Once a name beloved of chronograph collectors worldwide, Angelus fell victim to the Quartz Crisis in the late 1970s and faded from the market… until now. Chris Hall finds out what happened.
Sebastien Chaulmontet has been collecting vintage Angelus chronographs for more than 20 years. So when he received a phone call in 2011 from someone who said he had something interesting to sell, he wasn’t overly surprised. Was it a Chronodato Luxe, one of the first moon phase chronographs, or perhaps a “Tinkler”, the rare quarter-repeating wristwatch made by Angelus in 1957? “No, no,” said the voice at the other end of the line. “I want to sell you the brand”.
Besides being a fanatical chronograph collector, Chaulmontet is also the talented head of movement development at La Joux-Perret, the manufacture that owns Arnold & Sons, as well as providing movements to several major brands. One week later Chaulmontet had persuaded Frederic Wenger, CEO of La Joux-Perret, to commit to reviving Angelus as a brand.
“Being La Joux-Perret, we could then have used our own movement catalogue to immediately put out watches with Angelus on the dial”, he explains. “But we wanted it to be completely separate, so we started designing something entirely new.”
That something made its first appearance this year at Baselworld: the U10 Tourbillon Lumière (£66,333). Measuring 63mm by 38mm, it’s a manual-wound, time-only brick of a watch, with dead-beat seconds and an enormous observatoire given over to a one-minute flying tourbillon. First impressions were unequivocal – it looks nothing like most people’s concept of an Angelus.
“A lot of people were very surprised when they saw it”, agrees Chaulmontet. “They thought we were doing this because we lacked awareness of Angelus’ history – which couldn’t be more wrong.”
He has a point – Angelus was always, genuinely innovating. “The automatic, waterproof repeater they made in 1957 was so ahead of its time it almost broke the company”, says Chaulmontet. “I don’t want to produce something that, technically, could have been made 80 years ago – I wanted the best technology we have right now. That meant working with big curved sapphire, a 3D movement and curved movement plates. We wanted to re-launch Angelus as a modern, innovative, contemporary watchmaker.”
The adherence to such ideals, with a strong foundation on manufacture movements and slightly left-field complications (particularly the dead-beat seconds) is perhaps expected, given the work Chaulmontet has done in recent years with Arnold & Son – albeit with a vastly different aesthetic.
With seven sapphire windows, a linear power-reserve indicator, and stylings inspired by the industrial designs of Dieter Rams and Achille Castiglioni, the U10 is certainly a departure from the Angelus chronographs beloved of collectors – but it has more in common with the travel clocks for which the brand was almost as well known.
There’s more where the U10 came from, both stylistically and horologically. Later this year we will see two more models joining it in what will then become the Urban collection – one of which will be an automatic flyback split-seconds chronograph (with, for good measure, a tourbillon).
2016 should see two further Urban pieces, as well as the launch of the Heritage range, which Chaulmontet says will go some way towards satisfying the Angelus purists – describing it as “Art Deco, but with a modern twist”. Every watch will use a new manufacture movement rather than anything from the La Joux-Perret toolbox, a key tenet of the brand’s positioning.
“With a huge advertising budget and the ability to make thousands of watches from day one, maybe we could have relaunched Angelus as the large-scale brand it once was,” says Chaulmontet. “But to be honest, it’s more interesting to do it this way.”
The many innovations of Angelus
Founded in 1891 in Le Locle by Albert and Gustav Stolz, it didn’t take Angelus long to start racking up world firsts – a habit it continued for decades.
During WWI, Angelus created a minute repeater pocketwatch for the blind – designed for soldiers returning from the war with severe facial injuries. In 1930, it created the smallest 8-day movement ever made (a record that stands to this day), measuring just 32mm x 21mm, or 10.5 lignes.
In the 1940s it produced a chronograph with a calendar – the Chronodato – and later a chronograph with digital date display – the Chrono-Datoluxe (above). Both were world firsts for watches in series production, and were followed by the first watch to combine a date and an alarm in 1956, the cunningly named Datalarm (below).
Two years later, Angelus produced the Tinkler, a waterproof automatic repeater wristwatch; only 100 were made.
Aside from its own watches, Angelus provided movements to other brands. Most famously, it was the original movement supplier to Panerai, equipping the Luminor in 1939 – and giving it the now familiar small-seconds counter at 9 o’clock.
To find out more about Angelus, click here.