Founded by a father-son duo all the way back in 1853, Tissot has a similar problem to many brands in that its place in the modern market casts a dark shadow over vintage offerings that deserve real respect. The brand story is incredibly unique, much of it stemming from the escapades of the son of that founding duo. Five years after starting the company, Charles-Émile Tissot was off to Russia to establish a branch of Tissot in the empire selling gold cased pocket watches in a “savonette” style—the firm’s specialty at the time. The venture was a smashing success. By 1885, Charles-Émile’s son, Charles (yeah), found himself a Russian wife and permanently moved to establish a family and expand the success. Tsar Nicholas II took delivery of a Tissot from Charles in 1904. Unfortunately, depending on who you ask, Nicholas II was the last Tsar of Russia, and with the end of the Russian Empire in 1917 the well ran a bit dry in Tissot’s largest market as watches and items of opulence fell out of favor.
While Tissot’s story for those first 50 or so years is not all about Russia, the two Charleses in the empire is the most interesting plotline. Important to note was the brand’s early production of wristwatches in the 1910s, well before the boom. This first decade of Tissot wristwatches featured a heavy Art Deco and Art Nouveau design influence, high fashion at the time. Either by choice or coincidence, in 1918, just one year after the bottom fell out of the Russian market, Tissot made the transition from a “fabrique”—assembler of third-party Swiss parts—to full-on manufacturer. The move was ill-timed. Beyond no longer seeling into Russia, Tissot was not able to get its footing before the economic turbulence of The Great Depression. To combat these headwinds Tissot first “partnered” with Omega in 1925, and five years later in 1930 made it official in creating the first Swiss watchmaking association.
The 1950s, 60s, and 70s are generally where most vintage collectors focus. Due to the partnership with Omega through this period, enthusiasts see Tissot as a “sister brand” or little brother to the more well-known maker of the Speedmaster. As you can guess, this is not very true at all. Tissot operated with creative freedom and carved their own path through this period. It was not until the Swatch Group’s creation in the early 80s that Tissot truly lost our interest.
For auction is a Tissot T12 “Navigator” Woldtime, an excellent example of how Tissot differentiated itself in the golden era of vintage wristwatches, this one likely dating to the early 1970s. The Navigator model line dates back to 1953 when it was introduced as the world first mass-produced 24-hour time zone wristwatch, the same complication seen in our later example. Tissot’s specialization in multiple time zone watches dates all the back to the 19th century when it produced the first serially-produced, one movement, dual time-zone pocket watch. From a styling perspective, the brand is always on trend just as with Art Deco in the 1910s, this Navigator is extremely of the era with a funky 1970s case, pop of yellow, and, of course, split color dial.
A finer detail you may notice about our example for auction is the lack of the word “Navigator” on the dial—instead only T12 is printed. While an extensive study has not been done in the world of T12s, we believe this sans-navigator dial to be a variant among earlier examples in the production run and more commonly seen on split-color dials. That’s right, not all T12s have the split color blocking, it really is a shame. Luckily, this one has it.
The Case and Bracelet
The case is in great condition with small scratch and nicks but no major flaws to note. This watch looks like it was really worn and enjoyed but not bastardized at any point. Very of the era is the quasi-UFO-shaped case that looks more like a blob of steel with a watch built into than a purpose-designed wristwatch case. We believe the watch to be unpolished as the original texture and brushed finish is present. Both original Tissot signed sunken crowns remain, just with some “wrist cheese” surrounding them.
Looking at the caseback, the condition is a bit rough with some major scratches. The crystal shows small scratches and a bit of a haze.
The original Gay Freres signed bracelet matches the case condition and pairs very well with the watch.
The Dial and Hands
True to the worn and survivor overall look of this example, the dial appears a bit dusty or dirty with some spotting seen in the starburst finish. Lume at each even-numbered hour marker is mostly present and has aged to a dirty green color.
The handset is in condition matching the dial with imperfections in the finish, specifically, the yellow seconds hand shows few spots where the yellow paint is lost. Lume material in the hands matches and dial and shows some flaws.
The Tissot caliber 788 is in running condition, the seller notes no issues mechanically but service history is unknown.
|Location||New York City|
|Movement||Automatic, Cal. 788|
|Dial||Cream and grey 24hr split|
|Case Material||Stainless Steel|
|Band Material||Stainless Steel|