Posted on June 22 2020
Should I Buy a Glycine Watch?
Let’s keep this simple. My answer would be yes. They’re a Swiss brand, over a hundred years old, and they have a proud watchmaking history.
The story of Glycine Watches.
The company’s history began in 1914 when founder Eugene Meylan set up shop in Bienne, Switzerland. Although now known for rugged men’s watches, Meylan’s company initially began by producing very small, specialist movements for women’s watches.
By the 1930s he had begun to produce automatic models and a line of certified chronometer watches.
For the modern watch fan, the story really begins in 1953 with the launch of the Airman. Like most people interested in Glycine, this was the watch that first caught my eye. It’s an iconic watch and to this day, is the standout design in their range.
On its release, the watch was an instant success, having been designed specifically for intercontinental travel. The watch featured a 24hr dial with a GMT function that allowed travellers in general, and pilots specifically, to track the time in two timezones. It hasn’t got that mass appeal of the more widely known luxury brands, but among watch collectors, it’s held in high regard, especially after having been used by the US military in Vietnam.
The design itself is striking and the popular black-dialled version was originally presented to the public at the 1955 Basel watch fair. This Airman No 1 is still in production now and among my personal favourites.
There’s been a number of other lines produced through the years, including the Combat, KMU 48, Observer and Incursore ranges.
Who now owns Glycine and where are they made?
In 2016 Glycine was acquired by Invicta Watches. Invicta were themselves a Swiss brand that is now under American ownership. This was a worrying time for Glycine fans, but the move appears to have worked, with Invicta adopting a hands-off approach.
Glycine’s CEO at the time was clear on the direction of the brand would take.
“There are absolutely no intentions to have a mixture of the two brands. Glycine will stay Glycine…… Glycine will stay a Swiss brand producing mainly automatic Swiss watches at a very attractive price point”.
Pricing has been a highly discussed issue around the brand’s offerings. Since the acquisition, the price-point has been lowered, something that I’ve welcomed.
Glycine is now quite clearly an affordable, entry-level Swiss brand, in the line of Certina, Tissot and others.
The movements used may have changed, but they’re still Swiss made - modified from Selitta bases. The watches themselves are still produced in Bienne, and at a quality level that would be expected from a Swiss heritage brand.
The current Glycine range is trimmed down into two core lines. The Airman and Combat series. It was a difficult task to highlight half a dozen watches, particularly when trying to give a fair representation of the brand. I've simply picked my favourite watch from each collection.
It’s a beautiful timepiece.
The 40mm case is larger than the original and the grey PVD coating creates a darker, more toned-down aesthetic. So it’s providing that authentic vintage styling, but with a sizing that caters more to modern tastes. But, that’s the only nod to modernity.
Everything else is like the original. From the 24hr bezel that can only be rotated by releasing the thumbscrew crown at 4 o'clock, to the domed acrylic crystal. The dial, although quite busy, retains a simplicity. Just plain cream lume and simple lettering.
The hands rotate twice per 24hrs meaning it’s a little easier to tell the time than a true 24hr movement. The movement itself is a Glycine modification to a Sellitta Swiss-made automatic.
Glycine Airman Vintage The Chief GL0246
The Airman watches in the contemporary collection are essentially a beefed-up, modern take on the classic look of The Chief and No.1. The case is larger, the bezel and lugs a little thicker, and the two crowns are over-sized.
It makes for a bolder watch, emphasised further by the blue gradient dial and substantial hands. Overall it works. All the main elements of the Airman are there - this is still quite clearly an aviation watch. But, as the collections name suggests, it’s a contemporary take. A more colourful and noticeable version of the brand’s iconic design.
Glycine Airman Contemporary GL0054
There’s a not a great deal to add about the remaining Airman watch I’ve highlighted. Other than it’s the Airwoman version. So where the last model was larger and more masculine, this watch is smaller and more feminine.
Rather than the 44mm of the men’s version, this has a case diameter of 36mm - the same size as the original 1950s Airman. There’s the distinctive gold-coloured case that does suggest a more fashionable style. However, at the same time, it does slightly conflict with the Airman’s military heritage.
Still, for a watch designed specifically for women, it’s a tough and rugged design. There’s nothing dainty about an automatic watch with a sapphire crystal, double crowns and 100M water resistance. This is still a functional tool watch.
Glycine Airwoman GL0182
Glycine’s Combat line was created after the Airman, with the first dive watch released in 1967. There’s not the innovation of the Airman here - this is more of a standard Submariner design. But it does have it’s own styling.
For example, at just over 10mm, this is very slim for a legitimate divers watch. With curved lugs hugging the wrist there’s been a real attempt to get this 42mm watch to wear smaller. With most divers never making it into the sea, it’s refreshing to see a sports watch styled to slip under a shirt cuff.
It has the functionality of a divers watch, with the profile of a dress model.
Stylistically, it’s not a homage to the Rolex sub. There’s enough of Glycine’s own styling, particularly with this colourful variation, to warrant a closer look at the range.
Glycine Combat Sub GL0092
The Combat Sub vintage is very similar to the watch above - the case has the same incredibly slim profile and it’s powered by the same Swiss-made movement.
Where the two watches differ most is in the dial design and the choice of hands. The standard Sub has a more military-style dial, with simple dot indices and 24hr markings. The date window is in the traditional 3 o’clock position.
The vintage take on the Combat Sub has a textured dial, blue in this case, and bold printed numerals. With the Mercedes hands and slightly retro bezel, the overall impression is of an older design.
A touch I particularly liked, was the repositioning of the date window to 4 o’clock. It’s easy to miss, but the date itself is horizontal, rather than presented at an angle like a lot of watches that use a date in this position.
It's those little touches that made me a fan of this model
Glycine Combat Sub Vintage GL0260
It’s easy to skip over this watch when browsing the Glycine website. At first glance, there’s not a great deal that jumps out. Particularly after the previous colourful watches I’ve highlighted from the Combat range. But take a closer look.
Like the previous two, this is a very well proportioned watch. 43mm width, and again, a slim profile. The colouring is very simple. Classic would be a better description. A black dial in a stainless steel case - for many that is the standard.
Despite the neatness of the design and the small depth of the watch, it still retains a tool watch vibe, seen for example in the Rolex Explorer or Omega Aqua Terra.
I prefer this variation, with the five-piece link Jubilee bracelet, to the leather strap version. It feels more like a tool rather than a dress watch. Again there’s a Swiss automatic movement, this time visible through the exhibition back.
Glycine Combat Classic 6 GL0101
Of the large number of watches in the Combat collection, this for me, is the most authentic military design. The dial particularly has that classic military look of the Vietnam era GG-W-113 designs.
The inspiration is clear. In the handset, the 12/24hr dial and the lumed triangle at the dial edge. It’s an instantly recognisable military design and Glycine have consolidated this with the inclusion of a straightforward canvas Nato strap.
As for specs, this is a significant upgrade from the watches originally worn by GI’s. Rather than the almost disposable watches worn in Vietnam, this modern interpretation has a sapphire crystal, automatic movement, and token water resistance of 50M. Bear in mind that you can pick this watch up for less than £300.
Glycine Combat Classic Vintage GL0124
If I’m honest, I’ll admit that my mind was already made up before I took a closer look at Glycine. It was a brand that I’ve liked for years. Still, it was informative to cast an eye over their current line up and make some choices.
The watches listed are the ones I’d most like to wear. The best of each collection. They meet the criteria I carry around in my head when I’m shopping for watches. They have history, innovation, real-world pressure testing and a reputation for good build quality.
Importantly, they’re affordable. The prices are realistic for the average watch fan who wants to wear a Swiss-made mechanical watch.
If you have anything to add about Glycine watches, pop your thoughts in a comment below.