Ariste Calame (1839-1917) first set up a workshop in 1864 in Cret-Vaillant.
The watch company was founded in 1882 by Ariste Calame. The original name of the company was Ariste Calame. It was a small workshop.
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.
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 Favre-Perret.
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 1876
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 same. )
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 production.
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 pistol 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 other brands.
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 chronometer certificate.
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 was taking 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 ultra-modern factory.
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 watch.”
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 markets internationally.
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.
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. )
A watch was placed in the Arthur Collection at the NAWCC Museum marked “Ariste Calame.”
(The current history the Zodiac Swiss Watch Company
1990 - Willy Gad Monnier, a former Tag Heuer principal, buys the Zodiac brand and modernizes all Zodiac models with a definite Tag Heuer influence. This company went bankrupt in late 1997. These models can often be found on the Internet at bargain basement prices! This is because Swiss law protects the parts manufactures who are allowed to assemble these parts into watches and sell them off so that they do not get stuck with useless inventory.
From Oct/Nov 97’s ©Europa Star Magazine
ZODIAC WATCHES GOES BANKRUPT: The Neuchatel watchmaker Montres Zodiac SA has declared bankruptcy. The company was founded in 1888 in Le Locle, Switzerland. According to its director, financial difficulties caused the firm to close its doors. He cited unpaid deliveries, a decrease in orders and a loss of bank credit lines a the main reasons for the brands problems. The main market for Zodiac’s products was the USA. Six people have been laid off. The firm is looking for someone to take over the brand.
Sept. 1998 – Genender International, Inc. (a US company in Wheeling, IL) buys the ZODIAC inventory, all of their trademarks and registrations and other assets out of bankruptcy from the Swiss Courts. Genender also manufactures the Smith and Wesson, Levi’s, B.U.M., and other inexpensive Far East watches.
Genender discontinued all of the “Point” series models, the Swiss Formulas, the Sea Wolf, and most automatic watches as well as all automatic chronographs. The only two 1990’s models kept were the Super Sea Wolf and the Marine Life, both of which were updated with new metal bands.
In October 2000 Genender introduced the Sea Wolf II, an aggressive evolution of the long-standing Sea Wolf diver’s watch but it was only available in a quartz model. They also introduced the Astrographic 2000, a sleek updated version of one of the most known and favorite models ever in the Zodiac line. This watch, like its predecessor, was a mystery model, meaning that the hands appear to float over the dial, as they are painted markers on transparent disks. The Astrographic was well received by the watch industry and was written up in several publications.
October 2001 – Fossil Inc. purchases the Zodiac Swiss brand. Fossil announced that it has entered into a letter of intent to acquire three separate companies located in Switzerland. These companies will provide the Company with design, sourcing and production capabilities necessary to manufacture and market Swiss-made watches. Fossil News Release
In November 2001 Fossil announced that it had completed the acquisition of three separate companies located in Bienne, Switzerland. These companies, Montres Antima SA (“Antima”), Meliga Habillement Horloger SA (“Meliga”) and Synergies Horlogeres SA, (“Synergies”) provide the Company with design, sourcing and production capabilities necessary to manufacture and market Swiss-made watches.
Antima, established in 1919, designs, sources and assembles Swiss-made watches under both owned and private label brands. Meliga serves as a component sourcing group offering watch bands, cases and other watch components to various well-known Swiss-made watch manufacturers. Synergies designs and develops watch prototypes for various companies worldwide. The Company’s Swiss watch manufacturing operations will be operated separately from its core FOSSIL brand business. Fossil News Release
When this author contacted Fossil about its intent for the Zodiac brand he was told the following:
“I will do my best to answer all of your questions. Basically, as per our discussion, we will not be moving forward with any styles from the current (Genender) collection, but will instead be re-launching the brand with a new collection at the Basel Show in April 2002 with retail delivery in the Fall. All I can say at this time is that the collection will be Swiss made and will be comprised of 3 families: Classics, Sports and Fashion. Pricing and distribution (have yet) to be determined. We will be contacting all former distributors and dealers and discussing future opportunities with us when we have more information to offer.”
This discontinuation of the current line includes the new Astrographic 2000 models and the Super Sea Wolf, both of which just became instant collectables as the Astro 2000 was made in VERY limited quantities and the Super Sea Wolf, the premier diver’s watch, will no longer be made after almost 50 years.
April 15, 2002 – Zodiac 1882, AG has introduced the new Zodiac line at the Basel Watch Show in Switzerland this past week. Some of the new models are shown on their web page at www.ZodiacWatches.com.)
(Bron(nen): Zodiac, Vintage Zodiacs)