05/22/2023
 5 minutes

Time to find out more about the history of Tissot

By Jorg Weppelink
Tissot-2-1

Tissot is a traditional Swiss watch company with an extensive history. While many younger people may not know about the brand’s rich history, watch fans over the age of 40 likely know the brand quite well. Tissot’s roots date all the way back to 1853, when the brand was founded in the Swiss town of Le Locle by Charles-Félicien Tissot and his son, Charles-Émile Tissot. Le Locle is considered the center of Swiss watchmaking, where many brands started out and still reside to this day. Some of the illustrious local names include Mido, Zodiac, Ulysse Nardin, Zenith, Montblanc, Certina, and Tissot.

Tissot Telemeter 1938
Tissot Telemeter 1938

The Early Days of Tissot

The father and son duo quickly made a name for themselves, creating high-quality and very reliable pocket watches. The watches grew in popularity, making Tissot a household name in the world of horology. The same year the company was founded, Tissot created the world’s first dual time zone pocket watch. Father Charles-Félicien worked as the case maker, while his son Charles-Émile was the watchmaker. The children of Charles-Émile eventually took over and business boomed, helping the brand expand even further. Tissot was especially popular in Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

An example of a watch that was popular in Russia at the time was the Tissot “Banana.” Its Cartier-inspired aesthetic, with Art Deco numerals on the dial, was released in 1916, and quickly became a success. But just one year later, the Czar was overthrown and trade with Russia became illegal. In 1919, Tissot unveiled the Tissot Porto with a tonneau-shaped case. It was another great Art Deco statement piece that is still inspiring watch designs today. If you look at timepieces from Franck Müller, for example, you can see a direct link to the design of the Porto.

Tissot Heritage Banana Centenary
Tissot Heritage Banana Centenary

After several generations of Tissot family members working to keep the good name of the company alive, Tissot and Omega became partners under the SSIH banner in 1930. The same year, the watchmaker released the Tissot Antimagnétique, the world’s first anti-magnetic watch. It wasn’t Tissot’s first groundbreaking watch, and it definitely wasn’t the last either. After World War II and until the quartz revolution in the early 1970s, Tissot was running a thriving business. The brand was among the most famous Swiss brand names and produced some amazing timepieces, including the Tissot Navigator. This was the first mass-produced watch to feature 24 time zones. You can still find some examples on Chrono24 for between $3,000 and 6,000.

Thanks to the merger with Omega and Lemania, Tissot gained access to some amazing movements that made their watches from the 1950s and 60s absolute gems. This is the same era that the Tissot Seastar name popped up, which is still in use today. Names like the Visodate, Camping, and Calatrava are also present in the collections of those days. Yes, the Calatrava, just like Patek Philippe’s famous series.

Tissot Navigator from 1975
Tissot Navigator from 1975

The Great Expansion After World War II

Some of the best gems from Tissot are the brand’s chronographs from the 1950s and 60s. One legendary model is the Tissot 808a. This stunning chronograph featured dials produced by Singer, the same company that produced the famous “Paul Newman” dials for the Daytona. The watch was powered by the Lemania caliber 1281, which is related to the Omega Caliber 321 from the famous Moonwatch. You can get one of these absolute classic timepieces for a very reasonable $2,500.

Another stunner is the Seastar chronograph, which is essentially a chronograph diver. Once you see the design, you will immediately understand why it is so appreciated by collectors. The watch featured a 36-mm sports watch case that perfectly complemented its overall design. The colorful dial is a joy to behold, and the watch is powered by the Lemania Caliber 1277. Expect to see prices between $1,000 and 2,000, depending on the condition. Those are just a sampling of the many great Tissot watches released in the 1950s and 60s.

Tissot 808a
Tissot 808a

Innovation After the Quartz Revolution

When the quartz revolution hit, Tissot was also heavily affected. As a result, the brand had to reconsider its strategy. After a switch to producing mostly quartz watches in the early 1970s, the brand refocused on innovation. But just before the switch to quartz, Tissot released the world’s first plastic mechanical watch in 1971, the Tissot Astrolon, aka the IDEA 2001. Even after quartz fully took over, the brand continued to further explore new materials.

In 1985, Tissot famously released the RockWatch made from Alpine granite. I vividly remember Tissot doing a lot of advertising for this watch that was hard to ignore. A year later, the brand released the Two Timer, yet another iconic timepiece from the brand, and the first watch to feature both analog and digital time displays. The quest for unique materials continued, resulting in the PearlWatch in 1987 and the WoodWatch in 1988.

Modern Tissot

Over the last roughly 25 years, we have seen two different sides of the brand develop. The first came in the form of the Tissot T-Touch in 1999. This watch featured a touch screen and displayed its functions in both analog and digital form. The T-Touch platform has grown into the brand’s smartwatch collection today, making Tissot one of the few famous Swiss watch brands to fully step into the world of modern technology. Many famous individuals have worn T-Touch timepieces over the years, including famous movie stars like Angelina Jolie and Simon Pegg from the Mission Impossible film series.

The other side of the brand is a celebration of mechanical watchmaking art, with the release of many greats from the Tissot archives. The best recent example of this is the PRX. This popular modern sports watch has roots in the 1970s, when Tissot released the Seastar with an integrated bracelet. That watch served as the design inspiration for the highly popular PRX, which is available in both mechanical and quartz versions. The watch is also available in 35 and 40 mm sizes, making it an interesting option for both men and women. The PRX has a brilliant presence and punches high above its weight class in terms of quality and value for money. But there’s more…

Tissot offers great watches for everyone. If you love the style of icons from the past, check out the Tissot Heritage collection. If you prefer a good diving watch, like the modern Seastar, or a sporty chronograph, the Sports collection has you covered. There are many more collections in the current Tissot portfolio for both men and women, but the brand hasn’t forgotten its roots either. You can also buy vintage-inspired pocket watches based on Tissot pocket watches from the brand’s early days. This just goes to show the brand’s great versatility.

Tissot PRX Powermatic 80 Ice Blue
Tissot PRX Powermatic 80 Ice Blue

Tissot Sports Partnerships

The brand is also very active across the field of sports. Tissot has been involved in car racing since 1958, and they later expanded the list to include motorcycle racing with the MotoGP as well as professional cycling. Additionally, the brand has been a partner of the NBA, the WNBA, and the Swiss national basketball team. These partnerships have definitely made sure the brand is not just relevant with the in-crowd who knows about watch history. Read more about Tissot’s NBA Collection here.

Tissot T-SportChrono XL NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Edition
Tissot T-Sport Chrono XL NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Edition

All in all, Tissot is one of the most prolific Swiss brands out there, but there are still tons of young people that haven’t really heard of them or know their elaborate history. With such a rich tradition and affordable prices, Tissot is a great entry point into the world of watches. It’s definitely time to check out this brand and get your hands on a Tissot PRX or one of the many other great timepieces in their lineup. You will not be disappointed.

PRX Automatic Chronograph Tissot
Tissot PRX Automatic Chronograph

About the Author

Jorg Weppelink

Hi, I'm Jorg, and I've been writing articles for Chrono24 since 2016. However, my relationship with Chrono24 goes back a bit longer, as my love for watches began …

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