Do you know who launched the world's first automatic Triple-Calendar wristwatch...? Movado is one of The traditional Swiss watch manufacturers yet little is known about their pieces and their legacy. They've been a complete brand engaging in in-house calibers, complicated watchmaking, intricate finishing and sturdy yet elegant case constructions. I thus like to refer to vintage Movado as the cheat-code of vintage watch collecting.

July 10, 2024

Why Movado Matters - Meet the Movado Triple-Calendar (1938-54)

  


Marcus Siems     Marcus Siems @siemswatches
    Collector, Author, Data Analyst


  
[Highlights] Movado Matters! The vintage watch cheat-code
- The traditional brand from La Chaux-de-Fonds was a true watchmaking powerhouse -
- 1938 introducing their first serially produced Triple-Calendar (Calendograf) -
- 1947 their first Triple-Calendar with Moon-Phase (Celestograf) -
- 1948 World's first automatic Triple-Calendar (Calendomatic) -
- All paired with durable & waterproof cases made by Borgel and Favre & Perret -

 

Movado has been a relatively blank spot on our page so far... but not for the lack of interest! I'm a huge fan and full of appreciation. Movado has been a holistic company producing their own movements with various complications! During the  last Century they were a powerhouse of watchmaking coming out of La Chaux-de-Fonds[1]. Today ... not so much. The 21st Century Movado brand is not worth talking about.

 

vintage 1940s Movado Celestograf Calendar with Moon-phase in 18k Yellow Gold The beauty of the Triple Calendar complication perfectly including the moon-phase onto the dial as well. The Movado Celestograf watches (here ref. 4920) are some of the best calendar watches you'll find from the era (1930s-50s). Photo Courtesy of Arrow of Time & Hairspring Watches.

 

But before I start to whelp too much about the loss of the Movado brand in modern times let's put our focus on one of their flagship lines and complications: the Triple Calendar. Between 1938 and 1954 Movado was a pioneer in the upcoming field of measuring time intervals of days, weeks, and months[2].

 

1) Three Collections - Calendograf, Calendomatic, Celestograf

Calendar watches from the La Chaux-de-Fonds manufacturer came in three distinct flavors. The first and oldest line is the Calendograf*. This is the original Triple-Calendar collection. Movado launched their respective "in-house" calendar movement in 1938[3] - the caliber 475.

 

vintage 1940s Movado advertorial for the functionality of the Calendograf modelsLate 1940s Movado advertorial describing the functionality of the Calendograf models - "The Second, The Minute, The Hour, The Day, The Date, The Month". Movado is thus establishing itself on the more technical end of the horological spectrum. Advertorial Courtesy of HIFI Archiv.

 

The second collection were the Calendomatic references. These Triple-Calendar watches were launched in 1948 and constitute the first automatic triple-calendar watches, ever

 

early 1950s vintage Movado Advertorial for their Automatic Triple-Calendar watchesEarly 1950s Movado Advertorial (USA) featuring the automatic (and waterproof) Triple-Calendar "Calendomatic". As we can see from the pricelist the bumper-automatic demanded a 25% premium over its the manually wound siblings. Advertorial Courtesy of HIFI Archiv.

 

Lastly, and potentially most romantically, we got the Celestograf models (or Astrograph for the US market). These are manually wound Triple-Calendar watches with an additional moon-phase complication at 6o'clock. The Celestograf was introduced in 1947 and thus was produced for only about 7 years. 

 

vintage 1950s Movado Advertorial of the Celestograf Astrograph watch with moon phaseLate 1940s advertorial (USA) featuring the Celestograf/Astrograph ref. 4920 with moon-phase. Advertorial Courtesy of Ebay.

 

2) Two Caliber Families

After a 16 year run the production of all three collections seized in 1954. During this period Movado utilized the same three movements from two caliber families for the respective calendar watches and all were made "in-house". Ticking away at the heart of the manually wound pieces we find movements from the 470 family (18,000 Vph, 36h power reserve) - cal. 473 (1948-54) for the Celestograf and cal. 475 (1938-54) for the Calendograf. The bumper-style Calendomatics on the other hand featured the cal. 225 and came with improved power reserve (46h).

You can easily dissociate all three caliber from afar based on where the pins to set date and day are located: On Calendografs these are on the right side (2o'clock & 4o'clock) while on automatics they're on the left (8o'clock & 9:30), and for Celestografs they're located at both sides (4o'clock, 8o'clock, 10o'clock). Yet, when you open the case back another difference becomes evident: As you can see below the manually wound movements were intricately hand-decorated, featuring 2 inner angles. Compared to this standard the cal. 225 can easily appear pedestrian - yet it is in its own right univocally innovative.

 

close up of two Movado calendar movementsIn the close-up from both movement families you can see the hand-finished manually wound cal. 475 (left, ref. 14857) in comparison to the more industrial style of the Calendomatic cal. 225M (right, ref. 6203). Photos Courtesy of ShuckTheOyster and Cars and Watches.

 

3) A Bunch of References & About 8 Case Styles 

There is an entire jungle of Movado triple-calendar references. Just from a quick search I identified over 30 distinct references combined for Calendograf, Celestograf and Calendomatic. And there's plenty more. Let's just make a quick calculation here... I can identify probably 8 case styles***, all of which can be paired with the 3 triple-calendar complications. Calendografs can come with either sub- or center-second. On top, either case style can be waterproof or not. And then you can further add material codes for steel, 14k gold, 18k gold, and 'mixte' material. So we're looking at around 200+ potential references from the Movado catalogue.

Generally, the Movado reference system is relatively well organized: Up until 1966[4] you can find a four-digit code that relates a watch with its respective movement family. For example Calendograf/Celestograf pieces comprise the reference bracket from 4701 to 5000 (cal. 470 family, Calendo- around 48XX and Celestograf 49XX), while the Calendomatics are in the 6101 to 6400 range (cal. 220 family). Additionally, you might see a material code preceding these four digits (1 = steel or mixte****; 4 = 14k gold; 9 = 9k gold; R = rose gold)[4].

 

Study of a Movado ref. 4920 Celestograf in yellow goldCase Study (pun intended) of a Movado Celestograf ref. 4920 in 14k yellow gold (material code 4). Take a closer look at the flame lug design, the intricately constructed case profile and the stunning dial details. Photos Courtesy of Jacob Hillman (@hillman.watches).

 

However, since I can't name all references let's go through the different variants from the top-level starting with the different case styles:

 

different case styles of vintage Movado Triple-Calendar watchesAn overview of the 8 most common Movado Triple-Calendar case styles. Photos Courtesy of Ainsworth (1946 catalogue), HIFI Archiv, Goldfingers Vintage, & Wristclassics.

 

As mentioned before all these different case styles came in a standard execution with snap-on case back and as waterproof variations with screw-down case back. The waterproof pieces were called "Acvatic" by Movado; a suffix often added to the collection name as well - for example as Calendacvatic. These Acvatic cases were all** made by Francois Borgel (company Taubert & Fils by then). This includes the gold as well as the steel Acvatic cases. Often times Borgel cases will also feature the signature "hat" crown. Other case makers (particularly in gold) include the manufacture Favre & Perret (hammerhead #115 from La Chaux-de-Fonds; examples [here], [here], [here])

 

Comparing waterproof and standard Movado Celestograf cases

Comparing the refs. 14920 (top) and 14970 (bottom) of the Celestograf with flame lugs. Both are steel, both cases are indistinguishable from the front. The difference between the Acvatic (14790) and the standard (14290) is the screw-down case back and the Borgel hat crown (highlighted) on the former. The screw-down iterations feature the Borgel patent ("FB [key] patent [+]"; highlighted). Photos Courtesy of ShuckTheOyster & World of Time.

 

4) How Old is my Movado?

That's a good question. Based on contemporary advertorials and catalogues it might be possible to retrospectively date these designs as well - at least to certain eras. Overall, I've collected data from about 300 Movado advertorials between 1938-54. This is of course only a very crude method but can grant us initial estimates when each case style was most popular.

Thus, for example "Thin Angled" lug cases were advertized between 1938-46. The "Long Chamfer" examples have a very long run appearing almost over the entire production at least between 1939 to 1951. The "Flame Lugs" are the ones most often advertised and appear from 1945 onwards. The most classic Borgel case design - the "Step Bezel" - is most often associated with the Calendomatic references beginning in the early 1950s. The "Downturn Lugs" - another Borgel classic - are more often appearing in 1940s advertisements.

 

vintage 1950s Movado advertorial for the Calendomatic Acvatic triple calendar watchOne of the last Movado advertorials for their Triple-Calendar collections from 1954. Depicted is a rare Calendograf with stepped bezel Borgel case. Most of the time this style was paired with the automatic bumper movement. Advertorial Courtesy of HIFI Archiv.

 

5) Conclusion

Okay, I have amassed quite a lot of information about these pieces but what do we make out of it? Well, long story short: These Movado pieces are tremendous value propositions.

If we combine all the different features - "in-house" triple-calendar movement, first automatic triple-calendar, collaboration with the best case makers (Borgel and Favre & Perret) - there is not much that speaks against Movado other than its modern brand recognition!

 

A group photo of seven vintage Movado Triple-Calendar watches from the 1940s and 1950sA group shot of the Hillman collection... These are all vintage Movado Triple-Calendar pieces but every single one of them with their own character, style and design. The sheer variability of case styles and dial configurations makes this niche so interesting and collectible. From top left to bottom right: 14k gold Celestograf ref. 44920 Breguet, 18k Celestograf ref. 4920 "dot dial", Calendomatic ref. 16207 "dot dial", Calendomatic ref 16201 Breguet, "Wright Kay & Co" Calendomatic ref. 16270, Calendograf ref. 14788 Breguet, & Patinated Calendomatic ref. 16351. Photo Courtesy of Jacob Hillman (@hillman.watches).

 

Further, comparing Movados achievements against other major players - Patek Philippe ref. 1518 launched 1941, Omega's Cosmic was introduced in 1947, Rolex's 8171 calendar with moon-phase sold first in 1949, Jaeger-LeCoultre's calendar movements were launched in 1943/44 - we have a watch manufacturer that was at the spearhead of technological innovations at the time! And much like Jaeger-LeCoultre and Omega Movado wasn't just invested in one complication but produced calibers all over the board. 

I named this article "Why Movado Matters" and even though I can't tell for sure that I got this message across to every one of you I firmly believe that this headline is absolutely true! A Tiffany-retailed Calendograf was gifted to and worn by Franklyn D. Roosevelt for crying out loud (and Milton Berle)! I would love to write more on this spectacularly traditional and holistic watch brand but for one reason or another I just rarely come across these pieces.

 

vintage 1940s Movado Calendomatic Triple-Calendar watch in steel with two-tone dialArguably one of the most interesting dial configurations you can find in vintage watches. A ref. 16207 Movado Calendomatic with dot dial, two-tone and two-texture layout in impeccable condition! Photo Courtesy of Jacob Hillman (@hillman.watches).

 

I also want to share my personal opinion on Movado: It's a vintage watch collecting cheat-code! Think about it, it's a traditional watch manufacturer that combines so many of the great qualities and interesting styles we value so highly today:

- You want a chronograph with Tasti Tondi pushers but can't afford a Patek 1463? Movado! -
- You want a Breguet numeral dial in a waterproof yet elegant case? Movado!
- You want "in-house" movements with high-grade finishing and you like to brag about inner angles? Movado! -
- You like it complicated and particularly the romantic azure apperture indicating the phase/face of the moon? You guessed it, Movado! -

And as you'll come across only few Movado timepieces (in good condition) there's probably even less scholarship/content/literature on their pieces. I sincerely hope that introducing more enthusiasts to the history of the timepieces and getting the word out about calendar watches, chronographs, or just all the well executed time-only pieces, will foster the discourse on one of the cooler niches of the vintage watch world...

 

 

- A huge thank you goes to Jacob Hillman (@hillman.watches) for aiding this article with insights and photos of his personal collection. -

 

* Movado's naming of collections in general is fairly inconsistent but I stick to the more common labels here.

** As far as I know.

*** This doesn't even include domestic market designs (for example for the French market).

**** Mixte is the Movado lingo for bicolored materials, typically you'll find a gold-cap sitting atop the case front and lugs.

 

References

[1] Movado Group Inc. Company History; Movado Group [Link]

[2] We Have A Date - Calendar Complications, Their History and Appeal; Marcus Siems, Goldammer [Link]

[3] "Always in Motion" - The Story of the Movado brand; Patrick R., Italian Watch Spotter [Link]

[4] Die Movado History; Fritz von Osterhausen, Callwey (2007)

 

All rights on text and graphics reserved to the Author.

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