Lip History reprinted with kind permission of Nick Downes.
by Nick Downes
January 16, 2002
Until now, there was no real documentation on Lip for the watch collector, but a recent book has filled the gap. Des heures a conter by Marie-Pia Auschitzky Coustans is a detailed history of Lip and its watches – in French. This article is a brief overview of Lip, based mainly on the book, for those who don’t have the book or don’t speak French.
If you are French, there’s a good chance that your father, grandfather or even great-grandfather wore a watch made by Lip, which isn’t surprising when you consider they are estimated to have produced some 10 million watches, the vast majority of which were sold in France.
From small beginnings in the 1860s, Lip went on to become the biggest watch manufacturer in France, and the only French watch company able to play a role outside France. They had an excellent reputation for quality, reliability and accuracy, and supplied movements to companies such as Bulova, Waltham and Elgin. They were innovative, producing Europe’s first electric watch, and the first French quartz watch, and had some of the most modern production facilities at the time in Europe, if the not the world. But none of this could save them, and in the 1970s, in the midst of spectacular union action and nationwide press coverage, Lip collapsed.
The history of Lip
In 1867, Emmanuel Lipmann set up a watch making business, the Comptoir Lipmann, in Besançon, the center of France’s watch making industry. Soon, fifteen employees were producing watches using ebauches bought from local and Swiss suppliers. In 1893 the company became the Societe Anonyme d’Horlogerie Lipmann Freres, and Emmanuel, his sons Ernest and Camille, and 25 employees produced cylinder escapement pocket watches under a range of registered trademarks such as Gallus, la Nantaise and Tandem. In 1895 they produced 2,500 watches.
Around 1900 they produced their first movement, the 20mm diameter caliber 20, which was used in early wristlets. Their first factory was built in 1907, in 1908 the name Lip was registered, and in 1910 they produced 10,000 watches.
Much of their early success is probably due to their marketing campaigns. They ran large-scale, nationwide publicity campaigns, something unheard of at the time for watches, and so started establishing the name Lip in the minds of the public.
They also registered the names Chronometre Lip and Chronometre de France, in a period when the accuracy of a watch was a major selling point. It’s widely assumed that they used these names on dials of non-chronometer watches to trick people into thinking they were chronometers. However, it’s not certain that the watches were not certified as chronometers. Lip regularly won medals, bulletins and awards from the Observatoire de Besançon (the French equivalent of the COSC), and at the start of the 20th century claimed that their top grade watches were regulated to “a minute a month”. Movements which were chronometer-certified by Besançon, were stamped with the viper’s head, and this is probably the best indication. It’s also worth noting that some of their chronometer-certified watches do not have “chronometre” on the dial.
Lip also attacked what is nowadays called the supply chain. At the time, watchmakers bought watches which they re-sold under their own name at a price they determined, and which they guaranteed themselves. Lip established a network of resellers who bought watches signedLip and resold them at a price determined by Lip. The guarantee was provided by Lip at a national level. In the decades that followed, their management of the supply chain and post-sales support became very sophisticated and contributed in a large part to their success. However, in the end it was a factor in the collapse of the company, as they were unable to adapt to new distribution channels.
From early on they were aware of the need for real differentiators, and they fixed on quality, reliability and accuracy as key selling points, and these were to drive their development and marketing for over 50 years. Their movements are neither stylish nor decorated, but are solid as a rock, reliable and very accurate
During the 1914-18 war they produced products such as fuses and chronometers for the military. Ernest Lipmann rebuilt the business after the war, and by 1925 they were producing their own movements again.
In 1931 the company became Lip SA d’Horlogerie, and they expanded the factory and installed the latest machine tools. They managed to keep their heads above water during the recession, and even to introduce new movements and technical improvements. One of their failures was an attempt to get the hide-bound French watch industry to use millimeters instead of lignes. Lip had used millimeters in the naming of their own calibers since the 1900s (e.g. the R25 is a 25mm round movement), but they were unable to overcome the inherent conservatism of the industry, and were obliged to give all measurement in their technical literature in lignes. On the other hand, they did manage to get their watchmakers to wear white instead of the traditional black smock.
In the early 1930s, Lip employed 350 people and produced 40,000 watches a year, making them by far the biggest French watch manufacturer. The T18, one of their most successful movements, came out in 1933.
The factory and the working conditions were as good as was possible for the epoch, and in 1934 Lip was the first French company to introduce paid holidays. They tried to put in place a division of labor to replace the traditional system where one person produced an entire watch, but the workers did not accept it.
After some unsuccessful experiments, they finally produced an electric clock in cooperation with Ericsson in about 1936. Based on these experiences, they branched out into the production of synchronous electric motors and counters, and this eventually became a subsidiary company.
In 1936, Fred Lipmann, grandson of the founder, became technical director. Amongst other things, he signed deals with the USSR to export technology and parts to enable Russia to create its own watch industry.
The roots of the Russian watch industry
Russia bought the liquidated American watch company La Dueber in 1928, and moved the machine tools and production facilities to Russia. Unfortunately, the movements and the equipment did not allow them to produce good quality watches, and so they looked for other ways to get better watch technology. In 1936, Fred Lipmann signed a deal which allowed Russia to buy movements and watch parts, and then to buy Lip’s technology. Russia got modern, reliable watch technology, and Lip got the cash it needed to get over the financial problems caused by its rapid expansion.
Lip engineers and technicians supervised the installation of a factory at Penza near Moscow, and trained Russian engineers. They also sold a large quantity of T18 (tonneau) and R43 (pocket watch) movements to feed the factories while they were getting up to speed. All told, Russia produced some 10 million Lip-designed movements in the pre- and post-WWII periods. The Russian-produced T18 was called the Swesda, the R43 was called the Zim and the R26 was called the Pobjeda. The watches Saljut and Molnija used the R36 movement, which was also part of a deal between Lip and Russia.
Russia produced the Poljot between 1965 and 1973, and virtually all its parts are interchangeable with the Lip R25. Similarly, there is a striking resemblance between the Lip T15 and the Slava. It seems certain that Lip sold technology at around this time to Russia. In 1969 Lip were invited to Russia to investigate bringing the Russian technology up to date, and a deal was signed in 1972 to allow Russia to get technical help from Lip. This cooperation continued until Lip’s demise in 1975, and resulted in the design of a Franco-Russian quartz watch.
Note: the only sources I have for this information is the book by Marie-Pia Auschitzky-Coustans and references in articles in AFAHA bulletins. None of the sources I can find on Russian watches mention Lip. However, the pre-WWII period of Russian watch making is poorly documented, and the sources are vague. I have a Russian-made watch of the period, and as far as I can tell the movement is virtually identical to a T18. Of course, this doesn’t mean it isn’t just a good copy.
In 1938, with a war increasingly probable, Lip created Saprolip, a company specialized in supplying the armaments industry. They produced the highly reliable Type 10 cockpit clocks, as well as the types 14 and 150. They also produced measuring equipment, chronographs, chronometers, timers and fuses. In the same year, Fred Lipmann legally changed his surname to Lip.
As an interesting aside, Andre Frey, who went on to own Minerva, worked for Lip in Besançon for four years before joining Minerva in 1940.
In 1940 the Lip factories at Besançon and la Mouilliere were requisitioned by the occupying forces, and turned over to the production of watches, clocks, anemometers and other products for the German military. Fred Lip and some employees moved to the Saprolip factory at Issoudun in unoccupied France, and continued production for the Free French forces. In 1942 they moved to Valence, and despite many difficulties, including having to build many of the tools from scratch, they managed to design and produce the I24, a ¾ plate wristwatch movement. Watches from this era are marked Lip Valence. Fred Lip later played an active role in the French Resistance.
As soon as France was liberated, Fred Lip took back control of the factories and, as president of Lip, started to reconstruct the company. By 1945, the factory was rebuilt, and 200 people produced some 50,000 watches.
During the post-war period, Saprolip was running at full speed supplying the military, and Lip built up large cash reserves that helped it survive and expand in the next few years.
In 1946, they restarted the research work on electric watches they had halted during WWII. This research was undertaken in the greatest secrecy, as Fred Lip was convinced the future lay with electric watches, and wanted Lip to establish a strong lead in the market with their own movements. They were involved with Elgin at this period, though it is not clear if they simply acquired technology from Elgin in exchange for machine tools, or if they actually cooperated on research. In 1958, nearly two years after Hamilton released the world’s first electric watch, Lip put its first electric watch on the market. In 1971 they released their first quartz watch.
In 1952, 800 employees produced 180,00 watches, and by 1954 1,500 employees produced 300,000 watches, making them by far France’s biggest watch producer. Their attitude to their employees had always been ahead of its time, and working conditions continued to improve, including a reduction in hours, on-going training, excellent retirement and benefits packages and the installation of a crèche. This wasn’t purely altruism, but was also done to foster good labor relations, create a contented workforce, and hence ensure productivity and quality. This long-term strategy of “pandering” to the workforce eventually backfired on them, as at the time of their downfall in the 1970s their labor-related costs were excessively high.
Quality continued to be a driving force, and Lip’s reputation in France was second to none. Their dominant position in the French market led Blancpain, a company then virtually unknown in France, to sign a marketing and distribution deal with them in 1953 to enable them to get a toehold in France. Lip was at the same time able to distribute high-class watches with their own name on the dial.
1954 Lip put Blancpain’s fifty fathom waterproof watch on the market in France. The watches were signed on the dial by both Blancpain and Lip. Lip also sold movements to Blancpain at this time, and one series of the fifty fathom had Lip R23 movements (marked Lip brevet Blancpain). Apart from this exception, Lip weren’t involved in the design of either the movements or watches, but just provided marketing, distribution and after sales support. This deal is particularly ironic, as the inventors of the watch, Robert Maloubier and Claude Riffaut, first contacted Lip at the start of the 1950s with an idea for a waterproof watch, but were turned down, and so went instead to Blancpain, who designed and produced the watch. The fifty fathom received a huge boost when it was worn by Jacques Cousteau and his divers during the underwater film “Le monde du silence”, which won the Palme d’or at the Cannes film festival in 1956.
Lip continued an aggressive policy of growth, and created sub-brands such as Dauphine and Souveraine. To cope with the increased production needs, they built a new factory in Besançon in 1958. In the same year, 1,500 employees produced 500,000 watches a year, and 8,000 of France’s 13,000 watch retailers were official Lip outlets.
In 1958, they were the first non-Swiss company to be allowed to create a watch company in Geneva, and Lip Geneve became their top-end line of watches. In the same year, Lip signed a deal with Universal Geneve to distribute their watches in France, as well as providing after sales service (I’ve not been able to find information on the watches distributed).
The start of the end
But not everything was rosy, and in the early 1960s, their sales began slowing, as the French market was flooded with cheaper, lower quality watches. In a market growing at 10%, Lip’s sales were only growing at 3%, and one of their major shareholders pulled out. One of Lip’s problems was that their key selling points – accuracy, quality, and reliability – were no longer valid in the new market place. Their production costs were low for the quality of their watches, but they were too high compared to their new competitors’, and their average watch sold for roughly twice the price of the new cheap watches.
Fred Lip tried to interest other watch companies, including Omega and Timex, in taking a share in the company, but without success. Eventually, in 1967, the Swiss company Ebauches SA took a 33% share in the company. In 1968, the turnover was 78 million francs, and the net profit was only 57,000 francs. Things weren’t going well.
From 1968 to 1973, distributed Breitling chronographs in France, including the Navitimer, Cosmonaute and Superocean. The watches were signed on the dials by both Breitling and Lip.
Their watch business was heavily tied into its distribution channel, the traditional French jewelers and watch shops, which represented a steadily decreasing part of the watch market as the new watch companies started going for other outlets such as newsagents. At the same time, their armament business, which had always represented roughly a third of the turnover, started to decline, adding to the cash flow problems.
In December 1969, 200 employees were laid off. This was only a precursor, and throughout 1970 there was short time work, layoffs and strikes. Lip never got back its share of the market, and its financial problems worsened.
Finally, in February 1971, at the age of 65, Fred Lip stepped down as president of the company, ending over 100 years of control by the Lipmann family.
In the years that followed there were management changes, refinancement, and new publicity campaigns, but none of it helped, and in 1973 they went into pre-liquidation. However, the unions did not agree with the closing of the factory, and so began the spectacular union actions that were to mark the end of the company.
The full story of their last years is fascinating and complex, but of more interest to historians of labor relations than watch collectors. The workers occupied the factory and took over the production to try and keep the company running (a slogan ran “100,000 watches without a manager”), there were court cases, changes of management, more union action, and even government intervention, all of which were heavily covered in the press. One interesting outcome was that many of the socially unacceptable things that took place were so heavily covered in the press that they became the driving force for important changes in French labor law.
In the end, though, nothing helped, and Lip ceased production in 1976.
The name was sold and resold, and Lip still exists, though they are no longer a manufacture, and produce ETA-based $100 watches and copies of their flagship products of the past.
Lip is just one of the many watch companies which went out of business during the so-called quartz crisis, but as they made quartz watches themselves, they can hardly be said to have been killed by them. It’s currently fashionable to see them as one of France’s first victims ofmondialisation – the invasion and domination of local markets by multi-national companies – but this explanation is over-simplistic, and the actual causes of their demise are complex. Management style and cash flow were contributing factors, and their high labor costs and France’s social charges helped make them uncompetitive. At the same time, French trades unions were at their most bloody-minded after the social unrest of 1968, which can’t have helped matters. Two major factors were their inability to adapt to new distribution channels, and their inability to adapt their culture of high quality, precision engineering to a market that wanted cheap, cheerful, disposable watches. In the final analysis, in my opinion, they weren’t killed by the quartz watch, but by the ubiquitous, low-quality cheap watch.
Lip designed and produced some 40 pocket and wristwatch movements, most of which were time-only, though later ones had a simple date ring. The bridge layout of earlier movements is normal for their epoch, though they are rarely decorated. The bridge layout of later watches is strictly utilitarian, and they are obviously exercises in movement design and production engineering, with no consideration given to how they look.
Up until WWII, there was a 2-number naming system, xx.x, where the first number is the caliber of the movement and the second is the quality of the movement, with 5 being chronometer quality and 1 being the bottom end. So, a 39.5 is a 39 mm diameter chronometer quality pocket watch movement, and a 23.3 is a medium quality 23 mm diameter wristwatch movement as you might find in their bottom-end sub-brand Sam. The only exceptions were the T18 and T20, where T=tonneau. Lip or Sam were sometimes stamped on the movement, and in the 1920s the cases were sometimes engraved with the caliber of the movement inside.
In the 1950s they moved to a 3-digit numbering system, for example R184, where R=round and T=tonneau. Some time in the 1970s they moved back to a 2-digit code.
The movements they bought from other manufacturers were signed Lip and were given a Lip movement number. For example, the Lip R106 is a Valjoux 23VZ, and the Lip R182 is actually an ETA 2472.
The T18 – the classic Lip movement
Of the 40 or so movements Lip designed and produced, the T18 is the most famous and the most collectable, as well as being interesting from a technical point of view.
Designed by Andre Donat, and produced from 1933 to 1949, the T18 became a workhorse of the French watch industry, and students at France’s watch making schools even had to produce one by hand (apart from the balance and certain other components) as part of their final exams.
Lip favored big balances to improve accuracy, and in order to get a 10 mm diameter balance into a movement 18 mm x 29 mm, they used a side anchor rather than a classic straight anchor. The wheel train then had to follow a different layout, which led to the seconds pinion being only some 4 mm from the cannon pinion. This means that the seconds chapter is very small and very close to the center of the watch, and that the seconds hand is less than 2 mm long. The position of the seconds hand gives a simple way to recognize a T18 movement from the outside. By comparison, the IWC cal 87, a classic tonneau movement of the same era, measures 20 mm x 25 mm and has a balance approximately 8.5 mm in diameter. Its seconds pinion is in a more normal position, some 7.5 mm from the canon pinion, which means that the seconds chapter often cuts the minutes chapter, and the seconds hand is longer.
The standard movement had 15 jewels, with an unjeweled center. Lip introduced a feature on the T18, which they would use on other models, a dust cover screwed onto the rear of the movement once it’s in the case, to add dust protection. They also used a dust-proof mounting for the winder stem. Over the years they added a Breguet overcoil and a mono-metallic balance, and even produced three prototypes with tourbillions in 1948.
The movement was used in watches of all shapes until the mid 1950s, while stock was finished up. It was never really replaced, especially as fashion was moving away from rectangular men’s watches. The T18 had a little sister, the very successful T12, also designed by Andre Donat and put in production in 1936.
The electric movements
Lip started experimenting with electricity in 1928, and they produced some interesting electric clocks in the pre-war period, but it wasn’t until 1948 that they started work in earnest on electric watches. In 1949, Lip and Elgin signed a deal to exchange technical information, and a group of 20 French engineers went to America to work with Elgin.
The 19th of March 1952, Lip and Elgin announced their prototype electric watch, in which the amplitude of the balance was maintained by electro-magnets. Fred Lip presented it to the Acadamie des sciences in Paris, while John Shennan, the president of Elgin, presented it in Chicago. The prototypes functioned but were far from being a commercial proposition: for one thing, the bean-shaped batteries developed by Lip were not stable and had a tendency to explode, for another, the watches consumed too much current. They soon replaced their own batteries by those from Union Carbide and Mallory. Interestingly, the batteries from Union Carbide were probably the ones jointly developed with Hamilton for the Hamilton 500.
They eventually produced the R27 movement, which worked but still had problems, including excessive consumption, finicky regulation and high production costs. It also needed two batteries, which led to design limitations.
In January 1957, Hamilton launched the first electric watch using their cal 500 movement, while Lip were still trying to overcome technical problems, including contacts which were difficult to regulate. It’s interesting to note that the Hamilton 500 was released ahead of time in order to be first on the market, even though it still suffered from many technical problems, the most important of which was the difficulty of regulating the fine wires which controlled the switching. This is the same problem that Lip had, which is not surprising considering that the R27 and the Hamilton 500 work on the basic principle of using electromagnets to maintain the amplitude of the balance (Hamilton’s magnets act on the hairspring, whereas Lip’s act on the balance itself).
Finally, on 7th December 1958, Lip put their first R27-based electronic watch on the market. The watch was actually electro-mechanical, but as it had a diode to reduce contact arcing, they felt entitled to call it electronic rather than the more prosaic electric or electro-mechanical.
They presented one of the first R27s produced to General de Gaulle, the president of France, and another to President Eisenhower. In his biography, Fred Lip says that in order to impress de Gaulle with the watch’s accuracy, he actually had two identical watches made, and once a week the president’s wife would swap the watches while he was asleep. Lip’s best regulator would then regulate the watch as accurately as possible before it was replaced the following week.
It’s interesting to compare the way Lip and Hamilton released the cal 500 and the R27-based watches. Lip got their resellers and watch repairers involved and motivated, including sending letters from Fred Lip himself telling them how important the watch was, and explaining the advantages of the new technology, whereas Hamilton 500s had to be returned to the factory for servicing, which gave watchmakers the impression that they weren’t trusted to work on them. Lip also ironed out the majority of the technical problems before releasing the watch, so it didn’t develop the same reputation for unreliability as the Hamilton.
On the 26th October 1960, Bulova released the tuning fork-based Accutron, and Lip realized that it was a superior technology to the R27. This provided the impetus for Lip to put increased effort into the development of what was to become the Lip R148.
In 1957, Lip produced their first quartz “watch”, a marine chronometer that weighed several kilos. Over the next years, Lip worked on miniaturizing it for use in watches. At the same time, many other companies and consortiums were working on the same problems and, with hindsight, one of Lip’s mistakes was to try to go it alone and to absorb the development costs on their own. In 1969, Seiko put the first quartz watch on the market.
At the same time, Lip continued work on transistor-based watches, and eventually produced the world’s first ladies size electronic watch. The R 50 (RE 50 or REX 50) was17 mm in diameter, and was produced in cooperation with Ebauches SA, who had bought into the capital of Lip in 1967 (it was the Ebauches SA cal 9190). It was sold in large quantities to other companies including Bulova, who used it in their Caravelle 70T.
Finally, in 1974 the first series of Lip quartz movements, the R32, came off the production line. Lip continued to produce electronic watches, and they sold their movements to many other watch companies.
The R148 was Lip’s second electro-mechanical movement, but their first really successful one. It still used a balance, but had improved switching and circuitry, and only needed one battery as opposed to the R27’s two. It was also easier to produce and regulate. It had 14 jewels, beat at 18,000, and was fitted with a stop-seconds.
The balance is maintained in oscillation by electromagnets that act on two “horns” on the rim of the balance. A fine wire acts as the switching contact. There is no contact when the balance is in the rest position. As the balance turns, an impuse pin pushes the end of the contact wire on the collet of the balance staff. As it is pushed, it makes the contact and an impulse is given to the balance by the electro magnets. There is only an impulse in one direction of rotation.
The R148 went through numerous improvements and changes during its production. A version with a simple date ring, the R184, sometimes called the Datolip, was produced in 1964. Lip sold the R184 to companies including Benrus, Elgin, Marvin, Universal Geneve and Waltham.
Collecting Lip watches
Lip’s major weakness, in my opinion, is the style of its watches. Some are stunning, some are plain ugly, but the majority are uninspired examples of middle of the road styling of their epoch, though certainly no worse than many other watches of their period. They produced a vast number of different models over the years (as many as 200 watches in a collection), and there is no reference work that I know of to help identify them, apart from the glossy photo section in the back of the book by Marie-Pia Auschitzky-Coustans, so you are pretty much in the dark.
There are two main exceptions to this stylistic mediocrity: the T18-based rectangular watches, and the designer watches of the 1970s.
The T18 tonneau movement gave rise to a long line of classically styled rectangular watches. A classic T18 is rectangular, about 23mm x 33mm (40mm with the lugs). Some of the cases are unusually shaped or have hidden or mobile lugs, but the majority are fairly straightforward rectangles with normal lugs. The dials are typical for the period, and many of them have a timeless styling, though they are perhaps not as “clean” as a classic IWC or Omega. The winders are surprisingly wide, and seem almost out of proportion. The chrome-plated or steel T18s are probably the most classic and collectable. Not all rectangular Lips have T18 movements, but the T18-based watches can easily identified by the closeness of the seconds hand to the cannon pinion.
In the 1970s, Lip had modern designers design watches for them. The results are never boring, and though some of them would now be considered tasteless 1970s pop styling, some have become design classics, which are exhibited in museums.
The most famous are the rectangular and asymmetrical Mach 2000 watches designed by Roger Tallon, the designer of the TGV, France’s high speed train. Apart from their shape, the most distinguishing feature is the large, spherical winder in the top-right corner of the case. The watches were originally in black or gray, and the crowns are often a vibrant pop-art color such as red or yellow.
The most striking Tallon-designed watch is the asymmetrical Valjoux 7734-based chronograph, and the version with colored buttons has to be seen to be believed. If you like people to notice the watch you’re wearing, this is the beast for you! It’s 45mm side-to-side, and with the large integrated black plastic strap it’s difficult to forget you’re wearing it. They were reissued in the 1980s, and so are relatively easy to find, and are even seen NIB.
The cheap, cheerful plastic watches with plastic or cloth straps watches designed by Michel Boyer are pure 1970s pop-art style. The colors are very 1970s, and the designs are simple and almost childlike. I like them despite myself, though I’m not convinced I could wear one to the office.
For the “serious” watch collector, the most collectable Lips are probably the Breitling and Blancpain watches Lip marketed in the 1950s and late 1960s.
If you collect Accutrons or electronic Hamiltons, an early Lip electro-mechanical watch with an R27 movement would be a good addition to the collection, as would an R148. Servicing or repairing them might be an issue, and you should take all the usual precautions that apply to buying a 30 year old electro-mechanical watch.
The Himalaya series of watches (1954-1973) has a reputation for being rugged, and used mainly the R25 and R23 movements. Some of them are stylish, and a gold Himalaya with an R25 movement would be a nice addition to a collection.
The Nautic-Ski, Lip’s first real diver’s watch, was released in 1967. The turning bezel is under the dial, and is rotated by a second winder. They were waterproof to 200m, and were often equipped with an R184 electro-mechanical movement with date. The name Nautic actually exists since 1938, but the early watches were far from being waterproof.
Lip produced a limited number of chronographs, mainly with Valjoux 77xx movements. There are some very tasteful, though rare gold chronographs, and a small number of more normal chronographs, which are not particularly interesting.
As far as other complications go, they produced some watches with day-date, some simple calendars, and even a perpetual calendar (based on Durowe or France-Ebauche movements). They also produced stopwatches and various other complications in small quantities, but at a guess, 99.9% of their production was time-only or time-and-date watches.
The Observatoire de Besançon certified many of their watches as chronometers. It’s interesting to note that some of these watches were not marked “chronometre”, though the movements are marked with the tete de vipre (viper’s head) to show that Besançon certified them.
They didn’t produce many gold wristwatches, but they produced some gold plated watches with thick gold plating (as much as 80 microns), and even some 200 micron gold filled case, which means you can find watches with plating that hasn’t worn through, though they also produced plenty of 20 micron plated cases. Some of the solid gold cases are actually paper-thin, in the same way as the infamous chronographe suisse, and you should be careful before buying (I’ve seen a square Lip Geneve where the lugs were partly hollow).
The watches & clocks produced during WWII are worth looking out for, particularly the cockpit clocks such as the types 10, 14 and 150. They also produced ugly but fascinating bombing timers based on the Valjoux cal 5. The I24-based watches and those marked Lip Valence are rare.
Their pocket watches are not particularly inspired, and to my mind are often overpriced for what they are, particularly the Chronometre Lip. They produced some machine decorated cases, as well as gold and silver cases, but the majority of their pocket watches are run of the mill, and the good looking ones tend to be the exception rather than the rule.
Finally, if your name is Sam, they marketed the low-end sub-brand Sam during the 1920s and 1930s, and even though the quality is not particularly high, it’s fun having a watch with your name on it.
Lip rarely exported more than 10% of its annual production, so it’s difficult to find them outside of France, though there is a steady trickle on the web auction sites. A dozen years ago, you could pick Lip watches up for next to nothing in France, but they have become collectable, particularly the models I’ve mentioned, and prices have increased. Some examples in dollars of prices I’ve seen recently in France include a chromed T18 for $250, a gold Dauphine for $500, a gold Geneve for $450, a Breitling/Lip 24-hour Cosmonaute for $2900, and a gold chronometre Lip pocket watch for $550. It’s interesting to see that Lip watches often don’t sell on the internet auctions, which suggests that they are over priced or that the market for them is limited. Perhaps the prices will drop as more of them appear on the market.
There is also a steady trickle of posters, advertising material and display stands in web auctions in France, so you can easily enhance a collection.
Many of their later watches have movements from just about any of the ebauche or movement suppliers of the time (Durowe, AS, Felsa, ETA, Peseux etc.), which were reworked to meet their quality standards.
Spare parts for Lip movements are getting difficult to find. T18 parts are scare, though you can apparently still find parts for R148 and R184 electronic watches. During the occupations of the factory during its last days, large quantities of parts “disappeared” and it is difficult to find them through normal suppliers, though rumor has it that there are still stocks of parts in Besançon if you know whom to ask. You can occasionally find entire movements, particularly later ones, at certain suppliers in Europe.
Lip never really used serial numbers (the numbers on watches were generally put there by the maker of the cases for their own uses), and so it isn’t easy to date them. Models were identified by codes, but as the systems changed several times it would need a separate article to explain them.
Everything I know of about Lip is written in French, apart from brief overview sections in English coffee table watch books.
Virtually all the French literature is about the industrial unrest of the ’70s, and there’s only one book that deals with the history of the company and its products – Des heures a conter by Marie-Pia Auschitzky Coustans (Libris, 2000, ISBN 2-907781-26-X). It covers the full history of the company, and has a large and useful collection of photos of watches, as well as basic information on movements. There are clues to help identify watches, but the bias is towards the history rather than the watches. It’s very useful and very frustrating at the same time, and unless your French is very good, it can be heavy going as the style is literary. Having said this, given the fact that virtually no other literature existed and the book had to be researched from scratch, it is truly excellent, and if all watch makes were covered in this way, life would be much easier for the collector.
Roger Tallon is mentioned in various English books on design, though the information is not necessarily what a watch collector is looking for.
Many thanks to everyone at Cresus for their help and for providing the photos (Cresus, 1 rue Emile Zola, Lyon, France. www.cresus.fr).
Thanks to James M. Dowling for comments and editing.
Rob Berkavicius and Wayne Schlitt commented on certain parts of the text.
This text is copyright © Nick Downes 2002.
Contact Nick Downes at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have comments or corrections. I would also be interested in hearing from anyone who could provide images of Lip movements or pocketwatches to update this article.