The roots of Movado date to 1881, when a 19-year-old named Achille Ditesheim opened a small workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. With just six employees, Ditesheim made men’s wristwatches by hand. It was a time-consuming and expensive process. In 1890, two of Ditesheim’s brothers, Leopold and Isidore, became Achille’s partners in LAI Ditesheim, which by then employed 30 workers.
After the Neuchâtel Cantonel Observatory, a Swiss astronomical organization that measures the accuracy of atomic clocks, awarded the company six first-class ratings in 1899, the brothers turned their attention to the appearance of their timepieces, a preoccupation for which the firm is still known today. They consulted with artists about the design, researched the industry, and eventually built a new factory filled with the best cutting-edge machinery. Another Ditesheim brother, Isaac, invested capital to advance the business.
In 1905, the brothers settled on Movado (“always in motion” in Esperanto) as their new brand name and won a gold medal and a grand diploma of excellence from the Universal Exhibition in Liege, Belgium. By 1912, Movado had released the Polyplan, the first watch designed to follow the contour of the wrist. That watch would be followed by the Curviplan in 1931 and Novoplan in 1934.
Movado pioneered several technologies in the first half of the 20th century. Its Ermeto in 1926 was self-winding; the wristwatch’s case also protected it from shocks, as well as changes in temperature and pressure. Right after World War II, Movado introduced the Calendomatic, which showed the month and day of the week in a pair of windows within the watch’s face, along with the date on the face’s outermost edge.
That same decade, in 1947, an American designer named Nathan George Horwitt was trying to create a watch face that was uncluttered. His first attempts resulted in one of the first digital watches, with numbers for the hours and minutes, but he rejected it saying “the thing looked like a scoreboard.” His experiments led him to create what would be known as the Museum Watch, whose numberless black face was interrupted only by a single gold dot at 12 o’clock representing the sun at high noon.
Horwitt approached 15 watch companies between 1956 and 1960 with his sundial design; each one rejected it. Then, in 1960, the Museum of Modern Art in New York added Horwitt’s watch to its Design Collection. “I believe your design for the face of a watch is the only really original and beautiful design that I have ever seen,” said Edward Steichen, the director of the department of photography at MOMA. Painter Norman Rockwell called it a “swell, modern, simplified design.” The acclaim prompted Movado to strike a deal with Horwitt in 1961 to mass produce the watch, which it patented as the Museum Watch.
During the 1960s, Movado partnered with Zenith in an attempt to create the world’s first automatic chronograph. The Movado-Zenith team was up against a consortium of four watch companies—Heuer, Breitling, Hamilton, and Dubois Depraz. In 1969, both teams’ efforts resulted in what each said was the world’s first automatic chronograph. Movado named its El Primero, but, as it turns out, the Heuer/Breitling/Hamilton/Dubois Depraz team had produced its Calibre 11 a month earlier...
Movado’s next foray into art occurred in 1988, when the company produced a five-face watch designed by Andy Warhol. Although the artist died before the watch went into production, he left behind an envelope filled with his final selection of photographs for each face. The black-and-white photos show several New York buildings shot seemingly at random, as if from the backseat of a moving Town Car; two of the photos actually appear to be slightly different views of the same building.
Only 250 Andy Warhol Times/5 watches were manufactured, and in 1988 they sold out at $18,500 each. Today you can pick up a Times/5 at auction for two-thirds of that price. Time will tell whether Movado's Derek Jeter wristwatch, which was produced in a limited edition of 300 to honor the New York Yankees slugger's 3,000th career hit in 2011, will fare better.