VintageWatchstraps Logo

Vintage Watch Straps

Straps for vintage fixed wire lug trench or officer's wristwatches.



Gallet and Electa

Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2017 all rights reserved.

The Gallet family are one of the oldest families in the watchmaking business, tracing their history back to one Humbertus Gallet, who in 1466 moved from Bourg-en-Bresse in France to Geneva and was a builder of tower clocks. His descendants in Geneva were joined some 220 years later in 1685 by other members of the Gallet family, who were recorded as goldsmiths and watchmakers.

A new company was founded in 1826 in La Chaux-de-Fonds by Julien Gallet (1806 - 1849). This company was taken over in 1883 by Julien's two sons, Léon (1832 - 1899) and Lucien (1834 - 1879). Léon Gallet was a significant figure in the Free Masons, becoming a Grand Master. When he died in 1899 he bequeathed a large sum, part of which was used to set up the Musée international d'horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds.

Gallet Chronograph
Gallet wristwatch chronograph
Copyright © The Gallet Group

Gallet claim to have made in 1912 the first wristwatch to include a centre second hand, that is one originating from the centre of the dial along with the hour and minute hands. Previously wristwatches either lacked a second hand or had a small subsidiary seconds dial which was difficult to read accurately. A centre second hand is useful for timing tasks such measuring the human heart rate. Gallet's "sweep second" watches were issued to nurses and military medical personnel during World War 1.

This claim cannot be completely accurate. I have a wristwatch with a centre seconds hand that has London Assay Office import hallmarks for 1909 to 1910. The movement was made by the company of Alphonse Boichat & Co. in Fleurier. The particular design of the centre seconds movement was patented by Boichat in 1900.

Gallet claim to have made in 1914 the first chronograph wristwatch, which they say was made to the order of the British military, but I have not been able to substantiate this claim. This watch was a reduced size version of a traditional pocket chronograph, for which Gallet were well known, and still featured the three piece case, enamel dial, and centre button (pusher) crown of its larger predecessor.

Electa catalogue 1914
Electa catalogue 1914
Click image to enlarge
Copyright © The Gallet Group

Gallet and Electa

Electa Movement
Electa Movement

A number of my watches have the movement shown here. I first identified as being an Electa movement on the basis of the name Electa on the dial of the first watch I collected which had this movement. It turns out that I was pretty lucky, very few watches with this movement have a name on the dial. This was confirmed to me by David R. Laurence, Managing Director of The Gallet Group, Inc. as an Electa movement, and David kindly supplied the page scanned from a 1914 Electa catalogue shown here.

The relationship between Gallet and Electa is somewhat difficult to understand, but it appears that Electa was controlled by one of the Gallet family, Léon Gallet. Léon had connections with the Freemasons and Electa is an important figure in Masonsic tradition, being the "chosen lady" to whom the Apostle John's second letter is addressed.

Some accounts say that Gallet & Co. acquired Electa in 1855 by taking over a firm called Grumbach & Co., which produced watches with the brand name Electa. But the Grumbach name didn't disappear in 1855, and Grumbach didn't use the name Electa. Pritchard shows an advert by Grumbach from 1920, and Electa was not owned by Grumbach & Co. but was a completely separate company in Geneva. It seems that the true story is that rather than acquiring the Grumbach company, Gallet purchased a factory building adjacent to their factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds from Grumbach to accommodate increasing Gallet production demands.

1903 Electa Advert
La Fderation Horologere Suisse 1903

The main centre of Gallet watchmaking operations was moved from Geneva in 1826 to la Chaux-de-Fonds when Julien Gallet founded a company there under his own name. However, it appears that not all Gallet watchmaking transferred, and that a small operation remained behind in Geneva. This company became Electa under the control of Léon Gallet. The Geneva company was called Société d'horlogerie Electa, as shown by the advert from a 1903 edition of "La Féderation Horlogere Suisse" shown here, describing the company as an " ancient watch making company of Geneva". The advert shows that the company held the registered trademark (Marque déposée) "Electa" at that time. The advert also states Fabrique du Ravin and La Chaux-de-Fonds, implying that it was making watches under the brand Ravin in Chaux-de-Fonds.

From Gallet factory records, it appears that a working relationship between the Gallet company and Société d'horlogerie Electa existed as far back as the 1880's. Gallet sales records show delivery of movements and fully finished watches from Société d'horlogerie Electa to Gallet's New York offices and T. Eaton's Canada department store beginning in 1890's. Production records from this period show that all of these movements were manufactured within the Gallet factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds.

1907transfer
1907 transfer notice

The transfer notice shown here from the February 1907 edition of La Féderation Horlogere Suisse shows the rights to a design registered on 1 November 1906 being transferred from "Société d'horlogerie Electa" to "Gallet & Co., Fabrique d'horlogerie Electa".

This would appear to correspond with an entry in the Gallet timeline which says that in 1906 "The company name "Gallet & Cie, Fabrique d'horlogerie Electa" is registered to reinforce Gallet's ownership and control of the Electa brand. Under the Electa name, Gallet produces its highest quality timepieces." These two items suggest to me that Société d'horlogerie Electa was still an independent company until 1 November 1906, and that Gallet actually acquired or formally merged with Société d'horlogerie Electa after this date, although it appears that there was pre-existing manufacturing and production unity between the two entities.

In Swiss Timepiece Makers, 1775-1975 Kathleen Pritchard says that "A new name was registered for [Gallet & Cie] in 1907 - Gallet & Cie, Fabrique Electa. Electa marks were transferred from the SOCIETE D'HORLOGERIE DE GENEVE, Geneva, and from its successor, SOCIETE D'HORLOGERIE ELECTA, La Chaux de Fonds. In 1913 the name was changed slightly to FABRIQUE D'HORLOGERIE ELECTA. GALLET & CIE SA.

1914 notice
1914 notice

The notice of "Radiations" published in the 1914 edition of La Fédération Horlogère Suisse, which in this context means something like "Striking off", shows Gallet & Co., Fabrique d'horlogerie Electa, in liquidation. However, it appears that production of Electa watches continued under administration, and then the great upsurge in demand for wristwatches which accompanied the Great War (WW1) filled the order books of Electa, along with many other manufacturers, for the next four or more years.

I am particularly interested in Borgel watches, that is watches with a Borgel screw case. Many Borgel watches, and also watches in ordinary cases with hinged backs,from the time of the Great War are fitted with the Electa movement illustrated above, or in versions of this movement, some with higher jewel counts, with jewels set in chatons and/or with centre seconds. You can see a selection of these movements illustrated on my Movements page.

1918 Electa Advert
1918 Electa Advert. Copyright © The Gallet Group

The Great War at first required, and ultimately legitimised, men's wristwatches. The standard timepieces issued to officers were still pocket watches, but these were impractical to use in the cramped conditions of the trenches and in the open cockpits of early aircraft. Many officers soon purchased their own wristwatches; hence, these watches are often referred to as "officer's" watches, as well as "trench" watches because of their use in the trenches. The takeup of wristwatches among military men during the Great War (1914 - 1918) was rapid. A book published during the war in 1916, "Knowledge for War: Every Officer's Handbook for the Front" included a list of items required in an officer's kit. The first item on the list, ahead of such otherwise indispensable items such as "Revolver" and "Field glasses" was "Luminous wristwatch with unbreakable glass".

The advertisement shown here, from the 1918 edition of the Indicateur Davoine, was provided to me by David R. Laurence, Managing Director of The Gallet Group, Inc. www.GalletWatch.com, and shows a cavalry officer inspecting his "Electa" wristwatch. Whether it was a Borgel watch cannot be determined from the picture, but many Electa watches were cased in Borgel cases and this advertisement is a clear indication of why these watches are often called "officer's watches."

1926 notice
1926 auction notice
1923 notice
1923 advert for sale or rent

In the depression that followed the Great War, orders decreased or stopped. The company appears to have continued for a short while, possibly under the administration of the liquidators. However, in the early 1920s a post war depression hit Swiss exports hard. Trade statistics show that the value of Swiss watch and clock exports in the first quarter of 1921 were Fr. 44,791,252, significantly down from the first quarter of 1920 when the total was Fr. 78,832,970: a decrease of 43%.

Gallet must have decided that the Electa operation was not viable. The 1923 advert shows that the Electa factory is offered for sale or to rent complete, including a machine shop suitable for making watches, ébauches or other parts. It would appear that this offer did not resolve the problems because the 1926 notice advises of the dispersal sale, i.e. sale in parts rather than as a whole, of the Electa factory, land, and contents.

It appears that the Electa company was merged into the Gallet company in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1906 and the company rebranded as "Gallet & Co., Fabrique d'horlogerie Electa". This new company was very successful in the run up to and during the Great War, but during the post war slump it suffered from reduced orders and got into financial difficulties. A new Gallet business, isolated sufficiently from Gallet & Co., Fabrique d'horlogerie Electa, was formed so that the liquidation of that branch did not affect the main business. Gallet could have acquired the trademark of Electa from the liquidators if they wished to carry on using it, although the last mention of Electa in the timeline is 1915 and says "Gallet supplies hand held and cockpit mounted timers to the British Air Force during WW I. Movements are produced in Gallet's Electa workshop and marked with the Electa name.".

Rotherham and Sons, and Electa

1926 notice
10 August 1926 transfer of trademarks
1927 notice
July 1927 notice

The sale of the factory and contents in 1926 wasn't the end of the Electa story. The notice reproduced here dated 10 August 1926 records the transfer of the trademark names Eureka and Electa to "Rotherham and Sons, Overseas Limited" based in London with a branch in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The notice also says "fabrication, La Chaux-de-Fonds". This implies that there was a factory, so it seems possible that Rotherham's bought the Electa factory as well as the name.

Rotherham & Sons, with a head office and factory at 26-28 Spon Street, Coventry, England, were a long established English watchmaking company that could trace its origins back to 1747. In 1880 John Rotherham sent his manager to America to buy watchmaking machinery machinery from the American Watch Tool Co. Cutmore in "Watches 1850-1980" states that reports of British Industry Fairs show that in 1920 and 1921 Rotherhams showed at trade exhibitions cases for movements made in "their own factory in Switzerland". Cutmore suggests that this could possibly be the Rode Watch Company of La Chaux de Fonds, whose watches Rotherhams marketed. In 1932 they took over the UK agency for Buren after the collapse of H. Williamson Ltd, and later became agents for Ulysee Nardin.

The notice reproduced here from a Swiss trade journal of July 1927 advises that the trademarks Eureka and Electa are the exclusive property of Rotherham and Sons Overseas Limited and that they will pursue judgement against anyone who uses these marks without their authorisation.

My records show that the involvement of Rotherhams with Electa goes back to before the Great War. I have seen two wristwatches with Electa movements in sterling silver cases with Birmingham Assay Office import hallmarks for 1914 to 1915 and John Rotherham's registered sponsor's mark. During the war Rotherhams were entirely taken up with the production of war materials, mainly fuses for which they gained a high reputation for their accuracy.

It seems that not only did Rotherhams cease manufacture of watches at their factory in Coventry for the duration of the war, they also stopped importing Electa watches. I have only seen two Electa wristwatches with London Assay Office import marks and and John Rotherham's registered sponsor's mark, but then all of the other wristwatches with Electa movements in sterling silver cases that I have seen with hallmarks from the war years 1914 to 1918 have London Assay Office import hallmarks and the sponsor's mark A•G•R for Robert Pringle and Sons.

There is a gap in my Electa records from 1918/19 to 1924/25, but I have seen Swiss watches with Rotherham's sponsor's mark and import hallmarks for 1918/19, so it seems that they started importing Swiss watches again soon after the war finished.

My records of Electa wristwatches with Rotherham and Sons R&S sponsor's mark continue with Chester Assay Office import hallmarks for the years 1925/26 to 1926/27. These dates include watches that were imported by Rotherham and Sons in the period between the Electa factory being offered for sale or rent and the liquidation sale in 1926. It seems likely that Rotherhams rented the factory in 1923 and continued production of Electa watches until the dispersal sale, when they acquired the factory and contents.

The latest wristwatch with an Electa movement in sterling silver case that I have records for has Glasgow Assay Office import hallmarks and Rotherham and Sons R&S sponsor's mark. The date letter is "i" for 1931 to 1932.


If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me via my Contact me page. Back to the top of the page.

Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2017 all rights reserved. This page updated December 2016. W3CMVS.