Baume & CompanyCopyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2021 all rights reserved.
Baume & Company was founded in 1844 as the London branch of the Swiss company Baume Frères, a watch manufacturer based in the village of Les Bois in the Jura Mountains. Although the Swiss and British companies were separate legal entities they remained closely connected.
In addition to watches manufactured by the Swiss parent company, Baume & Company imported watches from other manufacturers. In 1876 Baume & Company became the exclusive importers of Longines watches into Britain and the British Empire, a role which they held until the mid 1960s.
In 1888 Baume & Company, under the direction of Arthur Baume, opened a watch factory in Coventry. Next to nothing is known about this business except that after one year in operation the whole Coventry workforce, staff members from the London office, and Arthur Baume the managing director, had a day outing and slap up evening meal in celebration.
In 1909 Baume Frères took over an existing watch manufacturer in La Chaux-de-Fonds, in which factory they manufactured watches under the name “Baume”. Watches from this factory were imported into Britain by Baume & Company until the 1960s.
In 1918 William Baume left the Baume family business to set up his own company in Geneva. In March 1919 he was joined by a friend, Paul Tcherednitchenko, a Ukrainian who had adopted the name Mercier, and they formed Baume & Mercier. There was no connection between Baume Frères or Baume & Company with Baume & Mercier other than that William was a family member who once worked for Baume Frères.
Baume & Company owned the rights to the Baume name in Britain, which they had registered as a trademark. Because of this they were able to prevent Baume & Mercier from marketing or selling Baume & Mercier branded watches in Britain. This continued until Baume & Co. ceased trading in the mid 1960s. This left the field clear for Baume & Mercier to begin selling their watches in Britain, which they began to do in circa 1968.
History of the Company
The dates quoted are mainly from the book A Hundred Years of Time published by Baume & Company in 1949. Dates claimed by Baume & Mercier are not consistent with the documentary evidence.
In 1834 two brothers, Louis Victor Baume (? - 1887) and Pierre Joseph Célestin Baume (1819 - 1894), founded the company Baume Frères (Baume Brothers) in Les Bois, Switzerland. The Baume family tree reproduced here shows the brothers descent from the Baume family of Les Bois, and how they are related to the other players in the story. The dates given are for their roles as directors at Les Bois and London.
The business was conducted from the family house in Les Bois; there was no factory as such. Watches were made by the établissage method; materials, blanks or rough parts were delivered to "out workers" in their homes, and finished parts collected and assembled into watches. At least, that is how the process is usually described.
In fact, I think that the Swiss system at the time was similar to the English system of watchmaking, also called finishing. A rough movement was obtained by the English watchmaker (or Swiss établisseur), which was then passed around to various specialists who performed the jewelling, added the balance and escapement, did the engraving and gilding, added dial and hands, and then a case, until the watch was complete. The watchmaker or établisseur was the person who controlled and organised the process, supplying the capital to purchase the rough movements and pay the workers, and then selling the finished watches.
The Baume brothers are said to have insisted on high quality, trained the first workers themselves, and for a time inspected each watch. However, although they may have been well made, the watches were not at first very technically advanced. Many extant nineteenth century movements signed “Baume Geneve” and “B&L” (for Baume & Lézard, the name of the English branch) have cylinder escapements and the train bearings are not jewelled.
Although the base of operations was Les Bois, this is a tiny hamlet even today and one wonders whether the house really was an établissment for the assembly of watches, or whether it was an office for trading Geneva made watches? However, I notice that in 1889 Clémence Frères also had a factory in Les Bois, giving their telegraphic address as “Les-Bois, London.”
The company made rapid progress in its first ten years and two more brothers, Célestin Auguste Félicien and Joseph Eugène joined.
In 1844, ten years after the founding of the company, the brothers decided to stop using export agents and to set up their own sales organisation. The choice was between Paris or London as a base, and London was chosen because it was starting to outstrip Paris in international trade. Célestin Baume founded a company in Clerkenwell, London. As well as the market in Britain, this opened up the whole of the British Empire to Baume's watches. The English and Swiss companies were separate legal entities from the start, although of course there were strong family bonds. Célestin settled in England, adopting an English spelling of his name, Celestin, marrying an English woman, Elizabeth, and becoming a naturalised British subject.
Célestin Baume was joined in the London company by a partner Joseph Lézard (1811 - ?) and they traded under the style of Baume & Lezard, manufacturers and importers of Geneva watches. Joseph Lézard was born on the continent (in census' his place of birth is given as Belgium, Luxembourg and France) but settled in England and became a naturalised British subject. In the 1851 census he is 39 years old with wife Zephirine and five children aged between 12 and 4.
In 1852 Baume & Lezard began exporting watches to Australia and New Zealand, an activity that was easier from London than Switzerland because of the large number of ships regularly passing between Britain, Australia and New Zealand, and because watches imported from Switzerland to Britain could be sent on to those countries without any further customs checks or duties.
In a trade directory published circa 1855, the company is listed as ‘BAUME, BROTHERs, Importers of Geneva Watches, 9, Ashley-street, Northampton-square, Clerkenwell, and at Aux Bois, Canton of Berne, Switzerland.’ The street address in London contains a misprint, it should be Ashby Street.
Movements were signed “Baume Geneve” and “ B&L” for Baume & Lézard, indicating how significant the British market was to the company. In 1852 the address of Baume & Lezard was 75 Hatton Gardens. In 1863 they were listed at 21 Hatton Gardens. Baume & Lezard exhibited watches at the International Exhibition of 1862. The partnership of Baume & Lezard was dissolved on 25 March 1872. Lezard would have been 60 so he most likely retired.
Kathleen Pritchard says that Baume & Co. became the British agents for Longines in 1867 but this is not correct. The book A Hundred Years of Time says that Baume & Co. became agents for Longines in 1876. Because the two stated years contain the same digits I wondered if the last two had become transposed, but the book quite clearly states that Longines was founded in 1867, and that in 1876 Célestin Baume, who was soon afterwards succeeded by Arthur Baume, became the sole representative of Longines for Great Britain and the whole of the British Empire. This date is confirmed in an obituary of Maurice Savoye, managing director of Longines for 65 years. Pritchard also mixes up the history of Baume with that of Baume & Mercier, which she evidently didn't realise was a quite separate business (see below).
In 1876 two of Louis Victor Baume's sons, Alcide Eugène and Joseph Arthur (1853 - 1936), took over management of the company. Alcide ran the operation in Les Bois, while Arthur ran the London operation, looking after sales and marketing to the UK and British Empire. The dates shown on the family tree are again the dates of their roles as directors at Les Bois and London. Arthur Baume became a naturalised British subject in March 1881 and, on 28 Feb 1884 at the church of St Giles, Camberwell, married Mary Rebecca Mangham.
Pierre Joseph Célestin Baume died 27 September 1880. One of his executors was his nephew Louis Célestin Alexandre Baume (1852 - 1894), a native of Les Bois who had been naturalised as a British citizen on 30 May (10 June) 1879 aged 27. Arthur Baume had for a time a partner Alexander Baume, until 31 December 1890 when the partnership was dissolved. This was presumably the same Célestin's nephew Alexandre, who is not mentioned in the company records or on the family tree. The Horological Journal of January 1891 recorded that Alexander Baume had retired from Baume & Co. on January 1st. Alexandre died on 1 October 1894 at Goetzenbruck, Lothringen, in the Moselle department of north-eastern France which, at the time, was in Germany. He would have been around 42 years of age, so presumably ill health might have been the reason that he retired early. His estate was valued at around £9,000, a large amount at the time.
Arthur Baume was born at Les Bois on December 17th, 1852, and educated at the College St. Michel, Switzerland. He moved to London in 1872. He became a prominent figure in Europe thanks to his charitable work at the French Hospital in Shaftesbury Avenue, of which he was President for many years, and services during the War in connection with wounded soldiers of all the Allied Armies brought to the French Hospital for treatment. A member of the Royal Geographical Society, he also became Senior Vice-President of the British Horological Institute. He was made a knight, and later an officer, of the Legion of Honour, and was twice decorated by French President Poincarré. The King of Belgium made him a Grand Officer of the Order of Leopold II. He retired in 1923 and died in Folkestone, at the age of 84, on 24 September 1936.
When Arthur Baume retired he was succeeded by his nephew Alexandre Alcide Célestin Baume, who had worked for the London company since 1904 and had been made a director in 1912. Alexandre Baume was born at Les Bois in 1882 and educated first in Switzerland and then in Germany. He died in England on 7 January 1961 at the age of 78.
Alexandre Baume's brother William Adolphe Baume (1885 - 1956) was a director of the La Chaux-de-Fonds factory from 1915 to 1918, when he left to set up his own business in Geneva.
Louis Baume was born in London and studied watchmaking in Neuchâtel. He then worked with his father at Baume & Co. until the second world war broke out. During the war he served in the Royal Artillery and became a Japanese prisoner of war for 3½ years. In 1946 he became Chairman of the Swiss Watch Importers' Association. In 1947 he succeeded his father as Joint Director of Baume & Co. He served on the Council of the British Horological Institute for 20 years, and was Chairman for some of this. In the early 1960s he left the watch business and went into bookselling. He was also a keen mountaineer. He died in 1994 at the age of 74.
On 23 September 1950 Baume & Company was incorporated as a limited company. The latest mention of Baume & Company Limited trading as an independent entity that I have yet found was in 1964. Their registered office was at 59-60 Old Broad Street Avenue, Blomfield Street, London E.C.2.
The End of Baume & Company
Baume & Company Limited subsequently became a subsidiary of Time Products Ltd., who also took over many long established English watch businesses such as Carley & Clemence Ltd., Harris (Jewellery) Ltd., Hirst Brothers & Co. Ltd., and J. Weir & Son Ltd. Time Products initially continued to distribute Baume watches, and Longines watches until Longines decided to set up their own UK office.
Use of the name Baume and Company by Time Products Limited ceased in the mid 1960s. Baume and Company became dormant within the meaning of Section 252 of the Companies Act 1985. In 1998 the name of Baume and Company Limited was changed to Brooks Mews Limited. This Company was struck off the Register under Section 652(5) of the Companies Act 1985 on 25 November 2002 and formally dissolved, as recorded by a notice in the London Gazette dated 3 December 2002.
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Baume & Co. Watches
The advert reproduced above from 1886 gives an idea of the wide range of watches that Baume & Co. were importing at that time; not just Longines watches but also ordinary watches of every description, in different qualities, also fine and complicated watches, watches with lever escapements and ¾ plate keyless watches.
The Swiss branch of Baume didn't always make simple movements with cylinder escapements. By the late nineteenth century it had leapt ahead technically and was known for chronographs, tourbillons, and grand complication models including watches with minute repeaters and calendars.
In 1890 a Baume watch with a single overcoil balance spring and tourbillon chronometer escapement took eighth place in the Kew watch trials with 83.9 marks out of a maximum of 100. In 1892 the same watch, No. 103018, was back at the Kew trials, after further adjustments, and took first place with 91.9 marks, beating the previous record of 91.6 marks held by a Stauffer & Son watch. The Baume watch is now in the Baume & Mercier museum collection. It has no connection with that company other than the Baume name, but it is good to see it preserved somewhere.
The Kew record stood for a decade. In 1900 Baume & Company advertised that they still held the Kew record with 91.9 marks. The record was taken from them in 1902 by H. Golay, London, with a keyless going-barrel annular tourbillon resilient lever, No. 7556, which obtained 92.7 marks out of a maximum of 100.
Baume & Co. also successfully entered watches with complications at Kew, which were rated separately from time only watches because a watch driving complications was not expected to be as good a timekeeper as a time-only watch. In 1887 a Baume split seconds minute recording chronograph was awarded 85.1 marks and the endorsement "especially good."
In September 1888 Baume & Company opened, or purchased, a watch factory in Coventry. The manager appointed by Baume to run factory was William Weston, already a long serving employee of Baume & Company.
Two punches with the cameo AB mark were registered at the London Assay Office on 14 September 1888, as were two punches with the incuse AB mark. I was puzzled by this because the 1887 Merchandise Marks Act effectively stopped importers of Swiss watches from sending them to be hallmarked after 1 January 1888. However, these were most likely for use on watch cases made at the Coventry factory.
The article here records the first annual outing of the Coventry employees. Obviously everything was going well at time and it seems that a good time was had by all. I have found no record of a second such annual outing.
The subsequent history of the Coventry factory is not recorded anywhere that I have been able to find. If it was making watches in the traditional English way, then it is not surprising that it didn't last long, since all Coventry manufacturers were struggling financially at the time.
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Baume & Co. Advert, 1947.
On 1 March 1909 a branch of Baume & Co. was created in La Chaux-de-Fonds by the takeover of the firm Paul César Jeanneret.
Paul César Jeanneret was granted Swiss, CH CH44551 1909-09-01, and British, GB 8296 1908-05-28, patents for an improvement to watch cases consisting of a ring carrying a hinged cap that strengthened the middle part of watch cases, making it harder to crush or deform them, especially cases made of gold or silver which were made thin to reduce the cost of the precious metal.
Watches made in this factory after its acquisition were branded “Baume” and imported into Britain. The factory was initially managed by Alcide Baume, who was succeeded in the management of Les Bois by his son William Adolphe Baume. It appears that after the takeover in 1910 of the factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the Les Bois operation was wound up.
The Baume family tree shows that William was director of the La Chaux-de-Fonds factory from 1915 until 1918, when he left the Baume family company to set up his own company in Geneva, which later became Baume & Mercier.
I have seen a number of watches with Fontainemelon movements stamped B&Co., see Baume and Fontainemelon, so it appears that the factory at La Chaux-de-Fonds was assembling watches from Fontainemelon ébauches and other components; dials, cases, etc.
At some point the original Swiss company changed its name from Baume Frères to Baume & Cie, and later for a brief period Baume & Mosimann after the business of Paul Mosimann was amalgamated.
When British retailers began to allow manufacturers to put their names on the dial of watches sold in Britain, the factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds started branding their watches with the name Baume. Watches with the name simply "Baume" are products of the La Chaux-de-Fonds factory and, despite what many say, have nothing to do with Baume & Mercier.
The advert here from 1947 for Baume watches says that all Baume movements are 17 jewelled and have Nivarox balance springs and Glucydur balances, which are all top quality features. By this time, although not in this advert, Baume & Co. were styling themselves "London and La Chaux-de-Fonds".
These Baume watches cause people a lot of confusion. They are often described as Baume & Mercier, although there is no name Mercier on the dial, which would be odd if they really were the product of a company of that name formed in the early twentieth century. But they are not. Watches with only Baume on the dial have nothing to do with Baume & Mercier – see the section about Baume & Mercier for more details as to why this is.
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Cases Made in Britain
To avoid import duty on gold cases, which were much more expensive, as a result of the McKenna duties on imported items, gold cases were made in the Britain and the Swiss made watch movements cased after import. Baume watches in cases other than gold, e.g. stainless steel or electroplated, were cased at the Baume factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds and imported complete.
Shackman & Sons
Lawrence W. kindly sent me the photograph of the case of his Baume watch reproduced here. The case has London Assay Office (leopard's head on the right) hallmarks for a British made item in 9 carat (375) gold. The date letter is the "Q" of 1951 to 1952 - remember that the hallmarking year began at the end of May when new wardens were elected, so date letter punches were used in two calendar years until May of the following year.
The sponsor's mark D.S.&S. in cameo was entered by David Shackman of D. Shackman & Sons. Two punches were first registered at the London Assay Office in 1922, and then a number more in 1946 and 1947, one of which was used to strike the sponsor's mark in this case.
The company was founded in London by David Shackman in around 1915 as fine jewellery manufacturers. Sponsor's mark punches were not initially required because most jewellery is exempt from hallmarking. David Shackman was joined by his sons Rubin and Albert to form D. Shackman & Sons. In addition to making gold watch cases for Baume, the company made cases for Longines, Rolex and Omega.
During the Second World War Shackman & Sons also made optical instruments, sextants and bombsights, for the armed forces at a factory in Chesham, Buckinghamshire. After the war it went into manufacturing special purpose cameras and accessories under the name “Autocamera”, gold watch cases and bracelets. The company was later renamed Shackman Instruments Ltd. and was taken over by Anamax Ltd. in 1993.
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Baume & Co. Sponsor's Marks
AB: Arthur Baume
AB: Arthur Baume
The two AB marks shown here are sponsor's marks of Arthur Baume, Managing Director of Baume & Co., London, from 1876 until 1923.
The first style of mark with cameo letters in curly script within an oval surround was registered at the London Assay Office on 18 November 1876. A week later on 25 November 1876 an incuse mark of the letters "AB" was also registered. The second cameo mark shown here, with block capital letters AB within a rectangular surround was first registered on 24 April 1883.
Swiss watches with gold or silver cases were imported into Britain without hallmarks until 1874, when some Swiss made watch cases began to be sent for hallmarking at British assay offices. Baume & Co. obviously caught onto this trend in 1876, at the same time as they began to import Longines watches. English watchmakers objected to foreign watch cases receiving British hallmarks, but the practice continued until 1877 when it was stopped from 1 January 1888 by the Merchandise Marks Act.
Two punches with the cameo AB mark were registered at the London Assay Office on 14 September 1888, as were two punches with the incuse AB mark. I was puzzled by this because the 1887 Merchandise Marks Act effectively stopped importers of Swiss watches from sending them to be hallmarked after 1 January 1888. However, in September 1888 Baume & Co. had opened or purchased a watch factory in Coventry, which explains these four punches; they were most likely for use at the Coventry factory.
A punch with the second style of mark, block letters in a rectangular shield, was registered with the London Assay Office on 1 March 1907, no doubt in anticipation of the requirement that all imported watches must be hallmarked in a UK assay office, which came into force on 1 June 1907. Additional punches with the same mark were registered in March, August and November 1907.
Punches with the second style of mark, block letters in a rectangular shield, were registered with the Birmingham Assay Office in January and July 1901. Birmingham was the principal jewellery making centre of the UK at the time and it seems likely that Baume were having items such as watch chains made there.
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Baume Des Breuleux
Watches are seen with Baume Des Breuleux on the dial. Les Breuleux is a small village only about 9 km from les Bois.
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Names on the Dial
Watches supplied to the British market before the late 1920s usually left the factory in Switzerland with blank enamel dials. Sometimes the retailer's name was painted on in enamel paint. The importer might have offered this as part of his service to the retailer, or the retailer may have arranged himself for his name to be painted onto the dial. However, enamel paint is much less durable than the vitreous enamel of the dial itself and, in extant examples, has usually more or less fallen off. An exception to this rule are watches with Mappin „Campaign” that was fired onto the dial when it was made. But note that Mappin was a British retailer, not the Swiss maker.
The advert by Baume & Co. from the Horological Journal of 1911 reproduced here is evidence of this practice. Longines watches were very highly regarded by the watch and jewellery trade in Britain, and took numerous top places in observatory competitions. But the advert says that they are supplied “without any distinctive name or mark except that of the retailer”. This is not something that Baume or Longines wanted to do. If the Longines name were put prominently onto the watches, British retailers would simply refuse to order them. Baume and Longines were immensely proud of the quality of their watches, but they were also pragmatic; they needed to 'shift product' in order to make a sales and a profit. Given the intransigence of the British retailers, they made a virtue out of necessity and made it clear that they were willing, even if they were not happy about it, to supply watches without branding.
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Baume and Longines
Horological Journal April 1915 Longines Factory
Baume & Co. acted as the London agents for Longines for many years, from 1876 to the mid 1960s.
Kathleen H. Pritchard in “Swiss Timepiece Makers, 1775-1975” says that Longines and Baume & Co. in London signed a marketing agreement in 1867, Longines' first year of operation. The year 1867 is incorrect. The book A Hundred Years of Time published by Baume & Company in 1949 says that the date was 1876, and that Arthur Baume took over the company from Célestin Baume soon after the agreement was made. Since Arthur was only 14 in 1867 the date quoted by Pritchard is clearly incorrect.
In the advert reproduced here from the Horological Journal of April 1915 Arthur Baume is listed as an owner and director of Longines. Baume & Co. was the gateway for Longines into the large British domestic market, and also to the vast market of the British Empire, so Arthur Baume became important to Longines and was appointed to the board of directors. Being described as an owner implies that he also was either given or bought shares in the Longines company.
The advertisement and other contemporary British documents from the late nineteenth through to the early twentieth century often refer to Baume & Co. and Longines as if they are one and the same. The movement shown here from circa 1904/1905 is engraved Baume and Longines, showing how closely the two names were associated. Thanks to Sally F. for the image.
Longines' first lever movements had a distinctly "continental" appearance. Baume/Longines realised that they could achieve greater penetration of the British market if their watches appeared, and were finished, like English watches. Starting in 1880 Longines introduced a series of movements that that looked much more like English three quarter plate movements, with concealed winding wheels and frosted gilt plates.
The earliest published mention of Baume in conjunction with Longines that I have found is a notice in 1885 regarding the International Inventions Exhibition where Baume were showing, amongst of items, "The new Longines watches and chronometers", which is curious. Perhaps Longines introduced some new, improved, models at that time.
I have a Longines pocket watch with London Assay Office hallmarks for sterling silver, the date letter "B" for the year 1877 to 1878, remember that date letters span two calendar years. The sponsor's mark is the curly AB was registered by Baume & Co. at the London Assay Office on 18 November 1876.
Otherwise unmarked Longines watches often bear the mark "B & Co." for Baume & Co. next to the Longines movement calibre number under the balance. The "B & Co." mark is usually followed by three stars in a triangle formation. However, not every movement with the Baume marks is a Longines.
AB above “B&Co.***”
The image here shows London Assay Office import hallmarks for sterling silver with the date of a small Gothic “a” for 1916 to 1917. This is from a Longines watch with a Borgel case that bears both the initials AB in cameo and and B&Co marks of Baume & Co., as well as the FB-key trademark of François Borgel, the famous Geneva case maker whose company actually made the case in Switzerland. The AB cameo mark was the sponsor's mark that was registered at the London Assay Office for hallmarking purposes, the B&Co mark is a trademark.
The “B & Co.” mark with three stars is sometimes confused with that of Stauffer's “SS & Co.” mark followed by three small triangles, which can at a glance look very similar. In 1885 Stauffer did actually begin using a trademark with three stars that looked very like the Baume trademark. Baume quickly pointed out that this was their registered trademark, so Stauffer swapped the stars in their trademark for three triangles.
Simply finding Baume's name or trademark on a watch doesn't mean that it is necessarily a Longines. Baume also imported watches from their own factories and watches with Fontainemelon ébauches, which carried Baume trademarks.
The first line of the Baume & Co. advert from 1886 reproduced above says "Every description of ordinary Watches". This is separate from the mention of Longines watches, which refers to them as "Longines levers". Before the Longines factory was opened in 1867 the comptoir of Auguste Agassiz had produced watches with verge and then cylinder escapements, but from 1867 the Longines factory produced only lever escapement movements. The "ordinary watches" that the Baume advert refers to would have been the bar movements with cylinder escapements that were very widely manufactured in Switzerland during the nineteenth century, mainly by unnamed établisseurs.
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Baume and Fontainemelon
It is not clear what happened to the Les Bois operation, or whether it was ever a factory. Baume imported watches with Fontainemelon ébauches, which carry Baume trademarks. The details below of one of these movements are from my movement identification page. It seems quite likely that these were assembled in the La Chaux-de-Fonds factory.
This is another movement by Fabrique d'Horlogerie de Fontainemelon.
Although it carries no marks that are visible when the movement is in a watch case, identification is straight forward one the movement is removed from the case and the hands and dial removed. The ‘y’ shaped cover plate over the keyless mechanism is very distinctive and found on many Fontainemelon ébauches of this period (early twentieth century).
Many of these movements also carry the Fontainemelon ‘William Tell’ trademark of an arrow through an apple, although this is often on the bottom plate, sometimes concealed under the barrel bridge, where it is not visible until the movement is partially or fully dismantled.
The number 4 is my number, not the Fontainemelon calibre number which I have not yet discovered and which, given the early date of this movement, may never be discovered.
The first image is a movement from a Borgel wristwatch, you can see the carrier ring around the movement. The two copper coloured pins sticking up from the bottom plate in the gaps between the bridges are the dial feet, the upper one is missing the screw that should hold it in position.
The image of the bottom plate is from another movement with identical top plates. The keyless mechanism cover plate is the characteristic ‘y’ shape that identifies many similar movements by Fontainemelon. This one is stamped with the B & Co. mark with three stars, the trademark of Baume & Co., the longtime British agent for Longines. Obviously this movement has nothing to do with Longines and shows that Baume also imported watches with Fontainemelon movements.
The smaller image is from yet another movement with the same top plate and keyless mechanism, with both B&Co. and Fontainemelon arrow through apple trademarks stamped onto the bottom plate.
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Baume & Mercier
22 November 1918: W. Baume Established in Geneva
18 March 1919: Baume & Mercier Established
In 1918 a serious dispute within the Baume family occurred. William Baume left the factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds which he had managed since 1915, severing all ties with the Baume family business. He was around 33 years old at the time. The two public notices reproduced here tell the subsequent story succinctly.
William Baume left La Chaux-de-Fonds and went to Geneva. The first notice reproduced here dated 22 November 1918 shows that he set up in business as a sole trader under his own name, W. Baume, at 2 Rue Céard, Geneva, for the fabrication, purchase and sale of horological items and jewellery.
In 1919 William Baume was joined in business by a friend, Paul Tcherednitchenko, a Ukrainian who had adopted the name Mercier. The notice dated 18 March 1919 shows that the company W. Baume was dissolved (radiée) and a new company named Baume & Tcherednitchenko dit Mercier was formed to take over the business with the same address. The purpose of the company was expanded to the fabrication, purchase and sales of horological items and jewellery, and all associated articles of those industries.
Note the spelling of Tcherednitchenko in the notice: I have seen it most frequently spelt online as Tchereditchenko, missing the first “n”, possibly due to the translation of a Russian name originally in the Cyrillic alphabet, or perhaps because too many people have copied from the same source.
Links between William Baume and Baume & Company in Britain had also been severed. In Britain Baume & Co. continued to sell watches made in the La Chaux-de-Fonds factory under the name “Baume”. Baume & Company did not import Baume & Mercier watches; in fact they took active steps to prevent the sale of Baume & Mercier watches in Britain.
Baume & Mercier claim a founding date of 1830. This must refers to the foundation of Baume Frères in Les Bois, although that was actually in 1834. The only link that connects Baume & Mercier to the original Baume family business is William Baume, who left that business to set up on his own while the rest of the family continued the original Baume Frères / Baume & Company business without him. There was no continuity of watchmaking between the two businesses. It's not exactly a strong claim to an unbroken record of watchmaking stretching back to the 1830s; they don't even get the dates right!
When founded in Geneva in 1919, Baume & Mercier was a completely new company. Rue Céard today is a pedestrianised area with high end shops, manufacturing would not took place there. It seems that Baume & Mercier began as a sales and marketing operation without any manufacturing capability. This is understandable, because William Baume and Paul Tcherednitchenko do not initially appear to have had the capital required to set up or buy a factory.
Baume & Co. Ltd. v. Moore (A. H.) Ltd.
The rift between William Baume and the rest of the Baume family was so serious that when Baume & Mercier tried to export watches to Britain in the 1950s, legal action was taken against the importers by Baume & Company to prevent this use of the Baume name.
In 1955, N. V. Hall & Son of Frederick Street began to regularly advertise that they were importers of Baume & Mercier watches. This continued until 1958 when A. H. Moore took over the import of Baume & Mercier watches. This was probably accompanied by increased promotion or advertising of the brand name, because it attracted the attention of Baume & Company.
Baume & Company took legal action against A. H. Moore on the grounds that the use of the name Baume on watches branded “Baume & Mercier” was an infringement of their own UK registered Baume trade mark. The action was initially unsuccessful in the lower Court, but the Court of Appeal reversed the decision and granted an injunction restraining A. H. Moore from selling watches under any mark or name containing the word Baume.
The judges in the Appeal Court held that there was a real possibility that watches marked Baume & Mercier would be regarded as being the same as, or in some way associated with, Baume & Company's watches. Under the law, “no man was entitled, even by the honest use of his own name, so to describe or mark his goods as to represent that they were the goods of another person”. The sound common sense of this principle and judgement is evident today, because many people are confused about the relationship of Baume & Company and Baume & Mercier now that Baume & Company are no longer around and Baume & Mercier are coy about the matter.
Leave to appeal to the House of Lords was granted but was not taken up. The effect of this injunction was to stop the marketing and sale in Britain of Baume & Mercier watches until Baume & Co. either agreed to allow it, or became unable or unwilling to enforce the judgement. Baume & Mercier had to wait until the latter happened in the 1960s.
What Happened Next
Baume & Company Limited was acquired by Time Products Limited in the mid 1960s. Use of the name Baume & Company by Time Products ceased and the company became dormant. This left the field open for Baume & Mercier to enter the British market.
The earliest British advertisement for Baume & Mercier watches that I have seen is the one reproduced here dating to November 1968. The advert says that Baume & Mercier were “manufacturers of watches of outstanding quality & design since 1830 [sic]”. The address given is Baume & Mercier, Regent House, Frederick Street, Birmingham.
The date of 1830 given for the foundation of the company is an error, probably because Baume & Mercier didn't have good, or even any, historical records. There was no connection between Baume & Mercier of Geneva and the original Baume family company of Les Bois, London and La Chaux-de-Fonds, so archives of records would not have been passed between the two companies. In fact, as we have seen, relations remained acrimonious in the 1950s and 1960s. When I had uncovered some of the details and evidence reproduced here I wrote to Baume & Mercier, because I thought that they might be interested and want to put their side of the story. I didn't get a reply.
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