Tissot Watches Ultimate Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Tissot

Tissot Watches Ultimate Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Tissot

Tissot is one of the world's largest Swiss watchmakers and can look back on a rich history upon which it is still building today. In the modern era, Tissot is widely known for its large and diverse portfolio of watches, which ranges from dressy to sporty to high-tech, for its high-profile sports timing presence, and for its incredible value for the money. But there is a lot more that you may not know about Tissot and its many contributions to watchmaking history. Here, we delve into the highlights. (And if you're interested in learning more about particular Tissot Watches that are available now, check out our companion article on the Best Tissot Watches for Men.)

Tissot’s Watchmaking Milestones Began in 1853

Tissot pocket watch

Tissot is one of the oldest watch manufacturers in the world, tracing its history back to 1853. Its founders were the father-son watchmaking team of Charles-Félicien and Charles-Émile Tissot, who turned their home in the Swiss Jura town of Le Locle, where the company remains headquartered today, into a small factory. By 1858, the family firm had gained a major foothold in Tsarist Russia, which became the largest market for the savonette pocket watches that were its specialty at the time. (At one point, Charles-Émile’s son, Charles Tissot, the third generation of the Tissot family to join the business, moved to Moscow to open an office there.) Tissot is recognized as the producer of the first mass-produced pocket watches (modern tribute model pictured above), as well as the first pocket watches to display two time zones, both in its first year of operation.

Tissot Heritage "Banana"

Later, an Art Deco-inspired Tissot wristwatch with a curvilinear rectangle case, nicknamed the “Banana” watch, became a historical icon after it was returned by its owner, a Russian diplomat, to Tissot for repairs in 1916. The overthrow of the Tsar in the 1917 Bolshevik revolution made it illegal for the Swiss to ship any goods to Russia (especially “bourgeois” luxury items like gold watches), and so the repaired watch never made it back to its rightful owner and famously still resides at Tissot’s factory in Switzerland. A commemorative edition paying tribute to the lost “Banana” watch joined Tissot’s Heritage collection in 2017, the Centennial of the Russian Revolution. 

Tissot Made Watches for Some Famous Historical Ladies

Sarah Bernhardt

Ladies wore watches on their wrists many decades before gentlemen ever adopted the look, and before the wristwatch became widespread, fashionable women of the late 19th and early 20th century wore their timepieces as jewelry accessories, on bracelets, necklaces, and pendants. Tissot, from its inception, eagerly embraced the women’s market for decorative pendant watches, producing many richly adorned pieces for the era’s sophisticated ladies, shifting the focus to wristwatches in the early 20th century; among the brand’s most famous patrons was the French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844 - 1923, above), who wore a Tissot she acquired at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900.

Tissot Bellisima

With its focus shifting to wristwatches in the early 20th Century, Tissot continued to garner appreciation, and notable customers, for its ladies’ timepieces, including Belgium’s Queen Elisabeth, who placed a special order for a watch in 1921, and the “Brazilian Bombshell,” Portuguese-born singer Carmen Miranda, who as of 1947 accessorized a diamond-set, aquamarine-dialed Tissot with her signature tropical fruit hat. Tissot still devotes a substantial portion of its collection to ladies’ watches, from more feminine iterations of traditionally male models like the Seastar, PRX, and Everytime to the women-targeted Bellisima (above), Lovely, and Flamingo families.

Tissot Made the First Antimagnetic Wristwatch

Tissot Antimagnetique Vintage AdsWatches tell time through the interaction of many dozens of tiny metal parts inside their cases, and battling the ill effects of magnetic fields on their mechanical workings has been a challenge for watchmakers from the very beginning. It was a Swiss watchmaking brand even older than Tissot, Genevan high-horology house Vacheron Constantin, founded in 1755, that is credited with making the first watch movement engineered to resist magnetism, placing it in a pocket watch in 1915. 

Tissot Heritage Antimagnetique

The widespread use of electricity in homes and businesses, which began in the 1920s, made the need for magnetic-field-resistant watches even more pronounced, and Tissot was the first watchmaker to deliver, releasing in 1930 the aptly named Antimagnetique, the first wristwatch with a magnetism-resistant movement. Like Vacheron’s pocket watch that preceded it, the Tissot Antimagnetique used the non-magnetic metal palladium for vital movement parts like the balance wheel, balance spring, and lever shift. Tissot made various versions of the Antimagnetique over the years, with cases in steel, chrome, or gold, measuring as small as 32mm up to 40mm and larger, including some models in rectangular Art Deco-influenced cases. In the modern era, Tissot paid tribute to the original Antimagnetique with a Heritage Collection limited edition from 2018 (above), with a 42mm steel case and a manually wound ETA 6498-1 movement; though it still has “Antimagnetique” in its name, the vintage-style watch is notable not for its magnetic resistance (which falls fall short of the leaders in that area, like the Rolex Milgauss and much of Omega’s Master Chronometer lineup), but for its retro charm.

Tissot has Timed Sports From Alpine Skiing to the NBA

Tissot Ski Races 1938

In 1938, a Tissot wrist chronograph was used to time a series of ski races held at the Alpine resort of Villars-sur-Ollon (above). That watch’s beautiful yet eminently functional design inspired the modern Telemeter 1938 model, a vintage-look chronograph (reviewed in depth here, pictured at top of the article) and the event kicked off a long and continuing tradition for Tissot of partnering with various sports and sporting organizations as an official timekeeper. The watchmaker timed tennis’s Davis Cup in 1957 and in the late 1980s became heavily involved in professional cycling: in 1988, Tissot became official timekeeper of the Tour de France and in 1995 added the Union Cycliste International (UCI) as a partner, becoming official timer of BMX Cycling events. Tissot established a timing relationship with MotoGP, the Grand Prix of Motorcycle Racing, in 2001 and has been official timekeeper ever since, a collaboration that has inspired the watchmaker to produce various motorcycling-themed special-edition watches. Tissot also maintains timekeeping partnerships with European Rugby and International and Swiss Ice Hockey Federations. In the United States, the most high-profile sports timing presence by far is the one established with the National Basketball Association in 2015.

Tissot NBA Shot Clock

Tissot is the first-ever official timekeeper of the NBA, with a comprehensive multi-year global partnership — Tissot’s first with a major North American sports league, and the largest in the company’s history — covering all leagues under the NBA umbrella, including the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and NBA Development League (NBA D-League). Tissot also worked with the NBA to develop a state-of-the-art, integrated precision timing system for the game, which heralded the installation of new Tissot-branded shot clocks (above) in all 29 NBA arenas. The world-famous Tissot logo is now a staple of NBA games, including the playoffs and finals.

Tissot Was a Pioneer in Watches Made for Auto Racing

Tissot Heritage PR 516

In today’s crowded market, with the ties between luxury watches and high-performance cars and motorsports well established, there might be a half dozen brands you think of before Tissot when you think about automotive and racing-inspired watches. However, Tissot was actually one of the watchmakers on the ground floor of the category. It began in 1958 when Swiss race car driver Harry Zweifel sent a signed photo of himself to Tissot with a handwritten note that read (translated from German), “My Tissot is at my side at every race!” This spurred Tissot’s watchmakers to develop a wristwatch that would be suitably robust and reliable for the sport of automobile racing, which was poised for an explosion in popularity in the 1960s and ‘70s. Tissot called the resulting timepiece the PR 516 — the “PR” for “Particularly Robust,” the meaning of the three numerals still apparently a mystery. Debuting in 1965, on the heels of two of the genre’s icons, the Rolex Daytona (1963) and Heuer Carrera (1964), it was significantly the first wristwatch to incorporate a bracelet with the perforated holes that we now associate with racing watches, inspired by the design of the steering wheel in a racecar (Heritage Collection model pictured above). Also notable was the “suspended” architecture of its movement, which rendered it exceptionally shock-resistant. 

Mario Andretti driving Lotus 80

Tissot followed up the introduction of the PR 516 — later the PRS 516, the “S” standing for “Sport” — with a series of racing sponsorships throughout the ‘70s, including partnering with Team Renault Alpine in Formula 1, with Team Porsche for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and with Team Lotus in the heyday of one of its drivers, the legendary Mario Andretti (above, driving an F1 Lotus 80). Tissot continues to maintain a significant presence in international motorsports today, with the aforementioned MotoGP collaboration and a longtime relationship with NASCAR and one of its most high-profile drivers, Danica Patrick, for whom Tissot has made several personalized limited-edition watches.

Tissot Has Experimented with Some Truly Crazy Materials for Watch Cases 

Tissot Astrolon (1971)

The Quartz Crisis that rocked the Swiss watch industry in the 1970s and ‘80s motivated some moves by those Swiss watchmakers that might have, in retrospect, looked to be born of desperation. Even Tissot, which was an early adopter of the quartz calibers that Japanese brands had brought into the market in 1969, was struggling in this era, and the company’s braintrust answered with bold forays into unusual case materials — starting in 1971 with the Tissot Astrolon (above, also known as "Idea 2001"), the first watch with a case made from plastic — yes, more than a decade before the first Swatch watch, which brought plastic into the horological mainstream.

Tissot RockWatchA little over a decade later came an even more unusual timepiece, and one of Tissot’s most memorable, the “RockWatch” (above, photo via Analog/Shift) which as per its name had a case and dial made from natural Swiss granite mined from the Alps. Each RockWatch was subtly unique in its stone patterns, and the launch of this oddball piece in 1983 was successful enough that Tissot added more versions with cases and dials made of other natural materials like jade, jasper, basalt, and even petrified coral. Emboldened by its success, Tissot launched the Pearl Watch, with case and dial made from mother-of-pearl, in 1988, and the WoodWatch, with those elements made of Mediterranean Briarwood, in 1989. The trend would prove to be short-lived for Tissot, but these early experiments paved the way for many of the exotic materials — i.e., meteorite — that we find today, often on watches at a much higher price point.

Tissot Anticipated the Age of the Smartwatch in 1999

Tissot T-Touch

Watches (and for that matter, portable phones) with touchscreen functionality were still several years away from mainstream use when Tissot launched its innovative, multifunctional T-Touch watch in 1999. The T-Touch (above) was a quartz-powered, analog-digital timekeeper that boasted dual time zones, chronograph, altimeter, barometer, thermometer, and compass functions, all controlled by tactile interactions with the haptic-display sapphire crystal and pressing the pushers on the case. Tissot has been expanding and upgrading the T-Touch collection ever since, adding a solar-powered version in 2014 and creating purpose-built T-Touch models aimed at pilots, sailors, and mountaineers. The 45mm, titanium-cased Tissot T-Touch Expert Solar, for example, includes a “programmable azimuth” function that enables the wearer to key in a desired destination in degrees of latitude or longitude so the watch will indicate whether its wearer is moving in the desired direction. The next generation, perhaps inevitably, was the T-Touch Connect Solar, which not only features solar-cell charging and all the functions of the Expert models, but also adds smartwatch-like connectivity to a smartphone app. Accordingly, it can track and display a host of other useful data, like weather, calories burned, and distance traveled, for a total of 30 functions in all. Swiss watchmakers like Frederique Constant, TAG Heuer, Movado, Hublot, and Montblanc have all jumped on the “connected watch” train in the years since the release of the Apple Watch, but Tissot was several steps ahead of them all.

Tissot Equips Watches with a “Weekend-Proof” Automatic Movement

Swatch Group ETA buildingThrough a long series of consolidations and corporate maneuverings too lengthy to get into here, Tissot became part of the conglomerate known as the Swatch Group in 1983. The Swatch Group also owns ETA, one of the watch industry’s largest and most prolific suppliers of quartz and mechanical movements. ETA makes movements for many brands within the Group (and sells them to many more brands outside it) but around 2011, the Swatch Group decided the time had come to develop a more elite style of automatic caliber that would add value to the watches produced by its “midrange” tier of luxury watchmaking companies, which includes Longines, Hamilton, Rado, Mido, and Tissot — today one of the largest Swiss watch companies in terms of market share. 

Tissot Powermatic 80 Caliber

The caliber that emerged from this initiative was the Powermatic 80 (above), which made its debut in a Tissot Gent model and was initially exclusive to the brand before eventually being modified and adapted for use by its sister companies. Based on the workhorse ETA 2824, whose power reserve is a pedestrian 38 hours, the Powermatic 80 derives its numerical name from its uncommonly lengthy 80-hour power reserve, a "weekend-proof" range far longer than that offered by comparable movements in comparably priced watches. To achieve this remarkable feat, ETA’s engineers reduced the base caliber’s consumption of energy by reducing the frequency of its oscillations from 4 Hz (28,800) to 3 Hz (21,600 vph), and added a friction-reducing synthetic material to the escapement. They also added a Nivachron hairspring for enhanced performance and shrunk the diameter of the barrel arbor’s core to allow for a stretched mainspring and thus a longer running autonomy. Powermatic 80 movements can now be found in many of Tissot’s most popular modern models, like the Seastar dive watch, the dressy Gentleman and Chemin des Tourelles, the vintage-look Heritage Visodate, and the crowd-pleasing models spotlighted below.

Tissot’s Biggest Hit in the 21st Century is a Watch from the 1970s

Tissot PRX Glacier Dials

The original Tissot PRX debuted in 1978, and like many watches from that era, it was powered by a quartz movement. The watch was distinguished by its flat, barrel-shaped, multi-faceted case, which integrated smoothly into a flexible, articulated steel bracelet; it took its three-initial model name from its attributes: the “P” and “R” stand for “precise” and “robust,”respectively, and the “X” is actually a Roman numeral “10” depicting the model’s 10 atmospheres (aka 100 meters) of water resistance. The overall aesthetic was one that today’s watch historians will readily recognize, hearkening back to the groundbreaking design of a much pricier watch that had debuted several years earlier, in 1972, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. The latter had, in fact, exerted influence on a number of so-called “sport-luxury” timepieces that debuted in the Decade of Disco, from icons like the Patek Philippe Nautilus to cult-classics like the Girard-Perregaux Laureato and Vacheron Constantin 222, the progenitor of the Overseas collection. Tissot’s PRX, as per the value-oriented brand’s strategy, was by far the most affordable alternative to those watches, most of which hailed from brands known for high luxury and high horology and featured mechanical rather than quartz calibers. Despite all this, the Tissot PRX’s shelf-life was relatively short and it was discontinued several years after its launch — presumably, as with other traditional Swiss-made analog watches, pushed out to make room for the Japanese-made digital watches that dominated the early ‘80s. The PRX remained mothballed until 2020, when Tissot’s current CEO, Sylvain Dolla, discovered it while perusing the archives and seized upon the PRX as a foundation upon which to build Tissot’s 21st-Century identity. 

Tissot PRX Chronograph

The rest, as they say, is history: the Tissot PRX relaunched in 2021 to a watch-enthusiast audience that was ravenous for an integrated-bracelet, sport-luxury timepiece that could offer value for money while still boasting actual design DNA from the creatively rich 1970s era. The PRX has grown rapidly into a full-blown family of timepieces, with a variety of sizes, colorways, and movements (including several models with the Powermatic 80 caliber) as well as chronograph models (as above) and even a 1980s-evocative PRX Digital that combines the distinctive tonneau case with a digital time display. 

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