Tissot History: An Inventive, Innovative Watch Dynasty

Tissot History: An Inventive, Innovative Watch Dynasty 2018-03-16T12:32:27+00:00
Tissot PRS 516 Watch Held In Hand

Image: Tissot

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.

Since 1853, the company 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.

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

Tissot 1853 Dual Timezone Pocket WatchBecause 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 Russia Pendant Watch

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 1919 Porto Watch

Tissot Porto (1919)

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.

Tissot 1930 Antimagnetique WatchFor 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.

Tissot Navigator Watch Advertisement

The Navigator watch

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 PR 516 1965 Model Advertisement

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.

Tissot Research Idea 2001 Watch

Idea 2001 and Astrolon movement

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.

Tissot F1 WatchIn 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.

Tissot T-Touch Solar Watch

T-Touch Solar

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.

Tissot T-Race MotoGP Watch

T-Race MotoGP Edition

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.

Tissot Seastar 1000 Watch

Back To Basics: Tissot’s New Classic Collections

Tissot’s new millennium collections reexamine what made them popular throughout the years.

Tissot’s 20th Century Classics Make A Comeback

Tissot PRS 516 WatchTissot 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.

Tissot PRS 516 Watch Rotors

A variety of rotors from PRS 516 movements

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.

Tissot Heritage Visodate Watch

Further Information On Tissot

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, please visit our main watch page for brand histories, guides, reviews, and more.

Tissot Watches
Reviewed by Paul Anthony, on .
"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."
Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★