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The late 1960s were revolutionary—and not just in the world of watches.
The introduction of the Seiko Astron in December 1969 triggered shockwaves in the watch industry that can still be felt today. Though the first quartz clock had been produced in the 1920s, and prototypes of quartz wristwatches appeared in Switzerland in 1967, the Astron was the first commercially-available wristwatch of its type. Faced with declining sales of mechanical watches, the Swiss mobilized and rolled out the Beta 21 at the Basel Fair the following year.
It was in this period that brands tested their mettle, and many sadly succumbed to the pressure faced by the new Quartz technology.
Meanwhile, in France, the brand Lip had to withstand not only the Quartz Crisis, but a series of layoffs, protests, and strikes that the newspaper Libération later dubbed “the social conflict of the 1970s.”
Lip has horological roots going back to 1867, when Emmanuel Lipman—scion of the Jewish community of Besançon—founded a clock workshop under his own name. By the 20th century the company had become known as Lip and was producing 2500 pieces a year. Lip enjoyed early successes in electric watches, with some of the first examples being worn by French President Charles de Gaulle and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Despite this notoriety, Lip began to experience financial troubles, and gained notoriety of an entirely different nature.
It started in 1967, when Fred Lipman—Emmanuel’s descendant—took Lip public. Almost immediately, the Swiss consortium Ebauches S.A. (ancestor of the modern Swatch Group) bought 33% of the shares. Concurrently, the employees at Lip were swept up in the civil unrest in the summer of 1968.
What started as a student protest at the Paris University at Santerre led to a government shutdown, and the wheels of commerce ground to a shuddering halt as trade unions voted to strike in solidarity with the students. Since many of the employees at Lip belonged to a trade union affiliated with the Unified Socialist Party, they voted to join the strike. To forestall a complete shutdown of business, Fred Lipman promised to give the workers more seats on the company’s works council.
The employees held elections, and in the following year the newly-elected representatives (all members of the trade union) blocked Lipman’s proposal to eliminate the department in which many of the union members worked. Then, in 1970, Ebauches SA increased its holdings by 10 percent, and used that control to fire 1300 workers. By the next year, Fred Lipman was forced to resign.
In 1973, an action committee took control of the company, and they took hostages as well—two company administrators and a government inspector. But the hostages were soon released, and the workers turned to mechanical hostages—the watches that they produced, seizing over 60,000 watches and hiding them. The conflict escalated until the workers voted to occupy the factory 24 hours a day.
They opened the factory to the press, which attracted the support of the community of Besançon. On June 15, 1973, 12,000 protesters staged a demonstration in support of the workers. Emboldened, the workers voted to take formal control of the factory and continue production, under the slogan: “we make them, we sell them, we pay ourselves!”
During this period of civil unrest, Lip produced some watches whose vibrant colors have captured the hearts of collectors today; perhaps the most popular of these is the chronograph that has acquired the nickname “Paul Newman.”
Like the Daytona that carries the same nickname, this Lip chronograph bears a dial designed by Singer. A distinguishing feature of these “Paul Newman” dials are the square markers in the chronograph sub-registers. So distinctive is the Daytona worn by Paul Newman that dials of this style (which were also used by Wakmann and Vulcain, among others) have been given that nickname by collectors despite not having any connection to the actor himself.
Nevertheless, these chronographs by Lip are known for their vibrant colors (something that Lip incorporated in many of their mid-century designs). Ours is a silver-and-blue variant with black sub-register hands. At 36mm, this is a sprightly, sporty chronograph from a pivotal era in French history.
For more on this chronograph, our friends at Hodinkee have done a great write-up of the different variants.
Chrome-plated case is approximately 36mm (excluding crown). Valjoux 7733 Manually-Wound Chronograph Movement. Circa late 1960s/early 1970s.
Overall Condition: Chrome-plated case is in excellent condition with crisp lugs and no signs of over-polishing or deterioration to the chrome plating. Silver and blue dial is likewise in excellent condition with crisp printing. Unsigned crown. Case back is likewise in very good condition with only the slightest signs of use and wear consistent with handling.
Includes one 18mm light brown leather rally style strap. Also includes two 18mm nylon straps from Crown & Buckle
Also includes box.