Revue Thommen & The History of Vertex watches
On of the pleasures of being in the antiques trade and specialising in vintage watches is that we occasionally come across the more unusual makes such as Vertex. Many collectors know very little about Thommens Uhrenfabrik AG, the company that made them.
The history of Thommens Uhrenfabrik AG goes back to 1853 and the establishment of the Societe d’Horlogerie à Waldenburg in Waldenburg Switzerland. The Societe was later taken over by Louis Tschopp and Gédéon Thommen in 1859 and eventually fell under the sole ownership of Gédéon Thommen who renamed the company Gédéon Thommen – Uhrenfabrikation (Gédéon Thommen – Clockmaker). He, like many watch manufactures, started to build lever movements and developed a manufacturing process that allowed components to be precision made thus making parts exchangeable. By 1885 the company invented the “Springeruhr GT” Watch. During this period watch production steadily ramped up such that by 1890, when Alphonse Thommen took over ownership of the company because of his fathers unexpected death, the company was producing 13,000 watches per year. Under the direction of Alphonse the company was registered as the limited company Thommens Uhrenfabrik AG in 1905. He, then registered the trademark Revue to meet the increasing demand for wristwatches whilst opening additional factories in Waldenburg, gelterkinden and Langenbruck. By the 1930s the Vertex Watch Company (see Mikrolisk The Horological Trade mark Index) had become the sole importers of Thommens Uhrenfabrik AG movements into the UK. (see Mikrolisk The Horological Trade mark Index). According Mikrolisk the Vertex Watch Company was first registered on the 7 July 1916 in Pendulen; La Chaux-de-Fonds, Schweiz, 37 and 38 (Diamond House) at Hatton Garden, London and an office in Newbury England by Claude Lyons. Vertex initially imported complete watches from Switzerland, but later imported movements to be used in their own Bristish made gold cases. The cases of the latter were made by A.L. Dennison in Hansworth, Birmingham until the production eventually moved to Shackman’s of Chesham.
Early wristwatches were very functional, most consisted of a modified pocket watch with simple wire lugs. However, by the 1920s and early 1930s watches were becoming heavily influenced by the art deco styles. Thus Thommens Uhrenfabrik AG started to make some really very striking art deco design timepieces such as the unusual bow shaped Vertex gentleman’s watch in Figure 1. Unfortunately the economic crash of the 1930s hit watch making hard, but Thommens Uhrenfabrik AG responded by establishing the company Thommen which manufactured aviation navigational instruments and time pieces, many of which were bought by the British and German armed forces.
Towards the end of WW2 Vertex along with 11 other watch manufacturers (The so called “Dirty Dozen”) was invited by the British War Department to produce Wristwatch, Waterproof (WWW) military watches (Figure 2). These watches all adhered to the same specifications; a clear luminous dial, an accurate 15 jewel movement, a subsidiary second hand, a shatterproof Perspex crystal and a tough waterproof case. Strangely, these watches were not shock-proofed. The vertex version was fitted with the robust Review Thommen Cal59 movement. WWW watches are now becoming increasingly valuable as they steadily disappear into private collections. Post WW2 in the 1950s, Vertex used this link with military watches as a component of their advertising campaigns in the UK implying that their watches were accurate and durable (Figure 3).
Thommens Uhrenfabrik AG continued developing new watch movements for domestic use and for use by Vertex in the UK during the 1950s and early 1960s with the GT 82, GT44, GT54, GT56, GT12 and GT14, however in 1961 MSR Holding was founded (Manufactures d’Horlogeries Suisses Réunies. This consortium consisting of the Phenix Watch Company, Revue Thommen, Vulcain and Buser Freres & Co aimed at rationalising watch production in an attempt reduce manufacturing costs and so enhance profitability. In this consortium Vulcain was responsible for commercialising the products, whilst Revue Thommen was responsible for manufacturing parts and, Phenix was responsible for assembly. MSR Holding continued operations right the way through until its dissolution in 2000, however, Revue Thommens are still making high quality sporting watches to this day.