François Vogel: The Unknown Master Casemaker

Click here to watch a video about the Francois Vogel case.

Before the advent of waterproof watches, it was natural to think of a watch as simply a type of jewelry with a few practical functions.

Introduced in 1926, Rolex's Oyster case was credited with bringing waterproof watches to the market.

However, before Rolex, there was another case manufacturer that patented a waterproof case.

The manufacturer continued to supply cases to major Swiss watch brands throughout the 20th century.

The manufacturer in question is Francois Vogel, a long-established Swiss manufacturer.

Vogel's original design was used in many watches over the years.

François Vogel's waterproof cases became famous because when Patek Philippe decided to start producing their first waterproof watches, Vogel was the only one that could fit them.

However, it seems that Vogel's influence goes beyond simply being one of the most established watch brands.

Francois Vogel case engraving

Today, I will explain about the company François Vogel, which most people don't know about.

By watching the video until the end, you will not only understand the appeal of the case, but also the relationship between Vogel and Rolex, and Vogel and Patek Philippe, so please be sure to watch until the end.

The table of contents looks like this.
1. The History of Francois Vogel
2. Development of the decagonal case
3. Patek Philippe of historical importance
4. Movado and Vogel
5. The engraving on the back of the case back and its meaning
Finally, here is a summary.
So let's get started right away.

History of Francois Vogel

The history of François Vogel began in 1891, when François Vogel of Geneva applied for Swiss patent CH4001 for a waterproof pocket watch mechanism.

In this system, the movement was screwed into a one-piece case and sealed with a tight-fitting bezel and crystal.

This mechanism also made the movement dustproof, a major technological breakthrough at the time.

Vogel Screw-in Case Advertisement 1894

An advertisement from 1894 shows Vogel's screw-down case, a patented technology.

Around the 20th century, the Swiss watch industry was mainly made up of hundreds of component manufacturers, each specializing in making parts such as cases, dials, and movements (ébauches), and supplying them to different brands.

As one of many such manufacturers, Vogel supplied waterproof watch cases (mainly for portable watches) to brands such as IWC and Longines during World War I, and demand for these products exploded after the war.

The Vogel Company remained in the Vogel family until it was sold to the Torbert family in 1924, and became the new company Torbert & Fils (Torbert and Sons).

In the rest of this article, when "Vogel" is mentioned, it refers to the Vogel that was acquired by Torbert & Fils.

Around this time, another type of waterproof watch appeared on the market.

Rolex Oyster case.

Vogel screw-down case mechanism

An example of one of the first watches to use Vogel's patent and a screw-down case. Images from SJX and Vintage Watchstraps

In their book "Rolex Wristwatches, An Unauthorized History," authors Jeffrey Hess and James Dowling write that in the 1920s, Rolex used Vogel screw-down cases for some of its watches.

"This was a very significant development in Rolex watch design. It was the first time that the brand had produced a watch whose case was purposely designed to provide protection from substances," say Hess and Dowling.

In other words, it was thanks to Vogel that Rolex was able to create its first true sports watch.

The Rolex Oyster case, released shortly thereafter in 1926, was similarly designed and reminiscent of Vogel's screw-down case.

In fact, Hans Wilsdorf and Rolex later purchased one of Vogel's case patents.

Here is my prediction,

In fact, Rolex acquired the British Oyster Company to get their hands on waterproof cases.

Rolex was founded by Hans Wilsdorf in England in 1905 and moved to Switzerland in 1920.

Rolex acquired the British Oyster Company in 1926, so I think Rolex and Oyster Company were in relatively similar positions in the watch industry.

Since there is a mention of using Vogel cases in the 1920s, it is likely that the Vogel patent was purchased in 1925.

I believe that Rolex then asked Oyster Company to manufacture waterproof cases for Vogel in 1925, and after confirming that they could manufacture them without any problems, they decided to acquire the company.

Although this is the only circumstantial evidence we have about Rolex's relationship with Vogel at the time, it is clear that the Oyster case was at least heavily influenced by the Vogel case.

Development of the decagonal case

By this time, Vogel's patent for the screw mechanism he developed had long since expired (not to mention that it had given him an advantage over other manufacturers up until that point).

Torbert & Fils was aware of this situation and experimented extensively before coming up with their next innovative case.

The decagonal case is perhaps the most recognizable to vintage watch collectors.

Torbert & Fils Decagonal Case 1939 Advertising

1939 advertisement for Torbert & Fils' first decagonal case. Clinique Hologere

Originally, Torbert & Fils had always manufactured decagonal cases.

At this time, both the case and the back cover were decagonal.

However, for various reasons, this decagonal case was not practical, not to mention aesthetically pleasing.

As a result, they ended up making only the case back decagonal, and then using a special tool provided by Torbert & Fils to screw it firmly onto the rest of the case.

Torbert's relentless pursuit of a patent for this design meant that other case makers were forced to use Torbert's patent or some other method for their case backs, screw-down or otherwise.

Mido Multi Center ChronoMido Multi Center Chrono Diagonal

Mido Multi Center Chrono Horizontal

Mido Multi Center Chrono Back

The Mido Multi-Center Chrono was an early water-resistant chronograph and used a Vogel decagonal caseback. From S. Song Watches

Vogel has supplied hundreds of thousands of decagonal cases to dozens of brands.

Its well-known clients include Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, as well as lesser known but popular with collectors, Mido, Movado and West End Watch Company.

This technology, along with Vogel's patented cork stem seal (developed to eliminate the need for a crown, as was the case with Rolex's Oyster cases), was a major step towards making waterproof watches.

Historically Significant Patek Philippe

Historical significance often translates into popular items that collectors collect.

From the end of the 19th century, Vogel was at the forefront of the development and manufacture of waterproof watches.

What was inside was initially a completely new screw-down case design for the decagonal watch cases that were subsequently produced by many brands.

Even this history is sometimes overlooked.

Sadly, Vogel's contributions to the development and design of watch cases have gone largely unrecognized over the past half century and beyond.

"For Vogel to make the watch waterproof and push the boundaries of watch design is an honor worthy of a permanent place in the horology hall of fame.

Patek Philippe 565 front

Patek Philippe 565 Case Back

Patek Philippe's reference number, Ref. 565, uses Breguet numerals and the all-important decagonal water-resistant caseback.

Currently, I think Vogel is best known as the manufacturer of the case backs used in some of Patek Philippe's more famous watch models.

When Patek Philippe first produced the Calatrava (reference number 96), they supplied it with a snap-on case using an existing design, but they soon requested that the watch be replaced with their patented decagonal screw-down case.

Among the many Patek Philippe timepieces, the first to feature this decagonal design was the Calatrava, reference number 438, followed shortly thereafter by the reference number 565 and the exclusive chronograph, reference number 1463.

Patek Philippe Calatrava - Ref. 438

Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref.565

Patek Philippe - Chronograph - Ref. 1463
Vogel continued to supply cases to Patek Philippe until the mid-1960s.

The reference numbers 565 and 1463 are particularly popular among vintage collectors due to their historical importance and profound beauty.

The model number 565 has a unique monocoque structure, so it is immediately different when compared to other watches.

Furthermore, the model 1463 is the only waterproof watch made during Patek Philippe's vintage period, making it special and different from other watches due to its rarity and importance.

Vogel's revolutionary waterproofing system enabled Patek Philippe to move into the modern era by producing sports watches that could be worn during any physical activity.

This opened up new markets to the world for Geneva watchmakers, benefits that are still enjoyed to this day.

Vintage Vogel cases are sturdy enough by modern standards that they could still be worn and used today.

But collecting Vogel cases is fun not just because the cases they make are used in popular vintage watch models from brands like Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin.

This is because Vogel cases are used by brands that are affordable and suitable for everyday use.

Patek Philippe 1463 Vogel Case

Movado and Francois Vogel

Besides Patek Philippe, other notable brands that used Vogel cases in the mid-20th century included Movado.

Movado makes chronographs and Calatrava time-only watches in their in-house factory that look so expensive they could easily have a more expensive brand name on the dial.

As I said in the previous video, there is an underestimation of the quality of watches.

I think it feels about the same as Longines or Breguet at the time.

Perhaps the most beautiful of these is the rare watch that houses Movado's in-house chronograph caliber M90 in the same case as the Patek Philippe Model 565.

Movado Chronograph M90 Patek Philippe 565 Case Movado-Chronograph-19008

The result is a watch that embodies the best of Vogel: something both elegant and accessible.

Although the 565 and 1463 cases are more refined and elegant than other brands' products, Vogel's designs are easily recognizable by their sharp edges and smooth surfaces.

The Vogel cases used by Patek Philippe have smooth, flowing lines, while the Vogel cases for brands like Mido and Movado have a harder, more angular look, giving them a "Patek for the working man" feel.

The engraving on the back of the case back and its meaning

The inside of almost every Vogel caseback is clearly stamped with "FB and key" and the British patent number.

A typical Vogel case back design feature is its decagonal shape, as well as the "FB" and key mark engraved on the inside, indicating that it was produced by Vogel.

Some have just the inscription "BRIT PAT 385509" on the inside of the caseback, referring to the British patent number assigned to Vogel's Swiss patent for his decagonal design.

Vogel Case Back Inside

Vogel Case Back Inside Enlarged

One of the reasons Vogels are so attractive to collectors is that while the Patek model 1463 has an extra zero on the price tag, collectors can choose watches from Mido and Movado at a reasonable price that use the same patented waterproof case technology used in this watch.


I feel that the numerous patents obtained by Vogel have brought the practicality of watches to a new level, which is extremely valuable.

Watches have always been both art and science.

Appearance and functionality are both important.

No other case manufacturer strikes this balance better than François Vogel.

Vogel made the watch case waterproof and beautifully designed.

Without the achievements of Vogel and Torbert & Fils in the past, waterproof watches today, that is, modern sports watches, would all be completely different.

What makes watches with Vogel cases so special and popular with collectors is that they are the rare combination of historical significance and timeless beauty.