The Fortis Story
At times with Fortis one needs to delve into the past to truly appreciate the present. So let us introduce the new Terrestis range by first taking a glance back into the Fortis archives.
Switzerland: And at the foot of the Jura Mountains in the small village of Grenchen you will find the Fortis factory. Grenchen is a peaceful little place, in fact on most weekdays the streets are as busy as rural villages in England on a Sunday morning. But behind the peaceful boulevards and the trees are some of the world’s most interesting and influential watchmakers. Amongst them are ETA the renowned movement manufacturer. Behind its ultra-modern facade movements for many of the world’s most illustrious and expensive brands are produced but for the Fortis story we need to step even further back in time.
Today, the home of Fortis is still the original factory (somewhat expanded over the years) built by Walter Vogt in 1912 as a home for his new watch company. Walter chose a site adjacent to the newly built railway station. This connected Grenchen with the rest of Switzerland, Europe and beyond. Industrialisation was spreading fast and as the reputation for Swiss made watches grew so did the need for efficient connections to new markets both in Europe and further afield.
Frederik Louis Sauser, a young Swiss correspondent from La-Chaux-de-Fonds, better known under his pseudonym Blaise Cendrars, describes the fascination of this pivotal time in the early 20th Century. Speed was essential. Working for a Swiss jeweller in St Petersburg he writes: “I left the city to accompany the jeweller to Charbin (Poland). We had two compartments in the express train all to ourselves and 34 suitcases full of jewellery and watches.”
Always at the forefront of technical innovation, Fortis presented to an enthusiastic audience at the then quite new Basel Trade Fair in 1926, the world’s first mass produced automatic wristwatch. The HARWOOD Automatic (developed by Englishman John Harwood who was located in Harrow, just a few miles from Page and Cooper’s headquarters). Harwood, a pioneer in the history of wristwatch development had considerable input into the subsequent development of the automatic watch. A fortuitous encounter brought Fortis, founder Vogt and Harwood together. Harwood found a visionary in Vogt who realised the potential of his invention. However, Vogt’s skill was in efficient modern production and he devoted himself to organising its mass production.
Round the world travel was the exclusive domain of the rich in the late 1920’s. Round the world travel by air, the stuff of science fiction. Thus the round the world journey of Zeppelin LZ 127 in 1929 was ‘Big News’. American publisher William Randolph Hearst obtained exclusive reporting rights. Lady Grace Drummond-Hay was a passenger on this momentous flight and being also a journalist wrote daily articles about the individual stages. This thoroughly modern woman wore a Fortis Harwood automatic. She was therefore an ideal ambassador for the company and her image adorns Fortis advertisements of the time.
The first water-resistant wristwatches were marketed by Fortis in the 1940’s under the name Fortissimo, completing a range which included sports chronographs and elegant hand-winding models for Ladies and Gentlemen. The success of the collection endorsed the credentials of the company founder, namely to offer the very best quality at the most affordable prices.
With the introduction of the new Terrestis range Fortis have drawn on its illustrious history of watchmaking and innovation to produce a collection that is inspired by its heritage. Great care has been taken to ensure that classic designs have been updated in a respectful and intelligent way. The company is still proudly independent and on our last visit, we met with the present Vogt family. The watches are hand assembled in the same Grenchen factory by members of the same families that produced the earlier range. Swiss watchmaking is a skill that is handed down through the generations.
The new Fortis Terrestis range will impress our watch fans around the globe with the excellence, the innovation and the illustrious lineage of this fine Swiss watchmaker and remember, all of us at Page and Cooper are here to deal with your enquiries, after sales and service requirements and generally chat about watches.