Those trawling eBay and vintage watch stores would be familiar with the name Nivada Grenchen. The Swiss watchmaker’s chronographs remain an accessible option to those looking for a vintage mechanical chronograph from the 1960’s that outside the realm of overpriced Heuers. The good news is that two seasoned watch industry veterans are resuscitating the Nivada Grenchen brand this year, much to the delight of vintage watch aficionados.
The revival was set in motion thanks to a conversation between Guillaume Laidet, a French entrepreneur and founder of homage brand William. L 1985, and Remi Chabrat, the owner of private label watchmaker Montrichard Group. The rights to the Nivada Grenchen brand have rested with Mexican jewelry and watch retailer Holzer Y Company since 2001. Since Chabrat’s company was already in business with the Mexican firm, the door to negotiations swung open quickly.
Before we go any further, here is a quick primer on the history of the brand. Founded in 1879 in the Swiss town of Grenchen, Nivada’s popularity rose in the post-War years before operations wound up in the aftermath of the Quartz Revolution that swept the Swiss watch industry in the 1970s. During the 1960s and 70s, the brand was not allowed to use its name because of its phonetic similarity with Movado and was thus labelled Nivada Grenchen. In the United States, the Croton Watch Company was the official distributor of Nivada and the watches were sometimes sold with the wordy Croton Nivada Grenchen displayed on the dial.
The company’s most famous model was undoubtedly the Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver, a manual-winding chronograph introduced in 1961 and produced for the next 10 odd years. Such is the watch’s popularity that writers Anthony Marquié and Grégoire Rossier even produced a book Chronomaster Only, now considered the go-to reference for Chronomaster collectors. Marquié and Rossier are also the duo behind Moonwatch Only, the seminal tome for Omega Speedmaster collectors.
Nivada Grenchen will return with the re-release of Chronomaster and the Antarctic, a three-hander that was introduced to mark the International Geophysical Year in 1957. Just as Jaeger-LeCoultre presented its Geophysic model to Captain William Anderson who commanded USS Nautilus on an underwater expedition to the North Pole in 1958, Nivada Grenchen supplied the Antarctic wristwatch to Admiral Richard Bryd on Operation Deep Freeze I to Antarctica in 1957.
At the core of the project is a pledge to respect, as much as possible, the original designs and stick to authentic specifications while offering “affordable” prices. As seems to be the norm now, the company has had a lot of feedback from the community after the first designs were share on Instagram. The objective is to create what Nivada and vintage watches aficionados are looking for.
“We will only focus on vintage re-editions,” says Laidet, who has previously worked with brands like Jaeger-LeCoultre and Zenith. “There is everything we need in the past collections of Nivada Grenchen; we have demands for the Depthmaster, Datomaster, Antarctic diver, and Chronoking.”
The samples dropped at the beginning of this year and pre-orders will start in June on the company’s website. The production of watches is to start in the beginning of July and deliveries will happen in December 2020, unless the Covid-19 pandemic plays spoilsport again. The sale of the watches will be limited to the website up until they figure out a retail network what will allow them to keep the prices reasonable.
The objective is to create what Nivada and vintage watches aficionados are looking for.
All the watches will run Sellita movement and will be assembled in Switzerland, although the brand is not returning to Grenchen. The Chronometer Aviator Sea Diver manual winding chronograph will cost around €1,600 with a leather or tropic strap. The automatic chronograph will sell for €1,800 while the Antarctic is priced at €650 on a leather and €850 when paired with a steel jubilee bracelet.
Guillame Joly is a Muscat-based watch collector who owns a vintage Chronomaster Ref. 105 with a Valjoux 7733 manual-winding movement that features in the Chronomaster Only book. And although he’s known about the brand since the early 2000’s which was when he started collecting, it was much later that he really got into collecting Chronomasters. “Five years ago, I was on an online French forum discussing Speedmasters and some folks told me about the Chronomaster’s great history and design. One thing led to another and eventually at one point, I had five Chronomaster references with me,” says Joly.
“The feedback from the community has been great. We receive a lot of comments and messages on our Instagram and by mail. They encourage us to go further in the direction we have chosen and many advices on how we could make it better, it is very helpful and always better to have thousands of eyes on new designs than only two pairs,” says Laidet. “We have also received many messages from people who want to pre-order even before the pre-order date. It is crazy to see how this project is welcomed by the vintage watch lovers and we thank them a lot already for their support.”