Book Review-The Movado History

It may surprise some people to find out that vintage Movado timepieces have an avid collector base. Yes, this is the same brand that is familiar from its department store displays in malls all over America and which purchased MVMT two years ago. Although it never ceased operations, it was positioned very differently in the past as an upper mid-tier brand with premium aspirations prior to the quartz crisis. This book by Fritz von Osterhausen, published in 1996, remains the seminal work in understanding vintage Movado.

The book was commissioned by the North American Watch Company which was the precursor to the Movado Group. Having sponsorship from the brand gives authors access to archives, people, and funding in exchange for an attempt at comprehensiveness, and this book is no exception. However, it manages to stay concise at 230 pages. It is divided into two main sections entitled “The Past” prior to 1983, and “The Present,” from 1983 to 1996. There is also a set of appendices covering important reference information. The large and high quality color photography keeps the reader’s attention on the watches and also presents advertisements, documents, and patent illustrations to provide more information and context.

The first section covers Movado from the founding in 1881 in La Chaux-de-Fonds until 1983 when it was acquired by the North American Watch Company. The organization is roughly chronological but also grouped around themes that usually center on a particular watch. There are also other themes explored such as automatic winding. The author goes into great detail on chronometer certification, including discussion of certifying organizations, chronometer competitions in Switzerland and the United Kingdom, and the various movements that were submitted by Movado. You might expect such an in depth discussion since he is also the author of “Wristwatch Chronometers” but it sometimes distracts from the overall narrative.

If I was able to wave my hands and magically update the book, I would increase coverage of certain areas which are more interesting to me from my standpoint as a vintage collector 25 years after publication. Pocket watches, the rectangular cased Ermeto, and art deco pieces receive extensive coverage but are not as popular today.

I would have appreciated more in depth coverage of chronographs especially since Movado produced the in-house calibers M90 and M95 and later used the El Primero in conjunction with Zenith. Today’s very popular category of dive watches did not warrant a mention in 1996. I think that the triple calendar, moonphase, and world-timer watches would have benefited from more coverage as well.

I do think that the historical overview of Movado is well done. It is challenging to write about a watch brand because the topics and chronology do not always fit together smoothly. In other words, it is hard to tell a story and write a reference for collectors at the same time. The book weaves together a story of Movado as an innovator, consistent with the Esperanto translation of Movado as “always in motion.” The last section about Movado’s collaborations with Universal Geneve and eventually merger with Zenith with later ownership changes was also helpful in unraveling their confusing relationship during the quartz crisis.

The second section looks at the brand after acquisition by the North American Watch Company in 1983. I found the description of Gedalio Grinberg’s life and how he acquired and relaunched Movado to be an interesting inside look at the operations of a watch company post quartz crisis. The remainder of the section presents prestige boosting products such as artist collaborations (including Andy Warhol), vintage reissues, and famous people and their Movado watches. The book includes a number of appendices with reference information not found anywhere else such as serial numbers, calibers with photos, patents, and observatory trial results.

Although The Movado History is overdue for a modern refresh, it remains a critical reference for vintage collectors. The watches are presented as more of a historical overview than a collector’s guide for the most part and the author gives detailed information on some topics that may not be of general interest such as observatory trials. Unfortunately Movado scholarship has been slow to catch up with the intense collector interest in vintage watches. Hopefully someone will come along in the near future to add to the strong foundation of Movado scholarship laid by this book and present a new look at the collectible models of this fascinating brand.