Hidden Champion: DRAGA, inventor of the visible movement
Updated: Sep 15
Have you ever heard of the watch brand DRAGA? D R A G A?
Well, let's shed some light on this brand, which is a typical example of a dormant and almost forgotten brand in the history of Swiss watchmaking.
DRAGA was registered as a watch brand at the very beginning of the 20th century by the Swiss watchmaker Joseph Bloch, who came from France (Alsace). DRAGA is derived from the Slavic word drag ("love", "dear") and means "beloved", "dearest", "treasure". It was a popular name at the time, not least because of the infamous Queen Draga of Serbia. Incidentally, Joseph had already registered another royal surname in 1897: Wilhelmina. It almost seems as if Mr. Bloch was a true royalist, as the name referred to the then reigning Dutch Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.
Where do the Skeleton Watches Come From..?
It is said that the first skeleton watches were made by the Swiss watchmaker André-Charles Caron, then “Horloger du Roi” in Paris in the 1760s. However, it is not clear who invented the skeleton watch, as there are many different types of skeleton watches and many different people who have contributed to their development over time. What all skeleton watches have in common is that they have a mechanical movement with a cut-out and all the moving parts are visible either through the front of the watch, the back of the watch or through a small cut-out in the dial. Today, of course, this means that the case of the watch remains closed and the view is made possible by a crystal that also protects the movement.
Audemars Piguet, who is said to have launched the first skeletonised watch around 1934, certainly contributed to the new popularity of skeletonised watches. More likely, however, it was a reinterpretation of the term "skeletonised" that no longer focused on the visibility of the movement, but on the "skeletonisation" of a movement, i.e. the removal of all unnecessary metals from the bridge, plate and other mechanical parts of the watch, leaving only a minimalist, "naked" skeleton of the movement that is necessary for functionality. We assume that this is the latter.
It is also possible, of course, that the popularity of skeletonised watches waned over the decades, and that for a time there were no known skeletonised watches on the market - until 1934, when Audemars Piguet reintroduced them.
Who invented it?
Joseph, and especially his younger son Jean-Louis, had already attracted some public attention at the Paris Exposition of 1900, where they presented a remarkable collection of chronograph with repeater movements, officially confirmed by observatory bulletins. Jean-Louis, like his father, was a very talented watchmaker and a graduate of the "Ecole d'Haute Horlogerie de La Chaux-de-Fonds". But Jean-Louis was anything but an ordinary graduate, as he was the first student of the watchmaking school, graduated first laureate with a state diploma.
In 1902, Joseph and Jean-Louis, the latter still in his early twenties, designed a skeleton watch with several advantages, worth that their invention was patented and that were revolutionary at the time.
Their invention is characterized by the fact that the balance was completely visible, independently of the dial, which, unlike the previous models of other existing manufacturers so far, didn't exists.
This invention is characterized by the fact that not only the balance is fully visible, but also the entire movement, regardless of the dial, which, unlike the earlier models of other manufacturers, no longer exists.
Moreover, the hour division is placed on a magnifying circle at the same height as the balance. This further reduces the thickness of the dial, making it possible to produce very flat watches.
In an article in a Swiss horological magazine, the author described the merit of this invention as allowing to build a watch without modifying the existing caliber, without " thinning " the caliber.
It was easy to see that the design was such that all the parts could be disassembled and removed without having to remove the entire movement from the case. This meant that it was extremely easy to clean and refurbish such a pocket watch, a great advantage for the maintenance of such a watch at that time.
Another advantage of this innovation was that it paved the way for the production of remarkably thin watches with standard movements, which were widely used at the time.
At the time, pocket watches that were as thin as possible were in demand, and the use of standard movements made it possible to make them relatively affordable for a wider audience.
For whatever reason, Joseph and Jean-Louis Bloch's DRAGA did not receive the attention it deserved. Despite holding a number of other patents, the Bloch family's DRAGA Watch Co. and its successors became a quintessential Swiss watch brand that can now be called a "hidden champion" with a story worth telling even today.