06. archives


The internet of the 1930s

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August 2017


The internet of the 1930s

In 1930, Europa Star’s founder launched the Buyers’ Guide for the Watchmaking and Allied Trades.

W

ith close to a thousand pages, its diminutive format (16 cm x 8 cm) was unusual for its time, making it something of a pocket bible for watchmakers.

Like today’s smartphones, this miniature guide acted as a kind of internet before its time, providing a way of connecting the many producers and purchasers involved in the creation and production of every part of a watch.

Browsing its pages 87 years later, one has the vertiginous sensation of travelling back in time to the inter-war years, when the Swiss watchmaking community was of a richness and density that bear no relation to the situation we know today.

In 1930, “vertical integration” was not yet on the radar of the watchmaking trades. Quite the opposite, in fact. Indeed, the guide bears witness to the industry’s astounding “horizontality”. Trades were divided into a thousand and one specialist areas, each more arcane than the next, forming a tightly-knit network that encompassed every community of French-speaking Switzerland and beyond.

The list of movement makers alone is enough to induce vertigo. There are no fewer than 676 “Anchor watch makers”! They include some of today’s star performers – Patek Philippe, Rolex, Piaget and many more – but also an impressive array of names that have since disappeared off the face of the earth. There is also an astonishing number of specialist trades, including 23 screw and ratchet-wheel polishers, and 65 pivoting workshops.

The list seems endless, split into 367 headings that include “Watches for motorcycles and bicycles”, “Masonic watches”, “Singing birds”, “Barrel-arbours”, “Cabochons”, “Dust-catchers”, “Wheel gilding”, “Horological oils”, “Files”, “Chinese lacquers”, “Radium application” and “Endless screws”. This meticulously ordered gallimaufry, complete with addresses and telephone numbers (Oris, for example, is on “Hölstein 28”), constitutes a 360° network that, in its day, enabled buyers and distributors all over the world to source supplies from makers, and makers to build up a network of buyers for their watch parts. For instance, it was possible to choose from among the eight “pinmakers” offering their services, or the 39 makers of “round”, “novelty” or “unbreakable” watch crystals – all categorised hierarchically, and immediately accessible. Just try doing this with the internet! You’ll end up wading through an impenetrable swamp with no recognisable hierarchy, sifting through incomplete trade listings, irrelevant articles and endless adverts. And while we’re on the subject of adverts, we should point out that in all of this exhaustive Guide (which also lists banks and hotels for watchmakers!) there are just three “Advertising offices, advertising agents”, including our very own Europa Star! Back in 1930, it looks like watches more or less sold themselves... thanks to the Buyers’ Guide (and on the principle of one per person, for life).

The specialised press of the time, other than the Guide (of which Europa Star is the direct descendant), comprised the Annuaire de l’Horlogerie Suisse, the Indicateur Davoine, the Revue Internationale de l’Horlogerie, the Journal Suisse d’Horlogerie (founded in 1876), the Orfèvre Suisse, Die Schweizer Uhr and the Schweizerische Uhrmacher Zeitung. We are the only survivor.