Stauffer, Son & Co.Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2017 all rights reserved.
The company Stauffer, Son & Co. (SS&Co.) was established in Switzerland in 1830 with an office in Geneva and a factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Almost immediately after this a London office was opened to import watches from the Swiss factory and sell them into Britain and the British Empire.
Stauffer, Son & Co., London and Chaux-de-Fonds
Two of Stauffer's many trademarks.
The Stauffer name is not uncommon in Switzerland, but it appears that there were only two generations of this Stauffer family involved in the company Stauffer, Son & Co.; father (name currently unknown) and son. The son must be the Jules Stauffer who set up the London branch of the company in the 1830s.
Stauffer never retailed watches directly to the public but instead operated as a wholesaler, initially selling watches made in their own "Atlas" factory in Chaux-de-Fonds. By 1885 the Atlas factory was making 60,000 watches a year. The London wholesale business grew in size to became one of the largest and best known watch importers. They found that they could sell even more watches than the Atlas factory could manufacture so they also imported and wholesaled watches from other Swiss manufacturers such as IWC, Eterna and Patek Philippe, and also watches with ébauches made by Fontainemelon.
The name of the London company officially registered in England was Stauffer and Co. (S&Co.) with just one "S", rather than Stauffer, Son & Co. (SS&Co.) with two "S"s. This was because Jules was the son referred to in the Swiss parent company's name, and it was he (Jules) who founded the London branch and so this was name that was registered at Companies House. The London branch usually used the trading style "Stauffer, Son & Co." on letterheads and in advertisements.
Watches made in Stauffer's Atlas factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds carry one of their registered trademarks, which are discussed in a later section. The one shown here with SS&Co under three triangles is frequently seen on early wristwatches. This mark was used on Stauffer's own highest quality movements. At one time I thought that this trademark was used exclusively on movements made in Stauffer's own factory, but I have also seen Fontainemelon calibres stamped with this mark.
Because of the size and financial power of the London operation, when Stauffer ordered watches from other manufacturers they could require that Stauffer's own trademarks be put onto the watches. The best known of these are the second trademark shown here, the initials S&Co under a crown inside and oval, the name "Peerless", and a symbol of the upper torso and head of a ram. These Stauffer trademarks were used on watches bought by Stauffer London from IWC, Eterna and Fontainemelon.
Stauffer & Co., London
The London branch of Stauffer, Son & Co. was established by Jules Stauffer (1808 - 1884). The exact date of the formation of the London branch is not known but it must have been set up soon after the Swiss company was founded in 1830, and it seems likely that the export of watches to Britain and the British Empire, then the largest market in the world, was a principal objective behind the formation of the company. Stauffer & Co. London became a trading partnership between Jules Stauffer and Francis Claude, at 12 Old Jewry Chambers, but it is not known when Claude joined the business.
Shenton (Alan Shenton - Pocket Watches of the 19th and 20th century) states that "... by the 1860s Stauffer, Son & Co. had established a London branch, Stauffer & Co., to import watches to Britain" and this text has been copied and repeated widely, perhaps notably by Kathleen Pritchard in "Swiss Timepiece Makers, 1775-1975". Shenton does not say when he thinks this branch was first established, but it was certainly much earlier than the 1860 date he quotes, although to be fair he does not state that 1860 was the date the company was founded, just that it was founded "by", i.e. before, 1860.
Jules Stauffer married Anne Blewitt from Bristol in London, England on 6th December 1837. Jules must have been resident in England before 1837 long enough to fall in love with and marry an English woman. The 1851 Census shows Jules and Anne Stauffer living at Courland House, Wandsworth Road, Clapham. Jules is aged 42, his occupation described as a Watch Manufacturer born in Switzerland. For some reason the census enumerator has added "Retired" to the occupation after the entry was first written - could this be when Claude joined the business? The family has three children aged 7, 5 and 3, and a servant. On 3 January 1857 Jules Stauffer was recorded in The Times as speaking at a meeting of Swiss nationals in London. These facts indicate that Jules Stauffer was resident in London well before the date of 1860 quoted by Shenton and that the London office must have been set up soon after the company was founded in Switzerland in 1830.
The London company used the name Stauffer, Son & Co. as a trading name on their letter heads and advertisements, as shown in the picture here, even though it wasn't the officially registered name of the London company. This is quite common, when a company has to register a name but preferred to use a different trading name that has "goodwill" built up in it. When the London company imported watches from outside companies, they had them stamped with the logo of the London company S&Co. rather than the SS& Co. of the Swiss factory. This can give an important indication as to who manufactured a particular watch, and can also cause confusion. It is discussed in more detail below.
Stauffer & Co. and IWC
Stauffer, Son & Co. (SS&Co.) was a much older company than IWC, having been founded in 1830 whereas IWC was founded in 1868. From 1894 the London branch, Stauffer & Co. (S&Co.), started to buy watches and movements from IWC and other makers. Because of this connection with IWC, people sometimes mistakenly assume that watches or movements marked "SS&Co."" or "S&Co." or "Peerless" are IWC watches, or contain IWC movements, which is often not the case. See the section Stauffer and IWC on my IWC page for a discussion of the relationship between Stauffer & Co. and IWC and how to identify an IWC movement.
The company Stauffer, Son & Co. started out as a watch manufacturer in La Chaux-de-Fonds, with the factory that opened in 1830. It appears that Jules Stauffer, the son of the founder of the Swiss company, formed a London company soon after this, presumably to act as importer for the products of the Swiss factory. I have not established the exact date when the London branch was opened, but Jules Stauffer's marriage in London in 1837 suggests that London company was probably established in the mid 1830s, not long after after the factory was established in La Chaux-de-Fonds. I have not found much intervening detail between then and the letter in the Horological Journal described below, which states that in 1885 the Stauffer Atlas factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds was producing at least 60,000 watches a year with a very high degree of mechanisation.
The Times, August 1845
The theft in 1842 of five watches being exported to India by a well known clock and watch retailer, A B Savory & Sons, of Cornhill London, was reported in The Times. The report stated that three of the watches were marked with the maker's name A B Savory and Son, and in the remaining two the maker's name was Stauffer. It is clear that the two watches were imported by Stauffer & Co. from their Swiss factory and supplied wholesale to Savory. A reward of £50 was offered for information about the theft. A B Savory & Sons later traded under the name of Goldsmiths Alliance, and then were incorporated into The Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Company Ltd.
In 1891 a Stauffer gold tourbillon chronometer No. 136862 won first prize and honours for the highest results at the Neuchâtel Observatory, beating all records, and the same watch attained 91.6 marks at the Kew observatory trials, the highest mark that had been recorded. The watch was made throughout at Stauffer's own factory at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.
In 1892 the editor of the Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith visited Stauffer's premises in Charterhouse Street. Amongst other things he was shown was a letter from a customer asking if the could supply a watch similar to one that he had purchased over fifty years ago (i.e. before 1842) which was still keeping accurate time. The reason for the letter was that the gentleman wished to buy a similar watch for his grandson!
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Jules Stauffer finally parted with the business in 1869. The dissolution of the partnership between Jules Stauffer and Francis Claude on 10 February 1869 was recorded in the London Gazette. The business of the partnership was recorded as Swiss watch manufacturers with addresses at 12 Old Jewry Chambers in the city of London and Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.
The business continued as a partnership between Francis Claude and Charles Nicolet, a Swiss national who settled in London during the 1870s after spending three years in the horological school at La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Jules Stauffer's death on 4 May 1884 in Brussels aged 76 was reported in The Times. His addresses were given as No 12 Old Jewry Chambers and Clapham, Surrey. Evidently none of Jules' children entered the business and so his retirement in 1869 was the end of the Stauffer family involvement in Stauffer, Son & Co.
After Francis Claude retired on 1 January 1879 Charles Nicolet assumed sole control of the companies in London and La Chaux-de-Fonds. Shenton states that Charles Nicolet took over the business in 1874, but that is incorrect, although it may have been the date of Nicolet becoming a partner.
Under the direction of Charles Nicolet, the Stauffer factory became an important producer of chronographs used at sporting events, including supplying the chronographs used during the Gordon Bennet Cup series of motor races. The London branch of the company also began to buy watches from other Swiss manufacturers including IWC, Eterna and Patek Philippe. The name Stauffer, Son & Co. was well known in British markets. Watches from IWC and Eterna, unknown names at the time, were stamped with Stauffer trademarks and were to all appearances Stauffer products, which has caused confusion amongst collectors. Patek Philippe watches were never branded as Stauffer products, Stauffer acted only as agent for the famous Geneva company.
After Charles Nicolet's takeover the company name was switched back and forwards between Stauffer and Nicolet. It seems that Nicolet wanted to establish the company in his own name, but that the long established Stauffer name was too valuable to allow this. This change of management also seems to have been the start of a change of direction for the Stauffer manufacturing operation. To start with they went into making high quality split seconds chronographs. Later the Stauffer manufacturing side seems to have been wound down and watches were bought in from other manufacturers, including IWC amongst others - a very familiar business model.
CN: Charles Nicolet
Charles Nicolet Obituary, HJ 1940
This mark in a watch case is Charles Nicolet's registered sponsor's mark, first registered with the London Assay Office in 1877 so that his company could submit items for assay and hallmarking. In the middle 1870s a practice had begun of sending unfinished watch cases from Switzerland to be hallmarked, to be returned to Switzerland for finishing and to made into completed watches. Nicolet's mark would have been used until 31 December 1887 when the British hallmarking of imported watch cases was effectively stopped by the 1887 Merchandise Marks Act and did not recommence until 1907. I very much doubt that there are any watches with this sponsor's mark dating from 1888 to 1906, but if you find one, please do surprise me.
Pritchard gives Charles Nicolet's lifetime as 1856 - 1944. This is at variance with an obituary in the British Horological Institute's Journal of June 1940 which reports the death of Charles Nicolet at Montreux, Switzerland at the age of 88. The obituary reports that he had been in poor health for some time prior to his death, and since his retirement the business of Stauffer Son & Co. had been controlled by his son George Nicolet. The 1911 census gives Charles Nicolet's birth year as 1853, which agrees with the obituary.
It appears that after the departure of Charles Nicolet, the company under the management of the George Nicolet family gradually withdrew from manufacturing and became a purely logistics and sales operation by the nineteen twenties or thirties.
GN: George Alfred Nicolet
GN: George Nicolet's sponsor's mark with Trademark "The Mark of Confidence"
GN: George Alfred Nicolet
Image by kind permission of and © OldeTimers.com
The GN sponsor's mark shown in the small image was entered by George Alfred Nicolet of Stauffer, Son & Co. after the retirement of his father Charles Nicolet (see above). The mark is taken from an IWC hermetic wristwatch with Glasgow Assay Office import hallmarks for 1929 to 1930.
The larger image shows marks in a nine carat gold Borgel case of a watch sold on eBay. This also has Glasgow Assay Office import hallmarks for 1929 to 1930. This case also has the trademark of a dog sitting upright with "The Mark of Confidence". This trademark doesn't appear in the case of the IWC watch, which suggests that it was introduced in circa 1930.
George Alfred Nicolet trading as Stauffer, Son & Co. entered two sets of marks at the London Assay Office; the first "GN" in a rectangle with cut corners, the second GN in a rectangle. Both appear to have been registered on 2 February 1933, the address given was 13 Charterhouse Street, London.
The date of the IWC hermetic wristwatch with George Nicolet's sponsors mark is earlier than the date given for the registration of his mark at the London Assay Office, implying that he registered his mark at Glasgow first. Unfortunately the records from the Glasgow Assay Office, which was closed in 1964, are very incomplete and the actual date of registration is unknown.
A similar GN mark was registered at Edinburgh in 1955 by British Watch Cases Ltd. entered under the name of George Alfred Nicolet trading as Stauffer, Son & Co. British Watch Cases, Ltd. registered marks at the Edinburgh Assay Office for a number of other companies.
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The first four trademarks shown here, three on the left and one on the right, are recorded in the Swiss trademarks register, the "Archives de l'Horlogerie", dated 1880, the first volume of the Archives to be produced. The company of Stauffer, Son & Co. was formed in 1830 and it is clear that at least some of these trademarks were in use before 1880. All four marks were registered together on 27 November 1880 at 8 o'clock in the morning (8 heure du matin) and we can't tell from this when the individual marks were first used. I have reproduced the marks in the order in which they appear in the Archives, which is not chronological.
These trademarks were registered 1880, but were in use long before that date.
S & Co. London
The first trademark illustrated on the left, No. 316, with "S & Co" under a crown in an oval, is a mark used by Stauffer & Co. (S&Co. Note: only one "S") the London branch of the company. In "Clock and Watch Trademark Index" Karl Kochmann records that this mark was registered in the British trademark register on 11 January 1876, with a note that it had been used for 10 years before January 1876, so from about 1866. The first issue of the British Trade Marks Journal was first published in 1876 after the passage of the Trade Marks Registration Act in August 1875, which is the reason for the note about the mark being used for 10 years prior to its official registration.
The mark includes the name of the parent company Stauffer, Son & Co. and the details "fabricants" (makers) and "mouvements de montres"(watch movements) but I think this means that Stauffer, Son & Co. (who did make watch movements) were the party who registered the mark, not that the London branch Stauffer & Co. made watch movements. This entry in the Archives shows that it was in use in 1866, well before 1894 when IWC started applying it to movements they supplied to Stauffer.
This trademark was registered 1880, but was in use long before that date.
Stauffer SS&Co. trademark 1886
The trademark No. 319 to the right is stylistically similar to No. 316 with the use of an oval to contain the initials "S S & C", and is therefore probably contemporary with it. This mark says "Boîtes de montres" i.e. watch cases, rather than watch movements (mouvements de montres) as all the other marks. In a letter that appeared in the journal of the British Horological Institute in 1885, discussed in detail below, Mr J. Lecluse mentions that watch cases were manufactured in Stauffer's Atlas factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
The next two trademarks to the left, numbers 317 and 318 are definitely older than 1880. In "Swiss Timepiece Makers 1775 to 1975" Kathleen Pritchard has taken the 1880 date of registration of these marks as their date of first use, which is incorrect.
Kochmann records that numbers 317 and 318, the "SSc" in a shield (sometimes called a shield with SS inside, because the c is small and difficult to see) and "Stauffer Cx. de Fonds" (sometimes read from watch movements as "Stauffer, X-De-Fonds" or "X-De-Fonde") are shown in the British trademark register on 11 January 1876 with a note that these trademarks had been used for 45 years before that date, which would take the first use of these marks back in time to the date of the formation of Stauffer, Son & Co. in 1830. The first issue of the British Trade Marks Journal was first published in 1876 after the passage of the Trade Marks Registration Act in August 1875, which is the reason for the note about the marks being used for 45 years prior to that publication.
All the trademarks illustrated here registered to "Stauffer Fils & Cie" (Stauffer, Son and Co.) state that they are "fabricants" (manufacturers) of La Chaux-de-Fonds, which we know is a true statement from a letter by a Mr J. Lecluse describing a visit to the Stauffer factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds that appeared in the journal of the British Horological Institute in September 1885 and which is discussed in detail below.
The fifth mark illustrated above, No. 1603 dated June 1886, has the initials "SS&Co." underneath 3 small triangles or pyramids. The advert from The Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith of September 1886 reproduced here explains the origin of this mark. The mark represents Stauffer's "third quality" watches, hence the three triangles. This mark was originally intended to be used in addition to the earlier "Stauffer Cx-De-Fonds" and "S S c" inside a shield and S & Co. under a crown in an oval shield but eventually became the most used mark for watches made in the Stauffer Atlas factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith advert September 1886
Stauffer had previously started to use a similar mark with three stars rather than triangles but as the advert says they soon discovered that a very similar mark had already been registered. Although not mentioned in the advert, the mark with three stars had been registered by Baume, the importers of Longines watches.
At first sight it appears to be rather a mystery why Stauffer would want to make such a song and dance about their "third quality" watches. A native English speaker might think that it would be better to promote one's first quality products, perhaps offer the second quality at a bit of a discount, and keep rather quiet about third quality.
However, it is abundantly clear that something has got lost in translation from Swiss/French to English and that, rather than being inferior to some first and second quality watches that are not mentioned, the Stauffer "third quality" watches are actually their best, the top of their range. In this reasoning, first quality models would be the basic ones, second quality would be better, and the third quality would be the best; "extra-extra-extra-good". Perhaps in Swiss/French this would be "trés bon" which was somehow translated literally into English as "third quality".
At one time I thought that this trademark was used exclusively on movements made in Stauffer's own factory, but I have also seen Fontainemelon calibres stamped with this mark. The same calibres are also seen with the "S & Co" under a crown in an oval. It is not clear why or when the different marks were used, but it must now be taken that the use of the "SS&Co." under 3 small triangles does not definitively identify a watch made in Stauffer's own factory. Perhaps it shows that a movement from one of the ébauche factories such as Fontainemelon was inspected and cased in the Atlas factory.
The Atlas brand
The name Atlas had a long history with the Stauffer company. The factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds was called Atlas and in the nineteenth century lever watches produced there were called "The Atlas Watch" and the adverts in the Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith from September 1886 reproduced above stated that this was a registered trade mark. The announcement or warning reproduced below states that "Atlas" was registered as a trademark in London in 1885.
La Fédération Horlogère Suisse 1928
For a period from 1892 after Charles Nicolet took over the company was renamed Nicolet Fils & Cie, although it appears to have continued to use the well known Stauffer, Son & Co. as a trading name.
Some time in the 1920s the brand name Atlas Watch Co. was revived, although the English branch of the company continued to be called Stauffer & Co. The picture here shows an Atlas brand from an Eterna movement with the bridge and finger shapes customised for Stauffer as described in the section below about Stauffer and Eterna. The three small triangles used by Stauffer are in the centre of the mark.
In 1927 La Fédération Horlogère Suisse reported results of watch trials at Le Locle and recorded that "Comp. des Montres Atlas, La Chaux-de-Fonds" had received one first class certificate endorsed "particularly good", and another ordinary first class certificate.
The announcement shown here appeared in La Fédération Horlogère Suisse in 1928, warning that the Atlas Watch Co. is the only company authorised to use the brand Atlas belonging to Stauffer Son & Co., filed in London in 1885, Switzerland in 1892, and registered internationally.
Registration of "Peerless" and ram trademark in UK Trademark Journal 1896
The "Peerless" brand and the Stauffer Ram
The trademark of a picture of a ram together with the word Peerless was first registered in 1896 in the UK. An entry in the 1896 Trade Marks Journal shows that it was registered by Stauffer Son & Co. on 27 February 1896. It is later also registered in the Swiss trademarks register alongside the other marks discussed above.
This ram mark sometimes appears on the bottom plates of movements supplied by IWC to Stauffer & Co. placed below the foot of the balance cock where it is not normally visible, unlike the S&Co. under a crown inside an oval mark that is clearly visible on movements purchased by Stauffer from IWC and other makers.
This Stauffer ram is similar to the IWC registered trademark of the "Schaffhausen bock"(also a ram) and it appears that Stauffer registered their own version IWC trademark in the UK for some reason. It is sometimes thought that this is actually an IWC trademark but it was also used on movements purchased by Stauffer from from Eterna - see below.
Peercee, Peertone, etc.
Stauffer, Son & Co. (SS&Co.) registered the brand names "Peercee", "Peertone" and "En Tout Cas". Peercee seems to have been fairly widely used from the late 1920s or perhaps 1930s onwards when the relationship with IWC was coming to an end. I have seen it most often on watches supplied to Stauffer & Co. by Eterna. Peertone and En Tout Cas are seen only occasionally, but this may be because all the watches that carry these brands are later than the period I normally look at.
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Stauffer and other watch manufacturers
Stauffer & Co. were a large and important Anglo-Swiss company importing large quantities of watches from their own factory in la Chaux-de-Fonds and from many other Swiss manufacturers. Pritchard records that in 1973 "Stauffer Fils & Cie, La Chaux-de-Fonds (Suisse)" was a trade mark belonging to the Atlas Watch Co. (Atlas Montres SA) of Morges St-Jean on Lake Geneva. Pritchard says that Atlas was registered in Morges St-Jean in 1986.
Stauffer & Co. and IWC
From 1894 Stauffer & Co. London began to buy watches and movements from IWC. Tölke and King say that Stauffer & Co. were granted a sales monopoly of IWC watches for Great Britain in 1898, which at the time included the whole of the British Empire. Because of this connection people sometimes mistakenly assume that watches or movements marked "S&Co., or even "SS& Co." are IWC watches, or contain IWC movements, which is often not the case. Stauffer mainly sold watches made in their own factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds since 1830, long before IWC existed. They also sold watches made by other manufacturers, including IWC, Eterna, and Fontainemelon.
For a full discussion of Stauffer & Co., Stauffer, Son & Co. and IWC, and how to identify an IWC wristwatch movement, see Stauffer and IWC.
Eterna cal. 520 showing keyless work
Eterna cal. 520 with Stauffer ram
Thanks to Ventura Mijares for the pictures
Eterna 520 with Stauffer trademarks
Thanks to Marc for the picture
Eterna 520 from Jobin 1936
Stauffer & Co. and Eterna
Stauffer & Co. also obtained movements or watches from Eterna. The picture here shows an Eterna calibre 520 movement with the Stauffer trademarks on the barrel bridge of the initials S & Co. under a crown inside an oval shield, and the Stauffer trademark name "Peerless".
This is a of the Eterna calibre 520 movement. The picture below from Jobin's "La classification horlogère des calibres de montres et des fournitures d'horlogerie suisse" 1936 edition shows the usual form of the barrel bridge and train bridge of the Eterna 520 movement, which are quite different to the Stauffer branded version although the balance and escape cocks look very similar and the layout of the train and position of the pivots is identical.
The setting lever cover plate and spring detent remain the same for all versions of the Eterna 520 calibre and are the "fingerprint" of the movement. In the picture showing the keyless work I have included the footprint picture of the Eterna 520 from a Bestfit catalogue.
Stauffer must have requested Eterna to make these changes in the appearance of the top plate so that the movement appeared to be unique to them and could not be easily recognised as an Eterna calibre. These bridge shapes were also used for other calibres that Eterna supplied to Stauffer, including a version of the Eterna 600 calibre. I also have an 18 ligne pocket watch movement with the same bridge shapes which the keyless work shows was also made by Eterna.
It was very common for Swiss ébauche factories to make variants like this of a basic movement. The vast majority of the components, including the bottom plate, remained exactly the same, but by changing the shape of the bridges and cocks while still leaving all the pivot holes in the same places, a movement could be given a very different appearance. This was easy to do because the plates are not functional components, they just sit there and form the bearings for the functional parts. Changing their shape has no effect on the function of the movement so long as the bearings remain in the same place. Makers such as Fontainemelon (FHF) and A. Schild often produced several variants of a basic movement with different shaped bridges and cocks, and sometimes with different finishes to the visible surfaces such as gilding, perlage or Côtes de Genève.
At least some of the Eterna movements supplied to Stauffer have the Stauffer ram logo doing under the barrel bridge as shown in the third picture here. This was a registered trademark belonging to Stauffer and so they could insist that it was applied to any movements that were supplied to them, just as they did with IWC. Does this mean that there was any connection between Eterna and IWC? No, other than that they both supplied movements or watches to Stauffer.
The second image of a ram shown here is from an Eterna pocket watch movement. Again, this was found under the barrel bridge when the movement was dismantled. The top plate carries the Stauffer trademark of S&Co. under a crown within an oval shield and the word Peerless.
Eterna 710 Customised for Stauffer
Eterna cal. 710 with Top Plate Customised for Stauffer
Eterna cal. 710 Bottom Plate. Click images to enlarge.
Thanks to Geoff for the pictures, © Geoff P 2017.
Another movement that Eterna customised for Stauffer & Co. was their calibre 710, which was a tonneau or barrel-shaped movement. The photographs here of a watch marked with the Stauffer & Co. trademarks of S&Co under a crown in an oval and the name Peerless are thanks to and © Geoff P. The same movement is also seen with Stauffer's three triangles trademark and with the Peertone name. Because of the association with Stauffer this is sometimes taken to be an IWC movement, and it does have some superficial similarities to the IWC calibre 87, but the movement in the photographs here definitely has nothing whatsoever to do with IWC.
Bestfit 1965 ETA 715 and Eterna 710
The significant measurement of a tonneau movement is the width. This watch is approximately 20mm or about 8¾ or 9 lignes across. The Bestfit Book shows a number of 8¾ shaped movements, including the diagram shown here of the parts of the keyless work of ETA calibre 715 and Eterna 710. The most significant part for identification is the largest part, the cover plate with integrated detent spring. This is called the "setting lever spring" in Swiss parts lists, with the generic part No. 445, or "set bridge" in American parlance. The other two parts shown are the setting lever and the yoke that moves the sliding pinion.
The shape of the parts of the keyless work of Swiss watches are a "fingerprint" so unique that the Bestfit Book does not show any other part of the movement for identification purposes. A watch repairer needing a spare part would take the movement from the case, remove the hands and dial, and then use the size and basic shape of the movement together with the unique shape of the keyless parts to make the identification and then order parts, confident that they would fit the movement in his hands, and often no other movement. The Bestfit diagram shows that this keyless work is identical for ETA calibre 715 and Eterna 710, and the list of factories and calibres confirms that the Basic Model or base movement of the Eterna 710 is the ETA 715. These two calibres might have some differences in appearance but the main parts, the barrel, train escapement and keyless work, and especially the mainspring, balance staff and stem, the parts most likely to need replacing, are the same.
Eterna Cal. 8¾ - 710 from Jobin
The setting lever spring was an evolution of the earlier simple cover plate that kept all of the parts of the keyless work in place. Stem set keyless work needs a detent to hold the crown in the setting position. In early stem wound and set watches the usual Swiss "positive" set keyless work (in contrast to American or negative set) incorporates this detent as part of the mechanism, usually a notch on the yoke, whereas in later watches it is integrated into the cover plate as in this watch. The long thin arm acts as a spring, the two notches at the end serve as detents that hold the setting lever in either its usual winding position or in the hand setting position when the crown and stem are pulled out. It is not known exactly when this modification to the cover plate was introduced, but it seems to have been in the late 1920s or early 1930s, and it might have been Eterna who introduced it. If you have any knowledge about this, please let me know.
The diagram from Jobin's "La Classification Horlogère Suisse" 1936 edition shows an Eterna calibre 710. The ETA calibre 715 Eterna 710 are identical in their vital parts but differ in appearance. The ETA 715 has exposed winding wheels, the crown wheel and ratchet wheel, the Eterna 710 has the winding wheels concealed below the top plate. This was almost certainly done specifically for the English market. English made watches always had concealed winding wheels and critical English customers considered that exposed winding wheels were a sign of a foreign, and therefore inferior, watch. This attitude was a hang over from the days when English watches were considered the best in the world - at least by the British.
The company that became Eterna was founded in 1856 by Dr. Josef Girard and Urs Schild. In 1932 Eterna spun off its movement making side as ETA SA to supply ébauches to other Swiss watch assemblers. Eterna SA continued to make watches, using ébauches from ETA, and sometimes from other ébauche makers.
So we know that the movement is an Eterna calibre 710 and that it has concealed winding wheels like the calibre shown in Jobin. But the top plate of the watch in the photographs is different from that of the Eterna 710 illustrated in Jobin. Like the Eterna 520 discussed in the earlier section, this was because Stauffer asked Eterna to make these changes to the appearance of the movement so that it was unique to Stauffer and could not be easily recognised as an Eterna calibre, except by a watch repairer with a Bestfit Book or similar.
It was very common for the Swiss ébauche manufacturers to make variations of a basic movement by changing the appearance of the top plate. This enabled them to supply ébauches that were apparently different but actually identical in all other respects to different watch assemblers. It was easy to do because the plates are not functional components, they just sit there and form bearings for the functional parts. Changing their shape has no effect on the function of the movement so long as the bearings remain in the same place. The vast majority of the components, including the bottom plate, remained exactly the same, but by changing the shape of the bridges and cocks while still leaving all the pivot holes in the same places, a movement could be given a very different appearance.
Sometimes I hear people say that similarities in appearance between watch movements show that there must have been some collaboration between their different manufacturers. This is not the case. The Swiss watch industry was fiercely competitive and different movement manufacturers did not collaborate. If two movements appeared with very similar appearance, this was due to coincidence not collaboration. In fact, designing a movement was the easiest part of a manufacturers work, there are only so many ways you can arrange the parts. The most difficult part was designing and making the specialised machines that would manufacture the tiny components to the necessary precision, and spit them out faster and cheaper than their competitors machines. Designing an end stone setting, a plate that holds the jewel and one or two tiny screws to hold it in place, is very easy. Imagine how much harder it is to design a machine that will automatically turn, thread slit and polish those tiny screws, only a fraction of a millimetre in diameter, and that will quickly produce thousands of such screws to exacting tolerances without human intervention. The specialised machines to make the parts are where the real hard work and investment lay, details of which rival watch manufacturers guarded carefully.
Stauffer & Co. and Le Coultre
Le Coultre repeater with S&Co trademark; click images to enlarge.
Thanks to David MacP. for the images
Swiss 18 carat 0.755 gold with three heads of Helvetia
Thanks to David MacP. for the image
Stauffer & Co. also obtained movements, or more likely complete watches, from Le Coultre. The pictures here show a fine Le Coultre hunter cased minute repeater pocket watch with the Stauffer trademark of the initials S & Co. under a crown inside an oval shield on the barrel bridge.
The S&Co. mark was the trademark of the London branch of the Swiss watchmaking company Stauffer, Son & Co. This mark was stamped onto watches that Stauffer bought in from other manufacturers, so it shows that the watch was imported into Britain by Stauffer & Co. London, and also that it was not made in Stauffer's Swiss factory.
There are no visible trademarks other than the S & Co. mark, but the movement was made by Le Coultre. Movements like this are seen signed Le Coultre, and also Marius LeCoultre, Genève, and Matthey Genève. Le Coultre also supplied the same movement to Audemars. Le Coultre usually altered the shapes of the visible cocks and bridges for different customers to look make the movements look different, but the underlying ébauche is the same in each case. The small lyre shaped bridge next the block that attaches the repeater bells to the case is usually identical.
When activated by the slide on the case side, the two steel hammers strike the time on the "bells", the steel rods that can be seen running around the outside of the movement, using different tones to designate the hours, quarter hours, and nearest minute.
The case has Swiss hallmarks for 18 carat gold. These hallmarks are different from the usual Swiss hallmark for 18 carat gold that had been introduced in 1880. The hallmarks in this case consist of "18C" within a square shield and "0.755" within a square shield incuse, and three heads of Helvetia, one small above two large.
In December 1887 the Swiss Federal Council defined the higher fineness standard of 0.755, which is finer than the Swiss legal standard of 0.750, and the special hallmark with three heads of Helvetia to identify it, specifically for watch cases that were to be exported to England. This was in response to the 1887 British Merchandise Marks Act that came into force on 1 January 1888 and is explained in more detail on my page about Swiss hallmarks.
The legend "Swiss made" on the movement was introduced by Swiss watchmakers in the spring of 1888, also in response to the British Act.
Watches imported to Britain from Switzerland continued to bear Swiss hallmarks until 1907 when hallmarking of imported gold and silver watches in British assay offices became mandatory and the Swiss hallmarks were then usually omitted. The fact the case carries these particular Swiss hallmarks but no British hallmarks shows that the watch was imported into Britain between 1888 and 1907.
The case has a cameo mark AFC in a rectangular shield that looks like a British sponsor's mark, but there are no British hallmarks so it is not a British sponsor's mark. The mark is most likely the trademark of the Swiss case maker, but these are very poorly documented before 1924 and so the mark is yet to be identified.
Le Coultre was a Swiss watch manufacturer set up in 1833 by Charles Antoine Le Coultre. In the twentieth century they cooperated with the Parisian based Edmond Jaeger. A relationship was established whereby Le Coultre would make watches that would be marketed and distributed by Jaeger. In 1926 a holding company Jaeger-Le Coultre was established to formalise the relationship between the two separate companies.
Stauffer & Co. and Fontainemelon
Fontainemelon movement with S&Co trademark; click image to enlarge. See Fontainemelon Movement 3 for more details.
Image © Smiths watches
Stauffer also bought movements or watches from Fabriques d'Horlogerie de Fontainemelon (FHF).
The image here shows a Fontainemelon movement with the Stauffer trademark S&Co under a crown inside an oval shield on the barrel bridge, the mark is not very clear so I have ringed it in red.
I have also seen this same Fontainemelon calibre with the "SS&Co." under three triangles trademark.
The movement is a Fontainemelon, easily identified by its very characteristic central bridge. If that were not enough, the Fontainemelon trademark of the "William Tell" symbol, an apple with an arrow through it, is found on the bottom plate underneath the dial. It is on the opposite side of the plate to the "Swiss Made" and I have added it to the image in its approximately correct position. For a view of the dial plate and keyless work of this Fontainemelon calibre see Fontainemelon Movement 3 on my movement identification page.
This is an example of the higher grade movement that Fabriques d'Horlogerie de Fontainemelon could produce when requested. It has a Swiss straight line lever escapement and is jewelled to the centre with a cap jewel (end stone) for the escape wheel, giving a jewel count of at least 17. I have also seen a similar movement with the S&Co trademark but without the centre and cap jewels for a more basic count of 15 jewels.
Stauffer & Co. and Patek Philippe
David Penney has shown a business card dating from c.1900 of the Geneva watchmakers Patek Philippe & Co. which was overprinted in red with a notice that "Stauffer, Son & Co. of 13, Charthouse St, Holborn, London, have the wholesale agency for Patek Philippe in Great Britain." The illustrious Geneva watchmaking company Patek Philippe was actually rather younger than Stauffer, Son & Co., having been founded in 1839 by Count Norbert Anton de Patek, the company adopting the name Patek Philippe in 1845 when Adrien Philippe was made a partner in the business.
If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me via my Contact me page.
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Letter by J Lecluse, Horological Journal 1885. To read the letter in full click on the picture or here
Stauffer, Son & Co., La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
There is little recorded about the Stauffer factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds, but the following letter from Mr J. Lecluse appeared in the journal of the British Horological Institute in September 1885. I think it is very interesting, so I have transcribed it and you can read the full letter by clicking on the link in the picture caption.
In the letter Lecluse describes Stauffer, Son and Co.'s "Atlas" watch factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds, in the Swiss Jura mountains. The factory has steam heating, steam power from a 30 horse power steam engine, and makes its own gas for melting and soldering etc. It also appears to generate its own electricity, but Lecluse is not specific about this. The factory has 300 machines which produce rapidly all the various pieces of the 60,000 or more watches produced annually.
Starting from raw material, Lecluse describes machines cutting, punching, stamping, drilling, turning and dressing watch components with little human intervention, including machines to file steel pieces, executing with precision work difficult to do by hand. He describes in detail jewelling machines that set all the jewels of a plate, small or large, thin or thick, without once taking off the plate in the course of the operation. For watches with jewels set in gold chatons there are several machines, each of which can produce at least 300 jewel-holes per day. In another part of the factory watch cases are made, their parts pressed into shape by large machine presses. In another workshop the keyless work is fitted and in another the escapement in made. Watches then pass to the finishing and regulating department, from which they emerge ready to be worn.
Lecluse does not describe in detail the watches that are being made, concentrating on the machinery. He does however in the final paragraph mention that watches with lever escapements are made, and for the English market watches with full plate and three-quarter plate movements. At the time the typical style of an English lever was full plate, with the balance above the top plate and pivoted in an elaborately engraved cock, very reminiscent of a verge watch but adapted to take a lever escapement. The alternative three-quarter plate movement had part of the top plate cut away so that the balance could be brought down closer to the bottom plate and the balance cock brought into the same plane as the top plate. This allowed the watch to be made thinner.
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An early Stauffer movement
Here is the movement of a pocket watch produced in the Stauffer Son & Co. Chaux-de-Fonds factory. I don't know when it was made, there were no hallmarks because I bought it without a case, which was no doubt removed and melted down for its bullion value. You can see straight away that even though it is a fairly simple Lépine movement, it is nicely made and finished. Some notable features are:
An early Stauffer Lépine calibre
- Cylinder escapement with brass balance, no temperature compensation
- Going barrel - no fusee - standard Lépine arrangement
- Cocks and bridges, no top plate, unlike the full and three-quarter plate movements described by Lecluse.
- Key wound and set, with hand setting from the rear by the Lépine friction centre post
- Jewelled to the third wheel with clear jewels, probably clear sapphires that were cheaper than red rubies
- Frosted and gilded plates and bridges, blued screws
Swiss cylinder escapement watches were rather looked down upon by the English watchmakers, who considered that only the English lever escapement was capable of good timekeeping, and that cylinder escapements wore out quickly. But the Swiss made watches with hardened steel cylinders and escape wheels that were not only good timekeepers but also lasted well. They were able to sell these at a price that the British public liked, undercutting the expensive English watchmakers, who continued to look down their noses as their trade was taken away.
The movement is marked "Stauffer Cx De Fonds" for Stauffer Son & Co. Chaux-de-Fonds and has the SS&C in a shield trademark. At one time I thought that these trade marks originated at the time of their registration in 1880, and so I assumed that this movement was made after 1880. However, as I discuss above, these marks were in use long before the registration scheme was introduced and their use dates back to the formation of Stauffer, Son & Co. in 1830, so this watch could have been made at any time after 1830, and in fact it dates from closer to 1830 than to 1880.
Dr. Ranfft describes this layout as "Lépine-Calibre IV", with a bridge for the centre wheel instead of a cock, and says that this layout was used from 1835-1850, after 1850 a layout with the barrel bridge a straight bar and the cocks arranged more in parallel was used. However, I have seen a watch with an identical layout in a Swiss case with English hallmarks for 1880 to 1881, so production of this style of movement carried on after 1850, although not by Stauffer who by then had moved on to making lever escapement movements.
The terms "Lépine movement" or "Lépine calibre" are not a brand name or maker, they describe a type of movement invented in the eighteenth century by Jean Antoine Lépine of Paris and describe the type of movements made in huge numbers by many ébauche makers in France and Switzerland during the 19th century. They were mostly anonymous, it is unusual to be able to tie one to a particular manufacturer.
It might be thought that key winding watches were not produced after keyless winding was introduced in about 1850, but Lecluse's letter of 1885 refers to key winding watches, amusingly he calls them "non-keyless", and in fact key wind watches were produced in Switzerland and England into the 20th century. This kept the cost down. We also know from the letter of Lecluse that Stauffer were making lever watches by 1885.
This type of fairly cheap watch, with a key wound and set movement and cylinder escapement, was made in the tens of thousands in Switzerland. I think this one was a fairly early Stauffer product and that they soon moved on to making better classes of watches such as the one shown further down this page.
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Stauffer waterproof watch
Horological Journal December 1884
In a letter published in the BHI Horological Journal of December 1884, Stauffer described a "hermetically sealed" or "dust-tight" watch case, illustrated with the image reproduced here.
The letter discusses the problems caused by dust stopping watches, saying that sometimes watches have to be cleaned for a second time within a week of cleaning if their owner is engaged in "dusty pursuits", or that watches in "countries of the torrid zone" are ruined as a result of dampness finding its way inside the case, and that these considerations, besides the danger of accidental immersion in water or exposure to clouds of fine dust, have led to the patented invention shown in the picture.
The letter says that the chief difficulty in making an impervious case is sealing the aperture through which the winding stem passes. The illustration shows a short section of screw thread on the stem below the crown and explains that after winding the watch a "slight turn" of the crown brings it into contact with the end of the pendant and seals the opening.
It is said that with the crown screwed down onto the pendant like this, repeated trials have shown that the watch may be immersed in petroleum or warm water with impunity. The choice of petroleum as the first test fluid was probably because it wouldn't damage the mechanism if it did get inside the case. I don't know why warm water was used; perhaps whoever performed the test didn't want to get his hands cold.
When I first read the letter in the Horological Journal I assumed from the way it was worded that it was Stauffer that had patented the invention, but a search through British and Swiss patents failed to reveal any such patent. Then I realised that the design is identical to the "l'Imperméable" (The Impermeable) design patented by Alcide Droz & Fils, British patent 2624 26 May 1883 and United States patent 307027 21 October 1884. The dates tie in nicely, the short piece of left hand thread on the stem shown in the image in the Horological Journal is identical to thread shown in the Droz British patent, and the way that the crown screws down onto the end of the pendant is the same as the Droz invention.
Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith 1885
The entry from a directory in The Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith of June 1885 shown here lists Stauffer Son & Co. of 12, Old Jewry Chambers and La Chaux-de-Fonds and says that they are Manufacturers of the "Waterproof" watch and the "Atlas" Machine-made levers.
The Atlas name for lever watches was a Stauffer trademark, registered in London in 1885, but the reference to Stauffer being manufacturers of the waterproof watch, when taken together with the similarities in design of the Droz l'Imperméable and the illustration accompanying the letter, implies (to me at least) that Stauffer were manufacturing waterproof for Droz watches to the design in the Droz patent.
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Stauffer in the 1880s
In the July 1886 issue of the Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith, Stauffer Son & Co. had a full page advertisement for "watches of every description", fine and complicated watches, Specialties in Atlas levers made by machinery on the gauged and interchangeable principle including Atlas chronographs, Railway Atlas, and four-in-hand Atlas. Atlas was a registered trademark, and watches with Class "A" Kew certificates were in stock, and could be supplied with the customer's own name on the certificate at a few hours notice.
Kew record marks
In 1891 a Stauffer gold tourbillon chronometer No. 136862 won first prize and honours from the Council of State of the Canton of Neuchâtel for the highest results at the Neuchâtel Observatory, beating all previous records.
The same watch attained 91.6 marks at the Kew observatory trials of 1891 beating all other watches entered and all previous records. Stauffer were not going to let a red-letter day like that pass without comment and the advert reproduced here appeared in the British trade press. The advert includes a quote from a letter by Mr. G. M. Whipple stating that the watch had obtained the highest mark that had been recorded to that date. An editorial in the same paper recorded that the watch was entirely made at Stauffer's own factory in La Chaux‑de‑Fonds, Switzerland.
The Kew trials had been started in 1884 to rate watches for makers or members of the public on a similar basis to the observatories at Geneva and Yale that rated watches for Swiss, French and American watchmakers. The intention no doubt was to demonstrate the high quality of English watches and presumably cock a snook at the pesky foreigners. However, Swiss watch manufacturers were not slow to spot an opportunity to gain credibility in one of the their most important export markets and so started to enter watches for the trials.
When Swiss watches started to take the top places in the trials, English watch makers took decisive action; they simply ignored the foreigners.
In Smith & Sons Ltd. "guide to the purchase of a watch" there is an extract from The Times of London of 5 November 1898 over the caption "The record in watch making" reporting one of Smith's watches gaining a Class A, especially good, rating with the "extraordinarily high marks of 88.1". The report is careful not to claim that this is record result rather than just a matter of record, but anyone reading the article could be forgiven for gaining that impression. There was no mention in the report of any Swiss entry, or the high marks gained by Swiss watches such as the Stauffer watch that seven years earlier had gained 91.6 marks.
In the 1892 trials at Kew, of the 852 watches of all kinds that were awarded certificates, 460 were manufactured by Stauffer.
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A later Stauffer movement
The movement in the photograph here is a Stauffer 13 ligne Lépine marked Swiss and with the Stauffer trademark of SS&Co. between three triangles. It can be seen that like the cylinder movement described above it is also nicely made and finished with the same frosted and gilded finish to the plates and bridges and blued screws. But this movement is a leap ahead technically.
The escapement is a straight line Swiss lever with a cut bimetallic temperature compensation balance and a Breguet overcoil balance spring. In the photograph it is possible to make out the two metals that make up the bimetallic rim; the thin inner layer or lamina of steel and the thicker outer brass lamina. The balance has gold timing screws, and two that appear whiter that might be platinum, which was sometimes used because of its additional weight being one third denser than 18 carat gold.
The train is jewelled to the centre with an end stone for the escape wheel. The centre jewel is set in a gold chaton. Although it is not stated the jewel count is 17, only the top pivot of the centre wheel arbor is jewelled, and only the top bearing of the escape wheel arbors has an end stone. These are the two visible pivots of these arbors and the pivots in the bottom plate are not similarly treated, the centre wheel arbor bottom pivot has a plain bearing and the escape wheel arbor bottom pivot has a plain jewel hole. This implies that the extra jewelling was done for cosmetic effect, and this is not unique to Stauffer, many Swiss and American manufacturers did the same thing. It does add a certain something to the appearance of the movement even if it does nothing for its timekeeping properties.
This came to me as a bare movement, it probably originally had a gold case that has been melted for its bullion value. It is a stem wound and set movement with pin set keyless work for hand setting. It is a Lépine layout with the fourth wheel arbor lying on a line projected from the axis of the stem. It was probably originally in a lady's open face fob watch case, the Lépine layout is not suitable for a wristwatch and the dial has the 12 o'clock next to the stem.
The presence of the word Swiss on the movement indicates that it was made after 1887. For the explanation of the reasoning behind this remark see The brand "Swiss made".
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Later History of the Swiss Company
The Watchmaker Jeweller and Silversmith reported watches, chronometers and repeating watches exhibited by Stauffer & Co. at the 1885 Inventions Exhibition in London. The firm moved to 13 Charterhouse Street, Holborn, London, on 23rd Feb. 1887. In 1889 Charles Nicolet was recorded in report in The Times concerning some stolen watches as "Charles Nicolét trading as Stauffer & Co. Charterhouse Street." From 1892 the company name was changed to Nicolet Fils et Cie, indicating that Nicolet had taken over the whole company, Swiss factory and all, but the Stauffer name and the SS & Co and S&Co. marks continued to be used, and Nicolet also registered Atlas as a trade mark. After this the name of the company appears to fluctuate between variations of Nicolet and Stauffer, and later Atlas, but as they carried on using the Stauffer brand over the period I am interested in, that is the name I will use.
In July 1894 the British Horological Institute's Journal reported the death at La Chaux-de-Fonds on the 27th June of Mr A Nicolet-Rossel, late senior partner of the Swiss firm Stauffer Son & Co..
Kew Observatory Trial Successes
Feuille d'Avis de Neuchâtel 1891
In 1891 the following editorial appeared in the "Feuille D'Avis De Neuchâtel", a Neuchâtel newspaper.
Watchmaking. - A watch factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the firm Stauffer Son and Co., has just achieved at the Kew Observatory in England, a serious success. One of their watches, a pocket chronometer, observed in this institution, earned 91.6 points out of 100 which is the maximum. That matches the highest known in the observatory, or the figure of 89.1 points obtained by British manufacturers which had not been exceeded up to now.
Stauffer letter to Dr. Chree at Kew
I understand that this success was repeated in 1893 but I have not found the evidence for this yet.
The letter shown to the right is quite interesting. It is dated June 4th 1897 and addressed to Dr Charles Chree at the Kew Observatory, Richmond.
Dr Charles Chree F.R.S. (1860-1928) was Superintendent of the Kew Observatory at Richmond in Surrey, England, from 1893 to 1925, a remarkably long service of 32 years. The letter asks Chree if he will exchange an enclosed certificate for "one made out in a gold case", explaining "we ommitted to alter the original certificate before sending it in for transfer." The certificate in question would be one of the famous "Kew Certificates" that were awarded to watches that successfully passed a series of tests at Kew. These certificates were highly regarded and watch manufacturers could request Kew to reissue them in the name of the purchaser of a watch.
La Fédération Horlogère Suisse 1906
The notice to the left appeared in the Swiss trade journal "La Fédération Horlogère Suisse" in 1905. It records Stauffer, Son & Co. as taking 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in the "chronograph compteur et rattrapante" (split-seconds chronograph recorders) category of the 1905 Kew trials.
Complications - Chronographs, Counters, Split Seconds
The letter in the Horological Journal by Lecluse does not mention any complicated watches. The highly automated factory Lecluse describes is more suitable for turning out large quantites of high quality standard watches that would have a wide appeal, which they would need to have to sell at over 1,200 per week!. However, in the 1890s, about the time that the company name was changed to Nicolet Fils et Cie, there appears to also be an addition of complicated chronograph watches to the Stauffer range. This seems to coincide with the takeover of the Stauffer firm by the Nicolet family, which presumably occured when the last Stauffer died without an heir who wanted to take over the business.
In 1892 a patent was granted to Georges Nicolet of la Chaux-de-Fonds. The Swiss patent is number CH 4821, Perfectionnement apporté aux mécanismes de chronographes-compteurs (Improvement made to the mechanisms of counter chronographs). The first chronographs had just seconds hands to show elapsed seconds. A counter chronograph is one that can record minutes and sometimes hours by additional indicators on the dial.
This Georges Nicolet could not have been the son of the London based Charles Nicolet, because the 1911 Census records George Nicolet's birth year as 1882, so he would have been only 10 in 1892 when the patent was granted, but as the Nicolet family was of Swiss origin, he could have been (probably was?) a Swiss relative. Greg Steer, the well know IWC collector and historian, has a Stauffer Split Second Chronograph pocket watch that is stamped on the movement with this patent number and engraved Stauffer and Peerless on bridges.
Henri Onésime Stauffer
A Stauffer, Son & Co. 1901 patent CH 24,577 "Mécanisme de chronographe" is itself quite interesting, not just from a technical viewpoint. This entry from a December 1902 edition of La Federation Horlogere Suiss refers to the same Patent CH 24,577. It seems that Stauffer Son and Co. ayant cause de l'inventeur (successor of the inventor) acquired the rights to this patent from Henri Onésime Stauffer of Ponts-de-Martel - another relative presumably. The name which appears on the published patent is Stauffer Son & Co., so Nicolet must have acquired the rights between registration and publication.
Notice of Stauffer 1901 patent CH 24,577
Henri Onésime Stauffer founded his own watch making company in 1850, and won Honourable Mention for finished watches at the 1881 National Exhibition of Horology in La Chaux-de-Fonds. He seems to have specialised in repeating watches, so the patent CH 24,577 may be one that he decided that he didn't want to pursue and made it over to Stauffer Son. and Co. who did make use of it.
Les Ponts-de-Martel is a municipality in the district of Le Locle, and Jaquet and Chapuis mention that "This district has long been known for its highly complicated watches, and for excellent watches in general". Henri Onésime Stauffer received many Swiss and US patents, including for repeating and chronograph watches. It was an improvement to his 1887 patent for a repeating watch that was improved by Charles Meylan of New York, whose 1888 patent US 390,501 was used in the third model of repeating watch produced by Waltham. The Waltham Watch Company remains the only American watch manufactory that produced a repeating watch, and these were made in very small numbers.
The early Waltham repeaters are thought to have used Swiss designs and parts by George Aubert of Vaud. The repeating mechanisms, after having been acquired abroad, were then fitted to the movements by the New York agents for Waltham. Whether Henri Onésime Stauffer supplied parts for the movements made to the Charles Meylan patent is not known, but would appear unlikely, he probably just provided the inspiration for Meylan, although he may have received some payment for the use of his patented design.
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The Gordon Bennett Cup Races
The 1892 and subsequent patents seem to mark the entry into the world of high quality complicated chronograph watches by Nicolet Fils et Cie, trading as Stauffer Son & of La Chaux-de-Fonds and London. The first major sporting event to which they supplied split second counter chronographs for timing to that I have been able to find evidence of was the 1903 Gordon Bennett cup race held in Ireland, and the subsequent 1904 and 1905 races held in Germany and France respectively.
The Gordon Bennett cup for motor racing was one of three trophy cups created by James Gordon Bennett, Jr. (1841 - 1918). Gordon Bennett was publisher of the New York Herald newspaper, which had been founded by his father, James Gordon Bennett, Sr, and was extremely wealthy. He was educated primarily in France, and emigrated there in 1877 after an incident in New York which gave rise to the saying Gordon Bennett! as an expression of incredulity. The story goes that Bennett arrived drunk at the home of his fiancée's parents one evening and proceeded to urinate into either the fireplace or the grand piano (versions differ) in full view of all those present. When he sobered up and realised what he had done, Bennett exiled himself to France.
La Fedération Horlogère Suisse 1903
The Gordon Bennett cup races of 1900, 1901 and 1902 were held as part of races between major towns on public roads over one day. After the 1901 Paris-Bordeaux race, in which at least eight people had been killed, and severe accidents during the 1903 Paris-Madrid race, which had to be halted at Bordeaux because there had been so many accidents, the 1903 and later Gordon Bennett cup races consisted of competitors completing three timed laps of closed circular course. This required much more precision in timing than the city to city dashes, where the first to arrive was the winner. For the 1903 race, Stauffer Son & Co. supplied 91 split second counter chronographs, which were highly praised by the chief timekeeper and others after the race.
This must have been quite a red letter day for Stauffer because after the race the La Fedération Horlogère Suisse published the following editorial:
Le Chronometrage de la Course Gordon Bennett
le 2 juillet 1903
Chronograph watches, manufactured in La Chaux-de-Fonds by the house Stauffer, Son & Co., and including 91 pieces were used exclusively to settle the International Automobile Race of Ireland (Gordon Bennett Cup Race) and as the announcement in one of our previous issues, have discharged their duties in an extraordinary manner, exceeding the most optimistic hopes, because without exception, each of these watches has worked perfectly for the duration of the race, an entire day, despite the very severe handling and treatment that these watches have been submitted to throughout the day. The following excerpts from the press are exceptional praise:
Le Matin (Paris), July 3. - "The timing was perfect."
The Autocar (London) 6 July. - "The 3 watches of the "Chief Timer" of the Race, M. T. H. Woollen, which were together in a box, have operated for the duration of the race, and have shown a variation between them l/5 part of a second throughout the day. These are Split Chronograph watches manufactured by the house Stauffer."
The Automobile Club Journal (London) 9 July. - 'Stauffer Chronograph watches, employed to settle the race, have operated smoothly, with no fault, and we have no hesitation in declaring that they are the best chronographs that have ever been manufactured."
Considering the large quantity of Chronograph watches employed for the timing of the race, the long-term observations, and severe handling during these observations, the result obtained has been of great honour to Swiss watchmaking, and in particular to the house that produced them.
Stauffer Son & Co. trademark registered 17 August 1905
The Gordon Bennett motor racing cup
The Gordon Bennett cup
A correspondent in Sydney Australia sent me this picture of a mark in the back of a watch from his late father's collection - a Stauffer/Nicolet split second silver chronograph in excellent working condition. The mark is of the Gordon Bennett motor racing cup, shown in the picture to the right.
As The Times, Friday, Jan 30, 1903 described it: "it is not a cup at all, but a model of a motor car carrying two figures in anything but motor costume." The two figures are in fact female, balancing very precariously on a motor car and clad in very unsuitable (at least unsuitable for motor racing) diaphanous dresses. The current whereabouts of this trophy appear to be unknown.
Stauffer Son & Co. registered a picture of the trophy as a trademark on 17 August 1905. The entry in the Archives de l'Horlogerie states "Stauffer Son & Co (maison principale à Londres) fabricants Chaux-de-Fonds Toutes pièces d'horlogerie. This indicates that London was the company's headquarters.
Subsequently Stauffer Son & Co. supplied split second counter chronographs for the 1904 and 1905 Gordon Bennett cup races, and may other sporting events, and they also entered chronographs for the Kew Observatory time trials with success. In 1907 the La Federation Horlogere Suisse published the following editorial:
The extraordinary fame that has accrued during the last years to the split second counter chronograph watches of the firm Stauffer, Son & Co, of our city, is recently justified by the brilliant results obtained at the Kew Observatory during the year 1906, their watches of this type have obtained 1st, 2nd, 3rd places out of 18 observed.
This success is even more remarkable than the previous year. In 1905 the firm Stauffer, Son & Co. had already won the first three places in this same category of split second chronographs.
In addition, their watch that got 1st place in 1906, with 88.7 marks, constitutes a record for all Swiss made split second watches that ever passed at the Observatory at Kew, and also beats all split second watches made in England with the same escapement, ordinary lever, without cage (tourbillon?) or rotating platform (karrusel).
These excellent results maintained for so long, give to the split seconds watches of Stauffer, Son & Co. an almost official reputation in the sports world of all countries, and these watches were used (often to the exclusion of any other watches) for the official timekeeping of all important races in recent years.
Our most sincere congratulations.
1920 Stauffer advert
So what happened to the company of Stauffer & Co.?
This advert from the 1920 edition of the Indicateur Davoine states that Stauffer, Son & Co. are manufacturers of chronographs which have won first prizes and first class awards from Kew, Neuchatel and Geneva, and been adopted by the English Admiralty. The telegraphic address is the factory name Atlas, Chaux-de-Fonds. The advert refers to Systèmes Brevétes, or patented systems.
Considering that Stauffer Son & Co seems to have been a large and successful Swiss watch manufacturer with a modern factory in 1885, and a major British watch importer, recipient of Kew and other observatory trial winnings and suppliers of chronographs used at many large sporting events, it is strange that they seem to have disappeared without trace.
The Stauffer name seems to have been dropped from the Swiss watch making operation in the 1920s in favour of Atlas Watch Co, although the London firm continued to use the name Stauffer Son & Co.
Research is still required to establish exactly what did happen to the Swiss and British companies.
Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2017 all rights reserved. This page updated June 2017. W3CMVS.