Avia is one of the most commonly found brands of watches in the vintage watch market. It is a brand name of Fabrique d’Horlogerie de Montres H. V. Degoumois SA, which was a Swiss manufacturer of pocket and wristwatches. The Avia watch company has a long history, dating back to 1887. It was a very well-respected brand in its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s.

Fabrique d’Horlogerie de Montres H. V. Degoumois SA

The Fabrique d’Horlogerie de Montres H. V. Degoumois SA was founded in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1887. In 1933 the company moved to Neuchâtel and focused on the development of the wristwatch. The Avia brand was formally registered by Degoumois on the 30th of January 1937 (refer to Mikrolisk – The horological trade mark index).

Avia crafted mechanical lever movement watches from ebauches. The watches were known for their quality and were offered in a variety of cases ranging from solid gold to gold-plated and stainless steel. Throughout their history, Degoumois, the company behind Avia, supplied watches and movements to well-respected brands such as A. Wittnauer & Co. of New York and the Ball Watch Company. This is a testament to the exceptional quality of Avia’s mechanical timepieces, recognised and relied upon by renowned watch brands.

Avia-matic vintage watch, 1960s.
Avia-matic vintage watch, 1960s.

Early years

Very little is known about the early years of Avia. The earliest Avia watch I have seen was a 9ct gold men’s watch hallmarked for 1930, this was several years before the brand name was officially registered. Avia began exporting watches to America during World War 2, with M. A. Mead & Co. in Chicago acting as the main US distributor. They marketed Avia-made military watches, these watches were branded Avia or Boulevard. These military watches included a timepiece that had a chronograph complication that became quite popular between aircrews searching for submarines. This flourishing business continued after the war and gave a massive boost to the company, which became very popular worldwide in the 1950s and 1960s.

Etablisseur

Avia operated as a conventional etablisseur, sourcing ebauches from premier manufacturers such as Eta, MST, A.S, Felsa, Valjoux, Venus, and Landeron. These ebauches were then encased in finely crafted cases to create elegant watches known for their quality and affordability. While Avia marketed watches under its own brand name, it also used other labels like Avia King, Azia, and Corvette, among others.

In 1968, Avia joined a consortium comprising six watch manufacturers, including Invicta and Sandoz. This consortium was groundbreaking for its time as it pioneered the development of the first digital quartz watch featuring an LCD (liquid crystal display). Debuting at the Basel Fair in 1972, this watch enjoyed tremendous success. It thrust Avia into the spotlight and the watch graced the cover of the Journal of the Horological Society in 1975.

Competition

Despite initial triumphs, the technology driving these watches soon became more affordable. Avia struggled to compete globally with Japanese companies offering similar watches at lower prices. The company persevered until its acquisition by the Fossil Group in 2001. Avia watches are still sold today, however, the brand’s current status pales in comparison to its post-WWII prominence.

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