This is the third guide on the history and designs of Swiss watch case makers from the last Century. Third party suppliers have been the backbone of the industry for a long time and to better understand the world of vintage watches we got to understand case makers and their approach to the craft. This is a non-exhaustive list highlighting some of the most influential and interesting manufacturers of their time (which shall not undermine any of the left-out craftsmen).
December 13, 2023
The Guide to Watch Case Makers - The Hammerhead of Switzerland
Marcus Siems @siemswatches
Collector, Author, Data Analyst
This is our third guide on the history and designs of Swiss watch case makers from the last Century. Third party suppliers have been the backbone of the industry for a long time and to better understand the world of vintage watches we got to understand case makers and their approach to the craft. This is a non-exhaustive list highlighting some of the most influential and interesting manufacturers of their time (which shall not undermine any of the left-out craftsmen).
Over most of the last Centuries watchmakers or brands have only been the last link in the production chain of our beloved timepieces. Dials, movements, cases, bracelets... most of these parts that are mainly produced under one roof today came from all over Switzerland.
The hallmark register - as systematically introduced in 1934 - is today one of the most important puzzle pieces in understanding what each watch, each reference, each model stands for. It's not just about the name on the dial but the name inside the case back (and under the dial, inside the clasp, etc.)
There's a lot of information on the dial but often you can find traces of the full production chain right under the case back. As with this beautiful Vacheron Constantin ref. 4906 with "birch" finish. Photo from Goldammer Archives.
Over the last couple of weeks we already covered several 20th Century case makers from Geneva and La Chaux-de-Fonds. But outside these two cities you will still find several workshops - for example in Biel, Le Locle or Tramelan[1-2]. These manufacturers were often rather specialized and attributed with distinct watch makers or groups. But not all of them...
Pictograms of the 6 Swiss hallmarks - or Poinçons de Maître - found inside watch casebacks. Photo Courtesy of David Boettcher, VintageWatchStraps.
The hammerhead is the hallmark you will find on precious metal cases produced in Switzerland but outside of Geneva... and that's plenty. Over 100 identified case makers fall under the umbrella of "producing outside of Geneva" between 1934 and 2000. As we have covered the small village of La Chaux-de-Fonds already this guide will focus on examples from Biel, Le Locle, Tramelan & Bassecourt.
Hammerhead No. 141 - Gabus Freres (1934-80, Le Locle)
Background. The numbering for the Hammerhead hallmarks starts at 101 - and the first 39 of those indicate La Chaux-deFonds case makers. This makes the company the brothers (Freres) Gabus one of the earliest registered case makers in 1934.
Style. The Gabus cases seem to have been associated with special requirements... for example ultra-thin cases for Vacheron Constantin (including several patents) as well as potentially as best known design for Rolex - the square "Gabus" chronograph series from the mid 1930s to the early 1950s.
Examples. Vacheron Constantin Patrimony, Rolex Gabus 8206
Hammerhead No. 143 - Nardin & Cie (1934-92, Le Locle)
Background. The case maker Nardin should not be confused with the watchmaker Ulysse Nardin. Even though both had their headquarters in Le Locle there's no direct trace of relationship between the two companies. The workshop has been within the family for several generations until in the late 1960s they merged with Jean-Pierre Perrin & Maurice Grandjean (hammerhead #173) and in 1978 were lastly renamed into Classicor SA.
Style. You might be quite familiar with Nardin-made cases if you have been following our own watches for a bit. They have been responsible for several different iteration of IWC's elegant cal. 89 dress watches with smooth bezel and attached lug designs: For example elongated shark-fin, teardrop, downturned and applied hinged lugs. Overall, they produced cases for (among others) Vacheron Constantin, IWC, Zenith & Doxa
Examples. IWC Cal. 89, Zenith (Martel) Chronographs
Several examples of Nardin-made cases (hammerhead #143). Photos from Goldammer Archives.
Hammerhead No. 149 - Wyss & Co (1934-75, Tramelan)
Background. The lovely village of Tramelan lies in the Jura mountains about 40km northeast of Le Locle and 25km northwest of Biel. It's small (like almost everything in Switzerland...) but a hub of traditional watchmaking (again, like almost every village in Switzerland...). Wyss & Company have been one out of the few workshops in town and one with wide reaching impact.
Style. As we have been speaking about IWC before, Wyss & Co have been making two the most special pieces - the early Ingenieur ref. 766 & the Cal. 89 with spider lugs and stepped bezel. But they've also been making precious metal cases for the earlier Heuer chronograph watches.
Examples. IWC Cal. 89, IWC Ingenieur 766, Heuer Pre-Carrera
Two examples of Wyss Co-made cases (hammerhead #149). Photos from Goldammer Archives.
Hammerhead No. 166 - Henri Jeanneret (1934-57, Le Locle)
Background. Again there are some overlaps with another established Swiss watchmaking family - the Jeannerets of Saint-Imier most famous for founding the chronograph company "Excelsior Park"... However, we again can not find any direct connections between the two companies.
Style. We can find two main trajectories for Jeanneret made cases - intricate chronograph with angled lugs (Universal Geneve) and dressier Artdeco pieces with hooded lugs (Vacheron Constantin) - in both ways the detailed work on the lugs is the feature to keep an eye out for.
Examples. Universal Geneve Aero-Compax, Universal Geneve Compur, Vacheron Constantin Hooded
Two examples of Henri Jeanneret-made cases (hammerhead #166). Photos from Goldammer Archives.
Hammerhead No. 170 - Charles Dubois (1947-82, Le Locle)
Background. The company Charles Dubois was a jeweler and case maker from Le Locle. Even though they just registered in 1947 for their respective hallmark they seem to have been operating since at least 1938. In 1974 they rebranded to Cedex.
Style. Charles Dubois creations might be best described as intricate 3-element cases with recessed crowns and upper-level finishing. Among Vacheron Constantin and IWC they were also provided to Omega for their Geneve series.
Examples. Omega Geneve, Vacheron Constantin 4906, IWC Cal. 89
Several examples of Charles Dubois-made cases (hammerhead #170). Photos from Goldammer Archives.
Hammerhead No. 183 - Ervin Piquerez (1963-2011, Bassecourt)
Background. The idyllic village of Bassecourt lies about 40km north of Biel and was the home to the Ervin Piquerez workshop. It appears that the company had ties to Ed Heuer as several of the iconoclastic Carrera cases of the time were manufactured with Piquerez (as well as Chatelain - hammerhead #109). The hallmark 183 seem to have been registered in 1963 even though the first trademarks under Ervin Piquerez reach back at least until 1945 (EPSA trademark).
Style. Well, the classic Heuer Carrera case... well actually several versions of it as we can see both, the earliest examples as well as later C-shaped cases coming from Bassecourt.
Examples. Heuer Carrera 2456, Heuer Carrera 1158
Several examples of Ervin Piquerez-made cases (hammerhead #183). Photos Courtesy of Hodinkee Shop & OnTheDash.
 Swiss Poincons de Maitre; David Boettcher, VintageWatchStraps;
 Vintage Watch Hallmarks Explained; Felix Goldammer, Goldammer Vintage Watches;
All rights on text and graphics reserved to the Author.