“I wanted to know how to collect vintage watches and wanted to learn more about them. I was looking on books, internet, get on to website like Hodinkee for example.”
How did you get into watch at first? (Joël Laplace, Heritage Department at Zenith and Vintage Watch Collector) Back in high school, a friend of mine had a Tag Heuer Formula One watch with a blue dial, quartz model and I wanted the same watch. I remember it cost 790 Swiss francs. I took on a job at a pharmacy, delivering medicine to elderly people, in order to earn the money.I worked hard to save up enough money to purchase it. It became my first “Swiss watch”, after Swatch of course. As time went on, my interest in watches grew. The following summer, I purchased a more expensive Longines Master Collection automatic watch, which cost 1700 Swiss francs. From then on, with my summer jobs as a student, I would buy a new watches. One day, I discovered vintage watches at a flea market in Geneva. I found a simple three-handed Lemania timepiece, I was really happy. However, I discovered that the crown didn’t belong to the original watch brand, and the watch had been polished. I wanted to know how to collect vintage watches and wanted to learn more about them. I was looking on books, internet, get on to website like Hodinkee for example. Now it’s more than 15 years.
“Only a few renowned brands like Omega, Patek Philippe, Longines, and Vacheron Constantin have comparable archives.”
What are your day-to-day responsibilities at Zenith in the heritage department? (JL) In the Zenith heritage department, there are two of us: my boss and myself. My main role is to manage customer relationships and address inquiries related to Zenith watches. I assist people in gaining a better understanding of Zenith and provide information about our timepieces. This involves extracting data from registers and issuing certificates of origin. It’s fascinating because every day, I receive questions from people all around the world about their Zenith watches. They often say, ‘Hello, I have this watch that belonged to my grandfather, and I would like to learn more about it.’ So, on a daily basis, I delve into various archives to gather as much information as possible. We are fortunate to be located in the same place where the brand was established in 1865: Le Locle, Switzerland. Consequently, we have a vast collection of archives. It’s a rarity for many brands to possess such extensive historical records. Only a few renowned brands like Omega, Patek Philippe, Longines, and Vacheron Constantin have comparable archives. It’s truly fantastic because these archives allow us to uncover valuable details about vintage watches. We can ascertain the individuals involved in making the case, dial, and hands. People are often curious about the production quantities of specific watch references. While we can’t disclose all the quantities, especially for highly specialised models, we strive to provide as much information as we can.
“People are curious about how much their watch is worth today.”
What is the most frequently asked question? (JL) Many questions revolve around the value of the watches. People are often curious about how much their watch is worth today. However, our answer remains the same: we can’t provide an estimate because it depends on the market. We advise them to consult a vintage watch dealer or an auction house. The value of a watch can fluctuate significantly over time. For example, a watch that is worth CHF 10,000 now might be valued at CHF 20,000 the following year. It’s a dynamic and unpredictable market.
What are the watches you collect apart from your work with Zenith? (JL) Initially, I began collecting a few modern watches, I developed a strong interest in watches from the 1940s, particularly chronographs with round steel cases, showcasing a timeless and classic design. However, when I started selling vintage watches three years ago, my focus expanded to 1970s watches include Girard-Perregaux, Piaget, and Zenith timepieces. These brands offer fascinating and unique designs. The shapes and styles they produced during that time are not commonly found in current catalogs. Additionally, I have a fondness for silver watches, which are only available in vintage models as they are no longer produced by contemporary brands.
What are your thoughts on pocket watches? (JL) We love pocket watches. We have a few collectors among us, like my friend Balthasar is actually collecting only pocket watches, particularly those made of stainless steel. These watches are quite rare because by the late 1940s, there was a significant shift towards wristwatches, leading to a decline in the production of pocket watches, especially those made with stainless steel cases. Finding high-quality stainless steel pocket watches from the post 1945 to 1950 era is quite challenging. Even today, it remains quite difficult to come across well-preserved pocket watches.
Why is heritages so important in the world of watches? (JL) When a brand launches a new product, especially if they are historical brand, it’s crucial to have a deep understanding of their past and delve into their archives. Even if the brand is introducing a completely new design the connection to the brand’s heritage needs to be explained to customers and journalists. Understanding the brand’s identity is paramount. It’s essential to comprehend what resonates with people, as now people have access to vast amounts of information through books, the internet, and watch community forums. Brands should tap into this collective knowledge and engage with collectors and enthusiasts to truly understand their desires. This collaboration is particularly crucial when brands venture into the vintage world with reissued timepieces. Speaking to collectors and specialists who are deeply involved in the vintage market provides valuable insights. Collectors who focus on vintage watches are incredibly passionate and knowledgeable. Their expertise and input are invaluable for brands seeking to create meaningful connections between their heritage and new products.
“A watch represents history. It carries a story that extends beyond just the brand itself; it encompasses the town, the people involved.”
What does a watch mean to you? (JL) First, to me, a watch represents history. It carries a story that extends beyond just the brand itself; it encompasses the town, the people involved. When I speak of history, I refer to the true essence of Swiss-made watches. Until a certain point in time, watches were genuinely 100% Swiss-made. Every component, from the hands and dial to the cases and buckles, was crafted in Switzerland. However, in the early 1970s, the Swiss watchmaking industry began producing some components abroad, which may have been beneficial for them, but not for me. I have a profound admiration for the spirit of “Swiss-made,” although it has become harder to find nowadays. While I also appreciate modern watches, my heart truly belongs to Swiss-made timepieces. And second, it’s all about the design. I consider myself a design enthusiast rather than a technical expert. Although I possess basic knowledge about movements, my focus lies in appreciating captivating designs and exceptional quality.