In-Intensity: The Sudden Affect Of The Tissot RockWatch

The Swiss watch {industry} is dominated by means of custom. It’s steadily – some would say rightfully – criticized for being overly conservative. Each and every so ceaselessly, alternatively, an intensive thought will slip throughout the cracks. On occasion, those forward-thinking tasks are the results of industry-wide desperation. And different instances, they are just too just right of an concept to move up. The Tissot RockWatch, a mid-Nineteen eighties unlock fabricated from solid Swiss granite, was once somewhat of each.

Few of as of late’s watch fanatics would believe the RockWatch innovative, if they are acutely aware of it in any respect. They may even name it a gimmick, and they would be proper. However I have all the time been intrigued by means of its unorthodox nature, and I imagine it merits credit score as of late for its cutting edge use of out-of-the-box fabrics. The RockWatch additionally represented a key victory for the Swiss watch {industry} when it necessary it probably the most, and set Tissot up for luck within the many years to come back by means of reestablishing its global presence.

After years of informal passion, I lately took the plunge and bought a antique Tissot RockWatch for myself. It is small. It is quirky. It is totally fascinating. It price $200. And it is helped me attach and dig deeper right into a part of Swiss watchmaking historical past that is most often omitted. That is the tale of the Tissot RockWatch, slightly stone watch with a larger-than-life persona.

A Rock And A Exhausting Position

Tissot reported considered one of its worst monetary years ever in 1976. And no marvel: Financial stagnation within the Western world adopted the 1973 oil disaster. Then the inventory marketplace crashed. And new timekeeping applied sciences from Japan (the so-called Battery operated Revolution) introduced analog watches into an existential disaster. Nearly all the Swiss watch {industry} was once now running within the crimson zone.

Each and every RockWatch was once utterly distinctive because of the quite a lot of colours and veins herbal to stones.

Tissot restructured its operations on the finish of 1976, shutting down its long-running movement manufacture that hired roughly 100 folks and were in steady operation for over 50 years. Manufacturing and completing of movement parts utilized in Tissot watches shifted to its longtime sister brand, Omega. For the primary time in its historical past, Tissot not produced the movements inside of its watches; this was once part of a bigger technique installed position by means of Swiss watch executives inquisitive about {industry} consolidation.

You may know what came about subsequent.

SSIH (Tissot’s guardian corporate that shaped via a merger with Omega in 1930) and ASUAG (the world’s biggest producer of watch movements, and the erstwhile owner of brands equivalent to Certina, Hamilton, Longines, Mido, and Rado) each declared chapter by means of 1981. Two years later, the 2 entities merged and have been therefore taken non-public below the management of Nicolas G. Hayek, Sr. The crowd was once renamed SMH (Société de Microélectronique et d’Horlogerie) in 1985, and in 1998 changed into The Swatch Group.

Nicolas G. Hayek, Sr. (Pic: courtesy Breguet)

However that is having a look too a ways forward.

We are focusing right here on Tissot, an organization that performed an underrated but pivotal function within the mid-Nineteen eighties revival of Swiss watchmaking. The place the past due seventies have been a lean length, Tissot briefly discovered luck within the new decade thank you, in part, to an unconventional thought. Which, like such a lot of unconventional concepts sooner than it, was once conceived all the way through an extended night time of consuming and carousing between {industry} executives.

“What if we made a watch in stone?”

The Seek For The Subsequent Swatch

The discharge of the plastic-cased Swatch in 1983 was once a much-needed victory for the now-combined SSIH/ASUAG. But it surely wasn’t increase time in Switzerland simply but. A long way from it. Any other international recession had introduced watchmaking exports all the way down to figures that had up to now only been noticed previous to Global Battle II. ETA SA leader govt officer Dr. Ernst Thomke and his crew have been already on the lookout for their subsequent win. (Dr. Thomke was once a key determine along Hayek, Sr. within the genesis of the Swatch Crew. You’ll be able to be informed extra about him in this excellent story by means of Joe Thompson at the emergence of battery operated watchmaking.)

Right through a night wherein we drank an ideal deal, we and our colleagues made up our minds to make a watch in stone!

Tissot: 150 Years of Historical past 1853-2003

In keeping with Estelle Fallet’s complete e book, Tissot: 150 Years of Historical past 1853-2003, the start of the RockWatch resulted from plenty of key personalities at ETA, SMH, and a Neuchâtel analysis laboratory known as Asulab coming in combination. Those integrated Thomke, a sculptor and advisor named Peter Kunz, and Tissot administrators Urs Hecht and Alain Spinedi.

The RockWatch developed into a bigger assortment over time, known as the “Jewels of Nature” collection.

An unattributed quote reprinted in Fallet’s e book from the 1986 factor of L’Illustré, a weekly French-language shopper mag printed in Switzerland, main points the tale of the RockWatch’s not likely conception.

“To relaunch the brand, we would have liked a brand new product. Right through a night wherein we drank an ideal deal, we and our colleagues made up our minds to make a watch in stone! Ernst Thomke’s blue eyes are nonetheless guffawing on the concept. When I proposed to the folks at Tissot that we must promote this stone watch, they mentioned that it must indisputably be a shaggy dog story! Should you insist, we will try to promote 3,000… I mentioned no less than 10,000, in a different way I will give it to every other brand… They must have concept I used to be utterly mad…!”

Jacques Müller and Elmar Mock, two veterans of Swatch’s 1983 unlock, have been then positioned in control of working out precisely the best way to execute a brand new form of watch – the primary to be made fully of herbal stone.

Off To The Races

Tissot did not use simply any old stone. It was once, within the grand custom of Swiss watchmaking, regionally sourced (no less than to start out). The use of granite mined from the Swiss Alps within the Grison, Ticino, and Valais cantons, the case of every RockWatch was once utterly distinctive on account of the other granite resources, plus the quite a lot of colours and veins herbal to the stone.

Tissot marketed its new mountain-mined watch the use of photographs of the RockWatch dial superimposed at the Matterhorn.

Swatch had simply confirmed that Nineteen eighties shoppers were not essentially in search of one watch to wear each and every day. They sought after plenty of distinctive pieces that confirmed off their persona, or matched a selected outfit. Swatch presented numerous aesthetic variants and made the speculation of watch amassing mainstream, and the RockWatch constructed on that concept by means of celebrating individuality in its promoting brochures: “Each and every RockWatch is a unconditionally unmistakable and totally distinctive piece. As particular person as a finger-print. As non-public as your signature.”

From salt-and-pepper granite to Australian purple rhodonite; the RockWatch sooner or later grew past its Swiss Alps starting place tale.

Later RockWatch fashions applied quite a lot of different stones and minerals – together with jade, blue lace agate, Scandinavian basalt, Kalahari jasper, Australian purple rhodonite, Brazilian aventurine and blue sodalite, and prehistoric petrified coral from the Swiss Jura – so as to add additional aesthetic selection. The most typical RockWatches you can see for transaction this present day have speckled inexperienced or gray instances and dials, which point out using granite. Essentially the most fascinating ones at the present time are the brown RockWatches fabricated from jasper, the blue lace agate examples, and the petrified coral fashions.

The red-and-yellow handset is encouraged by means of path markers within the Swiss Alps.

The SMH amenities weren’t fitted to care for the machining of granite into watch instances; they were not stonemasons, in spite of everything. It took roughly six months and an investment of round 5 million to 7 million Swiss Francs to arrange the machines and production features important to do the task. And that’s the reason no longer even together with the manpower required to perform them – Tissot created 50 new positions at its Le Locle facility in 1984 to satisfy preliminary manufacturing targets.

From stone to watch.

Reducing slices of granite for the RockWatch.

Including hands to a finished RockWatch dial/case.

Extra importantly, Tissot considered the RockWatch as its technique to reenter the U.S. marketplace, wherein it were absent for just about all the previous decade. The corporate invested roughly 20 million Swiss Francs into advertising the RockWatch (together with in tv commercials just like the beneath) and decided on Chicago, Boston, and Atlanta as preliminary take a look at markets in 1985. (This adopted the tactic Swatch applied in 1983, with take a look at markets in Texas.) This deviated from the usual Swiss watch {industry} observe of introducing new merchandise at the yearly Basel Fair. Swiss tv crews have been even despatched to hide the release of the RockWatch within the United States, offering speedy call for for it in Switzerland and its surrounding international locations.

The tactic labored. L’Illustré reported in 1985 that, “The RockWatch has already gained over the American citizens to such an extent that the employees at Tissot are actually doing extra time on Saturdays to provide the take a look at markets in Chicago, Boston, and Atlanta.” The next yr, the RockWatch seemed on the cover of Europa Star magazine.

Priced round $200 at release within the United States (and at 300 CHF in Switzerland), the RockWatch was once an instantaneous international luck for Tissot. Through the top of 1986, greater than 50,000 gadgets were bought; lower than a decade later, in 1994, greater than 800,000 RockWatches are mentioned to had been on wrists across the world.

‘Shaped Through Nature. Unearthed Through Tissot.’

Taking a look on the RockWatch as of late, it is simple to brush aside it as a made of its time, however there are a selection of actually attention-grabbing pattern components at paintings right here. The hour and minute hands are in contrasting yellow and crimson, a extremely legible selection that displays the watch’s alpine starting place; the similar tones are used for markers on strolling trails within the Swiss Alps. The case got here in 3 unisex sizes – 23mm, 30mm, and 33mm – all done in a superbly easy spherical profile.

The mid-size RockWatch measured 30mm throughout.

As you could be expecting, the case and dial are a unmarried component; the stepped dial and the caseback are every milled to deal with the handset and battery operated movement, respectively. Tissot used a crystal sapphire to offer protection to the dial and set it flush towards the case and not using a sticking out dome. The round crown is small and is partly built-in into the case profile.

The stone band RockWatch variants are rarer than their leather-based band siblings.

The RockWatch caseback is composed of a stainless steel plate connected by means of six screws. Inside of is a quite standard battery operated movement – a Swiss-made ETA 976.001 caliber operated by means of a Renata SR616SW battery mobile. The steel plate extends previous the caseback to create a proprietary built-in band bar that attaches the leather-based band with steel pin clasp to the watch, an answer supposed to lower force and tension at the stone case. Tissot additionally created a novel matching stone band for the RockWatch this is now considerably tougher to search out than the variants on leather-based bands (see above examples).

Going Viral In Hong Kong

As part of Tissot’s advertising and retail technique, the corporate commissioned large-format Tissot clocks fabricated from stone for its Licensed Outlets to position of their boutique home windows. Appears like an attractive usual watch-industry observe, proper? Neatly, Tissot in fact took issues a step additional for the RockWatch’s Hong Kong release, in November 1986.

An artist named Felice Bottinelli, who had labored on creating the stone clocks for Tissot outlets, was once flown to Hong Kong along a five-ton slab of granite (you get one wager at what he deliberate to do with it). Newspaper clippings situated on Bottinelli’s website do a very good task of summarizing the location, however to mention that the local Hong Kong media shops have been intrigued over what precisely was once taking place with the granite is underplaying it (whilst additionally inflicting me to query what we ever did with out social media).

The Tissot Rebound

The luck of the RockWatch satisfied Tissot that different unconventional case fabrics may turn out similarly compelling to shoppers. In 1988, the brand adopted with the PearlWatch, that includes a mother-of-pearl case and dial. A yr later, the WoodWatch was once launched with a case and dial fabricated from Mediterranean briar. Following experiments by means of IWC and sibling brands Omega and Rado, a ceramic-cased watch known as “Ceraten” was once launched in 1991. The rarest Tissot watch from this era is referred to as the Gold-Rush, a luxe take at the round RockWatch case that was once crafted from solid 18k yellow gold and marked with a “750” hallmark at the dial. Taken in combination, those watches have been referred to as the “Jewels of Nature” assortment.

A late-Nineteen eighties PearlWatch commercial.

The RockWatch reaffirmed Tissot as a recognizable call the world over, whilst additionally serving to it achieve affect with in the halls of the SMH. Through the top of 1985, the SMH Board of Administrators mentioned that Tissot gross sales had grown just about 30 % in amount, buoyed by means of the RockWatch’s early luck within the American marketplace. That translated to 16 % marketplace proportion with in the bigger Swiss watch {industry}; evaluate that to 2019, the place Tissot ranked 7th amongst all Swiss brands in retail price however only owned 4 % of the whole marketplace for Swiss watches.

The Tissot WoodWatch predates as of late’s fashionable use of the fabric on Kickstarter.

The ceramic-cased Tissot “Ceraten” has a daring glance that also feels contemporary as of late.

It’s a must to needless to say, within the mid-Nineteen eighties, SMH control was once at a crossroads. An organizational hierarchy had but to be established, so the global luck of the RockWatch gave Tissot a place of significance when crafting new intra-group methods. In 1987, SMH made up our minds to carry all of its brands in combination with in every overseas marketplace and combine them right into a unmarried distribution community.

Lately, Tissot ranks as some of the Swiss watch {industry}’s biggest watchmakers in quantity and gross sales, with distribution touchpoints in loads of various international locations international. But when it were not for the RockWatch, a special brand with in the SMH organization may have taken its position.

Palms-On With A Tissot RockWatch, 36 Years Later

One results of the use of herbal stone as a case steel is that – save for any chipping or fractures – there must most often be no external wear to a RockWatch, irrespective of its age. Stone does not age like different fabrics. It is intended for the lengthy haul, and while you evaluate it to the plastic or resin instances discovered on an identical Nineteen eighties watches, a antique RockWatch must be in pristine condition.

A vintage RockWatch constituted of green-colored granite.

Which is precisely what I discovered after ordering mine (from Etsy!). My RockWatch is totally easy to the touch, similar to you’ll believe the feel of a river-worn pebble. It is the mid-size RockWatch, at 30mm throughout, which additionally makes it the smallest watch I have ever bought for myself. There is no working seconds hand, which means that it is simple to overlook there is a battery operated movement inside of.

Dressed in a RockWatch is a fascinating revel in. It is skinny and light-weight, but it surely has a wrist presence that is exhausting to give an explanation for. There are not any lugs, no angles, or external parts to pay attention to. There don’t seem to be even any hour or minute markers at the dial that can assist you orient your self all the way through the day. It takes easy solidness to an extreme that is a ways not like some other watch I have spent time with. You surely do not overlook you are dressed in it like you could with an ultra-thin antique watch, however I additionally by no means discovered myself fidgeting with it on my wrist like I do with nearly all my different watches.

At the wrist.

It is nearly like a band in some way, which is sensible. The RockWatch was once born within the Nineteen eighties, the similar decade that gave us the ceaselessly maligned “fashion watch.”

So is the RockWatch a manner watch? I feel it’s, however in its personal means.

Model watches are ceaselessly related to impermanence. They are normally fabricated from plastic, aluminum, or every other affordable, refinished steel and are thrown away slightly than overhauled. The Tissot RockWatch was once inarguably a stylish unlock on the time, an of-the-moment advent that may no longer make the similar have an effect on if it was once launched in 2021. However it is also fabricated from a herbal cloth, sourced from the out of doors world – and extra considerably for the watch {industry}, it embraces considered one of Switzerland’s largest non-horological points of interest: The Alps. It borrows components from the world of style watches with its of-the-moment aptitude and unique individuality, but it surely does not proportion the throwaway, temporary qualities normally related to the style.

Rock Of Ages

There are two brands that rightfully are evoked when one thinks of Nineteen eighties watchmaking: Swatch and G-Shock. Those brands and their watches each emerged in 1983, various in conception, pattern, and means. However they each applied savvy advertising campaigns, colourful designs, battery operated movements, and have been priced accessibly sufficient to achieve instant global marketplace proportion.

The Tissot RockWatch got here at the scene simply after Swatch and G-Surprise, but it surely shared the similar industrial qualities (albeit at a rather upper worth level) as the ones two brands and located an identical luck. However as of late, G-Surprise and Swatch proceed to thrive whilst the RockWatch was once discontinued within the mid-Nineteen nineties and not using a reissues or revivals to be present in Tissot’s fresh catalog.

It could be slightly formidable to believe a world the place the RockWatch endured to proportion stature with Swatch, G-Surprise, and different entry-level hits like Seiko dive watches and Citizen Eco-Force fashions. Traits will all the time run their path, and the urge for food for herbal stone wristwatches does not strike me as an evergreen form of factor. It is also obviously true that Swatch and G-Surprise have each needed to evolve over the many years to retain their presence and proportion of the marketplace. And, to position it bluntly, rocks don’t seem to be precisely fast to replace.

Possibly Tissot granted the RockWatch a merciful loss of life, sooner than letting it cross into the early 2000s and rotating right into a 40mm+ stone behemoth, which might had been a parody of its genuine pattern. However as of late, you’ll be able to really feel the RockWatch’s affect in each and every limited-edition watch that comprises an sudden cloth into its rotor, its dial, its caseband, or its caseback.

You already know the watches I am referencing. And they are not all the time nice – and even very genuine.

However the RockWatch was once each.

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