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Friedrich Speidel founded the Speidel Company in 1867. With an initial investment equivalent to $10, Speidel started making gold and silver chains with his wife, in the basement of his home in Pforzheim, Germany. He has been credited with developing the gold-over-metal method of manufacturing called "bi-metal" (also incorrectly known as gold "plating") which proved successful. In 1896 he built the company’s first factory, and installed state-of-the-art machines for the production of gold chain, previously manufactured entirely by hand.
Friedrich Speidel sent his three sons, Albert, Edwin and Eugene to America to establish a branch of the family’s jewelry chain manufacturing business. The Speidel Chain Company was officially founded in the United States in 1904.
By 1912 the Speidel brothers hired the architectural firm Monks and Johnson to design the company’s first headquarters. The five-story building, with its European-style front, was originally called the Doran-Speidel Building. In 1912 Edwin Speidel went on to found the Automatic Chain Company, which produced neck chain, chain-by-the-foot, and watch bracelets, most of their output being sold to watch manufacturers such as Bulova.
At first, only chain was made in the new facilities. During the 1920s, costume jewelry and watchbands were added to the line. Men’s watchbands surged in popularity due to their introduction and use in the military during World War I. In the early 1920s Albert Speidel formed Speidel Brothers, producing watch bracelets that were manufactured and sold primarily to wholesalers.
In 1928 the Speidel family in Germany and the brothers who lived in the United States, decided to merge all of the businesses into the Speidel Corporation in order to strengthen their position. The first president of Speidel Corporation was Albert Speidel, one of the Speidel brothers living in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1934 Paul Levinger was hired by Speidel Corporation as a plant foreman.
In 1937 Albert Speidel died at an early age from pneumonia. His brother Edwin, the founder of the Automatic Chain Company who had not been active in the Speidel Corporation up to this time became president of Speidel Corporation and Paul Levinger was made vice-president. At that time, the majority control of the business was held by the German family. However, in 1939, all of the shares held by the German stockholders were purchased by Edwin Speidel and Paul Levinger.
Watchband production was cut back during World War II when Speidel converted most of its facilities and started manufacturing cathode ray tubes for radar and other electronic applications. However Speidel came back strong in watchbands as soon as peace returned. In 1947 Speidel brought out its first modernized version of the scissor-type expansion band called the Golden Knight. It proved to be a tremendous success in the men’s watch bracelet field. The company also introduced elaborate packaging for its line of watch bracelets.
A planned reduction of costume jewelry production was soon instituted, leading to the discontinuation of costume jewelry in the early 50’s. National advertising for watch bracelets under the name Speidel and the building of a brand name began after the end of World War II, first in magazines and then in radio with a program called “Stop the Music.” This proved to be an outstanding success and helped make the name of Speidel nationally known. In 1949 Speidel changed with the times and discontinued radio advertising. Instead it concentrated its advertising budget in television, purchasing a number of fully sponsored programs and making Speidel one of the earliest television advertisers in the United States.
In 1951 with the advent of the Korean War, Speidel began manufacturing identification bracelets. The first product in this category was the Photo Ident, a combination ident bracelet with photo and an expandable wristband, which was advertised on television. It was an immediate success – of major proportions.
In 1956 Speidel started manufacturing men’s jewelry. The goal was to diversify its inventory and combat the increasingly heavy competition in metal watch bracelets from Japanese imports. Heavy opposition to this move by other manufacturers made it necessary for Speidel to change its method of distribution from general jobbers to sole distributors. Over the next three years a number of such sole distributorships were established in strategic geographic locations. Its sales force was also built up to provide adequate coverage to all areas of the United States.
Around this time, heavy investments had been made in the development of automatic equipment to produce a bracelet similar to the German Fixo-Flex. A few years earlier a German manufacturer had sent the first version of the Fixo-Flex bracelet to Paul Levinger who had worked out a license contract with the inventor, Karl E. Stiegle. In 1956 the first automatically produced bracelet under this patent was introduced as a test under the name of Kingsway. By 1959 the company officially introduced the new watchband as the “Twist-O-Flex”.
By 1964 the company, now owned by Paul Levinger, had grown significantly both in size and importance to the jewelry industry. Levinger sold the company to Textron, Inc. in May of that year. By 1966 Speidel had expanded its distribution capacity and entered the men’s toiletries market, with the introduction of the men’s fragrance British Sterling. The company aggressively marketed the product with such enduring phrases as, “Make him a legend in his own time,” which helped to create a market success without parallel. Speidel became one of Textron’s top local divisions in sales volume and performance.
The company began to expand its marketing reach internationally in the 1970s, beginning with Canada in 1971. The company furthered its sales market by branching out to Australia and New Zealand in 1972. Great Britain and Ireland in 1973; and Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland in 1974.
In the midst of their international sales expansion, Speidel started OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturing) Business Supplies in 1972. OEM manufactured metal watchbands directly for watch companies such as Seiko, which at the time had just introduced the “quartz” watch, the first totally machine assembled timepiece, which dramatically reduced watch prices. That same year Speidel began its watchband replacement program for mass merchandisers, making it much easier for consumers to find the appropriately sized watchband replacement at their local store.
Speidel introduced its newest version of the highly successful Twist-O-Flex watchband in 1988, called the Euro-Flex. The new watchband incorporated heavier metals and contemporary European styling. Speidel continued to expand its line of products with the introduction of the “Signet” watch line in 1994; a patented plastic top shell watchband in 1995; and the first watchband with rubberized coating in 1996.
In 1997 Textron sold Speidel to the Austrian-based Hirsch Armbaender AG, the leading manufacturer of leather watchbands in Europe. The new company was Hirsch Speidel Inc. Two years later, as part of a global manufacturing consolidation strategy, Hirsh closed Speidel’s original Ship Street property and relocated its headquarters to East Providence. In coordination with the move, Speidel closed down its manufacturing operations and outsourced its workload. A portion of the production continued in Rhode Island with local manufacturing companies, and the balance moved overseas.
In 2002 the company’s ownership had once again returned to the United States, when JRM holdings bought Speidel from Hirshc Armbaender. Five years later Fred Levinger acquired Speidel. In 2009 Cerce Capital LLC, purchased Speidel, once again making it a family owned and operated company. The Cerce family is dedicated to revitalizing the brand with a keen focus on design, innovation and superlative customer service.
Speidel began as a jewelry maker in 1904, but very soon it was known for "Ratchet-buckle" watchbands (introduced in 1920), the "Scissors Action Expansion Band" (introduced in 1936), the ladies' "Mignon" watchbands (introduced in 1939), plus costume jewelry. In the 1930s, Speidel was the first company in the world to introduce ID bracelets. During World War II, the company briefly produced cathode-ray tubes. In addition to watchbands, Speidel produces wristwatches, lighters, writing instruments, small jewelry, and other accessories. In recent years products have been outsourced.
Twist-O-Flex watch band
Though Speidel was very famous as an identification bracelet maker, the company is still best known as the manufacturer of the "Twist-O-Flex" watchband. Speidel introduced the Twist-O-Flex in 1959, after licensing the technology from its German inventor, Karl E. Stiegele. The Speidel logo is a Twist-O-Flex watchband tied into a bow.
The "Twist-O-Flex" consists of various styles of metal bracelet watchbands; the special link design creates a single-component, stretchable bracelet (also called an "extension bracelet" and once known as a "scissor-link" bracelet).
The Twist-O-Flex started life as a bracelet similar to the German "Fixo-Flex". A few years earlier, a German manufacturer had sent the first version of the "Fixo-Flex" bracelet to Paul Levinger, who had worked out a license contract with the inventor, Karl E. Stiegle.
In 1956 the first automatically produced bracelet under this patent was introduced under the name of "Kingsway". By 1959 the company officially introduced the new watchband as the “Twist-O-Flex”. This watch band was and is considered light years ahead of any other watchband products, was a sales phenomenon and was the fashion statement of its time.
The company’s independent distributorships, such as Gluck, GKG, Gerwe Brown, and Simon Golub became enormously profitable due to the Twist-O-Flex watchbands. Speidel went on to introduce two other highly popular versions of the Twist-O-Flex: the Ladies Twist-O-Flex introduced in 1961 and the Youth Twist-O-Flex in 1963.
The Twist-O-Flex continues to be the company's most popular product. The Twist-O-Flex was popularly called the "tank track" due to its resemblance to the tread of a tank when laid flat. Speidel now calls one of its most popular models by the name "Tank Trak".
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- Speidel - official site