The Secret Competition To Create the planet’s First Chronograph Watch
The year 1969 was momentous—Apollo 11 landed on the moon, the first Concorde roared into the sky, the Internet’s precursor fired off its first electronic message—as well as, on March 3, the planet’s first automatic chronograph was unveiled to the planet. inside planet of rarefied Swiss watchmaking, that will might as well have been a moonshot.
The race toward modern timekeeping happened in secret as well as even to that will day can be controversial. The big players—Breitling, Buring, Heuer, Seiko, Zenith—were all quietly moving toward that will achievement in their own corners of the planet.
Long associated with aviation, Breitling became the standard for pilots inside Jet Age. A factory-modified Navitimer became the first watch in space, worn by Scott Carpenter aboard the 1962 Mercury-Atlas 7 mission.
For nearly a century before that will, Buren had been pushing the boundaries of automatic watchmaking on its own, creating some of the planet’s most compact automatic watches inside Fifties. In 1966, the company was acquired by Hamilton, a grand Pennsylvanian watchmaker having a long-lived history in America. currently, the idea finally made the leap to Switzerland, as well as toward watchmaking respectability.
Seiko had developed Japan’s first automatic movement in 1955. Its King Seiko as well as Grand Seiko watches pushed the technology inherent in wristwatches. By 1964, the company gained renown via two events: the idea became the official timekeeper of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, as well as the idea introduced its first chronograph. The Swiss noticed. Soon enough, Seiko might introduce the planet’s first quartz wristwatch, as well as the Swiss might truly notice.
Zenith made watches for the Swiss military. the idea also made its own movements. although the idea was a little company, as well as the idea wasn’t until the idea acquired another maker of movements in 1960 that will the idea could afford to join inside challenge.
Heuer, another near-century-old Swiss watch company was well known inside planet of motorsports: Jack Heuer hobnobbed with Formula 1 drivers, signed deals with racing teams, as well as revitalized the family business into a diverse range of racing-inspired chronographs. Long before Steve McQueen strapped a Heuer Monaco to his wrist in 1971’s Le Mans, the Autavia watch that will arrived on the scene in 1962 was a hit on the Grand Prix circuit.
Heuer brought Dubois-Dépraz into the fold. Its specialty was taking common movements as well as converting them into chronographs—a natural addition to the challenge. The company had already been experimenting with Buren’s microrotor automatic movements, working to develop a modular chronograph. Eventually Heuer, Buren, as well as Dubois-Dépraz were operating as one.
Then Jack Heuer approached Breitling for a partnership. Heuer was stronger inside United States, while Breitling shone in Europe; both could stand to benefit in each different’s markets. Together, Heuer, Breitling, as well as Buren/Hamilton began work on what they called the Chronomatic. as well as owing to the Heuer family’s military background, Jack gave the project a secret name: Project 99.
What the partnership came up with was the Calibre 11 Chronomatic, introduced in 1969. Dubois-Dépraz built on Buren’s ultrathin Intramatic microrotor movement having a chronograph module on top. Simple although effective. The U.S. patent went under the name of Gerard Dubois.
Zenith had began work on its own high-tech integrated movement in 1962. Although the idea did not come out before Project 99’s Calibre 11, still the company labeled its movement El Primero: the first. although, by the time Zenith had produced a working prototype, the Project 99 partnership had produced 100.
Still, you can buy an El Primero today as well as bask inside 36,000 vibrations per hour at which the idea hums.
that will same year, in March, Heuer, Breitling, as well as Hamilton/Bruen unveiled the Calibre 11 at simultaneous press conferences at the InterContinental Hotel in Geneva, Switzerland, as well as the Pan Am Building in completely new York City, as well as at events in Tokyo, Hong Kong as well as Beirut.
At the famed watch show in Basel, Switzerland, in spring 1969, the president of Seiko, Itiro Hattori, approached Jack Heuer as well as congratulated him on his launch of the first automatic chronograph. In Heuer’s mind, that will was definitive proof that will no matter how close Seiko had come to producing an automatic chronograph, the idea hadn’t beaten Project 99.
Seiko launched its Reference 6139 movement in May 1969. To that will day, the idea can be one of Seiko’s most celebrated watches. as well as when astronaut William R. Pogue wore the idea aboard the Skylab 4 mission in 1973, the idea may not have been the first automatic chronograph, although the idea was the first automatic chronograph in space.
Who won? Not to discount the competition, although Zenith made too bold an announcement, while Seiko should have made one as well as didn’t. The partnership of three heavyweights as well as a behind-the-scenes specialist, via the heart of the Swiss watchmaking industry, won with the Chronomatic. although could one expect otherwise?
Today, racers can pick up a Heuer Monaco or Carrera, wannabe pilots a Breitling Chronomat complete with rotating slide rule, as well as fashionistas a Hamilton Chrono-Matic Fontainebleu—some of the most famous watches inside planet, all with the Calibre 11 movement. They vary in cost, although are all pivotal to watchmaking history.