As collectors and dealers in vintage watches, we quite frequently come across the Swiss brand Avia. (Figure 1) However, not a great deal seems to be known about the Avia Watch Company, but a little bit of research has revealed that Avia had a very big impact on the watch manufacturing industry.
The history of the Avia Watch Company goes way back to 1887 when HV Degoumois was established at La Chaux de Fonds. The company then moved to Neuchâtel in 1933 and and the Avia brand was formally registered by Degoumois on the 30th of January 1937 (See Mikrolisk – The horological trade mark index). Avia made good quality mechanical lever movement watches, in a range of cases from solid gold through to gold plated and stainless steel. During their history Degoumois provided watches and movements for a number of other brands including A. Wittnauer & Co., New York, and the Ball Watch Company. This is very much a testament to the quality of the Avia mechanical watches.
In 1968 Avia became part of a consortium of 6 watch manufacturers, including Avia, Invicta and Sandoz, who then bought Waltham of Chicago USA. It was this consortium that developed the very first quartz digital watch with an LCD (liquid crystal display) and revealed it to the world on the 6th of March 1972 at the Basle Fair. The impact of this was tremendous, and meant that watches capable of unparalleled accuracy could be cheaply mass-produced.
The invention took the market by storm and left competitors manufacturing traditional mechanical watches floundering. The popularity of the Avia digital watch (Figure 2) was so great that it was an Avia advert that made the cover of the July edition of the Horological Journal in 1975. Avia seemed to be one of the brands to keep an eye on, however, the technology was easily copied, and by the 1980s digital watches were no longer seen as luxury items and could be bought incredibly cheaply or even acquired free with a full tank of petrol! Thus the brand waned in popularity, eventually being bought by the Fossil group. To this day Fossil still manufacture and sell Avia quartz watches.