Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Summer Reading - Opening the Gates: The Lip Affair, 1968 - 1981

While I love a pretty coffee table book with big shiny pictures as much as the next guy, I also enjoy a good story.  And for watch fans, this is probably not such an obvious choice, but it is one that I would encourage you to check out.  It is not targeted for watch fans, it is written by a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and it is not something that you will likely find on the bookshelves at Barnes and Noble.  

If you love watches, you love a good comeback story.  From Biver's resurrection of Blancpain, to Hayek's rescue of the several brands that would later become the various members of today's Swatch Group.  The manufacture, marketing and sales of modern watches is dyed in the wool with the romance of heroic turnarounds, rescues and uniquely comebacks.

Now in many feel-good, love-story, comeback watch stories we have the original artisan, in others we have the maverick saviors like Biver and Hayek, but the story of Lip in the early 1970s is something completely different again.  It is the first time that I am aware of in the watch industry where a collective of individuals came together in a common cause.  What they realized was a simple protest, or walk out would do nothing to save their jobs.  So they tried something a little different.  They occupied the factory, and (sorry to my Red-fearing friends on the right) seized "the means of production".  What slowly evolved was a self-governing (not in the political sense) group of employees who took control of not just the factory and production, but in many ways re-wrote the rule book about how a watch company could and should be run.

With the current political climate in the US, the Lip Affair is a welcome relief, demonstrating that it often is (believe it or not) a good thing when EVERYONE wins.  

Obviously, these were different times.  Many of you reading this might not have been born yet, and suffice it to say that Lip is a very, very different brand than it once was.  That is the inevitability of time, it moves forward.  But it's hard not to be romantic about watches, and the improbable story of the Lip Affair bears this notion out.

I don't want to give too much more away, but if you like a good comeback story, watches, or simple human interest?  Run, don't walk to your local bookstore.

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