Mathey-Tissot and the 1886: the new talking piece

Mathey-Tissot and the 1886 Collection: The New Talking Piece

One of the richest Swiss brands in terms of watchmaking history and iconic designs launched a new creation at Baselworld 2018 designed by Eric Giroud. A flashback piece and a big challenge, which called for some bold creativity.

By Joël A. Grandjean

"This new piece marks a return to elegance and design". In 2018, the watchmaking firm, Mathey-Tissot (est. 1886), together with the help of designer Eric Giroud launched the 1886 limited edition series at Baselworld. The new timepiece is a return to the watchmaking spotlight, ready to re-tell a historic saga full of bold daring, creativity and legitimacy.

The 1886, a creation rich in purity of line and design

With this totally unexpected innovation, the brand tugs at the memory strings of watchmaking fans and aficionados. Accustomed as they are to the brand's high-profile presence on world markets, they may well have forgotten its noble and luxurious past.

The move is a wholly legitimate one, as a perusal of last century's Journal Suisse d’Horlogerie, as well as many other trade journals, will show. The Neuchâtel brand's history is brimming with iconic models, such as the piece commissioned by Elvis Presley, the gold or silver ‘coin watch’, and finally the ‘Type 20’, whose universal aesthetics, clearly in reference to the aviator's 'tool watch', have been subject to many recent attempts at appropriation. Due to the sheer number and variety of designs, Mathey-Tissot clearly enjoyed its golden age in the 1970s.

Its legitimacy continued with the 2016 launch of an in-house crafted calibre. A splendid way to celebrate its 130 year-long non-stop career and, above all, 'turn over the hourglass'. Edmond Mathey-Tissot, founder of the eponymously named watchmaking manufacture established at Ponts-de-Martel, in the Canton of Neuchâtel, delivered his mechanical or complicated calibres to brands, whose prestige and renown continue to fill us with awe, including Breguet, LeCoultre, Piaget, Henri Moser, Ulysse Nardin, Edmond Heuer, Louis Audemars and Vacheron Constantin…(see our historical feature article)

Ultra-fine sandblasted beauty, curvaceous lines, a contemporary nod to the 70s

What goes through a designer's mind, remarkable and renowned though they may be, when they find themselves face-to-face not with just another creative briefing, but history in the making? Eric Giroud was clearly the man for the job in this instance. Maybe it's because he can handle such pressures that he can achieve the masterpiece that is the 1886. Like an architect, he refers to the 'cement' of history's building blocks. I am personally moved at the mere sight of it, and that's just the photograph currently gracing the screens over at the Mathey-Tissot offices. For me, it exudes a timeless harmony of aesthetics, the merest glimpse of which leaves me convinced that it is poised to become a modern icon.

A few days later, I was able to get hands-on experience with the 1886 collection. I must admit, I was surprised (the intention, perhaps, of the designer) at the tactile matte surfaces of the 316 L steel case and bezel. They were as if rendered smooth by an erosion as constant and inexorable as the thread of sand flowing through the neck of an hourglass, the effect was emotional. Measuring 42 mm in diameter, 11.8 mm thick and water-resistant to 5 atm, this piece displays a strength matched only by its sheer classicism and purity. The past is a crack of time through which light is filtered and distilled.

Vivid colours alleviate a solid black dial

On the subject of light, or rather luminosity, Mathey-Tissot gives Eric Giroud the chance to fulfil the fantasy of a lifetime: some shades of dial seen throughout the history of the brand positively invite, if not incite, experimentation. Anyone tempted to claim anteriority even with the proof of its past existence staring them in the face, would have to think twice in this case. Does one simply tilt one's gaze to discern the play of light? No, it's a bit subtler than that. Eric Giroud has succeeded, in this unexpected version of the 1886, in creating swathes of smoky green, brown, red, grey and blue across this blackest of sober black dials.

Although tremendously prolific in the year of the model's name, the Mathey-Tissot brand nonetheless ensured a consistent visual coding. Eric Giroud has captured those codes. His approach is based on geometry and subdued plays of light, the effect being to give the 1886 a more contemporary, urban look, making it more of a lifestyle watch than a sports model with its openwork and curves. Its crown melds seamlessly into the rounded bezel, its dial crystal is slightly domed, while its back leaves open to view the movements of the rotor winding the Sellita SW200 automatic calibre. The natural Italian leather crocodile-print strap is secured by a deployant buckle system.

Never one to become trapped in a niche, and buoyed by the recent discovery of family archives and the rising prices and online success at auction of some of its legendary models, Mathey-Tissot thus launches the 1886 in a limited edition of... 1886 pieces, shamelessly confident of its 130 years of history, genius and limitless appeal…

Introducing Mathey-Tissot 1886 : exclusive interview

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