates the brand’s ongoing association with motorsport. In this self-winding mechanical chronograph’s case, the reference is to motorcycle racing.
The limited edition MotoGP watch has a bracelet modeled like a tire, and a rotor resembling a sportbike wheel.
One of these newer sport lines is the Seastar 1000, a sleek black-and-aqua chronograph water-resistant to 300 meters. This dive watch comes with either a quartz movement or a Powermatic 80 mechanical movement, visible through the caseback window. Like many high-quality dive watches, the Seastar 1000 includes a helium escape valve for deeper dives.
Back To Basics: Tissot’s New Watch Collections
Tissot’s new millennium collections reexamine what made them popular throughout the years.
Tissot’s 20th Century Classics Make A Comeback
Tissot has not forgotten its connection with automobile motorsports, either.
The PRS 516 series has returned, powered by the Powermatic 80, a Swiss Tissot automatic movement, or a quartz movement. This new edition of the PRS 516 sports front-and-back sapphire crystals, so the movement of your choice in in full view.
Like the original, these watches feature bracelets with holes to suggest the steering wheel of a 1960s-era Formula One car.
In honor of the watchmaker’s long, rich history, the dial is inscribed with “TISSOT 1853.” The rotors of the PRS 516 movements are modeled after racing car rims and steering wheels.
Not all of the revival collections are sports watches. So, for those seeking a classic look, the Heritage Visodate Automatic brings dress watch style to the company’s collections. The new Visodate stays quite faithful to the old design, but there are a few differences. The numeral markers at 12, 9, and 6 present on the original, for example, are replaced with simple batons.
If you want to find more about Tissot and its history, check out the Tissot official site and YouTube channel.
If you liked this article, feel free to peruse more of Bespoke Unit’s watch content:
- Take a look at our latest watch reviews
- Learn about the other Swatch group brands
- Go to out page about Omega, a related Swatch brand
- See our watch homepage
"Traditional Swiss quality with smart sporty style. Tissot has had many fresh concepts since the 1800s. Watch and see what they come up with next."
In July 1970 I was given a Tissot Pr 516 GL for my
21st birthday. I still wear that watch regularly and it still looks very good on the wrist. It was recently Serviced and holds time to 7 seconds per week.
Regards to all at Tissot.
Fantastic, great to hear that. I also have a watch that I was given for my 21st birthday and it means the world to me!
I fell while cycling and broke the crown of my Tissot 1853 watch.
I live in the Keene, New Hampshire area. Where should I go to have the repair done.
I’m afraid that I don’t know. I recommend that you reach out to Tissot’s customer service to see who they would recommend.
All the best,
My first Tissot was Sideral purchased from Wempe in Bremen, Germany in 1973. It was simply awesome. I came back to Kolkata, India for a short holiday and a good friend liked the watch and requested me to sell it to him saying that I could again buy one once I returned to Germany. I sold it him at the cost price. On my return to Bremen, I rushed to Wempe’s show room to buy the same Sideral unfortunately, Wempe didn’t have it. I was heartbroken.Then I bought Tissot Stylist hand wound all steel. The watch is still with me and runs well. Being an avid watch lover I kept on buying high end watches but my love and respect for brand Tissot remains unchanged. So much so that on 29th Nov, 2020 I purchased two Tissot from the Kolkata dealer one quartz chronograph another PRS 516 automatic chronograph day date. I’m still trying hard to get hold of Tissot 1973 heritage limited edition chronograph. No dealer in India has it. If any executive of Tissot reads this write up and considers to help me procuring 1973 heritage could kindly contact me on my mail id. I would be immensely grateful if bespokeunit.com kindly forwards my request to Tissot authorities.
I’m afraid that we don’t have any contacts at Tissot to whom we can forward your message. However, I’ll leave it here in case anybody sees it!
All the best,
Thank you so much.
You’re very welcome!
I really enjoy your article. i learned huge information about Tissot Watches.
Thank you so much
Fantastic, we are glad you found it helpful!
Cheers – Paul
Great article. In March 1979, I received a Tissot Seastar Automatic from my uncle for my 21st birthday. I have had it serviced regularly over the years and wear it often in memory of my uncle who is responsible for my love of watches and Tissot. Today, it holds a special place among my other Tissots. Thanks for bringing back so many happy memories.
You’re very welcome! Thanks for sharing your memories with us!
I bought a 1960 sea star automatic with champagne dial and sword hands that had sat in the box most of the time, only being worn on special occasions. It has the original box, seawater resistant ray strap and stainless steel, marked buckle. I had it serviced and it is a fantastic addition to my collection. You get so much bang for your buck from Tissot….I have a PRS516 and a T classic one…both stainless steel with black dials. They started me in the hobby and are still great watches. I would recommend them to anyone.
Great to hear! Thanks for sharing your experiences with us!
I was given a Tissot T-Sport PRS 330 as a gift a number of years ago. It’s absolutely, hands down the best looking, most accurate timepiece I’ve ever owned. I’m admittedly hard on my timepieces. If they can’t handle me jumping out of an airplane, diving, climbing, hunting and a generally active and adventurous lifestyle, I get them reconditioned and give them away.
The PRS 330 changed that for me. I have beaten the hell out of this watch, and it’s come through every time. I can’t help but feel if it could speak, it would say something along the lines of, “Is THAT the best you’ve got?”.
My sincere thanks to anyone involved in creating, manufacturing & distributing Tissot time pieces. I’ve got a serious feeling it’s going to outlive me. I would recommend it to any adventurer.
That’s absolutely fantastic to hear! Thanks for sharing your story!
All the best,
I bought T-Touch when I visited S’land in 2008. After that I bought 2 more then for my wife and now we have total 7 Tissot watches all in working condition. Excellent watches and am a proud owner . Would love to add more .
Hey there Viren,
Tissot offers great value not only thanks to their attractive designs and competitive price points but also, as you point out, for their phenomenal quality. Thanks for sharing!
What Tissot ladies watched were made in 2002-2003?
I wouldn’t be able to tell you off the top of my head, but that time period seems recent enough to where you may be able to find a Tissot catalog (ebay or similar) from then that would provide insight.