The Remarkable Halda Watch Co: The Complete Story of Halda
European Space Agency astronaut Dr Christer Fuglesang woke up from a light sleep on board the International Space Station. Like so many times before during these almost two weeks in space, a flash of light behind his closed eyelids had disturbed his slumber. A renowned particle physicist and associate professor at CERN, Dr Fuglesang knew that this flash of light was caused by a high-energy space radiation particle hitting his retina; the occipital lobe in the rear part of his brain where visual perception is processed; or any involved nerve tissue in between. Like every time before, he reached for his HALDA Space Discovery watch (Exhibit A) on his left wrist, pressed the functions button to access the event log, and registered the exact time for the flash of light experience. This key data would later be merged with other sensory data in the ALTEA research project, to form a better understanding of space radiation patterns and its impact on astronauts’ health.
249 miles below the ISS, Formula One driver Marcus Ericsson steered his Sauber C34-Ferrari F1 car into the pit stops at Italy’s Monza racetrack. It had been a productive 17-lap practice run, preparing for tomorrows Italian Grand Prix qualification. But Monza is a fast track and Ericsson had had an incident at over 200 mph where he had to push the Sauber’s carbon brakes to the limits and bring the car to a full stop. This was not exactly a very pleasant experience, and he knew the G-forces he had endure during the incident must had been close to his personal record. After getting out of the cockpit, escaping the helmet and exchanging the usual “all OK” phrases with the team chief, he pushed the function button on his HALDA Race Pilot watch (Exhibit B) to enter the 3-axis G-forces measurement mode. A broad grin spread across Ericsson’s face; 4.9 Gs meant a new personal record on the racetrack.
The Story of Henning Hammarlund and the Birth of HALDA
A mechanical genius born in a time of transformation
Hammarlund was born on December 30th 1857 in the southern part of Sweden known as Skåne. Sweden was generally a poor country at this time, far beyond the western European average in terms of GDP (Exhibit C), with three quarters of the population living of the land as farmers. The devastating war with Denmark, resulting in Skåne being part of Sweden after the region’s population had been decimated by over 25%, had been over for more than a century; but the last restrictions for trade and travel between the two countries had just been lifted. Industrialisation had begun to transform Sweden, and liberalist ideas where spreading through the country and gaining acceptance also in the government.
As the son of a local merchant, Hammarlund was reasonably well off and received proper education and opportunity to explore his talents. He early showed a profound interest in mechanics and as a child built simple large timepieces in wood from instructions in newspapers and magazines. At age 16 Hammarlund got his first job in a local mechanical workshop, but soon moved on to be a watchmaker apprentice and journeyman in local cities Ängelholm, Lund and Kristianstad. It was in the small, oil-lamp lit workshop of watchmaker Per Jönsson Holm in Ängelholm, that Hammarström’s dream of building his own watchmaking factory was born.
In February 1879, at age 21, Hammarlund left Skåne for studies in Stockholm, but only remained in the Swedish capital for a year. Then followed trips to Hamburg, Revel, Moscow, Warsaw, Wien, Berlin, Zürich, Basel, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Paris, London, New York, Chicago… These where some of the places he visited, lived, worked and studied at during a 7 year long stay abroad. Most notably though, he studied at Ecole D’horlogerie De Genève in 1882, the world’s most prominent watchmaking school at the time, where he fine-tuneed his watchmaking skills before returning to Sweden permanently in 1887.
At age 29, Hammarlund was finally ready to pursue his life’s biggest dream and build a Swedish pocket-watch factory. He returned to Sweden with a collection of honours and awards earned from various innovation fairs in the US and Europe; a newly submitted US patent (granted in 1888) for a new type of pocket watch winding mechanism (Exhibit D); and a firm determination to find a suitable property to build on.
Building something out of nothing
Hammarlund had a strong vision for the factory and the brand he wanted to build. He called it HALDA based on his name, HAmmarLunD with an A added at the end to make it sound just right. HALDA pocket watches where to be luxury items and as good as or better than Swiss watches, and Hammarlund had a motto to support this vision:
“If you are determined to become the best you can never compromise. Ever.”
Following his dream and motto, he spent months during the spring of 1887 walking around southern Sweden in search for the perfect location. Finally, decided to settle down in a small village called Svängsta (Exhibit E). Here, on May 1st the same year, he purchased a one-acre property next to the Mörrum stream for 800 Swedish Kronor (approximately £45 at the time, Exhibit F), a sum equivalent to income from 4000 hours of labour for an engineer at the time (Exhibit G). He could only pay 100 Kronor in cash though, and it was agreed he would pay 100 Kronor per year over the next 7 years, plus 6% interest.
Hammarström likely chose Svängsta not only because of its beautiful nature and relatively low property prices, but because the small community had its own train station since 1874. From here, he had easy access to Swedish ports and important trading routes with London, Hamburg, Paris, Amsterdam, New York and the rest of the world. It also meant that he was close to his relatives and social networks in Skåne, where he also eventually found his early financiers. But setting up the HALDA factory in Svängsta also meant one major deficit and challenge: A complete lack of able workers and suppliers.
This young man’s vision and determination quickly became legendary, and maybe the legend was just as important as his ability to overcome “impossible problems”. Hammarlund immediately started to build his factory and lead the work himself. He recruited three young men locally to learn the craftsmanship of watchmaking, and bought three metal work machines in pieces, including a lathe, to start with. He also recruited a young but skilled watchmaker from Stockholm, 24-year old Bernhard Johansson Wergeman, to be HALDA’s factory supervisor on the condition that he grew a full beard to gain workers’ respect. (Yes, this condition was indeed stipulated in the employment contract.) When Wergeman arrived in Svängsta in the autumn of 1887, he was met by a factory building barely finished, with machines not assembled, a three-person strong workforce that yet knew close to nothing about watchmaking, and an energetic Hammarlund whom had already sold the first four silver and gold watches in advance.
However, Wergeman was intrigued by Hammarlund’s determination to design and manufacture the world’s most advanced and exclusive pocket watches, and his recent patent was indeed a very cleaver piece of engineering. He decided to become Hammarlund’s right hand man, despite the obvious problems facing them, and quickly became a key player in the development of the factory.
The two men and their three apprentices started with manufacturing all the tools and smaller machines needed for watchmaking, since many of these where not available to buy in Sweden or even abroad. It was a time- and energy-consuming task since all the three bigger machines where powered by treadmills or other manpower, and the Mörrum stream did not have enough flow for sufficient hydropower solutions. The small and hardworking team slowly became ready to start production, but Hammarlund had already promised delivery of three silver watches to the 1889 examination ceremony at the Navigation School in Carlshamn, downstream the Mörrum. To meet the deadline, two experienced watchmakers; Carl Borgström and Johan Gustav Blomqvist; were hired and the team spent three months working 16 to 18 hour days to complete the order.
Going from startup to grownup
That same year the first HALDA gold watch was also finished (Exhibit H) and delivered to Hammarlund’s financier L. P. Kockum, son of Swedish industry pioneer Frans Henrik Kockum. HALDA could now advertise its range of silver and gold pocket watches in Svensk Urmakeritidning, the Swedish watchmaking journal, and announce its ambitions to hire “young watchmaking workers with desire and aptitude for new workings”. Now that Hammarlund had proved not only to himself, his financiers and workers, but also to his watchmaking countrymen that his glorious and extreme vision of building the world’s best pocket watch factory in Sweden was within reach; HALDA had to enter a new phase in its development.
To meet a quickly rising demand for HALDA’s watches, Hammarlund and Wergeman had to scale up and improve operations in several ways, ranging from hiring more workers to invest in new machines and even new buildings. All this development was costly and therefor HALDA was transformed from being an “independent ownership” into a Swedish Aktiebolag, i.e. a limited liability company with shares issued to its financiers. Capital raised was at least 125 000 Swedish Kronor (£7000), a significant amount at the time. With the money invested Hammarlund bought another 100 acres of land in the surroundings and completed several new buildings (Exhibit I), but the most significant improvement for the factory itself was the installation of a central steam engine and belt system to power lathes and other heavy machines.
In 1893 Hammarlund won two prize medals for his HALDA watches at the World’s Fair in Chicago, and the judges statement compared HALDA’s detail work to that of Patek Philippe, already then the world’s most prestigious watch brand. Building the prizewinning HALDA watch, a model that cost 260 Swedish Kronor (equivalent to 30 weeks of pay for the average worker), involved about 3000 different steps performed by the handful of Swedish watchmakers in Svängsta. At the time, the Swiss watchmaking industry employed more than 50 000. But fulfilling his vision and reaching the top of the high quality watchmaking-world came with the trade-off of losing some management control over the factory. Shareholders naturally demanded profitability, and watchmaking was not very profitable, so Hammarlund was tasked to use his unparalleled technical innovation capabilities to invent new things that could be manufactured in the HALDA factory; and so began the next chapter for the firm.
How HALDA became the locus of fine-mechanics innovation
Leveraging expertise in time measurement
HALDA’s first experiments with alternative products, that could be manufactured in its factory and sold with greater profitability than luxury watches, were also based on precision technology to measure time. Precise timing was becoming increasingly important in society as more and more daily routines in the late 19th century depended on innovations that in turn depended on a correct time reference.
One such driver of the sales of pocket watches was the development of railways and timely train arrivals and departures. Another was telephony, where appointments made for talking over the phone had to be respected due to high demand and initially low capacity. Sweden had already at this time its own internationally acclaimed telephony entrepreneur, Lars Magnus Ericsson. With Ericsson in mind, Hammarlund saw the need to not only keep time for appointments but also to limit time spent making a call, or rather to allocate a predetermined number of minutes to the phone-call. He invented the Tele-ur (Exhibit J), essentially the world’s first timer (i.e. an “egg-clock”), in the first half of the 1890s and it immediately became a very profitable product for HALDA. The Tele-ur was manufactured alongside HALDA’s exclusive watches, but sold in big numbers and with high margins to LM Ericsson, telephony stations and individual telephone owners.
Adding reliability and miniaturization expertise
Hammarlund continued to be a global superstar in the watchmaking world and won a gold medal for HALDA’s unique pocket watches at the Industry Fair in Malmö 1896. But that year he also began to experiment with applying his own and the firm’s expertise in manufacturing miniaturised yet reliable mechanics on technological challenges that no other inventor had been able to solve, at least not good enough.
The first such successful innovation was the modern taximeter. Taxi horse carriages and cars were becoming increasingly popular in the cities at the end of the 19th century, thus correctly calculating and charging appropriate fees was a growing need. Some early versions of the taximeter existed, but they were unreliable and as big and heavy as a passenger and therefore not very practical. Hammarlund constructed a HALDA taximeter that basically fitted in a shoebox and was highly reliable for use by both horse carriages and motor vehicles (Exhibit K).
The HALDA Taximeter was constructed using new mechanical principals patented by Hammarlund, and it only weighted about 30 pounds –a fraction of the previous machines on the market. The firm established a sales and service network with mechanical workshops in England, Russia, Italy, Denmark, Poland and Norway. In London, the HALDA Taximeter Co Ltd was registered with Hammarlund as its Swedish managing director, and for a period in the early 1900s the HALDA Taximeter was the only approved taximeter machine in the city of London.
Exploring precision mechanics more broadly
Measurement was still an important task in the taximeter mechanics, but as a technology, it was a step away from timekeeping. Hammarlund’s experimentation with precision mechanics outside the watch-world had also rendered some other interesting innovations. One such device was the Telecron, in effect the world’s first telephone answering machine. The Telecron could be configured to “answer” telephone calls when the owner was not at home, by striking a bell (heard by the caller) a desired number of times. E.g. four strikes meant that the owner of the called telephone would be back home and capable of answering by four. The Telecron, like the Tele-ur, was a commercial success although sold in lesser volumes. Another interesting innovation and low-volume product was the HALDA Millegraf –an early but fairly advanced copying machine with a rotating master drum and even a counter of copies made. However, all the experimentation with alternative products did not suit everyone, and when Hammarlund wanted to start production of bicycles in 1899 his right-hand man over the past 12 years, factory supervisor Bernhard Johansson Wergeman, handed in his resignation –despite Hammarlund’s cancellation of all such plans.
Hammarlund had also started what would become a long product development process for HALDA –perfecting the typewriter. The first commercially available typewriter, known as the Remington No. 1, came from the Americans Sholes and Glidden and was introduced in 1874. Hammarlund constructed the first Swedish typewriter around 1895 and displayed it at the Industry Fair in Malmö 1896. The machine went through a series of iterations in the coming year and only a handful was sold. In 1900 HALDA introduced 3 versions of its typewriter, called HALDA 4, HALDA 5 and HALDA 6. These machines, and HALDA 4 (Exhibit L) in particular, began to sell in relatively large numbers during the coming years.
Strike, competition, inflation and war. HALDA’s first flat-line and resurrection.
The first decade of the 20th century was in many ways the best time in the factory’s history so far, at least from a financial point of view. 1907 the workforce had grown to 70 people and the total revenue for the company was 163 384 Swedish Kronor, although the net profit remained modest mostly due to large depreciation. In 1908 and 1909 the workers tried to form a union and exercised a 3-week partial strike. HALDA’s management, especially Hammarlund, did not accept this and crushed all attempts of unionisation. After two very successful years in 1910 and 1911, and installation of electricity for both machines and lighting in 1913, HALDA started to run into trouble and head towards its first disruption and resurrection.
Sweden’s industry and productivity growth had been outperforming all other western countries since the 1870s, and the economy would continue to grow at record levels for another 40 years. But the arrival of World War I in 1914 left no one untouched. For HALDA, this meant that demand for luxury watches declined sharply and quickly; all exports basically disappeared overnight, which meant that the profit-making taximeter business was disrupted; imports of raw material and machine parts was as well disrupted, thus domestic alternatives became highly sought-after and increasingly expensive. However, this last issue was something that HALDA soon realised could work in its favour. The disruption of imports to Sweden meant that HALDA’s competition from foreign typewriter manufacturers was gone domestically, and so it came to be that the typewriter took the central position in the factory’s production.
The rise in domestic demand for HALDA’s typewriters could however not fully make up for the difficulties of wartime. In 1915 inflation in Sweden was 15% and a few years later, in 1918, 47%. During these difficult years HALDA had been preparing for “the bright future, as soon as the war ends…” by optimising its processes and upgrading its facilities for future expansion. This strategy turned out to be disastrous for the firm and during 1917 and 1918 it was refinanced and restructured twice, the second time leading to liquidation and removal of Hammarlund as HALDA’s majority owner and executive director. However, many of the 120 people that worked at HALDA at this point would carry the firm’s no-compromise tradition and fine mechanics knowhow further and reach new heights in new businesses.
The HALDA legacy in the 20th century
The watchmaking legacy
Soon after the liquidation of the original HALDA company, its factory supervisor Carl-August Borgström, whom had replaced Wergeman in 1900, bought the remaining stock of watch parts, Tele-ur patents, and some of the factory’s machines from the liquidator AB Svenska Handelsbankens Industrirevision (Handelsbanken). He started Aktiebolaget Urfabriken, better known as ABU, in Svängsta in 1921 and hired a couple of unemployed watchmakers that he had worked with at HALDA. ABU continued to manufacture and sell 4 models of HALDA’s pocket watches and a slightly redesigned version of the Tele-ur, but Borgström also constructed ABU’s own taximeter in 1926. The business grew slowly but surely, despite the global depression at the time.
When Borgström died in 1934 the management of ABU was taken over by his son Göte Borgström. He was determined to develop the world’s smallest taximeter and in 1939 the Record Taximeter was introduced (Exhibit M). This product would eventually become a success, but as World War II broke out the demand for taximeters declined sharply. Borgström Jr had learned from his father’s time at HALDA that preparing for a hypothetical post-war sales boom was a risky strategy. In times of food rations and very low ability for people to spend money on luxury watches, he repurposed ABU’s resources and exceptional know-how in fine mechanics to create what would soon become the world’s most appraised fishing gear.
In 1940 the ABU Record fishing reel was introduced (Exhibit N) and it became an instant successes. In 1941 several year’s of production capacity was sold to distributors in Sweden only, and ABU began a transformational journey from small business to industry leader that in 1975 had an 80% market share in the US. The company continued to strived for a no-compromise approach to everything, the way Hammarlund originally wanted things to be at HALDA, and the tagline for ABU’s reels was for a long time “built like a watch”. In 1954 ABU introduces its red Ambassadeur 5000 at the World’s Fair in New York, a piece that is still considered to be one of the sport-fishing-world’s most iconic and well-built reels.
The taximeter legacy
When HALDA was liquidated in 1918 the firm’s taximeter manufacturing was moved to Stockholm, and in 1920 the new company Fabriks AB Haldataxametern (Factory Ltd Halda Taximeter) resumed production of Hammarlund’s original HALDA Taximeters. After acquiring the remains of a bankrupt taximeter company in the city of Halmstad in southern Sweden in 1930, the firm moved its entire production there in 1931. Since the Halda Taximeter firm only manufactured taximeters, its broader aim naturally came to be towards the automotive industry. In 1947 the company had grown and was ready to diversify its product line, and so it was rebranded Haldex.
Haldex became world famous in the racing industry in the late 1950s and early 1960s due to its mechanical racing instruments called HALDA Tripmaster, Twinmaster and Speedpilot (Exhibit O). These devices were known for their unmatched precision (internal adjustable gearing increments allowed for +/- 0.7% calibration accuracy) and reliability and their purpose was to greatly simplify the co-driver’s tasks during a race. But the taximeter business continued under the HALDA name, in competition with the ABU Record taximeters, until 1969 when ABU bought Haldex. Other bolt-on acquisitions included companies specialised in heavy-breaking systems, fuel pump technology and transmission expertise.
Eventually the taximeter business was sold to the Swedish firm Trancometer AB that continue to develop, manufacture and sell taximeters under the HALDA brand today. Haldex became a leader in breaking and all-wheel-drive technology, IPOed in the late 1980s, and continues to be a no-compromise innovation and engineering firm in the 21st century.
The typewriter legacy
In Sweden, the HALDA brand that originally had been associated with luxury pocket watches would over time come to be synonymous with typewriting. Handelsbanken kept the HALDA factory barely open with a handful of workers (for a long time no more than four) repairing and rebuilding faulty Model 10 typewriters. The experimental Model 11 and the production Model 12 were developed by HALDA factory supervisor Gottfrid Persson and accountant Henry Olsson. The later was part of a consortium of Malmö businessmen that bought the factory from Handelsbanken in 1927 and re-established HALDA AB.
In 1930 the revived HALDA factory came in contact with a Danish typewriter constructor, Sigfrid Lindberg, in need of a production partner. Lindeberg’s typewriter had some significant design advantages over HALDA’s own platform, so it was decided to be adopted and co-branded. The HALDA-NORDEN typewriter (Exhibit P) was born and became an instant success with sales more than doubling each year for the first three years. In 1934 HALDA bought out Lindeberg, made some small improvements to the typewriter’s construction, and sold it from then on solely under the HALDA brand.
In 1939 HALDA merged with the larger firm Åtvidaberg Industrier, a company that amongst other things made mechanical office machines like calculators, but more importantly had an international sales organisation. HALDA’s typewriters started selling in significantly larger numbers and a new platform was once again developed in the 1950s. World-famous designers Sigvard Bernadotte and Acton Bjørn designed the new look for this typewriter, which would be the last one to bear the name HALDA. In 1957 the company changed its name and became Facit.
Just a few years later, in the early 1960s, Facit was very profitable, had 8000 employees and subsidiaries in over 100 countries. In 1970 the firm had 14 000 employees, but as an almost entirely fine-mechanics based technology firm Facit now faced serious disruption threats from electronics firms like Hayakawa (Sharp) and IBM. Electrolux bought Facit in 1972 and managed to boost sales, production and profits during a couple of more years, focusing on the typewriting business. During the 1970s a shift to electronic typewriters pawed a way for Facit’s next transition, and in 1982 Ericsson bought Facit from Electrolux.
Under Ericsson’s management Facit continued to make electronic typewriters but significant R&D efforts were also put into making a Swedish home computer, which did not sell very well. Facit was broken up by Ericsson in 1989 and the factory in Svängsta was once again an independent manufacturer, now under the name Facit Halda AB. Under new management, Facit Halda worked with production of Lexmark laser printers, NMT mobile phones for Spectronic and, as the factory lost increasingly more money, even assembly of ABU’s Ambassadeur reels in 1992. That same year the Facit Halda company went bankrupt, and the HALDA typewriter story came to a final end.
The HALDA Watch Company is born again
Mikael Sandström sunk deeper into his comfortable business class seat in one of Scandinavian Airlines’ new Airbus 330 Enhanced aircraft on route from Los Angeles to Stockholm, gently striking his latest HALDA wristwatch prototype as his thoughts drifted. Sandström, a successful Swedish engineer, watchmaker and entrepreneur, had in 2009 after many years of persuasion managed to acquire the rights to the Halda Watch Co brand from the Borgström family in Svängsta.
His first watch under the HALDA brand, Space Discovery, had been based on his own patented wristwatch platform that could hold different analogue and digital watch modules (Exhibit Q). It had been received extremely well by watch enthusiasts and astronauts around the world, acknowledged and used in space by both NASA and ESA, and was awarded with a Red Dot Design award in 2012. Sandström’s second watch on the platform, the Race Pilot, had functions aimed at racecar enthusiasts and drivers, including Formula 1, and had been adopted by a number of high-ranking drivers. In 2015 the HALDA Race Pilot was awarded with the European Watch of the Year award for its design.
Sales had been picking up steadily for the new HALDA watches and Sandström was very pleased with the performance of his small R&D and assembly team in Sweden, which he thought could take on any challenge he threw at them. HALDA had been reborn as the no-compromise watch brand it was once meant to be, but with a twist towards the extreme. A lot of watchmakers, Sandström included, had developed timepieces for aviation, deep diving, match racing, sky diving and other extremes. But making a watch for space travellers and another for the unforgiving conditions faced by Formula 1 drivers had been truly unique.
Sandström adjusted his chair, stopped fiddling on his prototype and reached for his sketchbook that always came with him on all his trips. Despite the successful reintroduction of HALDA watches, he knew that his market was limited with only astronauts, racecar drivers and very wealthy enthusiasts as customers. But with these two unique and extreme watches in HALDA Watch Co’s portfolio, the questions he asked himself as he put his S.T. Dupont pen to the paper was: What frontier for extreme watchmaking is there left to challenge? Who should HALDA make a unique no-compromise watch for next?
Exhibit A – HALDA Space Discovery.
Exhibit B – HALDA Race Pilot.
Exhibit C – Relative GDP (PPP adjusted) estimate to Europe average 1850.
Source: (Bairoch, P. 1976) (Adaptation)
Exhibit D – Excerpt of US Patent 388,036 (1888).
Exhibit E – Map showing the location of Svängsta in southern Sweden, as well as rail-network (black), cities, municipalities (red) and more. Source: (Höjer, M. 1882).
Exhibit F – Historical Swedish Kronor exchange rates.
Source: (Edvinsson, R. et al. 2010).
Exhibit G – Historical hourly earnings (Swedish Kronor) in Sweden
Source: (Edvinsson, R. et al. 2010).
Exhibit H – HALDA No 1. Manufactured in 1889 for L. P. Kockum.
Source: (Sandström, S. et al. 1987).
Exhibit I – the HALDA factory in Svängsta around 1900.
Source: (Sandström, S. et al. 1987).
Exhibit J – HALDA’s patented Tele-ur to time or restrict the length of telephone calls.
Exhibit K – HALDA’s early taximeter from around 1900.
Source: London Vintage Taxi Association.
Exhibit L – HALDA 4 typewriter from around 1900.
Source: Vilhelm Dromberg, The Typewriter Database.
Exhibit M – Record taximeter from ABU.
Source: Google Images / Bukowski’s Market / unknown photographer.
Exhibit N – ABU Record fishing reel no 1800.
Source: Mikael Risberg, ABU Trolling.
Exhibit O – Haldex’s mechanical racing computer HALDA Speedpilot.
Source: Google Images / Pelican Parts / Unknown photographer.
Exhibit P – HALDA-NORDEN typewriter circa 1930.
Source: Google Images / Antiguedades Rusticas / Unknown photographer.
Exhibit Q – HALDA Watch Co patented platform for interchangeable watch modules.
Source: HALDA Watch Co.
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— (2015b), ‘Interviews with HALDA Watch Co CEO’.
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