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Author Topic: The old Zodiac factory, 2014  (Read 8825 times)

Offline rdenney

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The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« on: May 01, 2014, 03:20:31 AM »
My wife and I were traveling in Switzerland last week (April, 2014), and spent some time doing some urban exploring in Le Locle. The old Zodiac factory at Rue Bellevue 25 was not hard to find. Here it is from the lawn in front of the Le Locle town hall:



As you can see, the sign hasn't been removed nor has the building been repainted since the time when the factory was active. But that was normal in Le Locle--an old, old town, mostly working class, and actually rather small. Some of the watch factories there have been modernized--Tissot is quite modern looking, and Zenith has been spruced up--and there are a lot of new buildings at the edges, such as the Renaud and Papi building where they make Audemars Piquet movements. In Le Locle, in La Chaux-de-Fonds 3 clicks to the east, and in Cret du Locle in between those two, are nearly every watch company with a Made in Switzerland imprimatur except for Vacheron Constantin, JLC, Rolex, Longines, and Omega.

The building looks very grand from the view above, and it was argued in the Heuer thread that it's size suggested a signficiant manufacturing capability. But looks can be deceiving. The building is actually rather small even to the point of being a facade. The hillside is quite steep and the building is on the cliff side of the Rue Bellevue, which is jammed between the building and the hill and is quite narrow.

Here it is from the side (to the right in the first pic, looking left):



The building is now occupied by what I would call marginal tenants. The graffiti already suggests a downturn in fortunes. I met the owner of a gymnasium in the building, and even though he spoke little English, I gathered there was also a band that rehearsed on one floor, a small music venue, an art space, a craft shop, and so on.



But Zodiac spoor are everywhere to be seen, despite the 30+ years since they vacated. Here's the entry vestibule:



And here is a plaque that the town has installed as on all the buildings of interest to the historical watch trade:



And, as a bonus, here's a picture of Dixi Machines, about half a kilometer away and a couple of blocks from Zenith, which was the company owned by Paul Castella that save Zodiac from ruin during the Quartz Crisis. He had also bought Zenith from the Zenith Radio Corporation of America, which had run it into the ground. (It's a coincidence with the names--Zenith Corp wanted into the quartz watch biz and thought it would be slick to own a Swiss watch company of the same name, so they bought Zenith/Movado in the early 70's. The North American Watch Company bought the Movado part of the Movado-Zenith partnership--they already owned Concord--and they became the Movado Group, which also now owns Ebel.) After the Dixi investment, Zenith apparently made, or was supposed to make, Zodiac watches, which suggests that Zodiac was no longer capable of manufacturing. This was in the 80's--more in the history section of this site. That section states a plan to put Dixi machining activities in the Bellevue factory, but there's no evidence that ever happened--no vestige of Dixi signing which would have postdated the Zodiac vestiges. Dixi may have owned the building (and may still, for all I know), but they didn't do anything visible with it.



Rick "for posterity" Denney
« Last Edit: May 01, 2014, 03:26:09 AM by rdenney »

Offline Butch

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #1 on: May 01, 2014, 07:43:20 AM »
Thanks for all this Rick. Looks like you had a nice visit.
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Offline evghenii

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #2 on: May 01, 2014, 08:21:57 AM »
Good review!

Offline jon p

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #3 on: May 01, 2014, 08:31:33 AM »
 :wehe  thanks for the great zodiac history, very interesting to see where our favorite watches were once made.

Offline Ultra-Vintage

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #4 on: May 01, 2014, 10:02:32 AM »
Very cool!

Offline Butch

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #5 on: May 01, 2014, 01:15:29 PM »
I keep thinking how Rick says this is not a big building. I think it is huge at 3 floors. How many watchmaker's benches can you get along those 3 windows on the side view? 3? 5? Now, along the front?

There would not have been much machinery, just people at desks or benches. They had the cases, dials, and bands made for them and delivered here. Ditto for the ebauches they used. The watches were merely assembled and tuned here, then stored for shipping I would think.

Even in their drawings of the factories they just show the people at the benches.

Here we go, found this Synchron advert. I have seen similar pics for the Zodiac as well, but this give the idea I am trying to convey.
« Last Edit: May 08, 2014, 03:34:03 PM by Butch »
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Offline Ultra-Vintage

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #6 on: May 01, 2014, 02:06:57 PM »
 :agreei  I think you hit the nail on the head Butch.  Considering that they did not have huge machines, mainly just watch benches and workstations for assembly and finishing etc, they could fit ALOT of employees in a building like that.  We are barely using 3/4 of one wall in our shop for benches and we have 5 full size watchmaker's benches, and 3 separate workstations that are a little larger than the benches.  An average watchmaker's bench from the era that Zodiac occupied that factory is only 38-40 inches wide, and about 20 or so inches deep.  So not much room needed per individual.

Offline rdenney

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #7 on: May 01, 2014, 04:52:22 PM »
True--many buildings are quite small. Here's the building--part of Zenith at the time--that developed and made the El Primero and all the Zenith 2500-series movements from 1958 to 1975.



Rick "noting that Ebel's building in La Chaux-de-Fonds is smaller than Zodiac's" Denney

Offline Butch

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #8 on: May 01, 2014, 05:27:50 PM »
<heavy sigh> So much lost history. I knew I should have gone with the Omegas.
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Offline incountry

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #9 on: May 01, 2014, 06:14:56 PM »
Rick, thanks for sharing these photos and the info with us.  I noticed a nice looking Zodiac sign sticking out of the building in the second picture; couldn't you have fit that in your suitcase?  ;)

Offline dmh

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #10 on: May 01, 2014, 07:26:26 PM »
<heavy sigh> So much lost history. I knew I should have gone with the Omegas.

No Butch. You should have gone with Heuer.
After all, they made all the watches that these other companies sold
. :lolz;

Offline rdenney

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #11 on: May 01, 2014, 08:43:50 PM »
Rick, thanks for sharing these photos and the info with us.  I noticed a nice looking Zodiac sign sticking out of the building in the second picture; couldn't you have fit that in your suitcase?  ;)

It was about 12 feet up, and, of course, white men can't jump.

Rick "who'd have struggled to explain that going through customs" Denney

Offline Cobber

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #12 on: May 07, 2014, 06:08:14 PM »
Really interesting history here. Does anyone know if Zenith did in fact make the new Zodiacs after that principal from Tag bought them? I remember reading on the refrence site that was the intent. At least that's what it said in one of the reintroduction pamphlets that was circulated or was to be circulated.

Offline poulbrix

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #13 on: May 07, 2014, 07:39:20 PM »
Yes, there were an agreement between Zodiac and Zenith.

http://www.secinfo.com/d11MXs.4fbNs.a.htm

Exhibit F

Agreement between Montres Zodiac S.A., and Zenith International S.A. and Gad Willy Monnier

Offline Cobber

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #14 on: May 08, 2014, 09:27:19 PM »
Well,...okay then. How the well on planet earth did you stumble upon that! Must have been a long night of surfing the old interwebs.

Thanks,
Chris "I searched for a suitable emoticon but couldn't quite find one" Canady

Offline poulbrix

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #15 on: May 10, 2014, 04:11:12 PM »
Hello Cobber,

I have been following the Zodiac Watch Company for a long time. I clearly remember the day that Zodiac was sold to the company that I shall not mention here.

Offline Butch

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #16 on: July 08, 2014, 04:26:17 PM »
The thread that just will not die!

I stumbled across an old Spanish catalog I was given and here is a picture of the factory with the desks and people I spoke of. It shows it to be as I said it was. This is what I was remembering and could not find to share at that time.  (Don't get old!)

BTW, this catalog is posted on ZC. While it is in Spanish is has a lot of neat pics of the factory and how they did things there. The auto-wind testers are ingenious.

« Last Edit: July 10, 2014, 08:40:22 AM by Butch »
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Offline rdenney

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #17 on: July 18, 2014, 09:18:26 AM »
Butch, that workshop picture does give an idea of the narrowness of the building. It's typical for this area to put the workshop on the top floor to capture the best light. The capacity of a workshop of this size might have been some hundreds of watches a day, assuming the other floors were for dirtier duties such as finishing, polishing, and cleaning, and also for offices and distribution. I would think that building could produce maybe some tens of thousands of watches a year--probably consistent with their production level. The Zodiac building is dwarfed by the Zenith factory, which you can see from that window at the end. Of course, Zenith was a full manufacture (though most of their movements at the time of this picture were made in Ponts de Martel maybe a dozen clicks down the road).

Rick "noting a similarly sized workshop at Ebel in the 40's" Denney

Offline incountry

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #18 on: July 18, 2014, 09:26:40 PM »
Can't help but wonder what watch the watchmakers are wearing?  ;D

Offline Butch

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #19 on: December 11, 2014, 09:20:27 AM »
Hi Rick! Man, you are going to love this new catalog in the other thread. There is a whole section on the factory and how it was constructed.
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Offline rdenney

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Re: The old Zodiac factory, 2014
« Reply #20 on: December 13, 2014, 01:50:20 AM »
Hi Rick! Man, you are going to love this new catalog in the other thread. There is a whole section on the factory and how it was constructed.

I saw your notice in the another thread, and I am indeed looking forward to it.

Rick "who trawls ebay for old watch catalogs and rarely finds anything worthwhile" Denney

 

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