What was the first automatic watch? English inventor John Harwood certainly deserves credit, and his unusual design was produced in some volume by A. Schild, Fortis, and Blancpain starting in 1926. And Leon Leroy produced a few “perpetual” watches a few years earlier. But one watch that stands out among the many self-winding watches released following the expiration of Harwood’s patent in 1931: Eugène Meylan’s automatic winding module, produced in volume by Glycine and Pretto, was the first practical and widely-produced automatic winding mechanism. And the man behind it has a fascinating story of invention, entrepreneurialism, and dedication with a truly heartbreaking ending.
The name “Jaquet Droz” has had many different meanings since the birth of Pierre Jaquet-Droz 300 years ago. For two decades after its formation in 1961, the Coopérative de Fabricants Suisses d’Horlogerie and SAH were leading producers of Swiss watches, commanding a double-digit share of exports and revenue. Was this a success or a failure? And why does the modern haute horology company consistently skip any mention of this history?
Like many watch fans, I was enticed by the concept of visiting the picturesque mountains of French-speaking northwest Switzerland, the Jura region, home of so many of my timepieces. But I was not entirely clear on what this visit would entail. Most of the articles about such visits focus on special arrangements by manufacturers or general overviews of the towns in the cantons of Neuchâtel and Geneva. I would be traveling alone and unannounced, however. What would await me in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Le Locle, Bienne-Biel, Le Sentier, and the rest?