I was a guest speaker during the recent “Collectors Table” talk on Clubhouse focused on sports chronographs from the 1960s along with Fred S. Mandelbaum, Jeff Stein, Eric Wind, and Roy Davidoff. During the conversation, which was organized by Breitling, Fred mentioned a company even he had never come across: Dulfi Henri Müller & Fils. I was unaware of Dulfi as well so I quickly did some research. This is the story of Mulfi, Dulfi, and Henri Müller. But it’s really the story of my research methods and sources, and that will be the takeaway if you get all the way through!
The Association of Swiss Chronograph Manufacturers
During our “Collectors Table” discussion, Fred S. Mandelbaum emphasized the importance of Georges Caspari’s recommendations to Breitling and others in the early 1960s. Caspari championed “teenage watches” as a way to revitalize the market for Swiss watches, especially chronographs. Breitling, Heuer, and Enicar appear to have taken Caspari’s suggestions to heart and created dozens of remarkable sports chronographs in the following decade, including all-time greats like the the Heuer Carrera, Breitling Top Time, and Enicar Sherpa Graph.
These brands were part of what Jack Heuer called the Association of Swiss Chronograph Manufacturers. This group, which is not well documented in my library, included Breitling, Heuer, Universal Genève, Enicar, Ulysse Nardin, Favre-Leuba, Le Phare, Angelus, Leonidas, and Dulfi Henri Müller & Fils. Most of those are familiar names, and even the more uncommon (Enicar, Le Phare) are familiar to those of us who study the history of the industry. But who is Dulfi Henri Müller & Fils?
I quickly searched the Europa Star archive and confirmed that Dulfi was a smaller but active brand at the time, produced by a company called Henri Müller & Fils and claiming heritage to 1925. I was surprised to learn that the company had previously used the brand name Mulfi in the 1940s before switching to Dulfi around 1953. But this exercise piqued my interest so I decided to dive a little deeper.
The Rise and Fall of Dulfi: 1953-1977
Wanting to learn a little more about Henri Müller and his brands, Mulfi and Dulfi, I headed for my primary sources of watch knowledge: Europa Star, Indicateur Davoine, and La Fédération Horlogère. I’ve got more information about these and other sources at the bottom of this article, and on my new Primary Sources page!
Given that Dulfi was active in the 1950s through the 1970s at least, I decided to start with the Europa Star archives. They cover this time period really well and provide a wealth of information! Looking up “Dulfi” in the archives, I can see that they were active at least from 1954 through 1981. In the 1950s Dulfi was distributed in Asia alongside better-known but still small brands like Alpina and Büren, so this gives some idea of their market. And I uncovered a lovely Portuguese ad from 1959 showing the brand’s seashell logo and a representation of a watch from that period. This ad also shows that Henri Müller & Fils S.A. was located at Rue Jacob Brandt 61 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a fact I can later use to locate the company in Indicateur Davoine or the Annuaire des Adresses.
Dulfi is featured in Europa Star’s 1963 conversation with Georges Caspari, including a shot of their new chronograph alongside fellow Swiss Chronograph Association members Breitling, Universal, and Heuer. And a 1963 advertisement alongside Le Phare shows their on-trend watch lineup. Both brands were then offering racing-inspired chronographs, with the Dulfi models strongly resembling Breitling’s Top Time watches.
Given their size, Dulfi likely sourced all of the components from third-party companies: A small company like Henri Müller would never have been able to produce any element of the watch in-house. It is almost certain that they simply assembled the watches from common components. And they might have been just a brand that marketed and distributed watches.
Following Dulfi forward in the pages of Europa Star, we see the company listed as a component of Charles Gigandet SA of Tramelan in 1970. Gigandet appears to have been a distributor and also included Weiss (producer of White Star brand watches), Nestor, and Benguerel at that time. This was a period of consolidation in the industry (and indeed this topic is the focus of that 1970 article) so it is no surprise to see little Dulfi has been swallowed up. Interestingly, the listing does not include the name Henri Müller!
It’s not clear what the relationship between Dulfi and Charles Gigandet was, but Müller certainly remained active through the 1970s. No new Dulfi watches are featured in Europa Star past 1971, but the brand appears to have continued for a while. The company was still listed at Rue Jacob-Brandt 61 in 1977 in Annuaires and Indicateur Davoine, but this must have been near the end. This was a time when most small Swiss companies vanished, and Dulfi probably did as well.
The Dulfi brand of Henri Müller et Fils SA of La Chaux-de-Fonds is shown to be deleted (“marques radiées”) in Europa Star’s Trade Bulletin 854 in 1977. It is then registered in 1978 by Virginia Menozzi of Oberwil, though there is no information about who this might be: The Dulfi registration is her only appearance in the archive! In 1981 we see the final appearance of Dulfi in Trade Bulletin: The company’s “Hermosa” brand is deleted that year.
So that’s the story of Dulfi: They were a brand created by Henri Müller of La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1953 and lasted in business through the 1970s. Their big breakout was the late 1960s, when they produced some interesting sports chronographs and sat at the same table as Breitling, Heuer, Universal, and others. But maybe that’s not the whole story…
Before Dulfi there was Mulfi!
Throughout my investigation into Dulfi, the question of Henri Müller previous activities remained. Who came before Dulfi? And how would I find them?
It was actually easier than I expected. Although Mulfi is listed in the earliest editions of Europa Star’s archives, from 1951 through 1953, there is no indication who they were. But Indicateur Davoine made it easy to see that H. Müller of Rue Jacob-Brandt 61 sold watches using the Mulfi brand up to 1952.
Mulfi brand watches were sold using the slogan, “La montre qui ne dort jamais!” (“The watch that never sleeps!”) thanks to the use of an automatic movement. The company’s messaging at that time was very on-trend, checking the boxes for jeweled movements, water protected, shock absorbing, center seconds, extra flat, automatic, and chronographs. And the watch itself looks quite lovely, reminding me of the Juvenia and similar dress watches that appeared that decade.
Moving backwards in Indicateur Davoine, we see more advertisements for Montres Mulfi and can watch the changing trends in the 1940s. A 1942 advertisement shows a much more primitive watch with small seconds and an Art Deco minute track. This model has none of the advances mentioned in their post-war advertisement. And this appears to be the same artwork we find in 1938 before the launch of the Mulfi brand! Müller was obviously trying to re-establish itself after the depression, but this would have been a challenging time to launch a new watch brand, since World War II was raging.
Switching to La Fédération Horlogère we find a flowery writeup of Henri Muller & Fils in 1942. Likely written by Müller themselves, this piece boasts of their “elegance, finish, and irreproachable quality” and of the popularity of the Mulfi brand. This is typical of the coverage in LFH at this time, and we must take it with a grain of salt. This was in fact the very first appearance of the Mulfi brand, suggesting that it was launched in 1941 or 1942.
We also see some examples of Mulfi advertisements in La Fédération Horlogère during the 1940s. The very same advertisement shown in Indicateur Davoine appears in LFH in 1946 and 1947, including a full-page appearance in the March 1, 1946 issue. This was shortly after the end of the war, with the Nuremberg Trials and the immediate rebuilding of Europe as a backdrop.
Why was the brand was abandoned by 1953? Despite the limited time it was on the market, one does occasionally see Mulfi branded watches listed for sale or on forums. So Mulfi must not have been a total failure for Müller & Fils. Perhaps there was some issue with the name itself: Does it mean something derogatory in another language? Was there a trademark dispute? It is not at all clear, but the company definitively dropped the “M” for a “D” in 1953!
Tracing Henri Müller & Fils in La Fédération Horlogère
Now that we have exhausted the history of Dulfi and Mulfi, let us turn to the parent company. Henri Müller & Fils remained active in La Chaux-de-Fonds through 1981, and was obviously somewhat successful from the 1940s through the 1960s. But what can we learn about the company’s development?
Tracking Henri Müller through the pages of La Fédération Horlogère is instructive since it includes both advertising and legal announcements through the first half of the 20th century.
The first I could find was a legal notice, sadly showing the November 23, 1931 divorce of Henri Müller and his wife Elisa-Catherine née Comincioli and the separation of their property (“séparation de bins”). It is rare to see family names mentioned in industry publications, let alone family matters like divorce, and this is a poor introduction for the company. But it is instructive and historically significant.
Henri Müller of Rue Daniel JeanRichard 25 in La Chaux-de-Fonds was next listed as a creditor nominee for Delba Watch Company of Granges in 1938. It is not clear whether they owed money to Delba’s creditors or were owed money, but it is notable that the lawyers were not able to locate Müller for long enough to take out an ad!
But times must have been improved for Müller after this. The company took out a series of ads in La Fédération Horlogère in 1938 attempting to rebuild the business. These ads show that Müller was offering watchmaking services to distributors and other watchmakers, boasting of rapid and satisfactory service. And it also shows some of the models they were offering, including the same small seconds watch seen in 1942 and a typical-for-1938 rectangular Art Deco watch.
H. Müller officially changed their line of business to “fabrication d’horlogerie, achat et vente d’horlogerie et bijouterie” on June 13, 1945, though it is not clear what their stated business was before this. This does coincide with the new focus on the Mulfi brand in the post-war period, so perhaps that was the reason.
The limited partnership known as Henri Müller et Fils was cancelled and transformed into a “société anonyme” (corporation) on February 25, 1946. The new company was called Henri Müller et Fils S.A., nearly the same name. Müller S.A.’s board of directors included Georges-Henri Müller, President, his father Henri Müller, Secretary, and was located at Rue du Parc 110 in La Chaux-de-Fonds. So now we see the transition from the founder to his son. This transformation also included share capital of 100,000 Swiss Francs, and coincided with the rapid expansion of the Swiss economy after World War II. We can credit the post-war expansion of H. Müller to Georges-Henri rather than his father!
A second company, Louis Müller et Fils, was set up by Henri’s other son on December 2, 1946. It was a supplier of industrial supplies. This registration also indicates that Henri Müller came from Siblingen near Schaffhouse, which is interesting but ultimately a dead end.
Now we have a much more complete image of the Müller company as it fell on hard times in the 1930s and re-emerged under Henri’s son Georges-Henri in the 1940s. But perhaps there is a little more we can find if we trace the company’s business addresses.
Following H. Müller & Fils Through La Chaux-de-Fonds
A quick look at Rue Jacob Brandt 61 in La Chaux-de-Fonds shows that this is a historic workshop building near the railroad tracks. A search through Indicateur Davoine‘s index of watchmakers by address shows that Rue Jacob-Brandt 61 was used by many watchmakers throughout the 20th century. Henri Müller is first listed there in 1948, suggesting that Georges-Henri relocated the company there. This small shared industrial workshop suggests that Dulfi did assemble watches in-house but likely not very many. The address was originally the home of the “Précis” brand of Eugène Meylan (founder of Glycine) in 1927.
Continuing to search for H. Müller & Fils in Indicateur Davoine, we see that the company was located at Rue du Parc 110 from 1943 (corroborating their SA filing) and Rue de la Paix 119 from 1934. Working backward, the company is listed at Rue du Nord 113 starting in 1930. While looking through the addresses of the company, I am looking for co-located companies since these could be related, and also for changes in name. But H. Müller is remarkably stable, with no obvious “sisters” at the same address. And these streets have been renumbered or the old buildings are no longer standing.
Then I get a surprise: H. Müller & Fils listed their address as Montbrillant 3 in 1927! That’s right – the company that produced Dulfi and was part of the Association shared the Montbrillant Watch Manufactory with Breitling 35 years before! This building was used by many companies over the years, notably Couleru-Meuri, Rode, Election, Le Stand, Nicely, and Brémon, and was never owned by Breitling. It is unlikely that there was a financial connection between the companies, but the Breitling family would have been familiar with the Müllers at least. Perhaps this is why Dulfi was part of the Association in later years.
1927 is the first appearance of H. Müller & Fils in Indicateur Davoine. It appears that the company’s first location was Montbrillant 3, and that this space had previously been solely occupied by Breitling. Perhaps that company no longer needed the entire wing of the building for those few years, but they took it back after Müller moved out.
So this gives us a definitive primary source for the start of the company by 1927 and a solid track of their location and operation for the next four decades. And we have a surprise, learning of the early relationship between Breitling and Dulfi!
The Grail Watch Perspective: Facts Not Folklore
I hope that this somewhat-pointless research project helps illustrate my approach to learning about the history of the watch industry and my reliance on primary sources for information. Because I never Googled Mulfi or Dulfi or Müller or looked them up in a forum, I can be confident that this account is not tainted by folklore or the misunderstanding of others. We can trace the foundation of Henri Müller & Fils with confidence and can definitely know the dates of establishment of Mulfi and Dulfi. We even have some images of ads and watches that came along the way.
This is perhaps all we can say about this inconsequential and forgotten company. Now I will document Müller, Mulfi, and Dulfi in Watch Wiki and move on to the next investigation!
My Primary Sources of Watch Knowledge
I have learned over the years not to trust the folklore found in watch forums or coverage in blogs or even respected periodicals. I prefer to look to primary sources for information, especially industry publications and directories. And period advertisements can be quite helpful to uncover dates of introduction and company information.
My favorite primary sources for watch history include the following:
- The various publications in the Europa Star club archive, which has recently been expanded to include their Trade Bulletin since 1936 and Latin American editions since 1942. These include excellent contemporary coverage of the industry, photographs, and period advertisements. It is well worth joining the Europa Star Club to access their excellent searchable online archive!
- Indicateur Davoine, an annual trade magazine dating back to 1842 and available online from Réro Doc. It is quite spotty after the 1960s but is a tremendous resource when paired with the Europa Star archive. Focused at first on La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle, it later expanded to include the entire Swiss industry and even features some non-Swiss content in later issues.
- La Fédération Horlogère, a twice-weekly newspaper for the watch industry dating back to 1886. Also available from Réro Doc, Fédération Horlogère is some serious “inside baseball” but excellently covers the industry from the turn of the century to the 1940s. The Réro archive ends in 1947, just where Europa Star picks up with their expanded archive.
- The WatchTime and QP magazine archives can really help with modern watches. WatchTime’s online archive back to 2000 is searchable for subscribers and is worth the price of subscription! QP is no longer online but included downloadable PDFs of most issues from 2003 to 2016, and many issues and articles are available from other sources if you Google them.
- Historic documents from the companies themselves are widely available online, including a vast trove of technical documents about historic watch movements. For example, Plus9Time maintains a wonderful collection of historic Seiko catalogs and OnTheDash is invaluable for Heuer research.
- Historic postcards and photos are sometimes available from sites like Mémoires d’Ici and even eBay! And the Confédération Suisse has a “Journey Through Time” feature for historic maps.
- The archived history of watchmakers own websites on Archive.org are illuminating if you know how to search. Sadly, many were Flash-based in the 2000s and are no longer usable.
- Annuaire des adresses pour La Chaux-de-Fonds et Le Locle is essentially the phone book for La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle. The Réro Doc archive extends from 1899 through 1988, with a few later editions. Although most of it is irrelevant, there is a solid list of “Adresses Professionnelles Horlogerie” in most volumes. Sadly, it is limited to La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle. Another excellent resource is E-Periodica, a service of ETH. It is also helpful to consult the Illustrated Professional Dictionary of Horology to learn the meanings of watchmaking terms.
- New York Times “Times Machine” is a searchable archive of the New York Times for over 150 years. Although coverage of the Swiss watch industry is scarce, what is included tends to be golden, like their coverage of Bulova and the Accutron or the rise of Japanese quartz watches.
You will notice that I do not have much of a library of watch books, and these would not be searchable if I did. I simply have not purchased many books, though the ones I do have are excellent.
I also could not possibly list all of the wonderful industry contacts I have built through friends like Serge Maillard, Fred S. Mandelbaum, Sander Peeters, Charlie Dunne, Eric Wind, Jeff Stein, Todd Levin, Bill Sohne, Roy Davidoff, Alon Ben Joseph and so many others. They are a wonderful source of inspiration and information, and I am truly lucky to have them as fellow travelers in my journey through watch history!
This is really great. I am bookmarking your Primary Sources link as there are several I haven’t seen. Thanks for sharing this process.
Thank you for reading and commenting! It’s always nice to hear from someone who enjoyed my work!
Richard Javes says
A very interesting insight in to the history of automatic watches