As you saw in the first part of this article, reviving a legendary brand is not for the faint of heart. There is a lot of complexity around the issues of financing, marketing, and design. And, of course, there’s the competition: Swiss watchmaking brands that have been household names for decades, even centuries, including Longines, Cartier, Rolex, Omega, Patek Philippe, and many, many more.
A new or reborn brand cannot succeed by simply making great watches. It must produce timepieces that stand out from the crowd, whether in style, design, or historical and sentimental value. Take Czapek’s Quai des Bergues and Nivada Grenchen’s Chronomaster – each pays homage to the quality and techniques of the past while adding modern style points and functions, satisfying veteran and novice watch lovers alike.
Then there’s the price. If a young brand is priced too high, it may not get the traction it needs among first-time buyers. Likewise, more experienced watch enthusiasts may balk at a high-priced upstart that has yet to earn its place in their personal pantheon of excellent timepieces.
Case in point: Niall Watches, an American self-proclaimed luxury mechanical brand that charged upwards of $4,000 for a watch of equal quality to a Hamilton or Tissot, which sold at a fraction of that price. Founded in 2012, the company went bankrupt only six years later.
Thankfully, the revival stories we are covering have taken all of these factors into account, making them likely candidates for survival in the ultra-competitive world of quality watchmaking. So, without further ado, let’s introduce our final three reborn brands:
Much like the one-car garage in which Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard created their electronics empire, the dynamic haute horlogerie brand Angelus hails from equally modest roots. In 1891, the Stolz brothers—Albert, Gustav, and seven years later, Charles—began producing watch movements out of a small room on the Rue du Marais, Le Locle, Switzerland.
The brothers named their new brand after the Angelus peal of the local catholic church bells. The moniker was quite fitting, as a great deal of Angelus’ initial fame would come from its advanced repeater (chiming) watches. Throughout the early 1900s, the three brothers received numerous awards and recognitions for the company’s excellent craftsmanship, accuracy, and complications in the movements they produced.
Angelus also set itself apart as a socially responsible business (long before it became trendy) by making a braille repeater pocket watch for visually impaired veterans coming home from the war. The gesture earned a letter of sincere gratitude from French army general Marshal Joffre.
Angelus rode out the challenges of the First World War and the Great Depression by pivoting its production from pocket watches to wristwatches and table and travel alarm clocks. Among its most innovative creations from the 1920s and 1930s include the SF-N 9, the smallest 8-day wristwatch movement in the world at the time, successful chronograph calibres SF-210 and SF-215, and the world’s smallest alarm movement, SF-240, made for its line of travel clocks.
The year 1942 would yield another global “first” for Angelus with the introduction of the Chronodato, a large chronograph timepiece outfitted with a 45-minute counter and full calendar. Until then, no other watchmaker had yet included a calendar in a production chronograph wristwatch. The Chronodato quickly became Angelus’ best-selling timepiece and remains a treasured piece of horological history for watch collectors everywhere.
Angelus launched another noteworthy creation in 1957—the Tinkler, the first waterproof automatic repeater watch. The wearer could activate the hour and quarter chimes via a pusher on the left side of the dial. While the Tinkler was a work of engineering genius, it didn’t catch on well with the public, so only about a hundred pieces were ever produced.
While the brand would continue to make excellent chronograph watches, clocks, and movements into the 1970s, Angelus eventually lost the war against the mighty quartz revolution. Evaco S.A. bought Angelus in 1977, and historians believe the company continued to sell Angelus pocket watches alongside its own until sometime in the 1990s. After that, Angelus seemed to disappear from the world stage completely.
In 2011, watchmaker Sébastien Chaulmontet received the call of a lifetime, informing him the Angelus brand had resurfaced and was for sale. Was he interested in buying it? Let’s see—Chaulmontet had collected Angelus watches for over 20 years, and he was enthralled by all things chronograph. Absolutely, Chaulmontet wanted in on the rebirth of Angelus!
At the time, he was Head of Movement Development at La Joux-Perret, a well-known Swiss company that had already revitalized the previously defunct Arnold & Son watch brand. Chaulmontet convinced Frederic Wenger, then-CEO of La Joux-Perret, that this move would turn into an excellent investment, and they bought Angelus that same year.
Unlike Czapek and Nivada Grenchen, however, Chaulmontet sought to pay homage to Angelus’ roots differently. Rather than re-creating the Tinkler or the Chronodate, he wanted to build a timepiece that reflected the innovative spirit of the Stolz brothers. In 2015, the newly-revived Angelus did just that by introducing the U10 Tourbillon Lumière, a rectangular watch with the dial on the left and a one-minute flying tourbillon seemingly floating in an attached sapphire case on the right.
“A lot of people were very surprised when they saw it. They thought we were doing this because we lacked awareness of Angelus’ history—which couldn’t be more wrong,” explained Chaulmontet in a 2015 interview with Esquire.
“The automatic, waterproof repeater they made in 1957 was so ahead of its time that it almost broke the company,” Chaulmontet continued. “I don’t want to produce something that, technically, could have been made 80 years ago … That meant working with a big curved sapphire, a 3D movement, and curved movement plates.” He concluded, “We wanted to re-launch Angelus as a modern, innovative, contemporary watchmaker.”
That’s not to say Angelus didn’t want to revisit once-popular design models, like the Chronodato or the Doctor Watch chronograph. After producing a series of breathtaking turbillons over the past several years, the watchmaker released the Chronodate line in 2022. Incidentally, the current name is a bit of a play on history, as the original Chronodato was initially misnamed Chronodate in an advertising mix-up.
But Bertrand Savary, current CEO of Angelus and Arnold & Son, is quick to point out that the Chronodate is not your everyday vintage re-release. “I prefer to think of it as neo-retro inspired,” he said in a 2022 interview with WatchTime. “Here you see vintage inspiration in the high-contrast counters and large numerals, but it also carries on the Angelus spirit of innovation in wholly new ways,” he continued. “The design took us nearly a year to complete, but the result is stunning.”
Our final two favorites, Airain and Sherpa, are still in their infancy. Re-launched in 2020 and 2019, these microbrands have yet to prove themselves worthy of inclusion in haute horlogerie circles. Buyers often hesitate to invest in new brands because they may not be around in a few years, making watch repair and maintenance a hassle. However, despite this fact and judging by the buzz they have generated among collectors, enthusiasts, and newbie mechanical watch geeks, their future looks promising.
Montres Airain arrived on the watch scene in 1934 as an offshoot of the Dodane family watchmaking empire in Besançon, France. The brand wouldn’t rise to worldwide fame until the 1950s when it produced the Type 20 Flyback Chronograph pilot’s watch. Airain was one of a handful of watchmakers, including Breguet and Dodane, to supply the Type 20 to the French military.
To this day, the vintage Type 20 remains a favorite among military watch collectors, which is probably why the watch world enthusiastically embraced Airain’s resurrection in 2020, hoping for an updated rendition of the legendary timepiece. And they weren’t disappointed.
After vintage watch lover Tom van Wijlick acquired another Dodane brand, Lebois & Co., in 2014, it was only a matter of time before Airain would pop up next on his radar. After finalizing the deal to gain Airain’s intellectual property rights from the Montrichard Group/E-Watch Factory Corp. on December 12th, 2020, van Wijlick quickly trademarked the brand and set out to crowdfund the first re-edition of its flagship watch, the Type 20.
In addition to utilizing novel financing tools, van Wijlick also wants Airain’s investors and fans to chime in with their ideas for the design of its timepieces. To facilitate this, the company created the CoLAB page on its website, where people can participate in virtual Coffee Catch-Ups and stay on top of new developments.
Adhering to the original specifications laid out by the French Ministry of Defense, the Re-Edition Type 20 mirrors its namesake in every way but the movement. The watch’s new heart beats with the AM1 calibre, a manual winding chronograph with a flyback complication created by Manufacture La Joux-Perret.
After some delays due to raw material shortages, the watch began production in early 2022, and you can now pre-order a new one with a reasonably quick delivery turnaround. Limited edition versions of the Type 20, however, like the Brown and Vert Militaire models, tend to sell out fast. The latest limited edition is the carbon-coated Type 20 Furtivité, and if history is any indication, it won’t be available for long.
Airain isn’t stopping to rest on the success of its Type 20. The microbrand already has moved on to its next challenge by introducing prototypes of the new Sous Marine, a near-equally famous skin dive timepiece launched in the 1960s. The Sous Marine seems poised to be its next home run.
The Sherpa is probably the most unique on our list, as it’s more a resurrection of a particular watch line than an entire brand. The watchmaker we’re talking about here is Enicar. Founder Ariste Racine created this historic brand in 1914 and gave it the rather peculiar title Enicar simply by spelling his name backward.
The brand became well-known for its rugged, complicated pocket and wristwatches that maintained their accuracy despite extreme temperatures, harsh climates, and variable air pressures from the depths of the sea to the heights of the skies. United States flyboys used Enicar Sherpa Jet watches in World War 2, and the Ultrasonic Sherpa summited Mt. Everest and survived a 50-day voyage across the Atlantic while wholly submerged.
With the Sherpa’s rich history on display, vintage Enicar addicts like German plastics engineer Martin Klocke became frustrated with the current re-constituted version of the company’s decision not to produce timepieces linked to its impressive heritage. According to Klocke, in a 2021 interview with Watchonista, he even offered to help re-create some of their classic models. But to no avail, as Enicar never replied about his offer.
If Klocke wanted to revive the Enicar watch models he loved, he knew it would be on him to do it.
Consequently, after some heavy research into watchmaking and satisfied that his engineering background would be enough to get him started, he trademarked the Sherpa name in 2019 and launched his company. Klocke explained that his first years were challenging, especially since he had virtually no contacts in the watchmaking industry.
“Finding the right partners was … difficult and required a lot of due diligence, sourcing every partner à la carte – case designers, part manufacturers, marketing folks, etc,” said Klocke. Then, when it came to navigating the trademark minefield, he relied on a crack legal team to get him through.
It’s critical to note that although Sherpa watches reflect the innovation and excellence of their Enicar forbears, Klocke insists “they have their own DNA.” The company’s first two releases, the Sherpa OPS and Sherpa Ultradive, take after the 1960s originals with their Ervin Piquerez S.A. (EPSA) bayonet compressor case back design, size, and water resistance, but differ dramatically in terms of interior mechanisms and crown updates.
Unlike the originals, the new OPS and Ultradive feature Monoflex compressor crowns that allow the watches to be watertight without screwing down, giving the wearer an authentic “compressor dive watch experience,” according to the Sherpa website.
The new timepieces also sport a new curved dial, Super LumiNova Grade X1 material for the hands and indices, an in-house designed rotor, and the custom gold-plated Mantramatic MM01 movement, a Sellita-based automatic calibre.
Klocke, a Buddhist, also included a tiny, but powerful nugget of positive aura into this one-of-a-kind movement. A traditional Tibetan mantra was laser-engraved on two of the watch wheels in near-microscopic Tibetan script, emulating the widespread regional practice of rotating Buddhist prayer wheels to generate good vibes. You may not be able to see the words, but you’ll feel the good vibes coming from your timepiece.
Sherpa watches also salute the actual Sherpas in the Himalayan region who do the work of transporting climbers to and from Mt. Everest, as well as regularly clearing trash, debris, and expeditionary relics from the mountain. According to Klocke, part of the Sherpa Watches mission is to give back a percentage of each watch sale to the Sherpa communities in Nepal.
Outstanding quality, rich history and connection, and good vibes—what more could you want from a watch?
We hope you enjoyed our in-depth look at these great watchmakers. Whether your timepiece is a re-edition of a classic or the classic itself, we can always find you the parts you need and give you the high-quality watch repair you deserve at Times Ticking.