Magnetic fields are an issue known all too well to watch aficionados. They make quartz movements go haywire. They cause the hairspring of a mechanical movement to stick to itself, causing the watch to run fast beyond measure. Even in the 19th century, great manufacturers like Patek Philippe tried to use hairsprings made of metals less susceptible to magnetism and experimented with various alloys. But here, we’re talking about high-end manufacturers. And what about the affordable brands?
Well, that’s where it gets interesting.
The History Behind the Watch
In 1930, Tissot became the first company to introduce a mass-produced watch which offered basic protection against magnetic fields. The watch was named the Antimagnetique. Soon, the majority of companies started to introduce their alternatives to Tissot’s novelty. Of course, what the watch was capable of isn’t much of a protection by modern standards, but in 1930, even basic anti-magnetic shielding in a mass-produced watch was a major breakthrough. By the 1940s, an increasing number of watches from different manufacturers was being advertised as resistant to magnetic fields. By the 1950s, even the cheapest watches usually had their case backs stamped with all of their features. In that respect, it was almost a throwback to the 19th century, when pocket watches equipped even with something as simple as a 10-jewel, cylinder escapement FHF ebauche had all the features listed on the inner dust cover.
Features of the Tissot Antimagnetique
The Antimagnetique line (specimens made for the British and American market were signed “Non-Magnetic”) was in production well until the mid-1950s. They existed in countless variants in terms of movements, dials, case materials, and sizes. Sizes ranged from circa 31-32mm up to well above 40mm. The Antimagnetique came in chrome or gold plated and solid gold cases, although old Tissot catalogs also list waterproof models in full stainless steel cases. The basic dials were either white, silver or black, but various two-tone dials were also available. Initially, these watches were equipped with the calibre 21.7, however, in 1936 the new cal.27 was introduced, and replaced the 21.7 as the “workhorse” of the Antimagnetique line. The 21.7 remained in production until 1938. The cal. 27 family outlived its predecessor by 23 years, with the last derivative, the cal. 27B-9, discontinued in 1961.
The Antimagnetique itself came also in a tank/tonneau (rectangular) case version, and these were known to have calibres 20, 17.5, and 17.5-3. The calibre 20 is not listed in the Ranfft movement archive, and any information about it is hard to find.
Rarity and pricing
Oversized specimens usually command higher prices. Depending on the condition, Antimagnetique models can be found in the $60-$250 range (quite a wide one).
The value is modified by the size and the case material. Prices of solid gold models are well out of that range and tend to vary depending on the size and condition of the watch. Specimens signed by well-known retailers like Tuerler or Galli tend to sell for above average. “Omega Watch Co.” co-signed specimens are also quite collectible.
Be extremely careful. If someone offers you an Antimagnetique for thousands of dollars, justifying the price with -shall we say- a two-tone dial or an oversized case, walk away. With Tissot, we’re talking about mass production, and thousands of these watches were made between 1930 and the mid-1950s. The movements aren’t rare either. 25 years in mass production means tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of specimens of each calibre of the family. Even the 21.7, in production for 8 years, isn’t even close to being uncommon.
Other Tissot model lines until 1960 included the rather elegant, waterproof Camping, the Aquasport (in production from the mid 1930s to the mid 1940s), and the Visodate, introduced in 1954. The latter gave its name to the vast majority of 1960s Tissot watches with the date feature. The late 1950s have also seen the beginnings of Tissot’s most popular line of waterproof watches, the Seastar. Since all of them were based on the old calibre 27, it can be said, that they are -as a matter of fact- the “offspring” of the Antimagnetique.
What are they like?
As a happy owner of two Antimagnetiques, let me share my experiences with these watches. Although these watches were affordable, they have delivered surprisingly good quality for the money, in-house movements, and excellent dial finish.
One major flaw of the vast majority of all Tissot watches made before 1960, was the fact of using chrome plated brass cases. But even these were made to a higher standard than those of -for example- Doxa. While handling a plated Tissot case, one doesn’t have the overwhelming sense of the fragility of the layer of chrome. Quite on the contrary, it seems pretty durable. The Antimagnetiques that I’ve encountered had their cases in a surprisingly good condition, while some 1930s Zenith watches, for example, with “metal chrome” cases usually were pretty much devastated. Well, at least the “metal chrome” ones that I’ve seen were in a bad condition but as always, it depends on how the watch was being treated. Usually, the case backs had damage from one-piece, poor quality canvas straps but steel case backs tend to have traces of that as well.
Regarding the movements, both the calibre 27 and 27-2 that power my two Tissots never had any issues. Both wind smoothly, the timekeeping is brilliant, and they offer a very decent power reserve of 43 hours. For exact technical specifications of the movements, I encourage you to visit Dr. Ranfft’s movement archive. The entries for the calibre 27 family are well detailed, with all the differences between all versions listed.
All in all, these watches have a great quality to price ratio. That said, if there is an entry level vintage watch that I’d wholeheartedly recommend beyond any doubt, that’d be the Tissot. The 1939 Antimagnetique was the first vintage watch I’ve bought and it caused me to develop an addiction to vintage watches in general. Allow me to wrap it up with a short list of things to remember, should you be seeking to buy a Tissot Antimagnetique.
- They are not rare. No, the specimens with black dials aren’t rare either.
- There were Antimagnetiques in full steel cases, but be careful. If you’re looking at an Antimagnetique advertised as having a steel case, look for any gold-ish spots. That’s damage to the plating. If the case back is signed “fond acier inoxydable” you’re dealing with a plated case.
- Beware of redials (as always).
- Avoid anything from India. Tissot watches were popular there, although it’s the Seastars that constitute the majority of Tissot Bombay Specials.
- Be careful with oversizes above 40mm. They did exist, although if you’re looking at a listing from Eastern Europe, the watch has wire lugs (fixed lugs were common in these Tissots, but not a single one had wire lugs) and a hinged case back, then you can be quite sure, that it’s a re-cased pocket watch. (The so-called “Ukraine Special” frankens deserve an article of their own…)
- If someone wants to sell you a Tissot Antimagnetique for the price of a decent vintage Omega, run away!
- Parts might not be interchangeable between different generations of movements.
- Beware of specimens with movements in poor condition. Sadly, they’re a plague.
- Stay away from specimens sold as “military”. No armed forces of any country have ordered Tissot Antimagnetique watches, and therefore none were officially purchased by any army.
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