Under the Radar: Movado

Under the Radar: Movado

| 08.07.23

Here at Analog:Shift, we love underrated vintage watches. 

Obscure brands and references carry the stories that keep us firmly interested in watch collecting and intrigued by vintage objects in general. Today, we’re highlighting some of our favorite under-the-radar offerings within the world of vintage timepieces — namely, those from Movado. 

If you’re familiar with contemporary Movado, it’s likely because of the brand’s Museum Watch, a Bauhaus-influenced model designed by American industrial designer Nathan George Horwitt in the late 1940s. But the brand’s origins date to late 19th-century Switzerland: It was there, in the famous watchmaking town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, that a young Jewish watchmaker named Achille Ditesheim founded the brand in 1881.

In 1892, Achille was joined in the business by his brothers Leopold and Isidore, who collectively christened their new venture “L.A. & I. Ditesheim, Fabricants.” While other watchmaking firms were still based on a cottage model, the Ditesheim brothers operated a modern, factory-based enterprise, and within two decades, boasted over 80 employees. Renowned for their pocket watches, by the early 20th century the firm had nearly doubled its number of workers. In 1905, it adopted a new name, “Movado,” meaning “always in motion” in Esperanto, a constructed language.

Movado quickly adopted the wristwatch with its rise of popularity in the early 1900s, and by the middle of the century was producing everything from simple, beautiful dress and field watches to innovative tool watches. Its excellent Calibre 95M-powered chronographs have become beloved by collectors for their clean design language, unique handset, and variety of beautiful dials, while the 1960s-era Super Sub Sea collection, which combines a chronograph with a waterproof case and a rotating dive bezel, is renowned for its utility.  

A merger and collaboration on distribution to foreign markets with Zenith and Mondia in 1969 led to interesting models such as the Datron, which features Movado branding but is powered by an automatic chronograph movement from Zenith, developer of the El Primero. As Zenith was facing difficulties in obtaining trademarks in the U.S. market due to its name-sharing with American firm Zenith Radio Corporation, it simply sold its wares under the Movado name. (Ironically, Nivada Grenchen faced similar trouble selling its watches in America given the potential confusion of “Nivada” with “Movado” — hence it marketed many watches there under the Croton name.)

In 1983, in the midst of the Quartz Crisis, Movado was purchased by North American Watch Corporation. Founded by Gedalio Grinberg, a Cuban-born businessman who had fled the Marxist Revolution in 1960 upon Castro’s rise to power, North American Watch Corporation was renamed Movado Group, and focused on sales of the brand’s Museum Watch. Moving millions of units, Grinberg made the Museum Watch — which had earned a spot in MoMA’s permanent collection — a household name. 

While modern Movado has largely focused on inexpensive fashion watches — it acquired MVMT in 2018 for more than $100M — its 20th-century timepieces have begun attracting attention from dedicated collectors who value them for their innovative features, handsome looks, in-house movements, and relative affordability. The following collection should help to convey the diversity of offerings available from Movado, as well as the appeal and inventiveness of the design language they have used in the past century. Once you’ve seen this vast array of gorgeous timepieces, we’re quite sure you’ll be taken with vintage Movado as we are! 

NOTE: The price ranges we quoted are accurate as of publish, but markets are of course subject to change. Check our listings frequently for examples of current pricing.

Movado M95 Sub-Sea Chronograph 

Movado M95 Sub-Sea Chronograph - IN THE SHOP

One of the focal points of the historical Movado catalog are their superb waterproof chronographs. (And by “waterproof,” we mean in the 20th-century-tool-watch sense — use this word in your marketing material today, and you’d invariably be sued!) The brand began releasing such pieces in the 1930s, and by the 1950s, when the 95M-powered Sub-Sea chronograph was released, had established such rapport that they were competing with top Swiss marques. 

Often built in François Borgel cases — which famously housed Patek Philippe’s waterproof Reference 1463 chronograph — the Sub-Sea enjoys incredibly clean aesthetics, with this particular example featuring a pure silver dial, applied stick indexes, pump pushers, and recessed subsidiary dials. It’s a timeless look contained in a well proportioned 35mm case; as a result of longer lugs, it feels slightly larger than its recorded dimensions would suggest, which makes for a comfortable wearing experience. 

Within the Sub-Sea Chronograph beats the Calibre 95M, a three-register version of the brand’s two-register, modular Caliber 90M. (It should be noted that though these watches are most often referred to as “M95,” Movado’s own historical literature features the number before the letter.) The 95M was first introduced in circa 1939, and became one of the brand’s most important movements. Watches containing the 95M are quite hard to find in good condition, making the example featured here a precious commodity. (It’s estimated that fewer than 20,000 Sub Sub pieces in all variations were produced between 1946 and 1970.) 

In spite of the solidity of the M95 and its excellent specs, it has nonetheless remained relatively under-appreciated (and thus, in our opinion, undervalued) — though more and more collectors are finally beginning to catch on to the magic of these chronographs. If you're looking for a capable mid-century chronograph that can easily hold its own against similar models from top-shelf brands (but want to spend less than five thousand dollars!), then this is as solid an option as any. 

Movado Triple Calendar 4823

Movado Triple Calendar Dress Watch - IN THE SHOP

Next up is a wonderful Triple Calendar dating to the 1950s. Triple calendars aren’t overly popular these days, but during the mid-20th century, they were all the rage. (The configuration is making a comeback, it would seem: Consider, for example, the Vacheron Constantin Fifty-Six, a modernized triple calendar watch based on a 1956 design.)

This revisiting of vintage calendar configurations in modern contexts has renewed interest in vintage pieces — take, for example, this dressy, solid yellow gold Reference 4823 that beautifully captures the elegance of the 1950s. Its broad 34mm case is filled with mid-century details: Classic teardrop lugs, grooved case sides, and a domed crown are all emblematic of a bygone era of classic watch design.

The heart of this piece is the manually-wound Calibre 470, which powers the triple calendar functions. As with most triple calendars, two apertures at 3 and 9 o’clock display the month and day of the week, respectively, and a pointer hand indicates the date around the dial periphery. The very outermost ring of the dial is printed with a 1/5th-seconds track for precise timekeeping.  

It’s rare to find a complicated, precious-metal watch from the 1950s for only a few thousand dollars — indeed, comps in the world of modern watches would likely run in the five figures. Usually, those modern pieces are homages to the era in which this watch was produced, and attempt to capture the aesthetics of original, vintage references. Here, you have the opportunity to experience the styling of this important time in watchmaking history with one of the actual examples made during that period. 

Movado Jumbo Field Watch 18636

Movado Jumbo Field Watch - IN THE SHOP

Next up is a timepiece that was ahead of its aesthetic time when it was released in the 1950s. This well-sized 36mm specimen was constructed as an oversized field watch, but today, would be equally appropriate as a smaller dress watch. The case is quite svelte, and features a simple silver dial with relatively little adornment.

Applied, alternating gold Arabic numerals and dot indices are paired with an outer ‘railroad’ minute track calibrated in 1/5th-seconds, while a thin ‘sword’ handset with a red-tipped seconds hand maintains the aesthetic theme. There is no date or other complication to break the elegant simplicity of the classic look. 

The sharp lugs of the case are reminiscent of what we see on the Patek Philippe Reference 5236, elongated and thinned softly in the character of many vintage references from the 1950s. Yet another hand-wound design, this watch is in absolutely pristine condition. You would simply never guess that it’s 70 years old! 

We see the same aesthetic design language extended into the 1960s, when Movado created this watch for Tiffany and Co. Once more, Movado maintains the classic Calatrava-style layout of this field watch, as well as its sharp lugs. While the Tiffany and Co. example is fashioned from 14K yellow gold, the underlying DNA is certainly shared both on the dress and the field ends of the Movado time-only collections. 

Movado Super Sub Sea Chronograph

Movado Super Sub Sea Chronograph - IN THE SHOP

Next, witness a watch occupying the top end of the vintage Movado market. We previously discussed the M95 Sub Sea Chronograph, but this Super Sub Sea is even more collectible, with its meeting of more traditional chronograph functionality with dive watch characteristics. This 1960s classic has a tritium ‘reverse panda’ dial, pump pushers, sharp, twisted profile lugs, and a ‘ghosted’ aluminum dive bezel. 

The Sub Sea line is likely the most in-demand of the vintage offerings from Movado, which isn’t particularly surprising — in addition to their excellent build quality, they’re quite well-sized. (This reference measures 40mm, which works wonderfully in a modern context on a variety of wrists). We mentioned earlier that many of these models were ahead of their time in sizing and aesthetics, and this 1960s watch would look just as at home as a contemporary release. (Movado has, in fact, reissued this watch as its Alta Super Sub Sea Automatic, albeit in an unnecessarily large 43mm format.)  

Powered by the manually wound Calibre 146HP from Swiss ébauche manufacturer Martel, the Super Sub Sea was intended as a waterproof diving chronograph, a type of timepiece that emerged in the 1960s and is only now seeing a slight resurgence in popularity. While its inner dial features a typical tachymeter scale, it also features a conventional dive bezel, melding the best of two distinct watch categories — that of the chronograph and the diver. 

The Super Sub Sea is an excellent option for those looking for a solid vintage chronograph with timeless aesthetics and a strong history. Here, we’ve chosen to pair this example with one of our motorsports-inspired Ralstra straps, which, in our opinion, perfectly complements the aesthetics of the watch and recalls the era in which it was born. 

Movado Tempo-Matic HS 288

Movado Tempo Matic - IN THE SHOP

Moving forward into the 1970s, we see the result of the partnership between Movado and Zenith. While operating under the same umbrella, Zenith and Movado frequently shared technology — thus, within this Tempo-Matic beats a Zenith Calibre 2562 PC. This timepiece was produced towards the end of Movado's glory period and maintains the classic aesthetics of the 1970s, with the distinctive cushion case design that is a hallmark of the era. 

Movado later shifted to predominantly quartz watch production following the introduction of that technology in 1969 by Seiko. Thus, the Tempo-Matic represents the tail end of the quality mechanical-movement era of the brand’s history. (As mentioned previously, the brand’s modern identity is quite removed from its 20th-century reputation.)

The beautiful blue dial is set with tritium lume — which has patinated to a creamy hue — while an outer 1/5th-seconds track is joined with applied indices, a framed date window at 3 o’clock, and a luminescent ‘sword’ handset. The alternating use of different shades of blue, counterbalanced with white and yellow, makes for a pleasing look, while the watch’s funky lug system — with a strap set into the cushion case via cutouts at the top and bottom — is distinctly 1970s. This watch is a bit more avant-garde than the previous, more traditional pieces we’ve covered, embodying the new aesthetics of a transitional period. 

While trends come in waves, currently, watches from the 1970s are trading a bit more affordably due to the particular case styling of the period. (Indeed, cushion case designs are not for everyone.) At around a thousand dollars, however, this Tempo-Matic is truly an incredible value. With its automatic Zenith movement, beautiful dial, and robust case, it’s emblematic of 1970s industrial design in the best ways.

Movado Datron HS360

Movado Daytron 'Blue Panda' El Primero Chronograph - IN THE SHOP

Finally, we have a watch intrinsically linked with the fight to develop the first automatic winding chronograph, the Movado Datron HS360. In 1969, three brands/groups raced to develop a working automatic movement; Seiko; a consortium featuring Heuer-Leonidas, Breitling, and Hamilton-Buren; and Zenith all claim to have been first, but regardless, they all crossed the finish line in close succession. Zenith's El Primero quickly became a wild success, with Rolex later adopting its architecture into their Daytona line and assisting in popularizing the revolutionary movement. 

Unfortunately, early Zenith models featuring the El Primero are relatively expensive, making access to the milestone caliber quite prohibitive for many. Enter the Movado HS360 Datron. We mentioned earlier that the two brands were under the same management for a time, and as a result, the charismatic cushion-case chronograph was outfitted with the groundbreaking, automatic-winding Zenith movement. 

The Datron HS360 first emerged in the late '60s under the name "Datochron HS360." Housed within a svelte 38mm cushion case beat the  El Primero Calibre 3019PHC. Unlike the pricier Zenith and Rolex watches that feature the early El Primero movement, the Datron HS360 is a more affordable way to collect the essential movement without breaking the bank - and in our opinion offer an incredibly stylish option blending the best of 60s/70s sport chronograph design!

One of the Best Values in Vintage

When looking for an excellent value in the vintage watch space, there are a number of directions in which to look. That said, having sifted through the range of dress and sport watches available from Movado alone from the ‘50-60s, a good argument could be made that this brand provides perhaps the best value of all! 

As vintage watch collecting has become more popular, collectors must always search for new avenues to pursue value propositions and under-the-radar marques. As enthusiasm for the brand’s vintage wares has been brewing slowly but steadily over the past few years, it would seem that many are finally catching on. Be sure to check out our full range of vintage Movado watches before they’re gone!