Saturday, May 07, 2016

Lemania cal 1873

the Lemania 1873 movement

The Lemania caliber 1873 was created in 1968 by Lemania Watch Co. & A. Lugrin Co.. It was originally made for the famous Omega Speedmaster chronograph (also known as the “Moon Watch”).

The most notable ancestor of the 1873 is the 27 CHRO C12 (aka Omega caliber 321, aka Lemania 2310), launched in 1942, apparently by Albert Piguet, who worked there at this time.

Quoting Chuck Maddox:

The [Omega caliber] 321 is based on a design development project titled “27 CHRO C12” (27 mm diameter, chronograph, with extra 12-hour register) took place in the 1940s by Albert Piguet and Jacques Reymond as a joint development project between Omega and Lemania.

This Omega caliber 321 was used in Omega Speedmasters until 1968, after which it was replaced by the Omega caliber 1863 (or 1861 or 861, which are similar). The 321 was the first movement to be worn on the Moon, in 1969.

The Omega caliber 861, developed by Lemania from 1965, has a direct lineage to the caliber 321, though it relied on a simpler construction, without a column wheel, nor Breguet overcoil, nor weights screwed in its balance wheel. The 861 was renamed to “Lemania 1873” after the separation from SSIH in 1981.

The 1873 was originally a mass produced movement; now it has a more exclusive status, and is equally more costly. It is highly regarded because it is reliable, compact, cleverly built, and beautiful. This movement (as well as many variations on it) is still used nowadays.

Brands using this movement, aside from Omega, included Breitling, Chronoswiss, Baume & Mercier… Alas, around 2002, the Swatch Group limited the availability of Lemania movements to companies inside its group. The 1873, in particular, was restricted only to Omega (for instance Tag Heuer, inside LVMH, had to change their Carrera model in 2000; Breitling had to use the Caliber 22 instead of the Caliber 12). It is now impossible to have a watch equipped with a Lemania movement outside from the Swatch group.

Brief history of Lemania

Lugrin SA, established in 1884 and created by Alfred Lugrin, was a workshop specialized in complicated movements (like chronographs and repetition movements). It was based in Le Sentier, Switzerland, in the Vallée de Joux and not far from Lake Léman. The story says that he was taught the watchmaking knowledge by the son of a farmer. Lugrin earned medals for the quality of his work in 1906 (Milan fair) and 1914 (Bern fair). In 1930 the firm becomes Lemania Watch Co. on the impulse of the young watchmaker Marius Meylan, seemingly in recognition of the Leman caliber.

It later became part of SSIH (Société suisse pour l’industrie horlogère), the merging with Omega and Tissot, in 1932, during a time of crisis for the watch industry. Lemania's chronograph specialty enabled Omega to become the official timer of the Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the same year. SSIH quickly grew to over 50 companies.

Later, in 1981, Lemania is separated from the SSIH group and renamed “Nouvelle Lemania”.

In 1983, SSIH merged with USUAG (Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG, which includes Longines, Rado and other parts manufacturers). The newly formed group was named SMH (Société de Microélectronique et d'Horlogerie) in 1986. 
Two years later, SMH was renamed to “Swatch Group”, in recognition of the efforts of the small Swatch to save the Swiss watch industry.

In 1992 Nouvelle Lemania goes to Investcorp and the Breguet group (Groupe Horloger Breguet, a.k.a.GHB). Finally, in 1999 Breguet becomes part of the Swatch Group, and so does Lemania. 
Inside the new group, Lemania, chronographs and complication movements, became “Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie Breguet”. Lemania's official name is “Montres Breguet” today, though the name on the door of the workshop still says “Lemania”, probably due to this rich history. The Breguet Type XX is an example of a modern Breguet using a Lemania movement.

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