In an industry as full of folklore and puffery as watchmaking, it is refreshing to uncover first-hand knowledge. As I was researching the history of Zénith, Universal, and the Martel watch factory I stumbled on a real gold mine: A 1991 interview with Charles Vermot, the watchmaker who saved the legendary El Primero watch movement from the scrap heap, and a look at how the watchmaking profession was viewed in 1991, as the industry was just recovering. I enjoyed the video enough to translate it and present it here for my readers.
Zenith was “the first manufacture”, one of the greatest watch companies in Switzerland, and the economic force behind Le Locle. Then it was purchased by an American electronics company and ordered to destroy its mechanical watchmaking assets. This is the story of the mighty Zenith, brought low, and returning thanks to a machine tools baron, a humble watchmaker, and two other famous brands.
Today I’m wearing a watch that’s special only to me: Back in 2014 I traveled to the Swiss Jura, visiting La Chaux-de-Fonds, Le Locle, and the Vallée de Joux and assembling my own watch at Les Apprentis du Temps. In the style of “marriage” and the tradition of “etablissage”, my oversized watch uses a classic pocket watch movement and components from various Swiss suppliers.
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?
Le Locle is the birth- and work-place of Daniel JeanRichard, initiator of the Swiss watchmaking industry way back in 1672. He established the system of établissage, wherein a watch would be constructed from components created by specialist suppliers. So it is appropriate that, on my recent visit to the heart of the Swiss watch industry, I stopped in Le Locle and constructed my own watch!