Last year I published an article on the long and complicated story of Hebdomas, the 8-day watch with the exposed balance wheel. As I discussed then, the watch dates all the way back to 1889 and remains in production to this day, a remarkably long life for a fussy old fashioned design! But I did not then have access to some of the sources of information that inform my research today, and a few readers pointed out some areas I missed. Today I am diving deep into the origins of the Hebdomas, the inventor Irénée Aubry, the watchmaker Arthur Graizely, and the industrialist Otto Schild.
This article is a “prequel” of sorts to my 2020 piece, “Hebdomas: The True Story of the 8-Day Pocket Watch“
Irénée Aubry, Originator of the Hebdomas Watch
Irénée Aubry deserves credit not just for the invention of the Hebdomas watch, but also for its initial construction and popularity. The idea sprang nearly fully-formed from his workshop near the small and picturesque villages of Emibois and Muriaux. Located between the better-known watch towns of Saignelégier and Le Noirmont in the hills near the border of France, these tiny towns were two of many that fed the demand for workers in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Saint-Imier, and Bienne at the turn of the century.
The earliest listing for Irénée Aubry appears in Indicateur Davoine in 1875 in Emibois, a tiny hamlet along the road to Muriaux. Although there are many with the surname “Aubry” at that time, the first name “Irénée” is suitably unusual to identify this as our watchmaker. Given that he was at work in 1875 and lived at least until 1924, one can assume that his birth came in the 1850s.
He was listed as a Finisseur, along with Félicien Aubry, in 1875, but in 1877, is shown as a Repasseur. Although repassage technically means “ironing“, in horology it refers to the final inspection of a watch before it is sold, including checking the timing, which is a task closely related to finissage. Neither Aubry is listed in the 1873 edition, though many others with this name are involved in the watch trade for decades before. And it seems that finnisage and case making were specialties of the Aubry family, both men and women.
Irénée Aubry’s signature invention was a long-running watch movement that used the entire diameter of the movement to hold a massive mainspring. When Switzerland established a patent office in 1888, he immediately applied. His “Nouvelle disposition du mécanisme des montres de toutes dimensions, particulièrement applicable aux montres-bijoux et anx montres marchant huit jours et plus” received Patent (“Brevet”) number 88 on November 19, 1888, just five days after the date on the hand-written drawings attached. Note that the long title means “new arrangement of the mechanism of watches of all sizes, particularly applicable to jewelry watches and watches with power reserve of eight days or more” in English.
Looking at the patent today, we can see the essential elements of the Hebdomas movement that would last in production for over a century: Figure 3 shows the massive mainspring barrel mounted at the center of the movement and spanning the entire diameter, while Figure 1 shows the offset dial and exposed balance opposite the crown. The patent illustration even includes fine floral decoration on either side of the dial, an element that would be included on most Hebdomas watches.
But there is one key difference to be seen: The signature horizontal balance bridge is not present, with a more conventional balance cock used instead. A second cock supports the escape wheel, which is exposed under the dial. And the cutouts are rounded, echoing the floral motif, rather than straight across under the dial.
Aubry, Graizely & Godat in La Ferrière
Aubry must have recognized the commercial potential for his design, but he also must have been aware of the challenges of commercial production in his tiny remote village. By the time spring returned, he had established a joint company in the larger town of La Ferrière to produce his 8-day watch. Aubry, Graizely et Godat was established in the home town of watchmaker Arthur Graizely, and began the progression of Aubry down the road to La Chaux-de-Fonds.
It is unclear who Godat was, though we might guess it to be one of the Godat brothers of Cerneux-Godat in nearby Les Bois. They were already assembling complete watches by 1855 and would have been familiar to Aubry and Graizely. Circumstantial evidence further points to Ariste Godat, who is listed as a watchmaker specializing in “montre 8 jours brevetée, or, arg. et acier” (“8-day patented watches in gold, silver, and steel”) in La Ferrière in 1893.
Graizely and his brother also established their own watchmaking concern in the town in 1889, and the two firms (Aubry’s and the Graizely Frères) would work together to produce 8-day watches for over 30 years.
In April of 1891, Irénée Aubry transferred his patent (refined as number 88/2) to Aubry, Graizely & Godat. Although the listing shows Saignelégier as his home, this encompasses all of the towns and villages we have mentioned so far, so he might still be located in Emibois. This patent would be renewed and maintained for a decade. Strangely, it was reassigned to Henri-Albert Didisheim (maker of Marvin watches) just 3 months before it expired in 1903.
Aubry saw more potential as an aspiring volume producer of watches in La Chaux-de-Fonds. He relocated there by 1894, establishing a large workshop at Rue du Manège 16-18, even as Graizely and Godat remained in La Ferrière. For the next few years, watches based on the Aubry patent were produced by all three companies in both locations.
Arthur Graizely was next to turn away from small town life. He turned over the Graizely Frères workshop to Louis Graizely by 1898 and followed Aubry to La Chaux-de-Fonds by 1904. Louis Graizely continued to use the “GF” ring logo he had previously shared with his brother, but the firm was known by his name alone starting in 1898. Period advertisements suggest that this firm never produced the 8-day watch and instead specialized in compact watches (“petits remontoirs”) using movements from the famed company, LeCoultre et Cie. of Le Sentier.
Ariste Godat would remain in La Ferrière through 1908, still producing patented 8-day watches after both of his partners left town. One can imagine him sitting at the tavern with Louis Graizely discussing the amazing success of their friends Irénée Aubry and Arthur Graizely in the big city of La Chaux-de-Fonds! They are the only complete Fabricants d’Horlogerie still listed in La Ferrière in the 1908 edition of Indicateur Davoine, among 720 other inhabitants of the remote watchmaking town.
Aubry and Graizely Move Production to La Chaux-de-Fonds
Irénée Aubry’s move from the tiny mountain village of Les Emibois to La Chaux-de-Fonds must have been a huge shock. He arrived the same year as Léon Breitling, 1894, and the city was bursting at the seams. As it expended into the hills north of town, it was also expanding south and west. Aubry selected a building just south of the town square, Rue de Manège 16-18. Although the railroad and jail were nearby, it was an upscale location close to the parks and the Musée des Beaux-Arts.
By 1900, Aubry relocated to a more grand building a block away, Rue du Grenier 24. This location, very close to the current Musée International d’Horlogerie, would have given Aubry a high profile in town. Aubry had diversified by this time to other long-power-reserve watches and clocks: In addition his famous 8-day pocket watch, Aubry produced 15 and 30 day clocks.
Arthur Graizely joined Irénée Aubry in La Chaux-de-Fonds by 1904. He originally worked alone in a small shop at Terraux 33, but Graizely soon incorporated his business. Graizely & Cie. was formed on June 13, 1904 and the firm soon expanded. They exhibited at the Milan Exposition in 1906, winning a silver medal, and registered multiple watch model designs in those years.
Graizely & Cie. purchased patents from other companies in the 1910s and also patented his own designs. In 1903, Graizely received patent 24675 for “Montre extra-plate à échappement visible” (“Ultra-thin watch with visible escapement”). Although not necessarily an 8-day watch, this design included a signature element found in Hebdomas watches for a century: A horizontal balance bridge with half arrow shaped end pieces. This design was first seen in Aubry’s revised patent 88/2, which was shown in a Graizely ad from 1894. It is interesting that Graizely would bring this design element to an unrelated movement.
As mentioned, Aubry’s original patent number 88/2 expired in 1903, just months after being reassigned to Henri-Albert Didisheim. It seems that a new movement design was now in use and protected by other patents.
Irénée Aubry continued to receive patents through the 1900s, with a series of patents for “Montre à longue marche perfectionnée” (“advanced long-power-reserve watch”) revealing his focus in these years. This includes patent 27545 in 1903 and 28100 in 1904, both of which used this description. He also registered patent 34981 in 1906 for “Pendulette à huit jours de marche” (“Eight-day clock”), patent 39165 in 1907 for “Fond de boîte de montre” (“watch caseback”), patent 40663 in 1907 for “Mouvement de montre” (“watch movement”), and patent 44117 in 1908 for simply “Montre” (“watch”).
By this time, Aubry would be nearly 60 years old and could be expected to slow down, but this was not the case. Around 1909, Aubry would relocate again, this time a large building at Rue du Parc 71, a main boulevard in the city home to many high-end watchmakers including his old friend Arthur Graizely.
Graizely & Cie. had moved into a grand building at Rue du Parc 137 by 1908 and expanded production and marketing of 8-day watches. A year earlier, Graizely had purchased patent 33103 from Frantisek Hartmann and Josef Oliàk of Prague (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). This patent, for “Montre remontoir” (“Winding watch”), was used for the “sensationnel nouvelle montre 8 jours” (“sensational new 8 day watch”) from Graizely starting in 1909.
The 15 or 16 ligne Graizely Octava was produced at the same time as the 12 of 14 ligne Aubry design. It seems strange that Graizely & Co. would be competing against itself with two different 8-day watches, but the difference in size was significant, as was the more conventional design (central hands, small seconds) of the Octava. And we would soon see a new use for Aubry’s compact movement, as Graizely became one of the first companies to produce a wristwatch by 1912.
These two watchmakers from the northern Jura had a large impact on La Chaux-de-Fonds and the Swiss watch industry. Their 8-day watches would become a popular trend after 1910, with many other producers joining the market. And the Graizely building at Parc 137 remains a landmark today.
Brand Names: Hebdomas, Octava, Octus, Octomas
It is not clear when the term “Hebdomas” began to be used for these watches. The term may have been a generic one around the turn of the century, but there is no reference to Aubry, Graizely, or Godat using this term in their early advertising. Indeed, trademarked names were quite a novelty in the 1890s and they may not have considered registering one for the watch.
It is clear that someone was using the brand name Hebdomas in the 1900s, though. A curious advertisement in La Fédération Horlogère in 1907 asks who makes the 8-day Hebdomas watch, requesting an answer to a post office box used the prior year by a company importing anti-magnetic watches into the United States market. Perhaps they heard about the novel 8-day pocket watch and wanted to establish a business relationship as an importer!
This is the same time that Graizely & Co. established their massive factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Soon this firm, along with Aubry, would be producing thousands of examples per year. We certainly see Graizely & Co. using the Hebdomas name in the 1910s, so it is likely that Graizely established the brand around the same time the company was registered. I find claims online that Hemdomas was registered by Graizely in 1906 but have not located evidence for this date.
The first definitive use of the Hebdomas brand for the Aubry/Graizely watch is a November 1912 ad by Graizely & Co. in La Fédération Horlogère. It clearly links together all the elements of the Hebdomas watch with the brand name: Manufacture by Graizely & Co. in La Chaux-de-Fonds; an 8-day movement measuring 12 or 14 lignes; and a wristwatch design with the crown at 3:00. This last is worth special note, since wristwatches for men were just emerging at this time. In fact, the Hebdomas might be one of the first wristwatches ever produced for men!
The timing of this ad is also important: It was the height of success for the first wave of 8-day watches. But Irénée Aubry was already on his way out of La Chaux-de-Fonds, handing his firm over to his son. And the next year would prove fateful for Graizely: After a series of challenges, he would lose control of his firm just 12 months later.
The 8-Day Watch Fad: Aubry-Schaltenbrand and Otto Schild
Irénée Aubry appears to have retired to the small village of Chez-le-Bart by 1913. He had continued to innovate through his 20 years in La Chaux-de-Fonds, notably introducing a central seconds hand by 1908, but his pace of patents had slowed. Francis Aubry-Schaltenbrand of Muriaux (likely Aubry’s son) took over the La Chaux-de-Fonds watch works in 1911. But Irénée Aubry continued to produce watches from his new home overlooking Lake Neuchâtel, and was still listed as a watchmaker there until 1924.
The close relationship between Aubry and Graizely comes into sharp focus in 1913. In February, workers for both Graizely & Co. and the newly-named firm of Aubry-Schaltenbrand committed to walk out on strike. The fact that the firms were named together, with a single pool of workers, suggests that these La Chaux-de-Fonds companies were very close indeed. The action was called the “conflit des montres 8 jours” (“8 days watch conflict”) by the press at the time.
Similar action was seen in many quarters at this time, but the strike against the 8-day watch makers was a key one. The workers were represented by the Fedération des Ouvriers de l’Industrie Horlogère (“Federation of watchmaking workers”), and the group used the case as an example for other watchmaking companies. The key discussion point was not so much the money earned by workers but their ability to organize a union without the consent of the factory owners and to invalidate any contracts stipulating otherwise.
This experience proved enough for Arthur Graizely, however. He sold Graizely & Co. to Otto Schild just a few months later, on May 28, 1913. This followed the absorption of Graizely’s workshop in Madretsch near Bienne on March 3.
Otto Schild came from Grenchen, where the Schild name was famous indeed. His family was responsible for Schild Frères (which would give us Eterna and ETA) and movement maker A. Schild. But Otto had been in La Chaux-de-Fonds for a decade by then, and had built a watch business of his own. He may have been involved with Arthur Graizely’s operation as early as 1906, making him the ideal candidate to take over in 1913.
Graizely & Co. became Schild & Co. after the acquisition, but the business focus and brands remained the same. In addition to the Hebdomas, Schild produced watches and clocks under the Otava and Septima brands. A 1913 ad for Schild & Co shows just how focused he was on 8-day movements, with a large figure 8 filled with images of dozens of watches and clocks. Another ad that year looks remarkably similar to Graizely’s, including the engraving of the famous Rue du Parc 137 building. Note the focus on the Octava brand, which was linked not to the open Hebdomas movement but Schild’s own alternative movement.
Although Schild was focused elsewhere, Francis Aubry-Schaltenbrand remained dedicated to the classic Aubry/Graizely 8-day watch. Now located at Rue Léopold-Robert 90, the new firm also stuck to pocket watches even as Graizely pivoted and diversified into travel and dashboard clocks and wristwatches.
More companies began producing 8-day watches using Schild’s movement at this time. We saw an open-balance 8-day watch from Georges Maire in 1908, but this lacked Graizely’s patented balance bridge. L. Sandoz-Vuille of Le Locle produced a watch that was much closer to the Aubry design. We see this company advertising 8-day watches from 1907, with the Presto brand used since 1908. It is likely that the “Brevetées” proclaimed in this 1913 ad belonged to Aubry and Schild!
Other companies were entering the hot 8-day space as well, many using an unrelated movement based on a 1903 patent from Charles Couleru-Meuri. This included Gindrat-Delachaux and the Octo from Marc Dubois (later Ernest Tolck). Even Breitling used the Couleru-Meuri movement at this time, as memorialized on a sign outside their Montbrillant Watch Manufactory.
Sales of 8-day watches was deeply impacted by the Russian Revolution in 1917, however. Schild & Co. was especially affected, but the loss of the Russian market hit many in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Over-production after the war was another gut punch for larger Swiss watch producers, and many failed in 1921. Francis Aubry-Schaltenbrand was deeply impacted by both events, with his firm closing in 1923. He would start a new firm, Montres Abra, later that year but it would not last long and he was removed in 1925. Francis would briefly reappear as a solo watchmaker in the 1930s.
The Improbable Rebirth of Hebdomas
The 1920s might have been the end of Aubry’s 8-day watch. The original firms involved were on the ropes and the old fashioned look of the little pocket watch with the exposed balance was no longer in fashion. The 1921 production bust might have spelled the end of the 8-day watch fad as well, and the inventors (Irénée Aubry, Arthur Graizely, and Charles Couleru-Meuri) were at the end of their careers. But that’s not what happened.
The third generation of the Aubry family joined the business in 1918 with an exposed-balance 8-day pocket watch. Arsène Aubry joined forces with Robert-Henri Müller of Noiraigue in Val-de-Travers to form a new company. Aubry & Cie. would take the place of Francis Aubry-Schaltenbrand in continuing the legacy of Irénée Aubry as a maker of 8-day watches.
Although his exports to the Russian market were disrupted in 1917, Otto Schild was able to reorganize his operation. He re-established production and distribution and returned to the Hebdomas, Octava, and Septima brands. Schild even expanded production, establishing the Orator brand in 1925 and purchasing the landmark Graizely factory at Rue du Parc 137. Orator would join Hebdomas as one of the longest-lasting Schild brands.
The most notable event in re-establsihing the Hebdomas brand in the 1920s was a lawsuit. Jämes Dubois was a watchmaker in the French city of Besançon, producing and selling 8-day watches and clocks in competition with Schild, Aubry, and the others. Otto Schild felt that the “Octomas” brand infringed on his “Hebdomas” and “Octava” trademarks and initiated a lawsuit. One wonders what Ernest Tolck thought of this lawsuit, since the use of Montres Octo pre-dated the establishment of Octava by Graizely!
After full trial, Schild emerged victorious. Dubois was forced to cease the use of the Octomas brand or face a fine of 100 Francs per watch to Schild. He was also ordered to turn over all stock of unsold Octomas watches to Schild!
This was a clear victory not just for Schild but also for the Swiss trademark and patent system. It showed that Swiss and French patents and trademarks could be upheld and adjudicated in the event of infringement. It also set the stage for more legal actions against similar-sounding brand names from other watchmakers.
The lawsuit also showed that the 8-day watch fad had not faded after all. Indeed, many more makers had released 8-day watches on the market at this time, and many of these were higher-end models.
One notable maker of such watches under license was high-end Grenchen enamel dial maker Wyss Frères. They produced a series of watches using the Schild Hebdomas movement. Many were expensive examples with enamel dials and precious metal cases, in keeping with Wyss reputation for quality.
Things did not go so well for Aubry & Co. The company floundered through the early 1920s, soon abandoning the 8-day watch. Instead, Aubry focused on the creation of an electric clock. This was patented (number 111159 in 1924) and co-founder Robert Müller created another firm, Samac SA, to take over production, sales, and distribution. Although well-supported, this Geneva firm was unable to commercialize Aubry’s electric clock and failed in 1929. Aubry & Co. itself failed as the Great Depression hit and was deleted in 1932.
Another Aubry would produce 8-day watches during this time as well. Arthur Aubry patented a unique time-setting mechanism for 8-day clocks and, as A. Aubry-Gostely, produced automobile and motorcycle dashboard clocks starting in 1923. He purchased the assets of Gindrat-Delachaux and was seemingly quite successful through the 1920s. It is ironic that this Aubry would use the Couleru-Meuri 8-day movement rather than his own family’s 8-day clock movement, but of course the same was true of Arthur Graizely. But Aubry-Gostely was unable to last though the Great Depression either, and his firm failed in 1934.
Otto Schild would prove a capable manager, and he was able to keep Schild & Co. going even as others failed. Schild was reorganized in 1930 and again, with much greater capital, in 1942. As noted in my previous article, Schild SA lasted through the 1970s, and the current evolution of Irénée Aubry’s 8-day Hebdomas watch continues in production to this day!
Reconsidering the Legacy of Irénée Aubry
My original article on the Hebdomas watch gave short shrift to Irénée Aubry, focusing instead on Arthur Graizely as the originator of the 8-day watch. Now that I have done more research, I see that the Aubry family was much more important to the invention of this historic movement, with Graizely much less involved or committed. Aubry was certainly an important historic watchmaker, and his legacy is still being felt. Even today, 8-day movements are a challenging and notable accomplishment for watchmakers, many of whom undoubtedly face the same challenges observed by Irénée Aubry over 100 years ago. Given the sad ends faced by many watchmakers, it is nice to think of Aubry relaxing in his old age, looking out over Lake Neuchâtel and continuing to build watches well into his 70s. What must he have thought on seeing the fine enamel watches from Wyss Frères? Certainly he never could have imagined that his Hebdomas watches would last in production as long as they have!
Once again, I will be embedding copious reference materials for this article here at the bottom of the piece. If you’re hear for the story, you can stop reading now. But if you’re interested in learning how I discovered all this, read on!
Aubry, Graizely & Godat in La Ferrière
I was able to piece together the early history of Irénée Aubry, Arthur Graizely, and Ariste Godat using Indicateur Davoine and La Fédération Horlogère. I am fairly certain of the progression from Aubry’s invention to the creation of Aubry, Graizely et Godat, as well as the foundation of Graizely Frères and the moves from la Ferrière to La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Irénée Aubry in La Chaux-de-Fonds
Irénée Aubry relocated to La Chaux-de-Fonds by 1894, preceding Arthur Graizely by a decade. His workshop was initially located at Manège 16-18 but was relocated to Grenier 24 by 1900. His next move, to Rue du Parc 71, occurred by 1909, though he left for the tiny village of Chez-le-Bart by 1913. Aubry lived there at least until 1924, by which time he would have been well into his 70s!
Graizely & Co. in La Chaux-de-Fonds
Arthur Graizely was much more aggressive a businessman than Aubry, founding Graizely & Co. in 1904 and moving into a large landmark building in La Chaux-de-Fonds by 1907. It is interesting that Graizely produced 8-day watches with other movements as well, and that he was a very early producer of a wristwatch for men in 1912. We also see the transition from Graizely to Schild in 1913 and 1914.
Although I am not certain that Francis Aubry-Schaltenbrand was Irénée’s son, it seems quite likely. Both were from Muriaux, and Francis was certainly younger. He also seems to have taken up the mantel of Aubry in La Chaux-de-Fonds once Irénée relocates to Chez-le-Bart. We see Francis Aubry-Schaltenbrand listed in La Chaux-de-Fonds from 1911 through 1923. He appears again from 1935 through 1938 after the failure of Arthur Aubry-Gostely and Aubry & Cie. Francis Aubry-Schaltenbrand’s other company, Montres Abra, did not last long.
Aubry & Co.
Aubry & Co. was founded by Arsène Aubry and Robert-Henri Müller in 1918. The company continued production of the Aubry family open 8-day pocket watch as well as a line of 8-day clocks for vehicles. Aubry registered a patent for an electric clock and Müller formed Samac to develop these. Aubry & Co. failed in 1932.
Arthur Aubry-Gostely is likely the son of Francis Aubry-Schaltenbrand, but this is a guess. He established his firm by 1922 in La Chaux-de-Fonds with a range of patented 8-day clocks quite reminiscent of those sold by Dubois/Tolck using the Couleru-Meuri movement. But Aubry-Gostely had his own patents and must have combined these with an ebauche 8-day movement. Strangely, the company is not seen in Annuaire until 1926. It was certainly liquidated in 1934.
Schild & Co.
Although the history of Schild & Co. is a bit better documented, I am including some source materials and period advertisements here. Schild would continue in business through the 1970s.