Blog: Baume & Co., Baume & Mercier
Date: 22 March 2018Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2020 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 either changed or added to significantly.
The section below is from my page about Longines. I have long been unclear about the relationship between Baume & Co. in London and Baume & Mercier in Switzerland. I contacted Baume & Mercier and they told me that, although they had started as two legally independent but closely connected companies, the British company and the Swiss branch in Les Bois had parted in 1918 and gone their separate ways. In fact, it turns out that in 1918 William Baume left the original Swiss company and started a completely new company in Geneva, initially under his own name, but then in 1919 in partnership with Paul Mercier. There is therefore no continuity of manufacturing history between Baume & Mercier and either the original Swiss or British Baume companies, the only connection is that William Baume once worked for the original Swiss company.
Baume & Co. continued to import Swiss watches into the UK, principally Longines watches, but also Baume watches from a factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds that had been taken over in 1909. What happened to the Les Bois operation is a mystery.
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Vintage Watch Straps
Straps for vintage fixed wire lug trench or officer's wristwatches.
Baume & Company, and Baume & Mercier.Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2020 all rights reserved.
Baume & Company was initially created in 1844 as the London branch of Baume Frères, a watch manufacturer based in the village of Les Bois in the Swiss Jura Mountains. Although the Swiss and British companies were separate legal entities they remained closely connected.
In addition to watches manufactured by the parent company Baume Frères, Baume & Co. imported watches from other manufacturers. From 1876 they were for a long time the exclusive importers of Longines watches into Britain and the British Empire.
In 1888 Baume & Co. opened a watch factory in Coventry. In 1909 Baume Frères took over an existing watch manufacturer in La Chaux-de-Fonds. This factory manufactured watches under the name “Baume”.
In 1918 William Baume left Baume Frères to set up his own company in Geneva. In March 1919 he was joined by a friend, Paul Tchereditchenko, a Ukrainian who had adopted the name Mercier, and they formed Baume & Mercier. There was no connection between Baume & Mercier and Baume Frères or Baume & Co.
After the split, Baume & Co. continued to import watches made in their factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds. It is not clear what happened to the operation at Les Bois. Baume & Co. owned the rights to the Baume name in the UK, which prevented Baume & Mercier from marketing their watches in the UK until Baume & Co. ceased trading in the 1960s.
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 existing 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 business was conducted from the family house; there was no factory. 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 finishing. A rough movement was obtained by the English watchmaker or Swiss établisseur, which was then passed around the 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 brothers insisted on high quality, trained the first workers 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 B&L" have cylinder escapements and are not jewelled.
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 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, Baume Brothers are 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 B&L" for Baume & Lézard. 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. Pritchard's entry 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. 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.
Célestin Baume died 27 September 1880. One of his executors was his nephew Louis Celestin Alexandre Baume (1852 - 1894), a native of Les Bois who had been naturalised as a British citizen on 10 June 1879.
Arthur Baume had for a time a partner Alexander Baume, until 31 December 1890 when the partnership was dissolved. This was presumably Célestin's nephew Alexandre, who is not mentioned in the company records. Alexandre died in Germany in 1894.
Arthur Baume was a prominent figure in Europe thanks to his charitable works. A member of the Royal Geographical Society, he also became vice-president of the British Horological Institute. He was made a knight, and later an officer, of the Legion of Honor, 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's brother William Adolphe 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. Baume & Co. subsequently became a subsidiary of Time Products Ltd., who also took over Carley & Clemence Ltd., Harris (Jewellery) Ltd., Hirst Brothers & Co. Ltd., and J. Weir & Son Ltd.
The End of Baume & Company
Time Products continued to distribute 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 dissolved by 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. In 1892 the same watch, No. 103018, was back at the Kew trials, after 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. The record stood until 1901, in 1900 Baume advertised that they still held the Kew record with 91.9 marks.
Baume & Co. also successfully entered complicated watches at Kew. In 1887 a split seconds minute recording chronograph was awarded 85.1 marks and the endorsement "especially good."
In September 1888 Baume & Co. 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 & Co. The subsequent history of this factory is not recorded anywhere that I have been able to find. If it was making English watches in the traditional way, then it is not surprising that it didn't last long, since all Coventry manufacturers were struggling financially at the time.
Baume & Co. Advert, 1947.
On 1 March 1909 a branch of Baume was created by Alcide Baume 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.
Alcide Baume was succeeded in the management of the Les Bois and Chaux-de-Fonds branches of Baume Frères by his son William Adolphe Baume, who later left the company to set up Baume & Mercier.
I have seen a number of watches with Fontainemelon movements marked 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 vendors say these days, 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. On eBay they are often listed as Baume & Mercier, although there is no 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.
Baume watches in cases other than gold, e.g. stainless steel or electroplated, were cased at the Baume factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds, but to avoid import duty on gold cases, which were much more expensive, gold cases were made in the UK and the watches cased here.
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 looks like the "Q" of 1951 to 1952 - remember that date letter punches were used in two calendar years. The sponsor's mark D.S.&S. in cameo was entered by David Shackman of Shackman & Sons. Shackman first registered two punches 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.
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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 & 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, severing all ties with the family business. The two public notices reproduced here tell the story succinctly.
William Baume went to Geneva. The first notice 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 for the fabrication, purchase and sale of horological items and jewellery.
William Baume was joined 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. Note the spelling of Tcherednitchenko in the notice. 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.
Links between William Baume and Baume & Co. in Britain had also been severed. Baume & Co. continued to sell watches made in the La Chaux-de-Fonds factory under the name "Baume". What happened to the Les Bois operation is not known. Baume & Co. 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 presumably refers to the foundation date 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 & Co. 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 Tchereditchenko 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 to prevent the 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 & Co.
Baume & Co. 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. It 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, the plaintiff's goods and that 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.
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 & Co. Limited was acquired by Time Products Limited. Use of the name Baume & Co. by Time Products ceased in the mid 1960s, leaving the field open for Baume & Mercier. The earliest British advertisement for Baume & Mercier watches that I have seen is from 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.
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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 cases began to be sent for hallmarking at British assay offices. Baume & Co. obviously caught onto this trend in 1876. English watchmakers objected to this, 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 on 14 September 1888, as were two punches with the incuse 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 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 and Longines
Horological Journal April 1915 Longines Factory
AB above “B&Co.***”
Baume & Co. acted as the London agents for Longines for many years, from 1876 to the 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. This is incorrect.
In the advert reproduced here from the Horological Journal of April 1915 Arthur Baume is listed as an owner of Longines, so it seems likely that he purchased a share of the company.
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.
The picture with London Assay Office import hallmarks for sterling silver is from a Longines watch with a Borgel case that bears both the AB and B&Co marks, 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 mark was the sponsors mark officially registered at the Assay office for assay purposes, the B&Co mark is simply a trademark.
The "B & Co." mark 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 had actually started to use a mark with three stars, which Baume pointed out was their registered trademark, so Stauffer quickly swapped the stars in their mark for 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
In addition to watches from their own factories in Les Bois and La Chaux-de-Fonds, and from Longines, Baume also imported watches with Fontainemelon ébauches, which carried Baume trademarks. The details below of one of these movements are from my movement identification page.
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.
Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2020 all rights reserved. This page updated February 2020. W3CMVS.
Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2020 all rights reserved. This page updated February 2020. W3CMVS.