Surprising as it might be if you’re only aware of the modern Lip, but at one point they were one of the biggest horological players in the world. Not only were they the largest watchmaker in France, they were one of the only ones with a presence outside the country, not to mention oldest – they were founded way back in 1867. They were also responsible for one of the biggest innovations in watchmaking. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves there. Of all Lip’s many, many collectible pieces from their heyday in the late 1960s and early 70s, there’s one that stands head and shoulders above the rest: the Lip Nautic-Ski.
While it shares a few aesthetic quirks with other similar timepieces of the era, it had a lot more going for it than you might get from a glance. Of all Lip’s many, many collectible pieces from their heyday in the late 1960s and early 70s, there’s one that stands head and shoulders above the rest: the Nautic-Ski. While it shares a few aesthetic quirks with other similar timepieces of the era, it had a lot more going for it than you might get from a glance.
Before we get onto the watch itself, we have to talk about the first electric movement ever designed, the R27. Yes, the first was produced by Lip. Using electromagnets for regulation, it was a technical marvel… with some major caveats. It worked, but Lip’s own batteries had a worrying propensity for exploding and even when they switched to third party versions, the resulting movement was awkward, expensive, and limiting.
After an arms war with the Hamilton calibre 500 over the next few years, Bulova released the tuning-fork Accutron in 1960 and put both of them to bed. And so, Lip took another run at things and a scant handful of years later, produced the movement that has come to define them: the R148.
Like their previous attempt, the R148 is an electro-mechanical movement, where a classical balance is pushed by a pair of electromagnets. Every time the balance is pushed, it makes contact, creates a circuit and sets off another push. But, not only was the new movement more reliable than the R27, it only needed one battery, beat at 18,000 bph and had a hacking seconds function. All in all, it was a serious upgrade, ready to rival Bulova.
So, what were Lip to do with this new movement? Well, with their 100-year anniversary in 1967, Lip wanted something to really show off what they could do, combining sportiness with their cutting-edge electronic movement – which brings us to the Nautic-Ski.
The name was an on-the-nose amalgamation of nautical and ski, the former due to its obvious underwater credentials and 200m water resistance; the latter to capitalise on the 1968 winter Olympics in France. It’s not subtle, but it works. More importantly however, it was both the first diver to use an electronic movement (the aforementioned R27) and the first 200m capable diver with a rotating inner bezel. Paired with a super compressor case courtesy of Ervin Piquerez S.A, it used pressure to ensure an ever more airtight seal and create what at the time was arguably the most cutting- edge diver in the world.
Originally, the Nautic-Ski was only available with a glossy black dial, a pared back, utilitarian vibe in keeping with its tool watch specs, but with funky elongated indexes and numerals for a fittingly futuristic flair.
To this day, the original is still the most collectible Nautic-Ski model, but it’s certainly not the only one. Fellow countryman and fashion designer Pierre Cardin urged Lip to offer more dial variations and colours, including a snazzy purple, among others. Needless to say, it became Lip’s core model on the more serious side of watchmaking, though their fashion watches like the De Baschmakoff cuff timepiece had their places.
Now, in 2015 the modern Lip decided to capitalise on the Nautic-Ski legacy with a re-issue. Aesthetically it looked similar in the general super compressor way, with its two crowns and rotating inner bezel. But all of them have automatic movements, which from our perspective completely misses the point of what made the original Nautic-Ski so special.
If that doesn’t matter to you (not to be a snob but it should) then you can get a modern Nautic-Ski for €500. Otherwise, you can get one of the initial run pieces, complete with the legendary R27 movement for between £500 and £700. For one of the coolest watches from an era of incredible timepieces, that’s about as unsung as you can get.
More details at Lip.