It doesn’t take much more than a quick glance to understand why Enicar appeals to vintage watch collectors. Even if their watches aren’t your cup of tea, you’ll probably still be able to appreciate the history of this brand, the legacy, and the brilliant timepieces themselves.
Brief History of Enicar Watches
Enicar got its start in 1913, founded by Ariste Racine and his wife Emma Blatt. The Racine family has a long history of artisanship, and as such, the family name was already trademarked and unavailable for Ariste to use. Emma, a watch technician and not one to let something like that get in the way, had the smart idea to flip the family name backward, and that’s where the brand name Enicar came from.
This unique way of seeing the world, and manipulating it to suit their fancy, would become a trademark of the Enicar brand in and of itself.
In the beginning, Ariste and Emma were using their own house in La-Chaux-de-Fonds as an assembling facility, then they moved to the house of Emma’s mother in Longeau (now known as Lengnau). Starting from 1919, a new factory was built in Lengnau – that’s when the brand name “Enicar” started to be used on all their watches.
Ariste’s son, Ariste Jr, joined the company in 1934 and was a brilliant salesman, just like his dad. The company, now developing their own movements (but also using movements from Valjoux or Adolph Schild), was highly successful across the world thanks to the unparalleled price/quality ratio it was able to offer on a Swiss-made watch.
Enicar and their watches have footnotes in the histories of mountaineering, race car driving, aviation (they were the watch and chronometer supplier of choice for Japanese Airways, SAS and Swiss Air), diving, and even the US Navy. While we’re focusing more on the watches than the history, the two are frequently intertwined.
Enicar: Then and Now
Have you noticed that the original Enicar watches have been getting more attention in recent years? The vintage Enicar watches are not to be confused with current-day timepieces bearing the same brand name. In the 80’s, this brand, like many others, was threatened by cheap imports with quartz movements (during the infamous quartz crisis). In 1981, the company was forced into liquidation and a recovery company called W.M. Enicar was formed. Unfortunately, it went into bankruptcy in 1987 and was ultimately forced to sell its assets.
The company that acquired the rights to use the name Enicar in auction (this happened in 1988) did not continue the same manufacturing process, nor did they use any old stock, parts, processes, or anything else that would tie them to the original Enicar watches beyond the name itself. Perhaps some of the appeal of vintage Enicar watches is a push-back against the current state of the brand?
The price and relative quality of Enicar watches were a notable factor in their success (in particular in China where they were widely popular), but there are also a handful of events that helped get their name out there in the first place. Before there were Instagram influencers lining up for watch brands with their wrists stretched out, smaller watchmakers had to be more creative in order to get their name out there.
Some of Enicar’s “Innovations” and Publicity Stunts
If there’s one thing that Enicar excelled at, it was making watches. If there was a second thing, it would have to be promoting themselves and taking every opportunity to get some press. For a small family-run brand, they didn’t start off with huge marketing budgets, so they had to make the most of what they had, which often involved rolling up their sleeves and making press happen.
Whether some of the following innovations were truly game-changing or slightly hyped up to get more attention is something that could be debated, but it’s still undeniably part of this brand’s history and trajectory.
Genesis of the Enicar Sherpa
In the mid 1950’s, Enicar sponsored a group of Swiss alpinists in their attempt to scale Mount Everest. At the time, this was a pretty big deal, and led to a noteworthy bump in exposure for Enicar.
It earned them so much attention that they decided to re-focus some of their brand names and would make heavy use of the “Sherpa” prefix throughout the sixties and the seventies.
Ultrasonic seems like a very high-tech and fancy-sounding term, but it’s named after a simple cleaning process that was implemented in 1953 at the Enicar factory. It involved using soundwaves to agitate water or another solution with the purpose of cleaning the movement. Enicar claimed that this technology preserved the oils longer than in ordinary watches, assuring more distant intervals between service.
Some Enicar movements boasted of “star jewels” which sounds awfully fancy, when in practice it just meant a small jewel was used as a stud on the minute wheel (see figure 5 here).
Enicar used an acidic coating on parts of the movement, which prevented oil buildup over time.
In one of their most effective publicity stunts, Enicar attached an Ultrasonic Sherpa watch to the Mayflower II ship’s rudder. The Mayflower II was a replica of the original Mayflower from the seventeenth century. The voyage was high-profile, and the watch didn’t lose a second of time.
Iconic Enicar Watches
Here’s a selection of some of the more interesting and unique vintage Enicar models. We’re not really interested in anything that happened after 1988, but there are some absolute gems to see before that date.
Enicar Sherpa Guide
The Sherpa Guide is Enicar’s foray into World Time watches. The rotating bezel features different time zones. Together with an inner 24-hour rotating bezel and a GMT hand, that’s the perfect traveler’s watch.
Enicar Sherpa Graph
Enicar made a big push to get their Sherpa Graphs on the wrists of notable race car drivers, and that move paid off. These watches are visible in a number of iconic photos associated with racing, which helps to add to their historical prestige.
This watch proceeded their other Graph models by three years. From Enicar’s space-age motif to their technological advancement, they always felt like they were just a bit ahead of the time. Even when it came to getting their watches on the hands of drivers, they were years ahead of other notable brands that would follow suit.
Enicar Aqua Graph
Enicar followed their flagship racing watch with the Aqua Graph, released three years after the debut of the Sherpa Graph, however it had been trademarked all the way back in 1957, so they had this planned for a while.
The Valjoux 72 used in the Aqua Graph also drove the famous Rolex Daytona, however Enicar made it a bit more accessible. Despite the emphasis on diving, this watch couldn’t escape the racing reputation that Enicar had built, so you could find it on the track, too.
Enicar Jet Graph
As the name suggests, this watch was geared towards people who lived a jet-setting lifestyle. Thanks to the GMT hand, you could have more than one timezone dialed in at a time, which made these popular among airlines and the people who worked for them.
A Sherpa Jet Graph MK IV was listed at a retail price of $125.00. When factoring for inflation, that’s roughly $1,000 in today’s USD.
Enicar Book & Pictures
Interested to learn more about the Enicar brand? Or just want to drool over some beautiful timepieces?
Martijn from enicar.org is about to publish 250 pages book about the “forgotten Swiss brand”. Shipping expected in December 2019, pre-order is available here.
And to finish this article, here’s a selection of Instagram accounts with plenty of Enicar photos. Give these guys a follow: @romuald.kociuba, @northshorechrono (special thanks for the featured image of this article!), @sons_of_saturn, @stigmata63, @longdele and of course @vandervenus.
Further reading : learn more about other prominent watch brands
- forums.watchuseek.com, The Joy of Collecting Vintage Enicar Watches, a giant 200+ pages thread about vintage Enicars
- enicarcollectors.net, History of Enicar S.A., by Nico van Dijk
- enicar.org, Martijn van der Ven’s weblog, lots of articles about Enicar watches and soon-to-published book dedicated to the brand
- timepiecechronicle.com, Lost to Time: Enicar