Ten years after he first set up the Fortis watchmaking factory opposite the railway station in Grenchen in 1912, Walter Vogt met English watchmaker John Harwood, who was touring Switzerland looking for someone to take on his idea for a self-winding wristwatch. Vogt understood the significance of Harwood’s invention and agreed to work with the English watchmaker. Fortis presented the first Harwood-branded watches to an international audience at the Basel fair in 1926.
Since then, the company has quietly pioneered in the shadow of its much bigger competitors in nearby Biel-Bienne, producing the first water-resistant automatic Swiss watch, the Fortissimo, in 1943 and setting itself apart with its Manager model, which was the first water-resistant alarm chronometer in 1956. The brand has also become well-known for its association with the field of space exploration, notably becoming the “Official Cosmonauts Chronograph” after completing endurance tests at the Star City Training Centre in Russia. As the official watch of the Russian space programme, Fortis timepieces have been orbiting the Earth continuously since 1994 and have notched up a total of 100,000 Earth orbits – a longer period in weightlessness than any other watch manufacturer.
Fortis has introduced a number of limited editions in its anniversary year that celebrate the brand’s iconic models. The flagship among them is the F-43 Flieger Chronograph Alarm GMT Chronometer, which is fitted with the company’s F-2012 calibre, combining two sprung barrels – one for the timekeeping and one for the mechanical alarm – with their respective power reserve indications, plus time, date, am/pm indicator and a central GMT hand that can be adjusted by a crown in the 10 o’clock position. This top-of-the-range complication in the Fortis collection has a 43mm stainless-steel case that is available with either a brushed or polished finish and is a tribute to the first-ever automatic chronograph alarm, which Fortis presented in 1998.
Introducing a slightly different take on its space-related theme, Fortis teamed up with German architect and designer Professor Karsten Krebs to produce the limited-edition B-47 Mysterious Planets piece, whose dial symbolises the orbits of the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and Jupiter around the sun. The watch’s original interpretation of the jumping hours complication involves the entire dial rotating over a period of twelve hours, revealing the hours in an apparently random fashion in one of five windows placed on each of the symbolised orbit trajectories. A total of 1000 of these pieces are available, 500 each with a blue or black dial on the 47mm stainless-steel case.
Another collaboration, this time with German designer Rolf Sachs, has produced a talking piece in the brand’s Art Edition collection. The “Frisson” (the name means “chill” or “shiver” in French) has a unique mineral crystal with a frosty effect. The time is only revealed by wiping the crystal with a damp finger, similar to removing condensation from a window, and encourages the wearer to interact with the watch. A brushed stainless-steel case with a diameter of 40mm and a white silicone strap complement the icy look of the Frisson, which is a limited edition of 999 pieces.
Fortis is set to continue its birthday celebrations with the revival of a truly iconic model from the 1960s. The “Flipper” was one of the first colourful plastic watches to be launched by a Swiss watch company and became an instant hit thanks to its interchangeable bezels. Fortis’s answer to the quartz crisis was to launch the “Flipper Quartz Leader” in 1975, which enjoyed continued success, not least thanks to celebrity fans such as the Rolling Stones and Roger Moore who were seen wearing it. For 2012 Fortis will enhance its range with the Colors collection, which will be launched later in the year as an entirely new incarnation of this classic.
SIMULATING THE TOUGHEST SPACE MISSION
- A real-life mission to the planet Mars may still be something of a dream, but a plucky group of astronauts agreed to take part in a simulation of the journey to Mars. The record-breaking project saw the team of six shut away for 520 days in an experiment in which every detail of the epic journey (including a communications delay of up to twelve minutes) was replicated.
Each “marsonaut” was given a Fortis automatic chronograph for the ride and, like the participants, who emerged pale but healthy after 520 days in isolation, the watches also passed the test with flying colours. In recognition of this extraordinary feat of human mental strength and endurance, Fortis has produced a limited edition of 500 pieces of a B-42 Mars 500 Chronograph in titanium and black PVD with the mission logo engraved on the side of the case. The emblems of the Russian space authorities, with whom Fortis has been working since 1994, are embossed on the case back.
Source: Europa Star June - July 2012 Magazine Issue