Few watches create such an impact as those which bear the Corum marque. Classic, subdued and understated styling are terms not to be found anywhere within the Corum rulebook.
Formally established in 1955 in the Swiss watchmaking heartland of La Chaux-de-Fonds following the partnership of Gaston Reis, an independent watchmaker himself since 1924, and his nephew René Bannwart, the new firm soon broke away from the previous non-brand family business and established the name ‘Corum’.
Within one year of the company being founded, the first watches from the new Corum watch company arrived on the market and to considerable acclaim too. The Corum Chargé D’Affaires which first announced the arrival of this new company in 1956 was also a revealing insight to the thinking behind the Corum brand. The new model which bore the now-synonymous Key logo, featured a mechanical movement with alarm function in a classy stainless steel case, and was complimented by a 100-piece limited edition with automatic movement.
From the earliest days of the Corum brand, it was evident that instead of opting for the ‘safe’ direction of conventional design, which many watch houses preferred, Corum were daring to be different, and it was this difference which made their watches stand out from their contemporaries of the time.
Following on from the well-received Chargé d’Affaires, Corum embarked on producing a succession of distinctive and eyecatching wristwatches for the lady as well as the gentleman. These would include in 1958 the ladies Chinese Hat with its’ dial surrounded by a broad gold ’brim’, then the Golden Tube ladies watch which was based around the solid gold tube-like case and featured a slim baguette movement. Reputedly it was the Golden Tube which first opened doors for Corum as a watchmaker of quite some influence. International orders began to fill up the pages of the Corum order books.
1960 saw the first incarnation of the Corum Admiral's Cup watch, a square Carrée-cased piece with faceted caseback whose name derived not from any connection with the great yacht race but rather from the fact that the watch could boast water resistance – which was not easily achieved in a square watch case at the time and so was in fact a bit of a feat!
Being square, the original Corum Admiral's Cup Carrée bears no resemblance of the revisited Admirals Cup watch which would in time come to symbolize the popular face of Corum watches as well as the marques’ new commercial link to the yacht race. Although all this would come quite some time into the future for the Corum watch company back then in the early ‘60s.
Four years later in 1964 saw the unveiling of what would become another Corum icon – this time the ‘Double Eagle’ $20 Gold Coin watch. Presented as an heirloom timepiece and accompanied by an advertising strapline which suggested that your great-great grandson would be eternally grateful when he took possession of the Coin watch, the watch was an interpretation of an older idea which had a coin as a face for pocket watches with a closing case front. Except, in true Corum fashion, this was presented as a wristwatch. A clever piece of machining had the gold $20 coin split in two and a slim hand-wound mechanical movement sandwiched between the halves, with the ‘face’ protected by a sapphire mineral crystal. Again, Corum notched up another hit when the watch was sold out before even making it as far as The Basel Fair showcase in 1965!
By now, Corum was an established manufacturer of fine watches, albeit with a distinct leftfield curve. Although totally practical, their watches also possessed a quirkiness which you either ‘got’ or you didn’t. But for those who did get it, the marque continued to raise eyebrows with models such as the oversized square Buckingham gents watch, as well as the Romulus which features the roman numerals engraved into the bezel – allegedly because as the first public unveiling approached, the watch was still unfinished, and the only way to beat the deadline was to take a risk and opt to engrave the numerals. Another one of Corum's "Four Pillars", the Romulus still holds its’ place among todays’ Corum portfolio!
The hippy-chic 1970s were seemingly made for the daring watch brand, and Corum did not let down their growing number of clients. Can you imagine a watch with a peacock feather for a dial? Corum went one step further than imagining – in 1970 they produced the Feathered Friend, complete with a choice of bird feather dials! There followed The Ingot (in a scaled down but otherwise perfect gold ingot – obviously!), the Rolls Royce, complete with miniaturised Rolls Royce grille and many other more obscure, sometimes outrageous and elaborate one-offs.
However, as the heady ‘70s ended and the more focussed and business-like 1980s came in, Corum, in some respects, ran out of inventive steam, and although they could still devise unthinkable (to others) methods of watch design, the creative output dwindled somewhat.
The ‘80s did see the unveiling of two important models however. The Corum Golden Bridge, which featured a distinctive baguette movement, and the Corum Admiral's Cup.
Both new models would in time become cornerstones of Corum's "Four Pillars". The new Admiral's Cup was now redesigned and reconceptualised in that it now came in a rounded 12-sided case, the numerals replaced with their equivalent in nautical pennants. The astonishing Admiral's Cup Marrées (Tides) which featured Corums first in-house Caliber CO 277 movement offered the wearer information such as high and low tides, current strengths and lunar cycle! Combined with a commercial partnership and a participating role in the great ocean yacht race, the Corum Admirals Cup still holds an important place in the Corum portfolio through to this day.
The Corum Admirals Cup has seen many revisions and updates since its’ inception in 1982, but the signature features of the 12-sided case and the nautical pennants have remained intact and look like being in place for many more incarnations to come.
And so the new Millenium neared and, with its’ passing also came about change at Corum. In January of the year 2000, the company announced to the watch world that it was under new ownership.
Enter Mr Severin Wunderman, a watch industry entrepreneur who had worked his way up in the field of marketing since the 1960s in the US, where upon identifying and seizing a true opportunity after a chance conversation with Aldo Gucci, owner of the luxury goods brand which bore his name, Wunderman went on to oversee the manufacture and international marketing of Gucci watches from his own production facility, Severin Montres which he sold at the end of the ‘90s.
Immediately the Wunderman influence became evident, as did the perfect symbiosis between the man and the brand, for in 2000, the year of his arrival, Corum unveiled the iconic Corum Bubble with its ‘submarine hatch' domed crystal. This was a watch as worthy of the Corum name as any of the marques’ previous models. Oversized, overstated, fun and funky - even outrageous, the Bubble went on to symbolise what the brand was about. It also had the effect of raising the profile of the Corum name and introducing it to a new, young and consumables-hungry client base.
The Corum Bubble also perpetuated itself by appearing as a limited edition each year of its production in a variety of guises which featured a roulette table, poker hand, bats, the Baron Samedi, skull and cross-bones and the dive-bomber editions. These were not watches for the shy and retiring type, but then, Corum never made watches for the shy and retiring!
Sadly the dynamic whirlwind that was Severin Wunderman would not get to see out his first decade as owner of this eccentric yet ‘in-touch’ watch maker, although having survived an incredible life, including lung cancer in the ‘90s, it is the good fortune of the watch world that he made it as far as he did. Passing away aged just 69 years in June 2008, he left behind a legacy which will endure for some time to come.
Well before his passing, Severin had introduced his son, Michael Wunderman and his own longtime friend Antonio Calce into pivotal roles within the hierarchael structure, and under their direction the Corum brand was able to carry the momentum built up over the previous decade. Today the Corum range still steers well clear of convention. The range is based around Corum's "Four Pillars", the name given to the marques principal models: the Artisan models with handpainted dials evoking the classics, the Romulus, the Golden Bridge and of course the Corum Admirals Cup.
Current variations include the Golden Tourbillon Panoramique – with a completely transparent sapphire tourbillon movement! Also worthy of a mention, the most recent Ti-Bridge watch which features Corum's own remarkable Caliber CO 007 in-house 4mm wide baguette movement. These, along with many other twists on watch design, sit alongside Corum classics such as the Double Eagle Gold Coin.
Some folk never took to Corum, never quite ‘got it’, but it might be that those folk didn’t actually realise what they were looking at. Certainly it can be argued by the horologists association at the gentlemens club that Corum was as happy to use a quartz movement as a mechanical movement as a means to an end, that it made watches from which some recoiled in horror at first sight, but surely if that was the effect, then that was the intention?
More please, Corum!
As a sad footnote in the Corum history, it was announced on January 13th 2010 that co-founder René Bannwart had passed away in the company of his close family.