Blog: Aegler and Rolex
Date: 22 June 2016Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2022 all rights reserved.
I make additions and corrections to this web site frequently, but because they are buried somewhere on one of the pages the changes are not very noticeable, so I decided to create this blog section to highlight new material. Here below you will find part of one of the pages that I have recently either changed or added to significantly.
The section reproduced here is from my page about Rolex.
I have also created a separate page for Aegler with images of Rebberg movements supplied by Aegler to companies other than Rolex, including Dimier Freres & Cie, Fulda & David, and Gruen, and one with their own brand Rebberg Watch Co. The page can be found at Aegler.
If you have any comments or questions, please don't hesitate to contact me via my Contact Me page.
Aegler is very important name in the history of Rolex.
The Aegler watchmaking company was established in Biel / Bienne in 1878 by Jean (English: John) Aegler.
Biel / Bienne is on the language boundary between the French and German speaking parts of Switzerland, hence the dual name for the town. Biel is German, Bienne its French counterpart. Because Biel / Bienne is a bit of a mouthful, I shall refer to the town simply by its French name of Bienne.
Jean Aegler was born on 25 January 1850 in Krattigen, a small Swiss village about 90 kilometres south east of Bienne situated on a hill overlooking Lake Thun. He was the son of Johannes Aegler and Susanna nee Isler. In the 1882 Lehrerbestätigungen or teacher confirmations for Bern, Johannes Aegler von Krattigen is recorded as being a teacher at the upper middle school of Schüpfen, a municipality in the canton of Bern about half way between Bern and Bienne. Johannes is also said to have been an “instructeur, huissier et facteur”, so perhaps he dabbled in commerce as well as teaching.
Jean Aegler trained as a watchmaker before founding his own company. Jean married Anna Maria Ramser of Krattigen on 26 July 1873 in La Neuveville, a town on lake Bienne. From this, and the fact that Jean founded his company in Bienne, it seems likely that Jean was sent to Bienne for his watchmaking apprenticeship.
In 1881 Jean Aegler acquired a workshop in the Rebberg-Vignoble district of Bienne at 80 La Haute-Route (the High Way, Höheweg in German) overlooking the city centre. In German the word Rebberg means vineyard, the same as the French vignoble, so presumably in earlier times this had been a grape growing and wine making area of Bienne.
Aegler Ownership 1883
It seems Jean had help from his father in this enterprise, because the Swiss Principal Register of Commercial Interests records a declaration dated 24 March 1883, shown in the image here, that the owner (inhaber) of the J Aegler company in Biel is Herr Johannes Aegler von Krattigen. The nature of the business (natur des geschäfts) is stated as “Chef d'atelier für Uhrenfabrikation zum Rebberg, in Biel.” This mixture of French and German translates literally as Workshop chief for watch manufacture in Rebberg, Biel. The early history of this factory is virtually unknown.
Aegler Trademark Registration 1885: “Fabricant Montres”
Jean Aegler probably did not start making complete ébauches in 1881, because it would have taken him time to accumulate the capital to buy the necessary machinery, work out the designs for the movements, recruit and train workers etc., so he most likely started out either making or finishing component parts for other companies, gradually building up his factory and workforce until he had the capability to produce the complete movements.
It is not known when Johannes Aegler became no longer part of the company, but this was probably signalled by Jean Aegler registering his own trademark. On 10 September 1885, at a quarter past 12, Jean Aegler, fabricant (manufacturer), registered the trademark shown in the image here, which looks like a stylised script form of a capital letter A. The trademark was unequivocally for a “Fabricant” or manufacturer of “Montres.” There is no quibbling here; this was not a trademark for parts of watches, or bits and pieces and attachments, this was a trademark of a manufacturer of watches.
In 1886 Jean Aegler was present at a meeting of horological workers of Bienne and the surrounding area at which the formation of a syndicate to control prices and working conditions in the industry was agreed. Aegler was named in a list of workers who specialised in “small pieces.” In view of the 1885 trademark registration and Aegler's later reputation for making small watches, it seems likely that this refers to small movements rather than small component parts. This view is supported by a letter of 1888 announcing the formation of the Syndicat de fabricants d'horlogerie. Jean Aegler was one of the signatories to the letter as secretary to the syndicate.
Jean Aegler died on 2 August 1891 in Bienne at the young age of only 41 years. In Switzerland, privately owned companies had to be named after the person or persons in charge, so as soon as one person or partner died or left the company, a name change had to follow. In this case the name was changed Veuve Jean Aegler, (widow of Jean Aegler), in German Witwe Jean Aegler, often abbreviated to Vve Jean Aegler as in the image or or Wwe. This device maintained continuity of the Jean Aegler name whilst complying with Swiss company law.
The advertising image here of the first Aegler factory shows in the top right corner a picture of a three storey building with the legend “Fabrique d'Horlogerie” along the front and “Jean Aegler” at the side beneath the top floor windows. This is the first factory block from 1881, although the image was obviously made after Jean Aegler died in 1891 and his widow had taken over running the company because the central bar says “Vve. Jean Aegler (Widow of Jean Aegler).
A couple things in the image are worth noting. It says that the company specialises in Damen-Uhren or Montres Pour Dames; German and French terms for ladies' watches. These were small pocket watches or fob watches, worn pinned to the outside of clothing on a fob or chatelaine. The movements of such watches are the perfect size to make men's wristwatches, something that became important later in Aegler's history when Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex, began placing large orders with Aegler for wristwatches.
Wilsdorf said that Aegler specialised in lever escapement movements, which has led some to assume that Aegler didn't make movements with cylinder escapements. However, the Calibre Special shown in the image, shown more clearly in the separate image which has been extracted from the advert and cleaned, clearly has a cylinder escapement – the cock beneath the balance is for the escape wheel which, in a cylinder escapement, has to be planted next to the balance because there is no intermediate lever. The train bearings are jewelled, with the jewels set in chatons.
The second thing of note in the advertising image is the diamond shape at bottom right with the Swiss Federal cross and SP and 243. This is a reference to Swiss patent No. 243 for a keyless stem winding and setting mechanism. The movement in the advert labelled Calibre Special clearly has keyless winding, the crown and ratchet wheels are visible in the Swiss fashion.
An Aegler Calibre Special movement stamped with the patent reference SP 243 can be seen in the image here kindly supplied by Piers of the movement of a watch in his possession. This is clearly the same as the Calibre Special illustrated in the Aegler advertisement, the shape of the barrel bridge which also holds the bearings for the centre, third and fourth wheels, is identical. The drawing in the advert is so accurate that it was most likely taken directly from a finished movement, the only differences are that the movement in the drawing does not have its dial feet securing screws and the jewels for the third and fourth wheels are set in chatons rather the being pressed in.
Aegler Manufactures Ébauches
A press release by Rolex announcing a new Rolex factory in Bienne in 2012 said that the Aegler factory began to produce its own ébauches between 1890 and 1895. However, it seems likely that Aegler was making complete movements from some time before then.
Aegler Advert from 1890
The Aegler advert from 1890 reproduced here says that the “fabrique d'horlogerie” (watch factory) Jean Aegler of Rebberg, Bienne, specialises in stem wound watches (remontoirs au pendant) and has a new system of setting the time, the most advanced that exists (le plus perfectionné qui existe).
The stem wind mechanism referred to was the subject of Swiss patent No. 243 already discussed, which is referenced at the bottom of the advert. This patent was granted to Jean Aegler in November 1888, so it seems likely that the Aegler factory was making complete ébauches by at least 1888 or 1889.
From the trademark registered by Jean Aegler in 1885, which is unequivocally the trademark of a manufacturer of “montres” or watches, not of parts of watches or associated items, it appears that Aegler actually started to make complete movements, indeed most likely complete watches, some time between the acquisition of the new factory in 1881 and 1885.
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Aegler Patent No. 243
On 15 November 1888 Jean Aegler was granted Swiss patent No. 243 for a Mécanisme de mise à l'heure par la couronne; a mechanism for setting the hands to the correct time using the crown. This patent is referenced at the bottom of the advert: "Brevet pris on Suisse sous No. 243" – Swiss patent is taken under No. 243.
This keyless mechanism, so called because it enables the watch mainspring to be wound without using a key, was a variation on the sliding sleeve mechanism invented by Adrien Philippe in 1845. In common with many patents taken out on stem winding and setting mechanisms based on Philippe's invention, Aegler's patent concerned the arrangement of levers that moved the sliding pinion between the winding and setting positions.
Figure from Aegler patent 243 of 1888
Transfer of Patents to New Partnership
In the figure from the patent you can see the Philippe pinions clearly, the crown or winding pinion is labelled C, the sliding pinion B. Pulling upwards on the stem causes lever F to press down on lever A, which is engaged in the slot around the sliding pinion. Lever A rotates around its securing screw as shown by the dotted lines and the sliding pinion is pressed downwards into the hand setting position. When the stem is pushed down, the spring a pushes the lever A back, which returns the sliding pinion to the winding position.
When Jean Aegler died 1891 his widow Anna Maria took over the business, which was renamed Veuve Jean Aegler (widow of Jean Aegler), often abbreviated to Vve. Jean Aegler.
An additional patent No. 243/104, an extension to No. 243, was granted to Madame Veuve Jean Aegler in December 1891. This patent, with the same title as the original 243, was for an improvement to the mechanism of levers that moved the sliding pinion between the winding and setting positions. The difference is very small, only slight changes to the shapes of the levers. Today this would not be accepted as a new "invention". Swiss patent law had only been introduced in 1888 and in the first years many designs that would not have been patentable in Britain or the USA were granted patents in Switzerland. Swiss manufacturers evidently saw it as a good way to both protect their designs and gain a bit of status by stamping patent numbers, or references to patents with the word Brevet or the symbol of the Swiss Federal cross , on their products.
Rebberg Movements and Watches
By 1902 the business, under the direction of Hermann and Hans Aegler, the sons of Jean and Anna Maria, was manufacturing small ébauches with lever escapements. The business gained a reputation for the mechanised manufacture at reasonable prices of good quality lever movements on the gauged and interchangeable system of mass production. The name "Rebberg", after the Rebberg part of Bienne where the factory was located, was registered in 1902 as a trade mark.
In April 1902 Swiss patent No. 23382 was granted to "Witwe Jean Aegler" for a "Taschenuhrgehause", a pocket watch case. The language used is German, Witwe means widow in German. The case design extends the bezel and back over the middle part of the case, also called the case band, so that the bezel and back meet in a single joint and the middle part of the case is umschließen und nach außen unsichtbar machen – enclosed and invisible to the outside. It was unusual for an ébauche manufacturer to patent a design of watch case, so this suggests that Aegler might have also manufactured watch cases “in house”.
In July 1906 the trademarks and patents of Veuve Jean Aegler were transferred to a new company, a "nom-collectif" or partnership "Les fils de Jean Aegler, fabrique Rebberg" (The sons of Jean Aegler, makers of Rebberg). Presumably Madam Aegler had decided to retire. The announcement shown here that was published in the Swiss trade press in 1906 refers to the transfer of registered design No. 9284 to the new partnership. The date of 25 January 1903 is the date that the design was registered.
Other trademarks found on Aegler watch movements are Premo Watch and Watch Specialties.
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Aegler and Rolex
In the Rolex Jubilee Vade Mecum, Hans Wilsdorf says that in 1905 he London placed a large order for wristwatches with Aegler. The first line of wristwatches that he placed on the market were silver watches with leather straps for men's and ladies' wear, and their success was immediate so that the range had to be widened, in particular to watches with gold cases. In view of the prevailing fashions of 1905 the success must have been with the ladies' models. This view is implicitly confirmed by Wilsdorf himself, who says that an expanding metal bracelet was launched in 1906 and our little gold watch became increasingly popular throughout the empire. A little gold watch on an expanding metal bracelet is not the sort of thing that an Edwardian gentleman would be seen dead wearing. The bracelet was called the Britannic, patented and manufactured by the London jewellers Edwin Harrop.
When Wilsdorf coined the name Rolex in 1908 he decided that he wanted to have only this name on the watches supplied to Wilsdorf & Davis by Aegler. Aegler felt that as the maker their name should be on the watches, but in the end Wilsdorf got his wish.
In 1910 an 11 ligne Rebberg watch with a lever escapement, compensation balance and Breguet overcoil balance spring was awarded a first class certificate at the Bienne watch rating bureau. This is described in the Rolex Jubilee Vade Mecum as “the first Rolex wrist-watch chronometer”.
Aegler advert from 1910 mentioning first class certificate for 11 ligne Rebberg watch with lever escapement
The Aegler advert here from March 1910 celebrates this feat but doesn't mention Wilsdorf or Rolex. This is often reported to be the first time a wristwatch had obtained a chronometer certificate but the advert doesn't mention this, which would seem to be a curious omission and missed advertising opportunity. In fact, it says that a montre (watch) obtained the certificate, not a montre bracelet (wristwatch). However, it was a notable achievement for such a small movement.
In 1913 Aegler registered Rolex as a trademark for the manufacture of watches and watch parts. From this point on the history of Wilsdorf & Davis, Aegler and Rolex becomes virtually impossible to untangle from information publicly available, and the modern Rolex foundation never divulges any of its history. However, it is clear that Aegler and Rolex remained separate companies, and that Aegler continued to supply watches to companies other than Rolex into the 1930s.
Wilsdorf & Davis owned the name Rolex, which Hans Wilsdorf was very proud of. He wanted it to appear only on the best watches supplied to him, the ones made by Aegler. Accordingly he kept pressing Aegler to increase the use of the name Rolex, and as Wilsdorf & Davis were one of Aegler's largest customers they went along with this, describing themselves in adverts as both "Manufacture d'Horlogerie Rebberg" and "Rolex Watch Co.". The name Rolex was used by liberally by both Aegler and Wilsdorf & Davis in ways that can be very confusing. The single word "Rolex" was used as a brand name on the best watches produced by Aegler for Wilsdorf & Davis (although some of these were only 7 jewel), but it was never the name of an actual company. Conversely, the name Rolex Watch Co. on a watch does not mean that it is a Rolex watch, only that it was a product sold by the Rolex Watch Co.
Is this all a semantic exercise in splitting hairs? Maybe. But today some people advertise Rolex Watch Co. watches as if they are Rolex watches, which can trap the unwary into paying too much for a watch that more seasoned collectors do not regard as a Rolex watch, so it is good to be aware of the arguments. And caveat emptor.
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Aegler and Dimier Brothers
The images here show the movement and inside case back of a half-hunter (demi-savonnette) wristwatch retailed by Weir & Sons of Dublin & Belfast. Founded in 1869 by Thomas Weir, Weir & Sons today is a retailer on Grafton Street in Belfast.
The case has London Assay Office Import Hallmarks for sterling silver (⋅925). The date letter is the "q" of the hallmarking year from June 1911 to May 1912 - London date letter punches were changed when new wardens were elected at the end of May so were used over two calendar years.
The sponsor's mark DB in cameo in the case and the DF&C trademark on the movement are both for Dimier Brothers & Co. Dimier Brothers & Co. were a large Anglo-Swiss company importing Swiss watches into Britain from the mid-nineteenth century. The company was important in the early history of the wristwatch and exported to Switzerland leather watchstraps made in England for wristwatches. In Switzerland the company had offices in La Chaux-de-Fonds under the name Dimier Fréres & Co., hence the DF&C on the movement.
The watch movement is a Aegler Rebberg and the case has Aegler's Xi trademark.
The crown is on the left side of the case as worn, which is seen in some early wristwatches before the placement on the right hand side of the case became universal. It doesn't signify that the wearer was left handed. It is actually a much more sensible place to put the crown, because it is much less likely to get knocked, which can result in the stem breaking and the crown being lost. It is not inconvenient as many think, because a watch should never been wound or set whilst being worn.
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Rebberg Watch Co.
Aegler: manufacturers of Rebberg, Final and Rolex watches
In November 1912 the registered name of the Aegler company was changed, as shown by the announcement reproduced here published in 1912, to “Les fils de Jean Aegler, Fabrique de montres Rebberg, Final & Rolex” (The sons of Jean Aegler, manufacturers of Rebberg, Final and Rolex watches).
In Switzerland the names of at least one of the active partners had to appear in the business name of the company, so this probably signifies the retirement of Madam Aegler from the business and the takeover of the running of the company by her sons.
The notice also makes it clear that, in addition to supplying other manufacturers with movements, Aegler also sold watches under their own Rebberg brand. Aegler Rebberg branded watches are marked “Rebberg Watch Co.”
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Incorporation of Aegler S.A.
Aegler S.A. registration 1913
The notice reproduced here shows that a new, limited, company was registered on 26 September 1913, "Aegler S.A.". Notice that the composition of the company changes from a "nom collectif", a partnership, to an S.A. or "Société Anonyme", a joint-stock or limited company, a company with shareholders whose liability is limited to the amount they have invested.
The notice states that the new company Aegler S.A. was formed for the purpose of the acquisition and continuation of the previous partnerships Les fils de Jean Aegler, Jean Aegler and Witwe Jean Aegler. Aegler S.A. became the legally registered name of the company and after this date any other names or additional terms used by the company such as the addition of "Manufacture des Montres Rolex" after the registered name was a trading name with no legal significance.
In Swiss/French the word for shares in a company is "actions" so a société par actions is a joint stock company with shareholders who appoint a board of directors to run the company. Note that shares in a such a company do not have to be offered to the public, they can be held privately by the people who founded the company or sold at their discretion to raise capital. A joint stock company is a legal entity and its finances are separate from the personal finances of the shareholders, unlike a nom-collectif or partnership, where the partners are jointly and severally liable for any debts incurred by the partnership. Limited liability and joint stock companies are formed when the business is getting bigger and if unseen problems arose the consequences could be catastrophic for the individual partners, so the formation in 1913 of Aegler S.A. was a sign that the business was booming.
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Aegler Xi Trademark
Aegler S.A. Trademark Xi and Ξ October 1900
Aegler S.A. Trademark Xi 1913
The letters Xi within an oval, and separately three lines within an oval, the Greek letter Ξ, were registered as trademarks in October 1900 by the company Vve. Jean Aegler.
In the photograph of the trademark stamped in a case dated 1913, the mark is a combination of the two separate marks Xi and Ξ within an oval.
The Greek letter Ξ, written in Roman letters as “Xi”, is the 14th letter of the Greek alphabet. If it hadn't been for the domination of Aegler by their principal customers Rolex and Gruen, latterly of course Rolex who acquired Aegler in 2004, perhaps the symbol Ξ would be as well known today as is the Ω of another well known watchmaker.
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Kew “A” Certificate
In 1914 an Aegler watch submitted by the Rolex Watch Company of London and Bienne to the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington, England, was tested over a period of 45 days from 1 June to 15 July, just days before the outbreak of the Great War, and was awarded a Class A Kew certificate, with an additional 77.3 marks for superior merit. In the Vade Mecum it is said that the tests were carried out at Kew observatory, which is where watches had been tested since 1884. But in November 1912 the watch and chronometer rating department moved from Kew to the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington, which is where the certificate was actually issued although it was still called a Kew A certificate.
The Vade Mecum erroneously states that the watch had undergone the same trials as “any large marine chronometer.” This is wrong. Marine box chronometers, and later deck watches, had been tested at Greenwich since 1822. One of the differences was that marine box chronometers were not tested in positions, because they were suspended in gimbals to keep them dial up at all times.
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Rolex Gets Close to Aegler
Wilsdorf opened an office in Bienne in 1916 to be near to Aegler, which was becoming increasingly important to his business. This increased further in importance when high import tariffs were imposed by the British government during the Great War (1914-1918). Previously all watches sold by Wilsdorf & Davis had been sent to London for inspection before being sent on to retailers both within Britain and the rest of the world. The high import tariffs meant that this added extra cost to watches that were destined for markets outside Britain so the Bienne office took over the duty of inspecting these watches and dispatching them direct to their destination.
This was the start of a move headquarters of Wilsdorf & Davis and Rolex from London to Switzerland. If it hadn't been for the Great War and British import duties, Rolex might still be a British company.
Aegler SA 1929, Manufacture of Rolex & Gruen Watches.
In 1919 a new company was incorporated in Geneva by Wilsdorf & Davis as Montres Rolex SA. Its manufactory was listed as "Manufacture des Montres Rolex, Aegler S.A." but the two companies, Aegler S.A. Bienne and Montres Rolex S.A. Geneva, were legally separate entities. Aegler also had other customers, the largest of which was the US firm Gruen. The notice here from 1929 shows that Aegler Ltd. was the manufacturer of Rolex and Gruen Guild watches.
Over the next few years this remained the situation. Aegler supplied Rolex branded watches to Montres Rolex S.A. who organised their distribution to approved outlets, and advertising and marketing. Aegler also supplied watches to Gruen, who sold them in the USA, and to others. Montres Rolex S.A. and Gruen were Aegler's biggest customers and they had a mutually beneficial arrangement where Gruen would only sell watches in the USA and Montres Rolex sold watches to the rest of the world. As the USA was the wealthiest consumer market in the world at the time this was not so unbalanced as it sounds.
The image here shows a drawing of the Aegler factory in 1920. If you compare it to the drawing of the first factory, you can see that is now the smallest block at the right hand end and carries the date 1881. All three parts of the factory are dated, the oldest factory carries the date 1881. The block in the centre is dated 1896 - 1912, the block on the left of that is dated 1914.
The three blocks of the factory are at numbers 80-82 Höheweg. The original 1881 building was modified by adding watch workshops in the roof space in 1896 by Magri frères for the widow J. Aegler. Extensions to the factory 1897, 1898, 1907, 1911, 1912 and 1914 by Magri frères, Jules Aebi, Römer & Fehlbaum and Corti frères for the widow and her two sons Hermann and Hans Aegler. In 1914 the factory had around 200 employees. The complex of hipped roof buildings with regular windows is characterized by the redesigns carried out by Römer & Fehlbaum in 1912 and 1914.
On the roof of the main blocks in the image are two banners. The first says "Aegler S.A.", the second "Montre Rolex". These banners probably never existed in reality but were drawn in on the advertisement image. When the same image was reproduced in adverts in America, the "Montre Rolex" was altered to "Montre Gruen".
Montres Rolex and Gruen did not take all the watches that Aegler could make, so Aegler also continued to supply watches to other companies. At the same time, Wilsdorf was interested in making watches that could be sold at lower price points than the top line Rolex branded watches, so he bought in movements and watches from other manufacturers such as Fontainemelon that were used in watches carrying names such as Marconi, Unicorn and Tudor.
During the Great War Emile Borer, nephew and ultimately successor to Hermann Aegler, joined the Aegler factory personnel as an engineer. Unlike Wilsdorf, who freely admitted he was no watchmaker, Borer was a watchmaker to his finger tips. He soon became responsible for developing new technology and developed an automatic winding system that was patented by Aegler in 1931. A book about watch servicing and repairing by Borer was published in English as Modern Watch Repairing. The first edition was published in 1931, the revised second edition shown here in 1937. It's a very good book for its time. Emile Borer was appointed as a director of Aegler in 1931 and subsequently became Chief Technical Director, and then in 1944 General Manager of Aegler S.A.
Business between Rolex and Aegler flourished until by 1920 Rolex was Aegler’s largest customer. The post war slump that culminated in the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression hit Montres Rolex's business hard, and Hermann Aegler invested in the survival of his largest customer by acquiring 6,960 shares of Montres Rolex S.A. and was appointed to the board. It is said that he was given these shares, but there must have been some sort of quid-pro-quo. As business recovered both Rolex and Gruen became large shareholders in Aegler.
The Aegler company adopted the trading name "Aegler, S.A., Fabrique des Montres Rolex & Gruen Guild A". Gruen and Montres Rolex adverts of the period show pictures of the Aegler factory with either Rolex or Gruen on the factory roof, implying that it was a Gruen or Rolex owned factory. As the Gruen adverts were for US display and Montres Rolex adverts for display outside the US this dichotomy was not obvious to consumers. Over the years various names were used to identify the Aegler factory more and more closely with Rolex, but these were just trading names. The legal entity that owned the factory was Aegler S.A., which was owned by the Aegler and Borer families.
In the 1930s Gruen and Montres Rolex S.A. sold their shares in Aegler S.A. back to the company, and Aegler S.A. sold its shares in Montres Rolex S.A. to Wilsdorf. In 1936 Gruen ceased purchasing watches from Aegler and Montres Rolex S.A. Geneva agreed to take up the entire production of the Aegler S.A. factory in Bienne. In September 1936 the company changed its corporate name, dropping the reference to Gruen and styling itself “Manufacture des Montres Rolex, Aegler Societe Anonyme”, although it was now wholly owned again by the Aegler family.
In 1969 Harry Borer, son of Emile Borer, took over management of Aegler S.A. and oversaw the expansion of the company, with eventually seven new production buildings being built in the Champs-de-Boujean industrial area of Bienne.
Rolex Buys Aegler
Bloomberg © 2016: Acquisition of Aegler by Rolex in 2004
The arrangement of Aegler SA making watches for Rolex to sell continued until 31 December 2004. The Borer family decided that they wanted to sell the Aegler company, and it was bought by Rolex.
The two companies remained separate legal entities until 2004 when Harry Borer sold Aegler S.A. to Montres Rolex S.A. and the Rolex Watch Company finally owned the factory which made Rolex watches. The company overview by Bloomberg reproduced here tells the story in a few words. As the Bloomberg report shows, the manufacturing facility in Bienne is still a separate company called Manufacture des Montres Rolex SA, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rolex SA.
The company that is now called “Manufacture des Montres Rolex S.A.” is stated to have been incorporated in 1913. This is the company that was incorporated in 1913 as Aegler SA, irrespective of what trading names or styles the company adopted at various times, until it was taken over by Rolex and formally renamed.
Rolex Aegler Rebberg Movements
Aegler manufactured movements in its ébauche factory in the Rebberg district of Bienne, and consequently Rebberg was a registered as a trade mark by Aegler. Early Aegler movements used in Rolex watches are often referred to as “Rebberg” movements because of this, even if they are not stamped with the Rebberg name. If they are stamped Rebberg, it is often on the bottom plate under the dial so not normally visible.
Aegler supplied Rebberg movements to Wilsdorf & Davis, and also to a lot of other companies. In fact it is most likely that Aegler supplied complete, cased, watches. Companies in London that Aegler supplied, such as the fledgling Wilsdorf & Davis, were simple importation business operations with an office in London but no factory capability, either in Switzerland or in England to put movements into cases and test the finished watches. All the silver cases that are seen with Rebberg movements, and gold cases until 1915, were made in Switzerland, so it is clear that the movements would have been cased and the finished watches tested at the Aegler factory. You can read about the other companies that Aegler supplied on my page about Aegler and see movements with their brand names at Rebberg Movements.
The two images here show savonnette versions of these Rebberg movements with their characteristic single central bridge holding the pivots of all the train wheels; centre, third, fourth and escape wheel. The movement with the perlage decoration to the plates is 13 ligne, the one with the plain plates is slightly smaller and shows a slight variation in the shape of the central bridge, but is still unmistakably an Aegler Rebberg. They are both stem wound and set lever escapement movements with 15 jewel bearings. Savonnette movements were used in savonnette (hunter) pocket watches, and in Lépine (open face) wristwatches because they have the fourth wheel at 90 degrees from the stem. This allows the crown to be at three o'clock and the small seconds indication at six o'clock on the dial.
Wilsdorf also imported Rolex watches with lower grade 7 jewel versions of the Rebberg movement. The 15 jewel versions were better finished and had “Rolex 15 Jewels” on the ratchet wheel, the 7 jewel versions just had the word Rolex and were less highly finished. There were also a small number of Prima grade movements with 18 jewels.
The smaller movement with the plain bridge is from a watch with a Borgel screw case with London Assay Office import hallmarks for sterling silver dated 1910 to 1911. Although it appears to have been made after Wilsdorf came up with the name Rolex, this watch doesn't carry the name Rolex. Both the case and the movement carry the W&D mark of Wilsdorf and Davis. On the case this is not unusual, a silver or gold case had to be punched with a sponsor's mark before it would be accepted for assay and hallmarking. But to find the same WD mark stamped on the movement is quite unusual.
The larger movement with the perlage decoration on the bridge dates from circa 1918 carries the single name “Rolex” so this is from a Rolex watch, not just a watch that was sold by the Rolex Watch Company. But notice that the Rolex brand name is engraved on the ratchet wheel. This is an easy component to change, just a single screw holds it in place. This was most likely an idea of Aegler's to reduce the amount of stock they needed to hold. They could hold ratchet wheels engraved with Rolex or any other name, and then when an order came in they could simply take unbranded movements and change the ratchet wheels to one with the name given on the order. This was a more cash efficient system than tying up lots of movements with names engraved on their bridges which then could only be sold to that customer.
Wilsdorf would have wanted the Rolex name engraved on the bridge of movement from the outset, but in the early days, before the 1920s, he was only one of many customers Aegler had and they could afford to refuse him. This is most likely the source of the story that Aegler at first refused to put the Rolex name onto their movements. They didn't want to engrave it onto the bridges because that stock could then only be sold to Rolex. But they put lots of different names on ratchet wheels, which could be easily exchanged, so it wasn't that they didn't want another company's name appearing on their movements at all, just not on the bridge where it was difficult to change or remove.
When Rolex became more important to Aegler as a customer they had to listen to him more seriously and the Rolex name got engraved on the bridge. The earliest watch that I have seen with Rolex engraved on the central bridge of the Aegler Rebberg movement had Glasgow Assay Office import hallmarks in the case back with the date letter "d" for the year 1926 to 1927.
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