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© 2011 National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Inc. Reproduction prohibited without written permission.

Wristwatches
by Bruce Shawkey (WI)

Finding Mimo
(with apologies to Pixar Animation Studios)

T
his column starts—as so many movements) if they were deemed
do—at an auction, where I necessary for certain movement cali-
came upon a watch that, from bers. Mimo is actually an acronym
initial appearances, didn’t appear to for the company’s full name, which
be anything special, but upon closer was Manufacture Internationale
inspection proved to be a hidden de Montres en Or. Thank goodness
gem. Graef chose the acronym!
It was a 1920s or early 1930s vin- We can reasonably assume a few
tage specimen, signed “Americus” things about the early days of the
on the dial, and the case was an in- company, based on evidence that
expensive chrome plate over some appears later. For one, it appears it
type of base metal. But opening the was always a company that sold its
back revealed a rare 8-day move- product through a small network
ment made by Mimo. I paid $70 for of wholesale distributors and “job-
the watch. I listed the watch on my Figure 1. Mimo 8-day manual-wind bers” rather than to retailers.1 This
website, and sold it quickly for $250, watch, signed “Americus” on dial. Base certainly allowed Mimo to hold
with several requests by collectors metal case, 15J movement with 8-day down costs by keeping their sales
to be “next in line” if the first buyer power reserve. force small. Second, it appears Graef
backed out. In hindsight, I probably turned much of his profits back into
should have auctioned the watch, be- Mimo founder’s ownership until the company in the area of design
cause I have since learned that Mimo 1992, when the Girard-Perregaux and innovation, specifically wrist-
watches with this 8-day movement brand was purchased by Italian mil- watches, of which the company ap-
rarely come up for sale. lionaire businessman Luigi Macaluso pears to have been an early adapter.
Still, a $180 profit on a $70 watch and has since become an ultraluxury And third, they were not above put-
is a home run in my book, and I brand. ting other brand names on their di-
know one lucky collector is thrilled But what of Mimo? We have only als and cases (but still leaving their
to have this piece in his collection. a rough sketch of the company. It brand name on the movement) for
I suspect many collectors have was founded in 1889 by Otto Graef, anyone who wished to place a “spe-
not even heard of Mimo. It is one of a German, who nevertheless located cial order.” Although this was cer-
those obscure brands among the vast his company in La Chaux de Fonds, tainly not an uncommon practice,
numbers of companies comprising Switzerland, presumably to be closer many companies in those days did
the Swiss watch industry from the to the hub of the European watch not do this, for they believed it di-
late 1800s to about the 1930s, before industry with its wide availability luted their brand. For Mimo, it was
the Swiss watch industry underwent of craftsmen and ebauches (rough a way to make additional profits. My
a great consolidation. “Americus” watch that I described at
If collectors have heard the name, the beginning of this column is an
it’s usually in conjunction with a example of this custom branding.
better-known Swiss brand, Girard- By the late 1920s and early 1930s,
Perregaux. Many collectors/deal- the company had patented several
ers are under the false impression innovative wristwatches, including
that Girard-Perregaux owned Mimo one of the first digital-display watch-
Figure 2. A ladies’ Mimo digital
for a time. Actually, it’s the other “jumphour” watch, so-called because es for men, and very probably the first
way around. Mimo owned Girard- the hour display moves in one-notch digital ladies’ watch. With a baguette
Perregaux, though after World War increments every hour (or “jumps”) to movement at just 4.5 lignes in size, it
II, the Mimo brand virtually disap- display the hour precisely in the middle was (and still is) very likely the small-
peared, and the “child” became the of the window. 4.5 ligne baguette est mechanical digital-display watch
“parent,” but remained under the movement. ever made. Another one of their la-
www.nawcc.org NAWCC Watch & Clock Bulletin • April 2011 • 155
© 2011 National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Inc. Reproduction prohibited without written permission.
Wristwatches
is somewhat of a mystery to me, be- patent date on this watch is July 27,
cause, on the surface at least, a watch 1940s, just weeks before Breitling
that only requires winding every patented its slide rule watch, the
eight days would seem very appeal- Chronomat, on August 26, 1940. So
ing. It certainly is a standard in the while most watch historians credit
world of clocks. But for whatever rea- Breitling with inventing the slide
son, it never caught on in the watch rule watch, its appears Mimo beat
Figure 3. The Mimo-Meter featured a
digital date display at the 3:00 position, world and, as far as I know, Mimo is them to the punch. Granted, Mimo’s
which would eventually become the the only company to have manufac- watch did not have the added ben-
standard method of showing the date tured and successfully marketed a efit of a chronograph built into the
for most watch manufacturers. The manually wound watch with 8 days watch, but it does appear to have
movement is 15 jewel, and the watch of power reserve.3 been the first slide rule watch. So
is usually found with a base metal or As was noted earlier in my story, the Mimo-Loga is yet another one of
chrome-plated case. Herr Graef’s small but highly profit- those footnotes in watch history, al-
able company allowed the acquisi- though it is a very rare watch (I have
dies’ models, the “Mimo-Rex,” was tion sometime in the 1930s (the ex- only seen photos of it in a catalog).
a double-sided ladies’ watch that act year is a matter of some dispute) The outbreak of World War II saw
displayed digital time on one side of the Girard-Perregaux watch com- Mimo supply many watches to the
and analog time on the other. I have pany. Some might wonder, looking German military. I have only seen
never actually seen one in person, at the company today and its ultra- one of these models: a very ordinary
but according to at least one dealer, luxury line of watches, how this looking military watch, very conven-
they exist.2 was possible. But Girard-Perregaux tional in design, with a black dial.
The Mimo-Meter, a watch that was a very different company back Examples of this model I have seen
displays a digital date at the 3:00 then. Their watches were not par- have a 15-jewel movement and a
position, was produced during this ticularly high grade, using ebauches subsidiary seconds dial. So it appears
time. While many companies were from other companies, and typically these watches were intended for
working on watches that displayed gold-filled (and even base metal) ground forces rather than for flight
the date on an outer chapter ring of cases. The invention of their famous personnel, where a sweep seconds
the main dial, or on a small subsid- “Gyromatic” was still almost three hand would be more appropriate.
iary dial, Mimo was the first (as far decades away, so they were not con- It appears Mimo fulfilled several
as I know) to incorporate the date as sidered a force to be reckoned with. “official” contracts by the German
an integral part of the main dial at In fact, Girard-Perregaux today is government, because many of the
the 3:00 position. It was a radical ap- reluctant to even acknowledge the Mimo watches from this period bear
proach and ahead of its time, but of existence of their early wristwatches the office “DH” military markings.
course became the “standard” that (pre-Gyromatic) because of their vast DH stands for Dienst Heer [Service
would eventually be adopted by vir- difference in quality (and price) com- Army], which was the most basic
tually every other watch manufac- pared to their current watches. of military markings for official ser-
turer. Thank Mimo for that. But what Girard-Perregaux did vice watches of the German military
The Mimo-Matic did not have possess back in the early 1930s was during World War II. Many service
an especially high-grade movement a firm toehold on the American mar- watches had much more elaborate
(only 15 jewels), but it was so attrac- ket, which is what Graef needed. markings signifying the watch’s use
tive and innovative that it drew the Mimo trade advertisements in the in a specific branch of the military
attention of Tiffany & Co., which or- 1930s did mention a New York office, (such as the Luftwaffe [Air Force]). But
dered a small quantity of them cased but by all accounts the Mimo brand the Mimo watches I have seen from
in 14 kt. gold (the watch is customar- was more widely known in Europe. this period are marked simply “DH,”
ily found in base metal cases—nickel So it appears Graef continued to “go so it appears Mimo watches served as
—or sometimes chrome over base with the flow” and promote Girard a basic wristwatch for the German
metal). This is probably one of the -Perregaux in America and Mimo in military.
few times that Mimo sold an order of Europe. Figure 4. The Mimo-
watches directly to a retailer. The 1940s saw the Loga has been credited
And, of course, during this time, introduction of an- with being the first
they patented the 8-day movement, other obscure wrist- watch to incorporate a
circular slide rule into a
which they proudly advertised on watch, the Mimo-
wristwatch, although the
the dials of most of their watches Loga, which incorpo-
company beat the patents
with the signature “8 DAYS.” Why rates a circular slide on Breitliing’s slide rule
this type of movement did not rule into the dial of watch, the Chronomat,
catch on with other manufacturers the watch. Mimo’s by a matter of weeks.
156 • April 2011 • NAWCC Watch & Clock Bulletin www.nawcc.org
© 2011 National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Inc. Reproduction prohibited without written permission.
Wristwatches
Figure 5. This watch was issued to many German soliders during World War II and was also
available for purchase by civilians and military personnel not issued a wristwatch. Thus, it can be
found today with and without military markings. Fifteen-jewel movement, chrome plated or base
metal case. Photo by hoodinkee.com, used with permission.
Mimo likely made this So for today’s collector, Mimo presents somewhat of a
watch available for purchase challenge. Once you get beyond the basic World War II
by military personnel who, for service watch, specimens are hard to find, and locating
whatever reason, were not is- spare parts for most of the “classic” Mimo models from
sued a watch by the military, the late 1920s and early 1930s is surely a daunting task.
and most likely civilians could But for the collector who likes watches that are off the
purchase this watch as well. Thus, we see many of these beaten path, Mimo is a worthy pursuit. They were surely
World War II-era Mimo watches appearing on the open ahead of their time, and I predict that one day, prices
market (e.g., eBay) with and without the “DH” marking. for their more rare prewar specimens are going to make
For the beginning collector, I would urge caution when some of today’s collectors very happy indeed.
buying these watches, because the simplicity of the basic
“DH” markings is easy to forge. Notes
I also see quite a few dealers offering these World War 1. Roy Ehrhardt’s Vintage American and European Wrist
II-era Mimo watches at extremely high prices, touting Watch Price Guide states that Mimo watches were avail-
them as “rare” military watches, even though they do able from wholesale distributors only.
not possess the “DH” markings. A little tip: These watch- 2. Gisbert A. Joseph, www.joseph-watches.com
es are not all that rare; I see them being offered quite 3. There are many watches today with automatic me-
frequently in today’s market. chanical movements that possess eight days of power
After World War II, the Mimo brand virtually disap- reserve once they are fully wound by the automatic
peared. We don’t know for sure why, but one possible ex- mechanism. However, eight days of power reserve with
planation is that Graef, a native German himself, saw a a manual winding movement is a feature on a wrist-
potential backlash trying to reintroduce the Mimo brand watch unique to Mimo, as far as I am aware.
to the European civilian market as the result of supplying About the Author
so many watches to the German military. In any event, Bruce Shawkey, of Evansville, WI, has been a watch
the Mimo brand disappeared, either by design or market collector, dealer, and historian since 1986. He has writ-
forces. It’s reasonable to assume that Graef took the prof- ten the watch column for the NAWCC Watch & Clock
its he made from Mimo during World War II and chan- Bulletin since 1997. His interests are varied and include
neled them into what he decided would be his flagship all types and brands of vintage wristwatches, from the
brand, Girard-Perregaux. Girard-Perregaux watches from 1910s to the 1970s. He recently completed his first book,
the late 1940s and 1950s became much more stylish, and Gruen Wristwatches: A Collector’s Guide. For more infor-
the quality of the movement improved, too, reaching a mation on the author, or to contact him directly, visit
pinnacle in 1957 with the introduction of the legendary his website at www.thewatchstore.com.
Gyromatic.

New tour information in this month’s MART!


(Reference MART Table of Contents.)
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www.nawcc.org NAWCC Watch & Clock Bulletin • April 2011 • 157

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