Lemania - A Potted History
I've put this together for interest's sake. No photos I'm afraid, but I hope it provides a context for our ramblings. Please feel free to add your comments if you think I am a little off-track.
The Lemania name derives from lake Geneva, known by the French speakers of Switzerland as Lac Leman.
On the back of some of their watches, Lemania themselves claim a history from 1884, but no watch was produced under that name until at least 40 years after this date.
The company was started by Alfed Lugrin in 1884, specifically as a movement maker and provider of complications for simpler pocket watches. Chronographs, repeaters and so forth. It stayed as such until at least the late 1920s, when it changed to Lemania Lugrin SA under the management of Marius Meylan, Alfred Lugrin’s son-in-law. It started producing watches under its own name. A significant development happened in 1932 when Lemania joined SSIH (Societé Suisse pour L’Industrie Horologère), an agglomeration of Omega and Tissot which had been founded 2 years earlier. SSIH was a rationalisation undertaken in order to combine the forces of these large manufacturers in the face of the great depression, which was threatening the industry as a whole, and sole companies in particular. The other such group was AUSAG.
The co-operative inside SSIH led to what could be called Lemania’s most fruitful alliance, the provision of movements to Omega, most notably for their mechanical chronographs. Lemania also flourished in its own right, and designed and produced some notable movements and watches in this alliance, notably chronographs for British and Commonwealth armed forces – it could be considered its “golden age”. It certianly represents the majority of its history, lasting until the '80s.
Lemania became Nouvelle Lemania when it demerged from the ailing SSIH (which had become SMH when SSIH joined with AUSAG) in 1981. It was a management buyout from the group with the funds provided intended to prop up SMH, which had been ravaged over the course of the 70s by economic conditions, high costs, uneconomic technical innovation and severe competition from Japan.
The buyout was part-funded by Piaget, who then went on to buy Heuer in 1982. Here started Lemania’s second major alliance with a large manufacturer, which only lasted until a short while after Heuer was sold to the TAG group in 1985.
Lemania carried on, but the industry was not what it once was, and it was bought out by new investors in 1991. These new owners (Bahrain Investcorp) already owned Breguet, and Lemania’s last alliance with a large retail brand was effectively cemented, but Lemania still flourished and produced new movements for others, as well as an increasing amount for Breguet, who had previously not really used many Lemania movements.
The death knell for Lemania was the Investcorp sale to the Swatch group in 1999. The management seemed hell-bent on the Lemania name disappearing, and decreed that one of its more successful products, the 5100 movement, was not to be sold outside the Swatch Group – strange, since just about no manufacturer inside the group used the movement.
Swatch also had plans for Breguet, and the Lemania organisation was subsumed into the Breguet brand, becoming their in-house movement manufacturer, and avoiding the need for Breguet to out-source.
The fatal blows were delivered, and Lemania has been a dying concept ever since. The name no longer appears on what few Lemania movements remain in stock, and a proud name in watchmaking is effectively no more.
But, over the course of their history, they have certainly created their own legacy, and that’s what we’re here to discuss.....
Last edited by DaveS; 25-03-2010 at 09:44.
If it's Lemania-powered, I'm interested. Tool Chrono - interested. Dive Chrono - interested. Interesting - interested
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Good post, Dave. Can you point me in the direction of any other good Lemania reference material? My google-fu is off or something, as I keep coming up with hits that are more or less meaningless. I'd like to learn more about this subset of horological history.
Hey Matt, probably the best source of info is from Chuck Maddox who is no longer with us, but his site remains accessible here but you may need to dig around a bit for the bits you want.
Putting the Lemania/Omega movements in context to other chronographs - a great primer/intro to chrono movements in general I think - here
One written in collaboration with our very own Dave, I believe, charts Lemanias brief fling with Heuer/TAG Heuer, in two parts - here and here.
Quite a broadbrush appreciation of the Lemania 5100 from Jean-Michel here.
The essential 5100s are just above your head here.
I'm sure there are other ***-bits which someone will dredge up shortly. Enjoy.