The trade mark Zodiac, now over a hundred years
old, was only registered in 1908, after having been used for years, by the
grandson of the founder of the factory which was run at that time under the
family name of a dynasty of watchmakers: Calame.
The known roots of this family go back to 1537.
They are clearly older because the name Calame is to be found in the archives
in Le Locle in a document of that time. This states that the lord of the
region, Lord de Valangin Rene de Chilland, was promoting the members of this
family to the rank of "free-dwellers".
Finding small holders to occupy the land before
others took it over was a policy followed for a long time by the Lords of
Valangin and Neuchatel, but also by their neighbors.
So it was that in 1650 Guillaume Calame left Le
Locle, attracted by the advantages offered by the Prince-Bishop of Basel,
sovereign of a territory corresponding to the present Jura including the
Franches-Montaganes at the north-east frontier of the
Calangin seignuery- now the eastern end of the district of La Chaux-de-Fonds.
He set up house St. Le Creux-des-Biches near La Ferriere, twenty kilometers or
so from Le Locle.
And it was here that the matchmaking dynasty
began; in 1820 you find Jacob Calame, owner of a domain here with extensive
buildings, meadows and pasture lands. He was a watchmaker-farmer and had at
various times housed soldiers and horses when allied troops (Austrians,
Russians and Poles) had passed through the area in the ware against Napoleon in
1815. His son Julian was also a watchmaker, but in Saint-Imier.
RETURN OF LE LOCLE
In 1864 a descendant of Jacob Calame returned to
Le Locle, Ariste Calame set up house at No 7 Grande Rue, and paid 6 francs 70
in tax twice a year, on St. Martin’s and St. John’s Days, when workers received
their hall yearly wages. At that time a kilo of bread cost 10 centimes and a
pound of beef 24 centimeters.
To place this little anecdote on its historical
context, we note in passing that Ariste Calame showed his republican sympathies
in 1648- the year of the Neuchatel revolution which saw the overthrow of the representative of the King of Prussia, who was then
the country’s sovereign.
After an apprenticeship as an assembler, he
finally set up on his own in a small workshop at Cret-Callant which he turned
into a watch trading house, with first one, then two and then five workers,
whom he looked upon as friends. He sometimes worked for the other watchmakers
including the celebrated Jurgensens, but above all he supplied watches to
He opened his trading house at a transitional
point between two eras, at a time when the Swiss watch industry had scarcely
recovered from the shock of 1876.
SHOCK OF SEVENTY-SIX
The Swiss watch industry led a peaceful life with
its fine craft production. Until 1876 when the famous
Philadelphia Fair opened and showed the world and the Swiss watchmakers, who
were at first incredulous, the enormous progress made by the mechanized
American watch industry.
The shock was followed-those who experienced the
shock caused in 1974 by the quartz electronics firms can easily imagine it-by a
new awareness, fuelled by a report that is still famous from the Swiss
delegates to Philadelphia, who included Jacques David of Saint-Imier and Ed.
Favre-Perret of Le Locle.
The need to produce in batches
and mechanize watch production having been proved, the struggle to do so began. Influenced by enlightened people, mechanization was adopted which was above all
suited to the interchangeability of component parts, the keyterm at the time,
together with the reorganization and concentration of the companies.
Which was what the complete watch manufacturers,
who lived side-by-side in the watch industry with those that only assembled
watches and sometimes supplied the latter with special "ebauches" had
negated to do. This with the certainly that the vertical concentration of
operations under one roof within one and the same factory, contrary to the
assembly of parts from outside, was "the latest thing" in modern
matchmaking. It was still the case nevertheless that the essential part of the
work was based on craft methods and skills, on improving watch mechanisms and
making them more sophisticated, rather than on machines.
The time lost was caught up: statistics show that
in 1896 in ten cantons the Swiss watch industry produced 4 million watches
worth 100 million francs and employed 20000 men and 14000 women, very high
figures for that time. Figures which it would be ridiculous to try and compare
with those of today, when with slightly fewer people results are achieved which
ate 10,20,50, or 60 times higher in value; none of the circumstances are the
ARISTE CALAME HANDS OVER
Industrial reorganization, integration of the
mechanical manufacture of "ebauches" and component parts perhaps
reinforced a primary form of concentration but brought a crisis in terms of
quality in the "etablissage" systems under which production was still
dispersed and lacked homogeneity.
The crisis in quality degenerated into a prices
and profits crisis and followed the eight crises that had been experienced
between 1837 and 1889.
It was probably because of these difficulties,
which lasted until 1896, that the family firm hardly expanded, but it
nevertheless provided Ariste Calame with a livelihood and security. 1896 was
the year of the Paris World Fair and the revival of the industry. In 1890, when
Ariste retired at the age of 61, Switzerland exported 7.3 million watches with
a value of 120 million francs.
Louis-Ariste Calame was 25 years old in 1900, in
the heyday of the Belle-Epoque. However, he did not
have a chance to enjoy the pleasures of Paris. He had just got married in Le
Locle and, with his wife as assistant, took over the company from his father.
A company where, according to the description his
son Rene gave the Zodiac Congress organized for its 75th anniversary in 1957; there was plenty of family dynamism at that time. The
brother-in-law also set up at the time as manufactures of complicated watches
while at the Calames, the company expanded rapidly enough to give up
manufacturing as a sub-contractor for Favre-Perret and became an exporter, in
particular to Japan, a market reputed to be difficult: and for what a
distributor. Relations were established with no less than Hattori-Seiko, whom
there is no need to introduce.
By 1903 the premises were too small and
Louis-Ariste Calame and his wife moved to the rue du Marais to a large workshop
where they centralized manufacturing and prepared to carry out batch
Like other industrialists, Louis-Ariste favored an
advanced policy for those times: controlling production from A to Z and
standardizing quality to the maximum. The only way to do this was to become a
complete manufacture, to design, make and perfect the necessary tools and
ebauches as well as taking charge of all stages of manufacturing, in order to
achieve a finished product with its own individual character and be able to
approach the markets with a clear brand policy.
The trade mark Zodiac-which had long been used-was soon registered. Relations with Japan
improved, the orders came flowing in and the dream of building soon came true.
On 1st May 1908 the factory in which the company was to
remain until 1950 was inaugurated.
Between 1908 and 1914 Zodiac manufactured its own
caliber’s and movements and employed around fifty people. The pistil shot at
Sarajevo brutally shook Europe and its dreams of prosperity. During the 1914-18
war the demand held up and even strengthened in certain markets. There was an ever fiercer price war and in the post-war years it was
necessary to produce a lot to earn anything.
Having put too many eggs in one basket, the
factory suffered badly during the crisis years of 1921 and 1922-and worse still
form 1932 and 1934, but we have not got there yet. Louis-Ariste had been one of
the first industrialists to work towards setting up the Federation of the
Associations of Watch Manufactories- now called the FH. In November 1923 his
son, Rene A. Calame, a matchmaking technician, joined him as an employee.
The younger generation was to give new impetus to
the company, both commercial and technical: fashions had changed with the
arrival of wristwatches, which called for new design calibers.
The 1930’s brought economic crisis and its
procession of unemployed, which passed through Le Locle. Prudently, the from became a limited company. The hand times passed.
As Rene A. Calame, a new co-director at that time
recalls: "From 1930 onwards, we were more and more successful thanks, it
should be emphasized, to the confidence which old and new customers showed us.
This is the greasiest asset that a company can have."
In 1945 business had grown to such an extent that
the other brother took over as commercial director. The company was classified
as one of the leading medium sized watch companies, but its premises had again
become too small.
The inauguration of the new factory Bellevue 25 in
Le Locle did not go unnoticed. Its bold architecture-Le Locle is not far from
La Chaux-de-Fonds, the birthplace of Le Corbuster-in an eye-catching position above
the town and its station, is evidence of a certain brave sprit of enterprise.
The same went in 1986 for the large extension and
the inauguration of a new building adjoining the earlier one: an ultra-modern
factory much commented on in the Swiss press, particularly the specialized
press from which we have taken the following: In the tast five years the watch
industry’s average rate of increase was 8%. During the fast four years Zodiac
doubled its sales, which is equivalent to an annual growth rate of 25%.
This growth was the result of a substantial effort
in terms of production and the use of modern machines, while profits achieved
through rationalization were systematically reinvested in quality, for which
there were 92 control stations during the course of manufacture. Zodiac level
of quality, confirmed by the Watch Testing Office-the manufactures’ bogy-was
50% higher than the Swiss average.
Products Honors List
1924 Launching of the first extra-flat pocket
watch based on
The Zodiac caliber 1617.
1930 Launching of one of the
first Swiss automatic watches.
1932 Invention of the Autographic power reserves
indication systems, now sought-after collectors piece.
1932 Invention of one of the
first modern shock resistant system.
1953 Lauching of the Seawolf,
professional sports and divers’ watch.
1965 Zodiac wins a prize at the Montres et Bijoux Exhibition in Geneva.
1967 First prize at the World Fair in Montreal
1968 Launching of the first
Swiss electronic watch, Dynortron.
1968 Launching of the first
fast beat, 36,000 oscillations per minute automatic watch, in parallel with
1969 Invention and launching of Astrographic
watch, which caused a great sensation.
1970 Launching of the first
Swiss analog quartz watch, the famous Beta 21 calibre.
1974 Patent for a shock-resistant watch case.
1977 World’s first LCD watch to obtain an official
1978 Launching of world’s slimmest quartz watch
and, using traditional technology, the flattest automatic
watch with calendar.
1990 New Zodiac presents its collection at the
European Watch, Clock and Jewellery Fair in Basel.
Advertising support and PR
activity; in 32 magazines and newspapers of worldwide importance and
circulation as well as local and regional press and TV in five continents.
At the Zodiac 90th anniversary Congress in 1978, Pierre Calame, who had in the meantime become the
managing director, recognized that the economic climate in which it
place was bleeding discouragement and lassitude.
The Swiss watch industry’s 20-25 years of
prosperity and its quasi-monopoly position worldwide had a perverse effect; the
relative lethargy always linked to facility and success. As this period had
ended and the watch industry was faced with new circumstances, innovative
solutions and polices were called for.
It was with this positive attitude that Zodiac’s
general policy was reviewed:
Irreproachable quality in its
Design; a major asset at Zodiac where
individualized and original models in new shapes appeared under the names
Astrographie, SST 36,000, Kingline, Olympos, Sea Wolf, Cordair, Aerospace, GMT,
Spacetronic, Modul-O-Quatz, etc.
Loyalty to the retail watchmaker; the high quality
watch remains the preserve of the specialist.
Quality after sales services on the theme
"Our responsibility begins-it does not end-with the sale of a Zodiac
In a period in which concentration was the
universal panacea, the magic formula to solve economic problems, Zodiac decided
in favour of independence and relying on its own resources in order to make the
most of its technical and commercial ability.
In concluding his very wide-ranging speech to this
last Zodiac Congress, Pierre Calame particularly stressed that the battle
looked as if it would be very tough.
"A very hard process of natural selection is
taking place in our industry and the smallest mistake in this struggle may be
fatal. We see clearly that 80% of our success will come from the quality of the
effort made by you, our customers."
The importance of the front line of sales can
never be overemphasized. A blow on this front put Zodiac in a difficult
position and forced it to ask for a financial arrangement.
Paul Castella, head of the world famous Dixi group
of Le Locle brought and saved the brand. Next, an experiment in
"managing" the brand, antrusted to specialists in watch marketing,
failed to bear the hoped-for-fruit. It should be stressed that this was during
one of the worst periods of the economic crisis.
In 1982, it’s centenary year, Zodiac was virtually
merged with Zenith. The Bellevue buildings were henceforth to be part of the
Dixi machine factory.
The production of Zodiac watches is currently
entrusted to the Zenith Watch Company’s factory in Le Locle, which gives us
leave to claim that the high quality that was the pride of the Calame dynasty
has been 100% preserved.
Design and innovation, marketing, sales, and
exports are handled at the headquarters of the new Zodiac SA in Neuchatel.
The new Zodiac is in the hand of Willy Gad
Monnier, the former managing director of a large watch manufacturer, whose
experience in sports watches-a specialty of the brand-is recognized in the
entire world’s markets.
While we are at it and as a drawing or photo is
worth ten thousand words, let’s have a look straightway at the new collection.
Willy Gad Monnier, a major shareholder and
managing director of the new Zodiac, joined the watch industry when he finished
his education. He was head of a company, which went through all the postwar
periods of matchmaking. He has acquired considerable experience, particularly
in terms of management and above all, traveling with a collection case, in
His objective is to secure a place for Zodiac and
its traditional quality, not only through production but also by respecting the
loyalty built up in the distribution channels leading to the watch retailers.
In terms of the product, there will be a certain
degree of specialization in sports and so-called "technical" watches.
From the drawing board to the wrist of the
consumer, the marketing policy is designed to foster a long
term relationship of confidence and trust with customers, says Willy Gad
The fact of having inherited a prestigious past
will not prevent Zodiac from building the future with the same dynamism as
young companies with no history behind them.
Zodiac has used the world of sport as the focal
point of its collection, in line with the tastes and exceptions of a public
that is young, dynamic and in a state of constant movement. All the models are
made in stainless steel with screw-in crown and screw back and are water
restraint to 200 meters. The advertising and PR message had sport at its most
daring as its theme and Zodiac has enlisted the help of a professional diver,
the first Swiss woman guide and a canoeist-explorer.
The Zodiac point is a symbol of quality and a
guarantee of the ultimate precision.
The 1990 collection is divided into three groups,
based on the idea of the point, as follows:
Red Point Collection
Silver Point Collection
Gold Point Collection
*The information in this article was from a piece of Zodiac literature
Published in 1990 and supplied to me by the owner of Zodiac.