Overlooked No More: Betty Fiechter, Pioneer in the World of Watches

This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.

In September, Swatch released a group of watches in collaboration with the venerable brand Blancpain: the Bioceramic Scuba Fifty Fathoms collection, which, the company said, “met all the needs of underwater exploration.”

The original Fifty Fathoms — introduced by Blancpain in 1953 and still an anchor of the brand — was groundbreaking: It was considered to be the first modern divers’ watch, with water resistance of up to about 300 feet. And it wouldn’t have been created without a woman who was equally trailblazing: Betty Fiechter, the first female owner of a Swiss watch house in a traditionally male industry.

Fiechter (pronounced FEESH-tehr), who had started out as an apprentice, rose to the top at Blancpain in 1933. “It was totally unprecedented,” said Pascal Ravessoud, a vice president of the Swiss trade organization the Fondation de la Haute Horlogere. “It would have been twice as hard for a woman to fight her way through.”

In her 30-year tenure at Blancpain, which was acquired by Swatch in 1992, Fiechter held a variety of positions, including president and general director (titles she held simultaneously), and oversaw the creation of some of the company’s most successful watches.

She placed an emphasis on women’s timepieces, like the slim and elegant Rolls, the first automatic watch designed for women, created in 1930, and the Ladybird, a delicate 1956 piece considered at the time to have the smallest round watch movement, or internal mechanism. (Marilyn Monroe was famously a fan of Blancpain’s feminine creations.)

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