The General Watch Company

Louis Brandt founded the General Watch Co. (La Generale Watch Co) around 1800  in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Brandt had already been working as a watchmaker since 1848 assembling key-wound pocket watches made from parts supplied by local workers. The focus of the General Watch Company was to produce lower-quality cylinder watches. Louis Brandt died in 1879 and his sons, Louis-Paul and César, took over the family business.

Omega

In 1880 the brothers relocated the factory to the town of Biel/Bienne, Switzerland. As well as continuing The General Watch Co. brand they also began operating as Louis Brandt & Fils (Sons). It was not unusual at the time for a manufacturer to register and operate under a number of brand names. In 1885, Louis-Paul and César began producing their own movements. In 1894, the company produced a new movement, the 19 ligne calibre. It was produced using revolutionary new methods and set new standards for watchmaking. It was incredibly accurate and very successful. The brothers branded the movement ‘Omega’. After the ongoing success of the 19 ligne calibre, the company officially adopted the brand name Omega in 1903.

General Watch Company movement
General Watch Company movement. © The Vintage Wrist Watch Company

Helvetia

The General Watch Co. continued to operate, focussing on producing movements that were aimed at the lower end of the market. In 1911, the Omega finally withdrew from The General Watch Co., which continued on under the control of Edouard Boillat. In 1906 he built a new factory in Bienne and turned the company’s focus to producing better quality lever movement watches as opposed to the earlier cylinder movements. The standard improved to such a degree, that the General Watch Company began supplying movement for a sub-brand of Rolex called Marconi.

The most famous brand of the General Watch Company was Helvetia. In the late 1920s, it appears that the General Watch Company adopted ‘The Helvetia Watch Company’ as its primary trading name. They began to manufacture movements and watches branded Helvetia at a factory in Bienne. Helvetia continued to produce good-quality watches for many decades to come. However, they succumbed to the quartz crisis in the 1970s and 80s just like many other Swiss brands.