By: Rich Fordon
Fair warning — this is quite in depth. Please enjoy the many photos throughout to make up for my rambling.
This is a study of Movado 95M chronographs, particularly those housed in François Borgel manufactured, water-resistant, 35.5mm cases. Much of the following derives from a library of examples, compiled thanks to many collectors and sales across the web. The independent conclusions are based on this library as well as period advertisements and literature. Naming conventions presented and used are my own.
Movado, in a previous era, offered a catalog more on par with Longines and Universal Genéve, than Michael Kors and Hugo Boss. The brand boasted a horological pedigree dating back to 1881 with innovations such as the ingeniously curved calibre Polyplan, and over six decades of in-house movements. Mid-century Movados are remarkable watches, none more the case than Borgel 95M’s.
In 1938, Movado debuted an industry first, two-button modular chronograph. Named the 90M and developed by Frédéric Piguet, this calibre would go on to be a standby in the brand's lineup for decades. Modular here meaning the stopwatch function is self-contained rather than integrated with the standard time telling components. This was a big deal— it made the complicated movement easier to service and differentiated Movado in a crowded chronograph market. A year later, 1939, Movado released the 95M, a three-register version with a unique 60-minute counter. Often remarked when discussing these movements is the inverse nature of their buttons; the bottom starts and stops the stopwatch feature while the top resets to zero. Left-hand dominant wearers benefit from this quirk as ergonomically the pushers work slightly better on the right wrist when compared to a traditional layout.
Most notably encasing Patek Philippe's reference 1463, Swiss casemaker François Borgel distributed their products to a few Swiss brands. Borgel led the charge throughout the first half of the 20th century when it came to designing, building, and distributing water-resistant cases. The first Movado and FB collaboration wristwatch came in 1935, per Fritz von Osterhausen's The Movado History, and by 1939 the brands were producing a 90M very similar to Patek's renowned 1463.
The next logical step in this history is a bit cloudy. Information about vintage Movado is sparse. As you read on, I offer some productive conclusions which will not only further educate the community but should make purchasing and valuing these watches easier. Unfortunately, I cannot propose a year in which the brand began producing a 95M chronograph housed in a 35.5mm FB case.
While FB and Movado offered a waterproof two register in 1939— the first hard evidence of a FB case 95M is the below catalog from 1946. Movado made most of its 90M watches in the 40s and 50s whereas 95M examples seem to date more to the 50s and 60s; an eight-year delay between a water-resistant 90M and 95M is not unbelievable. My conclusion is that the 95M was certainly in a FB case by 1946 and could have been offered in the years prior, I just do not know.
Constants of the Movado 95M Chronograph
While Movado produced three reference number generations each distinct in varying aspects, consistencies remain throughout the production run. On cases, all 95M FB watches have the similar pump style pushers and patented Borgel decagonal screw down casebacks. The crown is nearly consistent across the range, there is a single design but earlier examples are unsigned and most later examples sport an ‘M’ logo.
Turning attention to dials and hands, unfortunately, produces few uniformities. Unlike the Speedmaster or the Autavia, these FB cases were the entirety of Movado’s sport chronograph offering. Dials and hands are extremely diverse as this calibre and waterproof case were implemented in varying executions to fulfill the demand of all chronograph consumers. A few observations to note— luminous hour/minute hands should be matched with luminous dials and vice versa, chronograph hour and minute subregister hands should directly match each other, and dial designs are generational. Generational meaning that some dials are exclusive or nearly exclusive to generations. For example, an ‘Arrowhead’ dial should only very rarely be seen in a third-generation case and a ‘Panda’ dial should never be seen in a first-generation case.
One significant aspect of Movado chronographs from this period is, of course, ‘kris’ or ‘snake’ sub-register hands. Strikingly dissimilar to any other chronographs, these hands add quite the intrigue; nothing was or is the same. Sadly, not every FB 95M left La Chaux-de-Fonds with kris hands. Beyond snake hand examples, original sub-register hand variants include ‘metal baton’ and ‘red baton’— the latter of which has been subject to scrutiny as fake; straight red hands are completely correct.
-38 (9038, 19038, 49038, 19039*) Movado 95Ms
Movado reference numbers ending in -38 mark the first generation. All watches in this generation should be housed in an earlier stepped bezel case and roughly date between 1946 and 1959. Our first hard evidence of a -38 is the 1946 ad and, on the other end, Movado changed its logo in 1959 from the watch in hand to the M logo we know today. While logos on the dial can vary depending on the design, the brand always stamps a logo inside the caseback. Although I was not able to see the inner caseback on all of my library, only a single -38 observed sports an M logo stamped caseback.
This is a good time to touch on how Movado reference numbers were engineered in this era. First off, the case number, also stamped between the 12 o’clock lugs, is seen on top here and the reference number on bottom. When I refer to a -38, I mean to point towards all four or five digit references that end in -38 as these are the differentiating numerals. The brand used the first digit, or lack thereof, to denote the case material: none for 18k yellow gold, 1 for stainless steel*, 4 for 14k yellow gold, and R for 18k rose gold. The middle two digits are the same, 90, for all chronographs during this period and finally, the last two numbers are unique to slight differences as production ran on. It is by these final two reference numbers that we differentiate the three generations. (*19039 for SS and 18k rose gold)
Back to the fun stuff. First generation pieces are identifiable by a few characteristics. First off, the case, be it stainless steel or some form of gold, sports a slightly stepped bezel and faceted lugs; as does the succeeding generation but worth noting. More uniquely, -38 watches will very rarely have an M logo on the dial as the vast majority were produced prior to the logo’s adoption by Movado. The most common dial variants from this generation are ‘Arrowhead,’ ‘Arabic,’ and ‘Odd Dot.’ As a general rule, these variants should not be found inside later smooth bezel cases.
The majority of first-generation case numbers follow an ‘earlier’ format ranging from 6 digits to 7 digits. I believe these early case numbers to be chronological but have no conclusion as to which cases were made in which exact year. This would require more cataloging and, likely, assistance from Movado themselves. The earliest number I have observed is ‘A94380’ and the latest in this format is ‘104832.’ Note the lack of an A on the second number, at some point around ‘104300’ the letter was dropped. Towards the very end of the -38 range, the ‘late’ format is introduced. Here, case numbers count up from, presumably, one. This case numbering system was used for the rest of the 95M FB run, however, later on, the FB case switches to a smooth bezel, a ‘Type 2’ case, case numbers start over at 1. As one additional exception, each metal has its own run of ‘late’ case numbers in both Type 1 and Type 2, early case numbering did not discriminate by metal.
The Movado FB 95M shares a manufacturer with Patek’s ‘Tasti Tondi’ ref. 1468; The loose relationship between FB 95Ms and Patek’s ‘Tasti Tondi’ ref. 1468 is best recognizable in the -38 generation, and especially in Breguet numeral examples. Yes, Breguet numerals are seen in later generations with Type 2 cases as well, but first generation watches more often feature precious metal cases and, overall, a design aim of elegance.
-58 (9058, 19058, 49058) Movado 95Ms
While piecing together information on Movados from this era can certainly be messy, the second generation, the -58s, is a pleasant surprise. Serving as the transitional reference set, -58s are housed mostly in stepped bezel Type 1 cases with Type 2s also present. Both versions should be held as absolutely correct. -58s were likely offered alongside of -38s and -68s as case number crossover is seen. Second generation casebacks are consistently stamped with an M logo.
As the M logo was introduced in 1959, all -58 examples were made on or after this year. On the other end of the range, the second generation is bound by the introduction of the Type 2 case. Compared to the other two reference sets, the number of -58s observed is very low. Type 2 cases are less often seen in -58 examples but the presence of both leads me to conclude the -58 was on offer during the change.
Looking to a catalog of the period, Movado was offering a stepped bezel, faceted lug, Type 1 case up to 1964.
In 1966, the brand underwent a reference numbering change across their range of offerings. -58s are not found with this new reference number, thus were all made before this year and change. With the 1964 catalog showing a Type 1 -58 and the lack of new reference numbering, I am concluding that that -58 examples were all made before or in 1964.
-58 Type 1 cases should all be numbered under 200 for stainless steel and under 100 for precious metals. Type 2 under 250 for stainless steel and 50 for precious metals.
Moving beyond cases, the -58 from a design perspective is an intriguing cross section of the 40s and 50s aesthetic of -38s and the more modern sport look of the later third generation. Of the pieces observed, half exhibit an ‘arrowhead’ dial variant, commonly found on -38s, and half show a ‘Baton’ dial variant more in line with later 95M offerings. As the M logo rolled out, second generation pieces often employ a printed version above the standard ‘MOVADO’ text at 12 o’clock.
Hand styles are also uniquely offered here. After the -58 generation, ‘syringe’ hands, as seen on the ‘arrowhead’ white dial above, are phased out. Almost all hands in the third generation follow the design cues of the gold, linen dial above.
-68 (9068, 19068, 49068, 95-704-568, 95-214-568, 95-224-568) Movado 95Ms
Stamped on and inside the latest generation are reference numbers ending in -68. Even without going out of your way, chances are the examples from this series will look the most familiar. Pound for pound, this run of -68 referenced FB cases 95Ms are equally as stylish and horologically intriguing as any other family of 60s chronographs. The brand truly refocused its dial design in this generation with applied M logos marking most pieces and timelessly simple while stunning dial variants.
On dating, early -68 case numbers support the conclusion that this generation was offered alongside the previous for some period of time. The latest -58 case numbers of the same type and metal are higher than the earliest -68s— assuming chronological numbering, the two runs overlap. Further, around 1500 third generation examples were produced prior to the 1966 reference number switch and, given production number assumptions for the entire range, 1500 would require at least two years for the brand to put out. The first -68s were likely available alongside -58s in 1964.
Nearly halfway through this third-generation production run is the change in Movado’s reference numbering system. Beginning in 1966 and roughly at case 1505, in stainless-steel type 2 numbering, the previous four- or five-digit numbers were translated into an eight digit system with 95-704-568 denoting a stainless-steel FB 95M and 95-224-568, 95-214-568 for 14k and 18k gold respectively.
Continuing, the year 1969 ushered in an entirely new era for Movado— a collaboration with Zenith began. The brands’ sharing of proprietary movement calibres, namely Zenith’s ‘El Primero’ 3019, deserves a long-form article itself; however, the collaboration marks the end of the 95M. Movado introduced a range of chronographs all powered by Zenith movements and, in turn, discontinued their M calibres after 30 years of service. Third generation, -68 FB 95Ms were all produced before or in the year 1970, as is confirmed by Fritz Von Osterhausen.
In these -68s, dial, marker, and hand configurations on common examples were refined to match demand for a more modern and sleek chronograph. Movado certainly delivered with a lineup led by ‘panda,’ ‘reverse panda,’ and ‘linen’ dial variants; all without losing their penchant for quality and class. While customers were certainly calling for sportier models, Movado had enough brand awareness, in this era, to incorporate more modern designs into their offerings without alienating existing clients seeking Patek like panache in the middle market.
Extraordinary Movado FB 95Ms
Rarity and the ultimate version of any collectible are often rightfully tied. While an argument can be made for relative rarity with many FB 95M variants— be it transitional -58s, retailer signed dials, or simply strange dial and hand combinations— a few executions rise above the rest to achieve a true grail status. Examples of these select executions have been included in catalogs at prolific auction houses such as Phillips and Bukowski’s, garnering enthusiastic bidding and outstanding results. One variant implements a ‘snail’ dial in order to display a minute track alongside a telemeter and tachometer without cluttering the dial at a glance. The other appears ordinary on the wrist but tells a story of military provenance with a caseback engraving.
I know of three ‘Breguet Snail’ dialed stainless-steel FB 95Ms. Of course, I have nowhere near a full grasp of what was produced but over the few years I have been passively following Movado chronographs, three have popped up. All type 2 cases and later are in the -68 case number range; this execution seems to have been one of the final stabs at the 95M. And what a stab it was. This design is the ultimate exposition of Movado’s ability to produce a highly usable stopwatch-based timepiece at an increased level of elegance.
The next extraordinary variant is perfectly opposing and might attract a different collector. Movado was contracted, in a few instances, by the Royal Norwegian Air Force to produce a 95M for pilot’s use. Most often with a silver linen textured dial, outer tachometer track, kris sub hands, and applied M logo; this variant appears extremely common until viewing the caseback.
As unassuming as these may be, RNAF FB 95Ms are coveted by collectors both of Movados and militaria. Rare to begin with, but rarely found in great- to collector-grade condition, this is a remarkable group of stainless-steel cases and linen dials. I find the caseback engraving to be unusual within military watches; few have signifiers as large as this RNAF logo. A small run of -38 RNAFs with Type 1 cases has also been observed.
If history does anything for you, these were likely issued to Norwegian pilots at the height of the Cold War. NATO’s surveillance of the Soviets in the 50s and 60s, as well as the Russians up to today, heavily relies upon Norway as one of two countries in the group that borders the eastern giant. Norway has been and is still tasked with monitoring Russian exercises in the Barents Sea. Movado FB 95Ms were likely on the wrist of those guarding NATO’s Northern Flank.
Final Thoughts on the Movado FB 95M Chronograph
This may be a personal sensitivity to remarks on the brand but I cannot stand to hear another pitch about how underrated, under appreciated, or undervalued vintage Movado is. As I can’t stand to hear it, let alone write it, to make this assertion is not my aim. FB 95M chronographs piqued my interest years ago and, over the course of researching to arrive at a level of knowledge which I would be comfortable purchasing one, I was continually frustrated. So frustrated by the total lack of information in the community, I began cataloging my findings and discussing with collectors to write this article. Extremely well-respected dealers are listing case numbers as reference numbers and missing their “circa 19XXs” dating estimates continually. My aim is to eliminate the guessing game by an interested buyer.
The most glaring comparison here is the first execution Heuer Carrera, specifically the three register Carrera 12. Both measure right around 36mm and focus at least in part on water resistance. As a result of Heuer’s positioning in the Swiss watch market both in the 1960s and today, the brand has garnered widespread attention among collectors; completely warranted. With this attention comes a high amount of information on models like the Carrera. One OnTheDash forum user, Mark Moses used Heuer unique numbering, not too dissimilar to Movado case numbering, to estimate just under 40,000 first execution Carreras were manufactured between 1963 and 1969. Important to note, this 40k refers to all Carreras offered during the period, not just the three-register variant; Mr. Moses nor anyone else I find can offer specific breakdowns by variant.
Movado FB 95Ms were offered from 1946 to 1969 in the three generations above. My best guess at a total production number from this run of at least 23 years, estimating and rounding on the high side, is about 14,200. Comparing yearly averages that is just over 615 for Movados to over 5,700 for Carreras. Yes, the Carrera number has its flaws and the comparison is not apples to apples but this still tells an undeniable story of relative rarity. I challenge that most sport chronographs of the time period were produced in higher numbers than the Movado FB 95M. Every watch Instagram account can post a 2447n but few share FB 95Ms; maybe because not everyone can get their hands on a great example.
Movado 95M Chronograph Reference Guide
Want more from Rich? Check out his For Your Reference: Eterna Super-KonTiki over at Veblenist.