Welcome to Watches You Should Know, a biweekly column highlighting little-known watches with interesting backstories and unexpected influence. This week: BWC.
BWC is a largely forgotten company that flourished during the classic era of watchmaking before the Quartz Crisis, but it is one that can still offer vintage fans a great deal of fun. Lacking widespread brand-name recognition also means that they often are available for pretty decent prices while offering Swiss quality and the quirky design charm that it seems only vintage watches can get away with. And, like other such brands who prospered around that time but later faded into obscurity, a modern BWC quietly continues to produce Swiss Made watches today.
Established in Buttes, Switzerland, near the French border in the famous watchmaking region of Neuchâtel, BWC stands for Buttes Watch Company. Buttes native Arthur Charlet founded the company in 1924 and began by making pocket watches, but the brand became prolific after Charlet’s son-in-law Edwin Volkart took the company over in 1953. If you see the name Butex during your vintage watch browsing, it is more than a coincidence that it sounds similar to Buttes and is indeed a sub-brand of BWC.
Most of what can be found on the vintage market today is mechanical, but it is particularly interesting and marks BWC as forward-thinking for the time that they embraced electronic and quartz technology, with a watch as early as 1957 using electronic components. Later, the brand’s catalog included electro-mechanical watches in 1967, with digital quartz watches in 1972 and analog ones in 1975.
However, BWC’s bread and butter was mechanical watches. The brand produced a range of styles and types of watches, including military and dive watches, but particularly a lot of chronographs — many of which share similarities with more well-known contemporary watches like the Heuer Carrera and Autavia, as well as colorful dials and some very period designs — the very type of idiosyncratic stuff that is making a huge comeback today in modern rereleases. Some of their regatta timers are particularly worth seeking out. BWC used chronograph movements from popular manufacturers of the time like Lemania, Valjoux, and Landeron. Also check out some of BWC’s simple but handsome watches like the Courage series offer some great values and personality.
BWC is today owned by a German company and still produces a range of watches with the Swiss Made designation on the dial, using mechanical movements sourced from Swiss ETA. Perhaps jumping on the vintage rerelease bandwagon with something unique and some marketing savvy could actually work for this brand that has some neat history to draw upon.