A story of Swiss precision – the tale of Tissot

A story of Swiss precision – the tale of Tissot

With well over 150 years of history to its name, Tissot is one of the most prestigious Swiss watchmakers in the world, with a reputation to rival those of Patek Philippe, TAG Heuer, and Longines.

If you know anything about the history of luxury watches in general, you’ll know that reaching the level attained by these giants of horology is no mean feat. Indeed, Tissot has weathered a fair few storms in its time, and owes a lot of its continued success to the innovation, creativity, and business savvy of its legendary craftsmen.

As we’ve always said here at Leonard Dews, the character of each luxury watch is defined by its heritage – so if you’re considering a Tissot watch for yourself, you might be interested to learn a little more about the history of this quintessentially Swiss brand.

The 19th century: making good time

For the entirety of its history, Tissot has always been based in the Swiss city of Le Locle, which is where it was founded all the way back in 1853 by the father-son team of Charles-Félicien Tissot and Charles-Émile Tissot. Right from the off, it was clear that the Tissot family had a vision, and the talent, resources and passion they needed to execute it. The fledgeling company released its first mass-produced pocket watch in the same year it was founded, and only a few months later it released a one-movement pocket watch with two time zones. At the time, it was groundbreaking innovation – and all achieved when Tissot was barely a year old.

Unsurprisingly, word spread quickly, and Tissot quickly earned itself a reputation for manufacturing gold-cased pocket watches known for their reliability. The company started exporting watches very early in its history, far more so than many of its contemporaries. It took its watches to the US first, where it found considerable success, and then to the Russian Empire.

In 1858, Charles-Émile Tissot personally travelled to Imperial Russia and started selling them to buyers throughout the country, beginning with the undeniably bold gambit of selling them to the officers guarding the Tsar’s palace. Russia soon became Tissot’s biggest market, and Charles-Émile eventually settled there with his family. The company itself, meanwhile, remained firmly rooted in Le Locle, where it continued exporting its watches to a growing number of countries around the world.

The 20th century: Tsars, Sociétés and success

In the early 20th century, Tissot found itself the subject of interest from a particularly high-profile customer; in 1904, it delivered a watch to none other than Tsar Nicolas II of Russia. Only a few years later, the company began designing its first wristwatches. Initially it started with women’s models, but by the 1920s they’d amassed a considerable number of male enthusiasts too.

That was, of course, the Roaring Twenties – a period of booming prosperity in Western culture and fashion. Watchmaking was one of the many sectors to benefit from the high-living and hedonism that countless people were enjoying, following the economic misery of the First World War. But obviously that hedonism wasn’t to last, and the Wall Street Crash of 1929 abruptly brought the Roaring Twenties to an end.

Seeing the economic storm clouds gathering, Tissot merged with OMEGA in 1930. Together, they helped form the Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère (SSIH), a group of Swiss watchmakers that also included the now-defunct brand Lemania.

Around this time, Tissot turned its attention to gradually expanding its wristwatch collection and styles, including self-winding ‘automatic’ watches and chronographs. Faced with increasingly stiff competition from its peers, its craftsmen focused on diversifying its collections with luxury metal dress watches, contrasted with rugged sports watches. That helped to solidify Tissot’s reputation for creating finely-crafted but affordable luxury watches – one that it maintains to this day.

Following the end of the Second World War, Tissot enjoyed a period of exponential growth from 1945 to 1975, and was (continues to be) a major employer in Le Locle. In the midst of this, the very first quartz watch was developed at the Swiss ‘Centre of Electronic Arts’ in 1967, but it wasn’t an innovation that had an immediate impact on most Swiss watchmakers, who maintained their singular focus on producing traditional mechanical timepieces. However, as you may already know, all that was about to change.

The 1970s and 1980s: the onset of the Quartz Crisis

We’ve written about the Quartz Crisis in detail before, but we’ll give you a quick recap just in case. In a nutshell, in the late 1970s, the dominance of mechanical watches was seriously threatened by an explosion of battery-powered quartz watches, which had been recently been pioneered by Japanese watchmakers (primarily Seiko). Quartz watches generally retailed at far lower prices than their mechanical counterparts, largely because the battery-powered movement was far less complex than the more established manual or automatic movements, so they could be made cheaply and quickly – far more quickly than most traditional manufacturing processes could keep up with.

By the early 1980s, Swiss watchmakers found themselves embroiled in an intense battle for their own survival. Watchmaking is a cornerstone industry in Switzerland, and the condition of the sector affected the livelihoods of about 1 in 70 people. The situation ultimately became so dire that the government was forced to intervene.

However, mechanical watchmakers like Tissot not only survived, but have even now climbed back to their former dominant positions in the market. That’s largely thanks to the joint efforts of people like Dr Ernst Thomke and Nicolas Hayek, who oversaw the amalgamation of two of the world’s biggest watch groups into a single entity. SSIH was merged with ASUAG (Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG) to create ASAUG/SSIH, saving a huge number of brands (including Tissot) from bankruptcy.

By 1998, the group had assumed the much catchier moniker of the Swatch Group. The name derives from the contraction of ‘second watch’ – a reference to the group’s cornerstone innovation, which was a cheaper, more affordable watch that was intended as a casual, disposable accessory (albeit one that retained a very distinctive style). The success of the new ‘Swatches’ proved a crucial weapon for Swiss manufacturers in the battle for market dominance, and gave some much-needed breathing room to the Tissot and the other traditional brands under its umbrella.

The 21st century: Tissot today

Once the initial crisis was averted, Tissot went from strength to strength, and it’s now regarded as being a permanent member of the pantheon of Swiss watchmakers. Staying true to their motto of being ‘innovators by tradition’, its craftsmen have continued to pioneer a wide assortment of luxury watches, encompassing everything from classically-styled mechanical dress watches, all the way up to cutting-edge sports watches designed to withstand the rigours of the most arduous conditions.

On that note, Tissot maintains an especially strong reputation for its sports chronographs. In fact, the precision associated with the brand means that it retains the position of official timekeeper for a number of sporting bodies, including (but not limited to) MotoGP, the International Basketball Federation, and the Fencing World Championships.

Its watches are also notable for retailing with slightly lower price tags than many of its Swiss contemporaries, which makes it a popular and highly affordable brand for budding luxury watch connoisseurs, or people just finding their feet in the industry.

It’s certainly a particular favourite of ours here at Leonard Dews. We have an extensive range of Tissot watches for you to choose from – you can start discovering them today right here on our site, or see them in person by paying us a visit in our expansive Blackpool showroom. And of course, if you ever need any help or advice, that’s exactly what our experts are here for. If you’ve got any questions or need any advice, don’t hesitate to give us a call on 01253 754 940.