Watches, and specifically the stories behind them, can surprisingly take us all over the place. It’s not every day that we have boring trademark laws to thank for limited edition mechanical chronographs. Today we’re taking a close look at a Lemania Automatic Chronograph released in 2012 that was produced strictly to avoid an extended period of “non-use” that would threaten the Swatch Group’s possession of the Lemania trademark. In order to retain the sole rights to use the mark, the Swatch Group quietly, and in limited numbers, released a watch bearing the Lemania name. It’s officially referenced as LEM-ST-1000 but affectionately referred to by collectors as the “Trademark Piece.”
This review begins with a (thrilling) summary of current trademark policy. It varies from country to country, but trademark laws generally stipulate that if you haven’t produced a product bearing the trademark in three to five years, then you forfeit the right to that trademark. These policies enforce production of the goods bearing the marks to prevent companies from stockpiling or stealing competing firms’ trademarks with no intent to release these protected products to market. While the trademark itself assures consumers they’re getting the real deal, these specific “non-use” laws preclude companies from anticompetitive and predatory behavior that would ultimately limit consumer choice in the market.
In producing this limited edition chronograph, the Swatch Group protects this historic trademark from falling into the hands of any other company than itself. With a watchmaking heritage dating back to 1884, there’s a ton at stake. Lemania produced some of the most robust movements for venerable brands until acquired by the Swatch Group in 1999. One of its most celebrated movements, caliber 5100, was a rugged and relatively inexpensive automatic chronograph movement cased in watches used by the German military (made by Tutima and Sinn) as well as in those manufactured for civilians by Heuer and Omega. The 5100 was best known for its superior Kif-Flector shock absorption system and its central minutes chronograph hand. Once Lemania’s military contract expired, Swatch Group no longer sold Lemania movements to any company outside of the Swatch Group, which ultimately led to the slow death of the 5100 since no brand outside of the Swatch Group used the movement any longer. Today, Lemania’s brand and history is only alive through the collectable vintage pieces on the market and the movements it manufactures for Breguet, who subsumed the brand as its movement supplier shortly after its sale to the Swatch Group.
Utilizing the ETA caliber C01.211, the star of today’s review served as somewhat of a revival of the caliber 5100, although it wasn’t the first watch from the Swatch Group to carry the movement. Collectors moved quickly to get their hands on one of these limited edition Lemanias that were distributed to a select group of retailers throughout the US. Manfredi Jewels, a watch lover’s paradise based in Greenwich, Connecticut, got its hands on 23 pieces. Alex Lee, contributing writing for iW Magazine and friend of GMT Minus Five, picked one up from Manfredi and was kind enough to lend us the watch for review.
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Case: Don’t I know you from somewhere?
If the stainless steel case bears an uncanny resemblance to the Tissot PRC200 Automatic Chronograph of 2011, then it’s because they’re identical. Right away, you’ll experience deja vu from the ridges on the left side of the case that typically characterize PRC200s. The case dimensions (43.5mm x 50mm x 16mm), 20mm lug width, screwdown crown, pushers, flat sapphire crystal and bezel are exactly the same as on the Tissot. While it would be a stretch to award the watch any points for originality on the case design, it’s architecture is appropriately sporty and it possesses a satisfying heft. The screwdown case back is also uninspired and the sapphire crystal exhibition window offers a view into the Lemania 5100-based movement, which we’ll cover in more detail later.
Dial: Simple and contemporary with a nod to the chronograph’s origins
The black dial isn’t a direct copy of any Tissot model, but it’s only a stone’s throw away, and I don’t mean to say that’s necessarily a bad thing. It’s clean and practical. With white indices and SuperLumiNova-coated hour markers, its legibility is flawless. The polished steel hands have a slight sword shape to them and also carry luminous paint for visibility in low lighting. The red-tipped stopwatch seconds hand is the standout feature of the dial. Its color, shape and pronounced counterbalance hearken back to the days of the 5100 when it was found in 1970s chronographs. Unlike the original 5100, there is no central minutes counter, and instead the minutes counter rests at 12 o’clock. The hour totalizer sits at 6 o’clock and the running seconds occupies the 9 o’clock position. A date aperture with a white wheel is at 3 o’clock to the right of the “Lemania” logo and just above the “Automatic” that traces the curve of the dial’s edge.
Movement: An undecorated descendent of the 5100
Inside the Lemania is, well, a Lemania–kind of. It’s an ETA C01.211, a 15-jewel automatic chronograph movement which utilizes the Lemania 5100 as its base caliber. It’s the same watch you’ll find the in the sub-$1,000 Tissot PRC200 Automatic Chronograph and surprisingly the same movement you’ll find in the Swatch Automatic Chronograph that retails for about $350. Instead of a 12-hour totalizer, the C01.211 features a 6-hour totalizer and since there is no central stopwatch minutes hand on the C01.211, the 24-hour indicator found on the 5100 has been replaced by the minutes counter. The C01.211 is expected to be a robust caliber with years of accurate timekeeping to offer, but its longevity is still yet to be proven. Also, it’s unclear to what degree this movement is serviceable. Unless you have a watchmaker willing to overhaul the movement, it’s likely that you’ll need to entirely replace the movement should anything go mechanically wrong.
You’ll notice the movement is entirely undecorated save for a signed rotor, and you’ll see the same thing on the Tissot PRC200. The C01.211 bears no decoration, but it’s somewhat of a statement in itself although the design seems incomplete. Without the see-through case back, they might have had a design that looked more finished.
Strap, Style & Comfort: It’s a no-frills sport chronograph versatile for everyday wear
The Lemania Chronograph comes on a thick black calf leather strap decorated with off-white stitching and an unsigned pin buckle. There’s nothing bold about the style of the watch, which makes it a great fit for everyday attire, although I doubt that everyone will be able to slip the 16mm case beneath a shirt cuff. It sits pretty high on the wrist. It’s a heavy watch, but as long as you have it on a strap that can manage its weight, you’ll find it a comfortable wear.
The Final Word
With this limited edition Lemania Automatic Chronograph, it’s clear from the uninspired case all the way to the unsigned buckle that the Swatch group was aiming to check a legal box. There was no extraordinary effort invested with the intention to make the watch more collectable. No special features and no exceptional decoration accompany the watch and make this any more superficially attractive than a PRC200. Even the flip-top display box is barely an improvement over what your Flik-Flak watch comes in.
Then why is this watch worth a review at all? The truth is the watch doesn’t need flair because the story makes the watch so much better than the right pearlage or individually numbered case could have made it. Don’t get me wrong-it’s attractive, but it’s not a watch whose design will blow you away. At $890 it had a fair price and such a circumstantial existence that translates to raw collectibility. Given a choice between the Lemania and the similarly priced Tissot PRC200, I’d go for the Lemania without a second thought. So many limited editions are wildly expensive or impractical and the Lemania is neither, making it a fun and ideal member of any collection. Although they’re all probably spoken for, you can find these Lemania’s popping up for sale on eBay and the forums, commanding prices comparable to their retail value.