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Corum watches are impossible to classify – their styles are strong and unique, their craftsmanship is very high, and their richly distinctive styles will continue to intrigue for many years to come.
-By Roger Alexander
Corum has always been about Style. From the outset, Swiss watchmaker René Bannwart was obsessed with the questions of style. Why did one watch model succeed when another did not? Why did so many watchmakers keep producing variations on the same old styles, decade afterdecade? Could not something fresh and new be done? The answer was “yes”.
It was thus that the Corum adventure started in 1955 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. When the co-founders of the company, Simone Ries and René Bannwart, joined Gaston Ries’ watchmaking workshops, they knew that their new firm would benefit from this solid experience. Their alliance quickly established creativity and traditional craftsmanship as the order of the day.
The partnership was perfect – the uncle brought an eye for detail and the nephew an eye for beauty. They chose the name Corum based on the word ‘quorum’ and decided that the logo would be an upright key, La Clef du Temps Parfait, the key to perfect time. This motto later became the “key to beautiful time” but in their hearts it was really the “key to success”.
For René Bannwart, a wristwatch was first and foremost made to be seen. The “internal workings” of a watch had to be perfect, of course, but the design was paramount. With this concept in mind, René Bannwart began to create new models in his uncle’s workshop that were to have a decisive impact on the development of the small business.
His watches were highly innovative, completely different from anything that had previously been produced. What is more, with the exception of a few early models using gold plate, René Bannwart laid down the principle of using only the best materials – solid 18 carat gold or the finest stainless steel. This decision paid off and was to ensure the survival of the business in the face of stiff competition.
The first collection was presented in 1956 and marked the success of René Bannwart and his small team. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this established the blueprint for Corum. From that moment onward, they produced a veritable cascade of new ideas thereby giving birth to the Corum style. Above all, they were daring.
This was obvious in the earliest designs that produced watches now much sought-after by collectors. For example, there was the charmingly exotic lady’s watch called ‘Chinese Hat’, whose case evoked the famous hats of the inhabitants of China. Then came the ‘Golden Tube’, also for women, which consisted of a tube of solid gold housing a fine movement and a single-hooped watchstrap that was attached to the case by a guide, allowing the watch position to be altered on the wrist at will.
All these watches were daring and exciting and were greeted with great success. This was only the start of Corum’s propensity to be a trendsetting watch manufacturer.
The ‘Longchamp’ succeeded the ‘Golden Tube’. Its watchcase appeared to be totally free of its strap. The trick was achieved by means of central fastenings on the watchstrap at 12 and 6 o’clock, giving the watch an elegant and simple appearance with instant appeal. Not surprisingly, the style was immediately taken up by the competition. It was an important development – Corum was beginning to set fashions.
In one of watchmaking’s marvellous moments of serendipity, the dial supplier for a new Corum model failed to deliver the dials in time for a major 1958 exhibition. Improvising at the last minute, Bannwart procured substitutes, but these only had Corum printed on them. The hours had been left off! With nothing else to do, the new Sans-heures design was exhibited – to great acclaim!
Shortly thereafter, the company carved out a significant niche for itself, one that remains theirs alone to this day, with a classic model that quickly became an international bestseller – the $20 Liberty Eagle watch, which is made from a genuine US $20 gold piece.
In the Corum workshops, genuine mint-state Liberty eagle ($10) and double eagle ($20) coins were carefully cut in half, and in between the obverse and reverse of the coin, a high-quality movement was carefully inserted. Although Passion For Beauty other companies had made this style of watch since the 1920’s, it was always as dress pocket watches. Corum’s reakthrough was making it as a wristwatch.