Dive into the World of Nivada Grenchen

Dive into the World of Nivada Grenchen

The world of neo-retro brands is an exciting space to play in. You benefit from lineage and legacy, but are also free to pave your own path — which is precisely what the current incarnation of Nivada Grenchen (or Nivada to its friends) is doing.

The name is an old one — founded back in 1926 and well known for its functional (and occasionally funky) tool watches. It enjoyed its height of popularity in the golden era of mechanical watches, also known as the 1960s. More recently, discerning vintage collectors looking for something a little left of center started noticing the distinct charm and quality construction of models like the Antarctic, the Chronomaster and the mighty Depthmaster.

(From left) Vintage Nivada advertisement expounding the virtues of the watch that went to the Antarctic; A vintage Nivada Antarctic advertisement from 1962
(From left) Vintage Nivada advertisement expounding the virtues of the watch that went to the Antarctic; A vintage Nivada Antarctic advertisement from 1962

This rising tide of interest was enough for two fans of the brand, Remi Chabrat and Guillaume Laidet, to take an interest and bring the dormant name back into the public consciousness. We spoke to Guillaume about what drew him to Nivada, and how they’ve put a 21st-century twist on the storied name.

What drew you to Nivada — what made it special ‘back in the day’?
“Isn’t it obvious? The watches are cool, but more than that, the brand has quite an important legacy. In 1930, Nivada Grenchen was one of the first companies to manufacture automatic watches. This led to their first waterproof automatic, the Antarctic, made in 1950. This watch was worn by the members of the U.S. Navy’s Operation Deep Freeze I during their expedition to the South Pole from 1955 to 1956. Then, in 1963, the company launched the Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver, a chronograph waterproof up to 200 meters. They followed up in 1964 with another breakthrough timepiece — this time, a diver’s watch called Depthomatic. It was the first dive watch with a depth gauge or bathymeter. A year later, another diving timepiece was introduced under the Depthmaster model — a dive watch that could withstand a pressure of 100 ATM or 1,000 meters.”

Vintage Nivada advertisements featuring the Depthomatic, Nivada's first dive watch and the Aquamatica
Vintage Nivada advertisements featuring the Depthomatic, Nivada's first dive watch and the Aquamatica
Vintage Nivada Depthomatic, the very first watch with a built-in depth gauge
Vintage Nivada Depthomatic, the very first watch with a built-in depth gauge

There’s certainly plenty of legitimate history for you to explore in your current catalog, but what changes are you making to the brand?
“Obviously, we respect the classic designs and the patrimony, as well as the core identity of robust, wearable watches. We’re committed to Swiss-made watches at a reasonable price. What really makes the brand special, though, is that we were reborn thanks to this community and all their feedback. Really, it’s a brand managed by watch collectors for watch collectors.”

A brand like yours must have unique challenges, too — how do you decide which models to focus on, and which historical designs to honor?
“We decide by teasing and sharing with the community on our Instagram. When we feel that the interest is there and that the community is excited, we launch. Sometimes, it also comes from the community itself, and our dedicated fans discover real barn finds. The Antarctic Spider came like that from an Instagram post of a collector that we regrammed, and then the DMs exploded. The rest is history, as they say.”

How do you balance holding onto the legacy of Nivada, while also innovating?
“Well, we innovate more in the way we are producing the watches — they’re more reliable today than back in the ’50s. By now, we’ve brought back the key pillars of the collection: the Chronomaster, the Antarctic and the Depthmaster, so we have a bit more freedom to explore and bring new cases and brand-new dial designs in the future.”

Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster
Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster
Nivada Grenchen Depthmaster
Nivada Grenchen Depthmaster

Can you give us a hint about what’s coming?
“A lot of surprises, for sure; more collabs with cool people. We also hope to have a more personal Chronograph movement we are working on…”

It’s clear, based on the passion and vision of Laidet and Chabrat — along with Nivada fans the world over — that this brand, which comes from the past, has a bright future.

Tags

Felix Scholz

Felix Scholz has spent the last decade covering watches from his home in Australia. Given this, it's surprising that he still struggles with time zones. Over the years he's become a firm believer that less is more when it comes to watch design – except when a rainbow bezel is involved. He's written for numerous titles including Hodinkee, GQ, A Collected Man and more. These days he looks after the Australian edition of Revolution and takes a break from writing about watches to talk about them, as the co-host of OT: The Podcast.

Read More From Felix Scholz