Alpina, famous for its red triangle signature, is a fine watchmaking manufacture based in Geneva, Switzerland. Founded in 1883, Alpina’s watchmaking history spans more than 130 years. A true pioneer of the Swiss watchmaking industry, Alpina has been the source of numerous patents and innovative calibers. Alpina invented the concept of the Swiss sport watch, as we know it today, with the birth of its legendary Alpina 4 in 1938.
History Of Alpina
We look back to 1883, the founding year of the association of manufacturers and retailers of watches that evolved into Alpina. Its members called themselves affectionately the “Alpinists”, and they all shared the same target: the success of the Alpina watch.Everything started in 1883 when Gottlieb Hauser, watchmaker in Winterthur, founded the Swiss Watchmakers Corporation (“Corporation d’Horlogers Suisse”).
A number of watchmakers joined to purchase watch components and organized their manufacturing. Quickly, the new concept gained acceptance. Together with qualified manufactures, the Association started to develop its own calibres and to enlarge its distribution network. Ebauches (the base of a calibre) were produced by the Alpina Ebauche Factory in Geneva, owned by Duret & Colonnaz, which played also an important role in the construction of the first Alpina calibres. Final steps in the manufacture of the calibres were performed in Bienne, the place of the head quarters of the Association as of 1890. Success was swift and representations were set up in Germany as well as in East and Northern Europe. In 1901, the name “Alpina” was registered as a trademark at the same time; it would only appear on the dials of high end watches. From the beginning, Alpina watches were manufactured with high quality components, amongst others Breguet spirals, balance wheels with gold screws and heavy gold cases.
ALPINA GLASHUTTE 1909 – 1922
In order also to participate in the German watch-manufacturing base, Alpina Union Horlogère founded the “Präcisions-Uhrenfabrik Alpina” in Glashütte in 1909. The Union’s factories were now located in Geneva, Bienne, Besançon and Glashütte. In 1912, the first Alpina Chronometer Glashütte was finalized: it was equipped with an Alpina manufactured chronometer ebauche with a Glashütte escapement instead of the typical Swiss anchor escapement.
The dial of these watches red “Präcisions- Uhrenfabrik Alpina Glashütte i.S.”. Another model was created in 1913: it was a 21’’ marine watch, which was purchased by the German navy at the time. Alpina Glashütte watches gained ground and competed directly with those of Lange & Söhne. In 1913 Lange & Söhne felt threatened and started a court case to try to stop Alpina on the ground that not all parts were manufactured in Glashütte. The court case dragged on for years but was finally proven without merit. It was dropped in favor of Alpina in 1915. Meanwhile World War I had started and had a stifling effect on the “Präcisions Uhrenfabrik Alpina” in Glashütte. Parts could hardly be send to the factory from Switzerland due to war import restrictions. Further, there were major capital flow restrictions.
THE FIRST WORLD WAR
During the First World War, the Allied Forces were obviously not pleased with business relationships between Switzerland and Germany. The Alpina Glashütte factory had experienced already major problems but also the relationships between the Swiss Alpina factories and their customers in Germany were under strong pressure. Finally in 1917, towards the end of the first World War, the Association ‘Union Horlogère’ was dissolved formally. Two separate anonymous societies were incorporated: the Union Horlogère SA in Bienne, Switzerland and the Alpina Deutsche Uhrmacher Genossenschaft G.m.b.H. in Berlin, Germany. The branch, which was in charge of Swiss members, incorporated itself as yet a third separate association in the name of “Alpina Association des Horlogers Suisses”. Activities of the companies surged dramatically after the First World War. Alpina watches were being sold with great success in 2000 retailers around Europe, from Lisbon to Copenhagen to Moscow.
HOW DID THE “UNION HORLOGÈRE” OPERATE ?
All representatives of Union Horlogère depended on the Association, which aims to sell high quality watches primarily under the Alpina brand. Each watchmaker, manufacturer or specialized shop that wanted to become a member had to apply. The Board of Directors of the Union Horlogère would study the candidature carefully and thereafter accept or reject it. One became a member after paying the entry fee. Membership allowed each representative to benefit from the purchase of Alpina watches at interesting prices as well as many other benefits described below. The Association struggled hard for its members’ interests and helped to stimulate maximum growth. The Association was a non-profit organization. Each member was guaranteed to be the only Alpina representative in his or her town with the exception if the town was large enough to support more than one representative. Members could represent other brands, but could not be member of a similar organization.
The Association fixed retail prices and members were bound to maintain the set prices to avoid unconstructive discounting. Advertising on Alpina watches was entirely paid the Association from its common funds coming from subscriptions, entry fees and subsidies calculated on suppliers’ turnover. As of 1908, the Association created a guarantee, which was valid in all shops selling Alpina watch in the Swiss network.Then in 1926, this guarantee became valid internationally. Retailers could make use of a decorator to help them realize attractive windows. The Association organized selling and technical training courses regularly. Lastly, the Association published its own newspaper informing its members on developments and novelties.
The regular Committee primarily directed the Association. The Committee would meet several times a year to review new applications, the discuss disputes between members, to determine the contents of the new catalogue, its cost, the amount of participation, etc. The main event without any doubt was the yearly Congress, a kind of mini fair for two days with a great atmosphere: Alpinists coming from all over the world were invited to discover the new products and order in advance. The Congress was a social event where members could share their problems and experiences, and also form strong long-term friendships. Alpinists formed a great family, ready to support its members during the good and the bad times.
THE ALPINA GRUEN GILDE 1929-1937
The smooth and successful operation of the Alpina Union Horlogère provoked other brands’ interest. The American brand Gruen, from Cincinnati, wished a merger with Alpina in order to use its European distribution network. In 1929, the “Alpina Gruen Gilde SA” is born, the largest community of interests that ever existed in the horological field.
The factories belonging to the new company were rationalized to produce standard calibres, and quality of Alpina and Gruen watches improved. Highlight model created at this time is the “Doctor’s Watch” produced by the Aegler factory. Rolex later bought the Aegler factory. The “Doctor’s Watch” was distributed under the names of Alpina, Gruen, Alpina-Gruen and Rolex (“Prince”). But the infatuation of the beginning had a short duration.
Even when Gruen produced good quality watches, it was almost unknown in Europe. Moreover Gruen wanted to sell its watches at higher prices than Alpina, which made it very difficult for the European Association members to accept Gruen. At the same time, Gruen seemed to have restricted Alpina access to its USA members. Heavy losses were the result of this cooperation,and the two brands separated in 1937; Alpina Union Horlogère SA continued alone.
ALPINA’S BEST SELLERS
In 1933, Alpina presented its first “sports-watch”, the “Blockuhr” in steel. During this time, Alpina patented also a new type of crown (Brevet 1464). Thanks to the technical progress, the sports-watch evolved quickly and became the “Alpina 4” in 1938. The “4” meant a combination of four major qualities of an Alpina sports-watch: 1) anti magnetic, 2) waterproof (thanks to its “Geneva” case), 3) equipped with the Incabloc anti-shock system, and lastly, 4) stainless steel.
The “Alpina 4” was manufactured with the Alpina self-winding calibre 592, one of the strongest calibres of its generation. This calibre was later on used to equip further sport-models such as the Alpina 70 (1953), the Standard (1958) and the Tropicproof (1968). In 1945, the first Alpina automatic movement was realized, the 582 calibre. The automatic winding system worked with a mechanism with two springs where in between the oscillating mass moved back and forth. This large and accurate movement (12 ½ lines) was equipped with a Nivarox spiral, had 18 000 alternances and the Incabloc system. Its power reserve was 40 hours. In 1957, the Alpina President was introduced and quickly became known as a reliable automatic sport-watch (calibre 584c with date).
In 1963, Alpina realized an automatic movement for women; the smallest and strongest ever made yet, the calibre 362 (6 ½ lines). It worked with a rotor system, turning in both ways. Those are few of the most known models. The Alpina collection at its height consisted of many hundreds of models (there were 1000 models exhibited at the 1958’s Congress). Retrospectively, one can say that the sports-line was the main focus of the Alpina collection. Since 1933, Alpina improved the performance of its sports-watches continuously and followed with these watches an evolution where people engaged in more spare-time activities.
THE SECOND WORLD WAR
While the Union Horlogère had separated in three legally independent companies during the First World War, relationships were again under intense scrutiny during World War II. Import and capital flow restrictions as well as travel problems suppressed many of its activities. Eventually, the Allied Forces pressed the Swiss Alpina Union Horlogère to drop usage of the Alpina name in Germany. The German association then adopts the name Dugena (Deutsche Uhremacher-Genossenschaft Alpina), which becomes their new trademark.
AFTER THE WAR
After the War, co-operation re-started intensively. The change of the name in Germany to Dugena even had a positive effect because members could now also start to sell watches produced in Germany. The Swiss Union Horlogère sold again only high-end watches from Switzerland to its members, including the German association under the strong Alpina brand. Alpina continued to develop and the Congress reconciled each year with more and more people. Everything ran well until the seventies, when the quartz crises violently crushed the Swiss watch-industry.
Alpina was powerless to counter the overwhelming emergence of electronic watches. Other major brands got together to form groups (predecessor of the Swatch Group), but Alpina tried to fight it alone without really succeeding. In 1972, Alpina Watch International SA was incorporated with new German investors, which purchased all shares in Alpina Union Horlogère SA.
A few years later, the German investors settled the company in Köln, Germany. Alpina continued to be sold in a more restrictive manner under the new slogan that determined more clearly the commercial policy of the brand: “Alpina the brand reserved to specialized dealers”. Watches were now sold partly from Köln, further diluting the clarity of the company. Much of the previous“Alpinist” spirit that made Alpina so strong was getting lost.
Product creation and renewal was managed partly from the distribution company in Germany resulting in less than coherent collections that had reduced market appeal. Alpina missed the revival of the mechanical watch in the eighties and nineties, probably due to fact that the German investors behind Alpina watch International SA were too far away from the epicentre of mechanical watch making in Switzerland.
THE REVIVAL OF ALPINA
In February 2002, Alpina Watch International SA introduced a new mechanical sports collection under the name Alpina, perpetuating the Alpina heritage. The new Alpina collection of technical sport watches was composed of 25 mechanical models, some equipped with complications; two families with different styles should attract various kinds of sportsmen.
Alpina’s first series of Regulator wristwatches, presented in 2005, was a reminder of the brand’s heritage and fascinating history – albeit with a design that is resolutely fresh and contemporary. Inspired by the past, yet built with today’s design and technical know-how.
When the two co-founders of Frédérique Constant, Aletta and Peter Stas, took over the Alpina Swiss watch brand Alpina in 2002, their goal was to manufacture tough yet elegant, top-quality sports watches.
Today, Alpina is one of the very few Swiss watch companies, which develops, produces and assembles its movements entirely in-house. Alpina proposes five in-house calibers: the AL-980 Tourbillon; the AL-718 World Timer; the AL-950 Automatic Regulator; the AL-710 Automatic Small Date, and, most recently, the AL-760 Flyback Chronograph, featuring the patented “Direct Flyback” technology. And now the AlpinerX AL-283 caliber.
Faithful to its long tradition of innovation, in 2015 Alpina introduced the first connected Swiss Made Horological Smartwatch, thereby creating a new watch category in the Swiss watch industry.
Alpina’s mission is to design and engineer luxury sport watches that operate with the greatest precision and reliability possible in the most demanding sporting environments, like the Alps.
Official Website: www.alpina-watches.com