Last December, Martijn van der Ven published the book Time For A Change, Discovering Vintage Enicar. Although he launched his book without the help of a publisher, it has turned out to be a beautiful and well-researched endeavour. Not only does it describe the rise and fall of this remarkable watch company, but it also features great adverts of the time, the people behind the brand and the difficult times the watch industry had to endure during the quartz crisis. It is, therefore, more than a watch book. We spoke to Van der Ven to find out just what sort of book is this?
Flipping through the pages of Time For A Change, Discovering Vintage Enicar is indeed a journey through time. Enicar was founded by Ariste Racine in 1913 in the famous watchmaker’s town La Chaux-de-Fonds. Like most watch brands from that time and place, growth was assured in the first decade. At its heyday, it owned two factories, in Lengnau and Oensingen. Together, they produced some 800,000 wristwatches per year. And it was a remarkable company. Take for example its name, which is simply the last name of its founder written backwards. The last watch left the factory in 1987, as Enicar filed for bankruptcy in the wake of the quartz crisis.
‘I’ve always loved the stories of underdogs’, explains van der Ven. ‘That attracted me about Enicar. Not in the way that they went bust, but by the way they were thinking. They made quite some innovations and did some really good marketing stunts, but they never reached the heights Rolex or Omega have. That just speaks to my imagination.’
A weird obsession
Van der Ven (44) knows what it is to speak from the position of the underdog. He has worked in advertising for about twenty years, as creative and copywriter. First at a bureau, later he started his own company. In 2018, he quit that as well and went back to basics. Which was (copy)writing and storytelling. This book, he tells me, is a result of that choice. ‘It’s really a passion project. I don’t earn a euro with it. I did it all by myself, from concept to distribution.’
The book is not simply a compilation of great images and advertisements. The research he did in this book is amazing. It is built up around five pieces van der Ven selected because he thought those watches are representative of what Enicar stood for. In 2014, he started an Instagram account completely dedicated to the extinct brand. In 2018, he travelled to Switzerland to find the roots of this company and to interview former employees. ‘I also went to see the old factory. It now houses a website company, a kitchen store and two watch companies: Atlantic and Epos watches. I tried to speak to as many people as possible to get a broader view of the company. I got a lot of cooperation, but initially, the family heirs didn’t want to talk to me about it.’
Speaking to Racine III
In 2019, van der Ven returned to Lengnau, where he met the major of the city. He connected him to the grandson of the founder of the company, Ariste Racine III, now 76 years old. ‘It took some persuasion to gain his trust,’ says van der Ven. ‘I imagine the closure of the company left its scars in the family. So initially they weren’t very willing to talk much about the past, which I fully understand. He told me they had destroyed all the archives after the bankruptcy. But by the end of our meeting, he gave me a pile of old papers, which turned out to be the company bulletins. From 1954 to 1973, they had a company journalist working for them, so the history of the company was very well documented. He gave me all the access I needed to dive deeper into the corporation. And it confirmed what I had already felt: they really did astonishing things.’
Van der Ven mentions a couple of marketing stunts Enicar did. ‘We all know Rolex was on the Mount Everest in 1953. Soon after, Enicar did pretty much the same with a watch they gave the name Sherpa, introduced in 1956. In 1957 they went a step further with that watch. An Enicar Sherpa was attached to the bow of the Mayflower II ship, which went sailing from England to New York. After this 51 day trip, the product manager of Enicar took the watch from the bow and inspected it. No water damage, and no time lost.’
A true recommendation
It is stories like these, and many others, combined with beautiful new and old photography, that give Time for a Change, Discovering Vintage Enicar its appeal. Van der Ven hired some great photographers, to create the brochure this company never had; a trip through the company history. The book is ‘hybrid’, as its author calls it. ‘It is part watch book, part marketing case study and part photobook’, he says. It is in a way as quirky as Enicar itself.
The book counts 280 pages book and combines the company history with great imagery. The book is out now and costs EUR 65. For more information and orders, visit enicar.org.