Saarbruecken, Germany

Portrait of a small German brand

by Marcus Hanke

May 2001 (revised edition February 2003)

This is a typical Nivrel watch: It features date, weekday, 52-weeks-display, a power reserve and of course a blue ostrich strap.
In 1993 the German businessman and goldsmith Gerd Hofer decided to start his own watch brand. As the distributor of Revue Thommen (since 1989) and Kelek (since 1992) he already had a lot of experience in the watch business. For his own line of watches he wanted to revive an old Swiss brand and therefore called the Fédération de l'Industrie Horlogère Suisse (federation of the Swiss watch industries). This organisation has archived the names of all watch brands which have been registered there at some time and either went bankrupt or have simply have disappeared from the market. These names - or better: the right to use them - can be purchased from the federation, which was the same way how the now famous brand "Blancpain" was reanimated.

Gerd Hofer bought the name NIVREL, and all he got was this name; no logo, no information whatever about the company which originally had this name. Only later he found out that the original company had been founded in 1936 as a brandname of the Marvin company in the Swiss Jura, produced good chronographs and watches with unconventional date displays until it disappeared somewhen in the Seventies. It was pure coincidence that the type logo he designed for his brand was nearly identical to the one adorning the original dials.

Valjoux 7750-based chronograph with 60 minutes-counter, combined sweep second- and 12 hours-counter and power reserve
ETA-based chronograph with central 60 minutes-counter, and 24 hours-display
From the beginning Gerd Hofer was convinced that he could not be successful by simply copying designs made by others. So he worked out a design for his watches which should make them distinctive among the huge mass of watches on the market. Therefore the typical Nivrel watch can be easily recognized by its external features: The decently sized cases are circular with brushed bezels, the crown is screwed down, as is the displayback wearing a mineral crystal, while the front crystal always is sapphire. The dials are silver coloured and structured with polished markers which are always applied and not simply stamped. The hands are blued by heat and normally there is no luminous mass on them. However, the most distinctive sign that you see a Nivrel is the strap; it is a bright blue ostrich leg strap. The bright colour was the idea of Hofer's wife, it is her favourite colour and she suggested that he should use it consequently. Therefore the watch box, the presentation stands, the catalogues, all these items wore the same blue colour and signalized that the watch thereby presented was a Nivrel.
Annual calendar with date and month display; this watch is programmed for one complete year and must be manually corrected only on February 28th/29th
The elegant case design was the same for all watches, even the chronographs' cases differed only by their diameter and the two additional pushers. But not only the outside design made Nivrel's success possible; crucial was also the use of unconventional time and date displays which could only hardly be found anywhere else. Here Hofer's connections with Kelek, one of the best-known developers of complication modules were a huge advantage. So he could follow the path of the original Nivrel company, offering interesting chronograph variants and date complications delivered not only by Kelek but also from other important specialists like Dupraz and Jacquet-Baume. Since Kelek now is more and more occupied producing for their owner brand Breitling, Hofer got the opportunity to exclusively use certain modules and designs discontinued by Kelek; the automatic 5-minutes-repeater being the most recent example. The quality of the German-made cases and dials always are first rate and the movements are finely decorated.

And finally all this was offered at extremely competitive prices; Nivrel offers the cheapest perpetual calendar on the market (German list price about 5,500.00 Euro).

The Perpetual Calendar is available in three different variants: One with moonphase display shown here, one with a separate 24 hour-hand which can serve as a 2nd time zone, and finally one with a 52 weeks-counter; the watch is also available in 18k yellow gold.

A special highlight is this skeletonized chronograph rattrapante based on the Valjoux 7750

Since 1993 the new Nivrel brand proved successful, so Hofer could afford to offer a greater variety in case styles, dial colours and even straps besides the elegant Nivrel classics. Now you can get rectangular watches as well as those with black pilot-style dials, cases made of 18k gold, watches with rare and old movements, black straps and bracelets. Some bezels now are polished or feature diamonds, but one thing is still common for all Nivrel watches: Every penny you pay for them has been invested into the quality of their watches and not into fancy advertising.

A watch outside the classic Nivrel design: ETA-based chronograph with annual calendar and big date

Another exception from the typical Nivrel style: A very decent-looking ETA-based watch with big date
Since I had written this article more than a year ago, Nivrel has worked hard to consolidate its position on the market. Several new watches were introduced, mainly based on standard movements, albeit nicely decorated, and finished following the high standards established by Gerd Hofer.

One true speciality has been added: A five minutes repetition watch. This modular repetition mechanism was originally developed by Kelek. After that company was purchased by Breitling, its own brand disappeared, and with it some truly interesting watches. Gladly, Mr. Hofer was able to purchase the mechanism, thus he presented Nivrel's exclusive 5-minutes-striker, which is the most inexpensive repeater on the market.

Since then, the interesting watch has seen the expansion of a whole series. Besides a clean-looking version with guilloche dial, Nivrel also offers several skeletonized repeaters, which even includes one 'adorned' with erotic motives.

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Copyright February 2003 - Marcus Hanke - all rights reserved