Many a Frenchman thinks fondly of Lip, the most prominent French brand of the 20th century, that was intimately embedded with its country’s History. As a non-Frenchman, it is still a great pleasure for me to find out that the revived brand has now consolidated its collections and launched a spanking new Web site.
Legend tells that some time between 1800 and 1807 Napoleon Bonaparte (who was then First Consul or post-revolution France) visited the country’s Mecca of watchmaking: the city of Besançon. Upon his visit, Bonaparte received a pocket watch offered by the Jewish constituency from the hands of its president, a watchmaker named Emmanuel Lipmann.
In 1867, watchmaker Lipmann founded with his sons Ernest and Camille a watch factory that started producing French-certified LiP chronometers by 1896. The shortened name caught on and became the name of the company. In 1930, the company experimented building one of the first recorded wrist tourbillons.
During the German occupation of some parts of France, two of Emmanuel Lipmann’s heirs were arrested and sent to Auschwitz, from where they never returned.
After the Second World War, Lip released two calibres that are still considered as outstanding by watchmakers: the T18 and the R25, and in 1952 the manufacture unveiled what is considered the World’s first electronic watch.
In the 1960’s, the company collaborated with Breitling and Blancpain and used reliable German PUW calibres. From 1967 onward, bad strategic choices and the rising Quartz crisis will cause the demise of the manufacture.
LiP tried to tackle declining sales by collaborating with creatives such as Roger Tallon and François De Baschmakoff, who created design icons such as the LiP Mach 2000 and the eponymous Baschmakoff Jump Hour.
In 1973, discovering that the new owners plan to cut out personnel and freeze salaries, workers plot to conceal 25,000 watches and organize an utopic autogestion, which will be carried on until 1977, when the factories are permanently shut down. The worker’s struggle was supported by massive demonstrations.
There was an attempt to revive the company in 1986 by new acquirer Kiplé, which was itself shut down in 1990, until French businessman Jean-Claude Sensemat got hold of the brand and focused on broadly-distributed entry-level watches.
Production is now almost entirely done in China, but the brand boasted more than 1 million watches sold in 2007. The new holders of the brand have taken extra care in reviving all the classics. Check out the Web site!
Show above: the new LiP Mach 2000, using a quartz chronograph calibre.