Although modern advertising is finely crafted, it can’t compare to the impact of the classics. To my eyes, the greatest watch advertisements came off the press of Auguste Fiedler of La Chaux-de-Fonds between World Wars I and II. His poster style advertisements mixed elements of German Plakatstil and French Art Deco movements, and are just as striking today as they would have been on the avenues of the 1930s.
Lithography, Advertising, and La Chaux-de-Fonds
Auguste-Georges Fiedler was born in the Val-de-Ruz around 1873. Noted as the son of a watchmaker in his obituary, his father may have been Georges Fiedler, who is listed as a maker of anchor escapements in the villages of Villiers (in 1883) and Cernier (in 1889) in Indicateur Davoine. He was trained as a draftsman in Neuchâtel and took to the art of lithography. Around the turn of the century, Fiedler married Esther Mérillat of Saint-Imier, and her family was also deeply involved in watchmaking.
Although the practice of printing using stone dies dated back over a century, the full potential of color printing was not realized until the 1890s. Thanks to the work of Jules Chéret and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, lithographic printing became an art form, with the medium of printing giving inspiration to artists across Europe. In fact, the bold solid colors made possible by color lithography was one of the defining characteristics of art at the turn of the century.
Fiedler was no doubt inspired by Toulouse-Lautrec and Leonetto Cappiello to elevate the simple advertisements created in the Swiss Jura at that time. He opened his own lithography shop near the center of La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1902, competing with the established firms of A. Chateau, E. Deckelmann, and Paul Koch.
The lithographers of La Chaux-de-Fonds and Geneva were clearly capable of producing eye-catching posters and innovative designs at this time, but watchmaking was a conservative industry. Most advertisements around the turn of the century featured engravings of factories, watch movements, and awards. Although I find much to love in the “smoky factory” genre (so much that I am working on a series based on one engraved postcard) the work of Fiedler, Mettler, and Stotz are much more beautiful.
Still a young man, Auguste Fiedler was quickly able to attract the attention of some of the leading watchmakers of La Chaux-de-Fonds and the Jura Triangle. Although still learning his trade, Fiedler was much more successful than others in convincing his clients to adopt a new way of advertising. He also worked with newer firms that produced a lower-cost product than his contemporaries, so his modernist style might have appealed to them and to their customers.
Fiedler worked with Schwob Frères’ Tavannes, illustrating their range of inexpensive Roskopf movement pocket watches with far more flair and drama than their previous ads. But his work with the new firm of Leonidas in Saint-Imier and the recapitalized Büren is much more striking. Both recall Cappiello’s poster work and the nascent Plakatstil movement of Lucian Bernhard and Ludwig Hohlwein. And Fiedler’s own work showed that the firm was capable of bringing much more to advertisements.
Business was good enough for Fiedler that he was able to move into a new building in 1911. The Temple-Allemand building was located on the west side of La Chaux-de-Fonds in the “Quartier du Succés”, near the electric plant and the huge new factories of Schwob Frères, Graizely’s Hebdomas, Maurice Blum’s Fabrique du Parc, Henri-Albert Didisheim’s Marvin, and (soon) the massive Election complex. The building still stands and looks much the same today, though the streets have been changed. It is now called Rue Cernil-Antoine 14.
Looking at Fiedler’s work from 1913, we see continued work with Tavannes, Leonidas, and Büren (the latter with a more eye-catching layout) but it is a new client that catches the eye: Numa Jeannin of distant Fleurier allowed Fiedler bring a burst of color to his Ivy Watch Company ad. This contrasts with the classic but well-designed ad created for Maurice Blum’s Fabrique du Parc, located just down the hill from Fiedler’s office.
Another lucrative business opened by 1915, as Fiedler began offering lithographic reproductions of popular artwork. In particular, Fiedler licensed a painting called Paysage du Doubs by La Chaux-de-Fonds artist Charles l’Eplattenier. Fiedler was able to reproduce the delicate pastel of l’Eplattenier’s original using new lithographic techniques, bringing a gentle texture to the work. And his mass-market printing technique made it possible for the working classes of the Jura to afford artwork of their own. A similar revolution was taking place all around the world, with lithographic artwork adorning the walls of the middle class in the inter-war period.
The Potential of Modernist Lithography
After World War I, lithographic posters had entered the public consciousness that they became a potent design trend even in other contexts. Such it was that Fiedler’s advertisements embraced the medium and began to appear everywhere, not just on public walls.
Fiedler’s 1916 advertising truly embraces the potential of color lithography, with an exciting new design for General Watch Co.’s Helvetia emphasizing their new luminescent hands and numerals. This yellow and purple on black layout was one of the first to show the potential of color lithography to attract the eye, and remains one of my favorites from Fiedler. The Tavannes ad is similarly transformed, with bright windows emphasizing the new electric-powered factory and lume that positively glows.
Fiedler’s own ads are notable for what they proclaim: The French text says that Fiedler is a specialist for watchmaking advertisements, and that the wristwatch is now “the queen of the day!” But the Buren ad tells a somewhat different story, hinting at the World War that was then surrounding neutral Switzerland.
As the war drew to a close, Fiedler’s style shifted somewhat. Although his striking Meteore and Cortebert advertisements are reminiscent of his previous work, they show more movement and interest, with the error and water.
As demonstrated by his popular lithographic reproductions, Fiedler could do more than blocks of color. The Standard and Buren ads show the use of textures, adding to the block typography. This theme is continued in Fiedler’s own ads, and one senses that Auguste Fiedler was bringing a bit of himself into the work with his impish satyr!
Fiedler Arts Graphiques SA
Auguste Fiedler incorporated his business in 1920 as Fiedler Arts Graphiques SA, with capital of 250,000 francs. For comparison, the company was worth as much as many of the watch companies incorporated around La Chaux-de-Fonds! This allowed the company to purchase a color offset printer in 1925, and Fiedler made full use of this new technology.
The first products of Fiedler Arts Graphiques showed further growth in the design and styling. Moving away from the bold colorful style of the 1910s, most showed finer lines and more texture, reminiscent of the overall movement towards the Art Deco period. Fiedler was early to adopt the “decorative” style from Paris, with an ocean liner seen in the Numa Jeannin “Bon Courant” advertisement below coming before that particular imagery became a cliche of the style.
Fiedler’s Election ad is especially notable as it mixes many different styles in a single image. The traditional “factory and products” look is continued, but with an artistic twist. The layout shows an almost realistic scattering of wristwatches rather than the formal lineup of pocket watches seen previously, and aligns with the orientation of Election’s huge new factory. And the factory is pictured at night, much like the earlier Tavannes advertisements, with its electric lighting amplified by the searchlight and “e” logo. This factory took up nearly four blocks in the new western end of La Chaux-de-Fonds and was symbolic of the city and the industry in the inter-war period.
The 1920s were clearly a high point for Fiedler, and the development of more texture and style continued in 1922. The red arrow that was a symbol of Cortebert became a curve, drawing the eye past the factory and even beyond the “montre de precision.” Typography improved as well, with a gold stripe giving the watch a touch of class. The same is true of the Büren brand of the British H. Williamson Ltd. which now features a gentleman in a top hat. And Aster’s eponymous star for La Champagne is one of the best combinations of factory, movement, typography, and style seen yet. Even the simple display of pinions and screws for Allimann & Girod became a sunburst in 1922.
Fiedler’s own advertising continues to push the boundaries as well. The Essor cranes bring the flavor of Asia, then in vogue, with a nod to art nouveau. Fiedler truly was “l’Ace de la Réclame” (“the ace of advertising”) in this period.
By 1923, Fielder was the undisputed king of watch advertising in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Although Mettler, Haefeli, and Gogler (publisher of Indicateur Davoine) were also producing quality ads, Fiedler’s were clearly in the lead. The company found itself on the defensive, with the following text shown in a faux letter to customers:
A LEGEND TO DESTROY
We sometimes hear: “FIEDLER is too expensive”
To this, we allow ourselves to respond:
Or, FIEDLER work is paid for.
But you know well that proves
that FIEDLER occupies the best artists
that FIEDLER works with incomparable care
that FIEDLER uses sustainable and first-class raw materials
that FIEDLER in a nutshell works
NOT FOR A PRICE BUT FOR A QUALITY THAT ITS QUALITY IS ALWAYS ABOVE ITS PRICE…..
FIEDLER IS CHEAP
This misunderstanding being dispelled, we recommend ourselves to the best of our ability and ask you to believe, dear customer, in our most distinguished sentiments.”
Clearly price was a concern for many, but this did not scare away new clients like Excelsior Park. The Saint-Imier firm had watches their cross-town rival Leonidas use Fiedler’s “horse race” ad for 15 years, but their new “chronograph falling from the sky” ad was far more evocative, representing the many sports that relied on their expensive precision timers. Cortebert’s ads evolved again as well, with their iconic arrow guiding from the product to the brand opposite a constellation of movements of various sizes beautifully engraved and reproduced. Even black and white Verres Fleurier ad shows some classical style, with Atlas holding up the factory and watch crystals bursting in all directions.
1924 was another successful year. Although watch suppliers were still working through their inventory after the post-war bust, Fiedler was able to offer value to go with their high prices. Their image of press pioneer Gutenberg is especially touching, since the company was continuing his legacy with printing as well as advertising. Indeed, most walls in La Chaux-de-Fonds and beyond featured a Fiedler calendar showing off their printing capabilities.
On the customer side, Tavannes was back with a refinement of their previous ad. This one emphasized the Cyma brand, which had previously shared equal billing with Enigma and Mysteria (now deprecated). The Aster ad was also refined, adding a few of typical mid-1920s watches including one that looks suspiciously like a Cartier Tank. And a new campaign for A. Weber of Geneva shows their exclusive jewelry and pendant watches. Finally we see a clever ad for Gve. Lambert & Fils, maker of watch parts and tooling.
The Apex of Fiedler Arts Graphiques
Fiedler continued to dominate watch advertising in 1927, demonstrating artistry and creativity as usual. The artwork for newcomers Marbla and Elida are excellent but the new artwork for Revue Thommen is especially striking. The ad shows the Oberes Stadttor, a symbol of Waldenburg, home of the Thommens Watch Factory, in a lovely pastel reminiscent of l’Eplattenier’s work. Although Revue had many excellent ads throughout the years, this simple art is my favorite.
Other notable creations in this period are the ads for Fidelia Mainsprings and Sirius springs from Fabrique Suisse de Ressorts d’Horlogerie in Peseux. Both would be used for over a decade and were iconic for these essential component suppliers. The striking work, especially Fidelia’s tiger, show how an artist can elevate a simple technical product through advertising.
Tavannes’ factory advertisement is tweaked again, adding a lovely color engraving of their latest movements. Then we turn to the Oris and Aster ads, both of which literally shine a light on the factory.
Finally we must consider the implications of Fiedler’s ad for the Illinois Watch Case Company. Swiss watchmakers were increasingly using imported components, much to the chagrin and detriment of the native industry. Imports from this massive factory in Elgin, Illinois caused such disruption that the Swiss formed a protectionist cartel in following years. Having the best advertiser in La Chaux-de-Fonds pushing such an unwelcome product in the pages of Indicateur Davoine must have been galling!
In 1927, Fiedler placed an inserted ad for their services, but this is missing from my copy of Indicateur Davoine. It is likely that it was a special celebration of the company’s 25th anniversary, so it’s disappointing that we can’t see it! The next year sees an odd and striking offering, suggesting that Fiedler is always on the lookout for new ideas. And this was certainly true throughout the 1920s!
1928 also sees a new client, Jean Humbert & Co., which was a maker of gold cases in La Chaux-de-Fonds and thus would not have been affected by the Illinois imports. We also see a new ad for Sirius-branded springs from the Peseux factory. Perhaps they were looking for something more dynamic to compare to Fidelia’s tiger, and the engraving and design of the spring in particular is quite eye-catching.
More 1929 ads (not shown) include a new Tavannes ad with a shaped movement and a line of gem-set ladies watches, a clever ad for balance wheels resembling a Ferris wheel, and a continuation of the Oris, Elgin, and Revue campaigns.
1930 sees a shift in design for Fiedler. One of company’s own ads takes on an abstract Art Deco look while the other mixes media with a photorealistic assortiment and index, integrated with a new look logo and fine hand drawings on the background. The Art Deco look is certainly present in the new ad for Arthur Imhof’s Melissa branded clocks as well!
Three new ads are also notable. Revue gets another lovely artistic view of Waldenburg, Elida gets an Art Deco inspired ocean liner, and Büren takes a major shift with a bob-cut flapper in sharp colors. All three feature a look at the company’s wares as well, and we see nearly-identical rectangular watches for men in each ad.
Fiedler’s celebration of Oris’ 25th anniversary is worth a closer look as well. The campaign features an anthropomorphic pocket watch mascot reminiscent of the Michelin Man, and he would be featured through the 1930s. The company also took the opportunity to tout its line of inexpensive watches featuring Roskopf and cylinder watches. The industrial control instituted that decade would lock Oris into this field, and the company would struggle against these limits. Eventually, Oris would be the leading company challenging the status quo that lead to the economic crisis of the industry in the 1970s.
Fiedler’s 1931 output shows the company pushing in a more artistic direction, moving away from lithography into offset printing and photorealism. But the company’s clients had different ideas, with most ads carried over from previous years and focusing still on factories and components.
The two-page ad for A. Reymond SA (ARSA)’s Unitas is interesting because it does not seem to go well together. The color scheme and visual style of the first page “Un juge compétent chosit…” (“A competent judge chooses…”) is totally different from the following page. Yet the image of “…la montre de précision” (“…the precision watch”) is an excellent example of modern imagery. In context in the pages of a magazine, these two work together, but it is an odd design choice.
Another two-page ad is also notable. Oris returns with pages in French and English, reflecting their market ambitions. Yet these are not mere translations, with different artwork and expressions on each page. And both specifically refer to the current crisis in the watch market (driven by the impact of the 1929 stock market crash and Great Depression) as a driver of sales of inexpensive watches. And of course their watch mascot returns, appearing as an angel blessing our watch merchant.
In 1932, Fiedler celebrated “30 years of progress” with a look back at the original office and their new building. The company also stressed the variety of products produced, including catalogs and other printed material. We also see a new logo on some of the ads, specifying “Dessin Fiedler” rather than just “Fiedler SA” suggesting that the company now offered design services.
A new brand from Fleurier Watch Co., Arcadia, was featured in an eye-catching new ad. The magnet is shown attracting customers, but these were not anti-magnetic watches! We also see a new two-page Oris ad in both French and English, showing how well this producer of low-cost watches was faring in the international market at the time.
The End of Lithographic Advertising
The Great Depression marked the height of lithographic advertising, but the appeal of the artwork fell away soon after. Fiedler’s output slowed in the late 1930s, and customers moved away from custom artwork. In the 1940s, ads increasingly used artistic photography and more refined commercial typefaces. Fiedler followed the trend, but this period marks the end of our tour of their lithography.
1933 included no major new lithographic ads from Fiedler clients, though the company did produce some interesting work on its own. Posters remained in demand for outdoor advertising, but print ads began to look quite different.
La Chaux-de-Fonds held its first watchmaking fair in 1933, and Fiedler was selected to produce the poster. Their poster was featured throughout Switzerland, France, and Germany and is perhaps their most famous work. The bold poster, with the Swiss flag unveiling a typical rectangular watch, used the colors of Swiss watchmaking: Red, silver, and gold. They also produced a brochure for the event, highlighting many wonderful pieces.
They showcased the fair in a wildly inventive ad showing dozens of figures attending in September 1932. These include people from many countries as well as soldiers and even the new Swiss Merchant Marine. This ad also highlights many sights around La Chaux-de-Fonds and Canton Neuchâtel.
Finally we turn to Fiedler’s 1934 Oris ad, which is a dramatic departure for both firms. Rather than continue the bright lithographic style, it is a sedate engraving of the Hölstein factory and the company’s latest thin pocket watch. A second page (not pictured) features wrist watches and table clocks and calls attention to the many models in Oris’ catalog. It is truly shocking to compare this page with the brand’s earlier image!
Fiedler Arts Graphiques SA continued to produce advertisements, print materials, and serve the watch market for four decades, but the days of lithographic advertisements were done. Fiedler’s post-war work with brands like Doxa, Felca, Helios, and Longines is known, but their work was less notable.
Auguste Fiedler was forced to retire in 1957, leaving management of the business to his son. His wife’s failing health had forced a move to Neuchâtel at this time, and his own health was suffering. He died on June 5, 1959 at the age of 86 and was fondly remembered by his employees and the La Chaux-de-Fonds community.
Fiedler SA continued in business for a few more decades but was strongly affected by the economic crisis of the 1970s. With fewer customers remaining, the company was on the brink of bankruptcy. The company was purchased by Imprimerie Gasser of Le Locle in February 1978 and the La Chaux-de-Fonds offices were closed in February 1980. Gasser too faced challenges and ceased its printing activities in 2020. But the company’s design services appear to have continued in the hands of a new generation. One wonders if they have access to the treasure trove of lithographs they may have inherited from Auguste Fiedler!
The Grail Watch Perspective: The Age of Lithographic Advertisements
Although today’s ads are sometimes eye-catching, the page-sized posters found in the inter-war period have not been matched. A few of Fiedler’s watch ads stand out, including the gorgeous and evocative General Watch Co. owls, Meteore’s reflecting numerals, Election’s searchlight, Excelsior Park’s athletes, Revue’s images of Waldenburg, and the 1933 watch fair. Any of these would be a marvelous addition to the wall of a watch enthusiast, and all deserve to be celebrated in modern times.
As always, we present here some supporting material that did not make the cut in the text above!