Today, a “Lépine” movement is one with small seconds opposite the crown. But this is not one of the many innovations we should associate with Jean-Antoine Lépine, one of the greatest watchmakers of all time. Watchmaker to King Louis XV and George Washington, Lépine changed the course of watchmaking forever, with his plate-and-bridges movement design still used today. So why do we contrast “Lépine” movements with “savonnette” or “hunter” and what’s all this about small seconds?
Initially just a small villa, Usine Centrale would become a large and important employer in Saint-Imier, producing Moeri & Jeanneret’s revolutionary inexpensive anti-magnetic movement. It later housed electronic timing specialist Fabrique Chasseral, balance maker Romano Sieber, and produced millions of watch cases under Roger Parel and Jacques Beiner.
Industrialization of watchmaking came to Switzerland in the late 19th century and is embodied by the huge Longines factory on the Suze river in Saint-Imier. But steam power came first, enabling the construction of factories across Europe and the United States, including Usine du Parc, home and namesake of Excelsior Park. This is the story of the rise and fall of steam power in Saint-Imier and the exceptional stopwatches made there. It is also the story of the end of steam and of the Excelsior Park factory, and the reasons for its failure.
This is the story of a simple postcard that compelled me along a deep and complicated path of research and discovery! Titled Les Grandes Fabriques d’Horlogerie de St Imier, the historic 1900 postcard shows “the five great watchmaking factories” of this small town. Over the past year, I’ve been learning more about these companies, in which the Jeanneret family was intimately involved, including Excelsior Park, Francillon’s Longines, Fritz Moeri’s Moeris, Droz & Cie and Ernest Degoumois’s Montres Berna, Ferdinand Bourquin’s Leonidas, and more. This is the first in a series of posts on the great factories found in these engravings!
Blancpain is billed as “the world’s oldest watchmaker”, but the history of the company is far more complex. Founded before 1735 in Villeret, the modern Blancpain traces its heritage to 1981, when Jean-Claude Biver purchased the name to be a mechanical rebuke of quartz watches. Blancpain and movement specialist Frédéric Piguet would be acquired by what is now the Swatch Group in 1992, with Biver leading the renaissance of mechanical watchmaking.
James Bond, Agent 007, has been linked with gadgets for decades. From the Aston Martin to the Rolex to that mini jet, the Bond movies have cemented these images in our minds. But the very first official James Bond watch didn’t come from Rolex, Omega, or even Seiko: It came from an obscure company called Moeris, which has a surprising connection to those companies!