Visitors entering the recent Belles Montres prestige watch fair in Paris were greeted by a cricket whose mechanical chirping must have puzzled even the most enlightened admirer of all things horological. Further investigation revealed the sound was coming from the Vulcain stand, where the brand’s staff were busy sounding the “chimes” of the Cricket, probably the only alarm-watch that performs its function with sufficient gusto to wake its owner from even the deepest slumber. With a separate barrel for the alarm delivering a full twenty seconds of sound, the Cricket will out-ring any other alarm watch on the market.
From fire to fame
From the very beginning, the watchmaking workshop which the Ditisheim brothers founded in 1858, and which would give rise to Vulcain – named after Vulcan, the Roman god of fire – earned a reputation for its complication watches, which included several World’s Fair medal-winners. Yet Vulcain came to worldwide attention thanks to the mechanical alarm watch, the first of its kind, which the brand launched in 1947. It took more than five years for Robert Ditisheim, a descendant of the founders, and his team to research and develop a striking mechanism that stood out from its counterparts with their far too timid ring. The solution took the form of a pin which is cunningly placed against a membrane that resonates when struck with the hammer. The distinctive “cricket” sound is amplified by the pierced double case back.
The Cricket’s success was such that it was adopted by four American presidents – Eisenhower, Truman, Nixon and Johnson. Indeed, Lyndon Johnson was so taken with the Cricket he bought in Geneva that on returning to the United States he ordered a further two hundred as gifts. And so the Cricket went down in history as “the watch for Presidents”, including the White House’s most recent incumbent, Barack Obama, who was presented with his Cricket on entering office.
The 1950s and 1960s were golden years for the firm, but little by little its fame dwindled. For fifteen year its patents gathered dust, until 2002 when Bernard Fleury and a group of investors took it upon themselves to relaunch the brand. They were joined seven years later by Excellence Holding, whose portfolio includes Swiss retailer Les Ambassadeurs. “Having Excellence come onboard means we can continue to develop Vulcain. We can already credit ourselves with an in-house movement,” explains Danielle Jordi who is head of marketing and communication for the brand. “Production is horizontally integrated in that all our suppliers are located in the Arc Jurassien. Assembly, casing and final inspection take place at our workshops, inside a recently acquired townhouse in Le Locle. Now that we have all the technical aspects fully under control, we are focusing our efforts on the distribution network and brand awareness.”
There is certainly plenty in Vulcain’s rich heritage to spark interest. The brand accompanied the first team of mountaineers to scale K2 in 1954; it equipped Hannes Keller on his record-breaking dive to 315 metres in 1962; it was the official watch of Real Madrid soccer team in the 1930s, and recently joined up with the world-famous jazz musician Herbie Hancock. Each of these associations is an opportunity for Vulcain to add to its collections with a dive watch, a GMT, a chronometer or a cloisonné enamel dial, made as limited editions. And because these are Vulcain watches, they each incorporate a hand-wound (V10) or self-winding (V21) alarm function. Now Vulcain is out to wake up new customers to the brand, which intends moving production up a gear from the current level of 5,000 watches a year. For a brand that brings a special touch to its segment of the mechanical watch market, Vulcain clearly hits the right note.