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Thread: Lip Général de Gaulle

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    Lip Général de Gaulle

    The Company

    Fascinating company, Lip, with roots going back to the early nineteenth century, but it's probably best known for two things - the adventurous and distinctive modernism of its mid-twentieth century models, and the eventful and dramatic demise of the company in the 1970s. The current brand owner (Manufacture Générale Horlogère) has added a couple of new models to the catalogue, but its main business is in reissuing the signature models. Where are the MGH watches made? Some are made in France, but not this one. The accompanying documentation makes no bones about it: 'Origine Hong Kong'.

    Lip was once a large, sophisticated and significant company. At its peak, 1,500 employees were producing 500,000 watches a year. It was Lip that developed the Fifty Fathoms model for Blancpain (then a lesser-known company). It was Lip that presented the first prototype of an electronic wristwatch (although Hamilton was the first to put one on sale - even if it didn't work properly). Lip, like Renault and Citroën, was a national institution. If you were French and had a watch, it was quite likely to be a Lip.

    By the 1970s, cheaper imports were pushing the company into decline. The final years featured strikes, hostage-taking, riot police and sacked workers who refused to go home and took control of the company. It's a story that has been covered in articles, books and documentaries. It's also widely available on the internet, so there's no need to repeat it in detail here.

    Fred Lip (who had shortened his name from Lipmann), took a bold approach to design. With very few exceptions, Swiss manufacturers liked their designers to be anonymous. In fact, you weren't really meant to be conscious of 'design' at all, you were meant to see the evolution and refinement of a classic ideal. Fred Lip hired the notable designers of the day and told them to do what they liked. Maybe it's a French thing, maybe it was Fred Lip attempting to halt a decline in sales.

    The most thrilling and outré design of all was the Mach 2000 of 1974. It was designed by Roger Tallon, one of the most celebrated designers in post-war France. He designed everything, from toothbrushes to high-speed trains. If you step onto the Eurostar train today, you're experiencing Roger Tallon design. It's no great exaggeration to say that the Mach 2000 is an iconic watch.







    The 'Général de Gaulle' model was not designed by Roger Tallon. To the best of my knowledge, it was the work of Fred Lip.



    The Lip 'Général de Gaulle'





    The watch has no connection with Général de Gaulle. The GDG is a reissue of Ref. 42999 produced in 1972. De Gaulle died in 1969. Even without research, the GDF clearly doesn't date from 1958, the year in which it is said to have been presented to de Gaulle.

    It's a matter of record that de Gaulle received a Lip Electronic, but it was a gold 'Cosmic' version of the first model, the R27 of 1958. President Eisenhower also received one. Fred Lip gave de Gaulle two identical watches to demonstrate their accuracy. De Gaulle's wife discretely swapped them at weekly intervals. The President noticed no change in accuracy.

    Objectively, it doesn't matter. The President of France was given a French watch. Did he like it, would he have chosen it for himself? We don't know.

    We also don't know why the current Lip company has mis-attributed the watch. Incompetence? Or did they think that the 1972 model would be more popular and then changed the story to fit? My personal suspicion is that the R27 isn't as easy to make. It has a fold-out key on the back instead of a crown. More production costs, a less appealing price, lower profits. With sharp-eyed and well-informed enthusiasts looking on, it was incompetence whichever way you look at it. They've certainly given themselves a problem should they choose to reissue the rather lovely R27.

    But all that aside...


    Impression





    I like the shape of the case, which rather than any historical allusion (or illusion), is why I bought it. On the wrist, and depending on the light, the stepped case can look like a smooth cushion or a soft octagon. It measures 35mm x 41mm x 10mm. It's discreet but not overly small, and it's clearly from a previous era. The case is said to be made of chromed steel. The finish is good. I once owned a March LA.B that was aiming for something similar in style. I should have bought this and saved some money.

    The silvery dial, with its lightning flash and 'Electronic' text is a retro delight, but it might be a little too reflective for modern taste. In fact, it's ever so slightly tinny. The same could be said of the chapter ring. The indices are neat little bricks and are nicely bevelled, as is the date window. The main hands are simple sticks with a smart black border, the tail of the seconds hand is a lightning flash. It's a clean design, which stops 'retro' tipping over into 'outmoded'.

    There's a black-dialled version which is appealing, but black swallows the details a little, making it a shade less distinctive.

    The crystal is domed mineral. The movement is a Ronda 715, but I don't know whether it's the Swiss version with 5 jewels or the Asian version with 1 jewel. I'm assuming the latter. I could take a look inside, but considering the price of the watch it's not really an issue.

    The strap is... not the last word in luxury. It's calf-croc, but the calf was a very shiny beast, and the man who imprinted the pattern has never seen a crocodile. Let's call it part of the retro package. All the same, I might change it for something affordable and low-key - maybe a buffalo strap from The Strap Shop.

    The presentation box, by contrast, is black lacquered wood, and is really rather nice.

    The case back carries Fred Lip's signature and the words 'design Fred Lip 1952'. Here we go again...





    The '1952' refers to the year that Fred Lip presented a prototype to the Académie Royale des Sciences. The inscription effectively suggests that the GDG is a reissue of the first 'Electronic', which it isn't, and that it was introduced in 1952, which it wasn't.

    It gets worse, doesn't it? If the current owners of the brand know about the presentation of the 1952 prototype to the Académie Royale des Sciences, they must surely know that this watch wasn't it, and neither is it the watch that went on sale six years later.

    It's a perplexing deception because there's no need for it, and because it's so easily revealed. Fred Lip would be shaking his head, I think.


    Summary

    But I like this watch - I bought it after my research, not before. I bought it because I liked the look of it, and it might well be better made than the 1972 original. I like the €179 price. There are two stories attached to this watch - Lip's role in the development of the modern wristwatch and MGH's role in the corruption of Lip's history. The latter shouldn't detract from the former, and marketing fantasy aside, this is a nice reissue of an interesting watch.





    A lot of people wouldn't like it at all. It was a low-cost, everyday watch when it was new, and it's a low-cost watch now - plus it's old-fashioned. But for me, there's more interest attached to this watch than there would be to another boutique diver or a celebrated icon that just got a new set of hands. Vive le Lip!

    Now then, MGH, reissue the Général de Gaulle watch. I wouldn't know what you're going to call it, though...


    For those interested in the history of electronic and quartz watches, there is a definitive book (featuring a Lip on the cover): 'Watch - History of the Modern Wristwatch' by Pieter Doensen. Unfortunately, it's out of print and used prices are high.

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    Fascinating post, thank you
    The De Gaulle is an absolute beauty. The Mach 2000 reminds me very much of one of the Seiko watches that were used in Aliens (given the date of the movie I'm guessing that Lip came much earlier)
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    MWC is that my watch's Avatar
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    bumping this as think it's a good read that a few of us might have missed the first time round


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    Quote Originally Posted by is that my watch View Post
    bumping this as think it's a good read that a few of us might have missed the first time round

    Thank you.

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