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Lecluse letter to BHI

Copyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2024 all rights reserved.

A letter from Mr J. Lecluse describing the Stauffer factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds appeared in the journal of the British Horological Institute in September 1885. I think it is very interesting so I have transcribed it and it is reproduced in full below.



Machine Watchmaking in Switzerland.

WATCHMAKING by machinery on the gauge and interchangeable system is not, as some people have been led to believe, an American invention. George Leschot built up in Geneva, in 1840, the complete machinery for making watches on that system, and it was only in 1850 that the first attempt was made in America. The machinery made by Leschot having proved successful, was the starting-point of all the various watch manufactories now in existence, some of which are turning out watches of the highest standard. Amongst these is Messrs. Stauffer, Son, and Co.'s "Atlas" watch factory in the Jura, which has nothing to envy in the way of tools or machinery the Waltham or the Elgin, or any other watch factory; and a visit to that establishment on a working day would convince the most sceptical of that fact.

Having had the good fortune of visiting it, and noticing at the same time the contents of the last issues of your valuable paper, I cannot resist the pleasure of describing to your readers in a summary way (treating it in detail would be too long a subject) what I have seen.

The building, to begin with, is an oblong structure of several stories high, situated on high ground, thus obtaining splendid light through the spacious windows. Starting from the left-hand side, we find the gasworks supplying all the necessary gas for the purposes of melting, soldering, gilding, and lighting, and for all other various manipulations. Next comes the steam engine of 30 horse-power, with its two boilers, one of which is specially reserved for heating purposes in winter; then the principal building containing the 300 machines which produce rapidly all the various pieces of the 60,000 watches, minimum number, manufactured yearly by this firm.

Then, to complete the whole, a large rectangular building of more recent construction, where are the offices and the workshops for finishing, which, owing to the rapid extension of business, had to be moved from the other building. If we add to it a clock tower with an electric clock manufactured on the premises, with four dials lit up in the evening, and a powerful electric light of 1200 candles, with voltaic bow, to light the surroundings, we shall have a fair idea of the aspect of this establishment.

The inside is divided into fourteen different workshops. The first is the forge, so called because it contains the forge for the engineers, and the big hammer to prepare the various metals. Next to it is a large flatting machine, where the metal bands are dressed,, and the punching machine, with which, by means of punches carefully made, the works of the watch are cut with the greatest precision, so much so that the workmen are not allowed to do anything to them, for fear of spoiling them.

This machine, working at the rate of thirty rounds a minute, makes one piece each revolution, which makes, for a day's work of ten hours - allowance being made for the workmen to attend to the machine - the number of 18,000 pieces per day for this machine alone.

Passing to the next room, where we find the pieces being drilled, turned, dressed, by a multitude of machines of the greatest accuracy and ingenuity. Amongst these we may mention the large turning machines for the plates, where the plate gets loose and falls by stopping the rotation, and vice versa. The stoning machine, which is automatic, where the watch pieces are dressed; machines to file the sides of the steel pieces, thus executing with precision and without difficulty a work difficult to do by hand. The automatic machines to cut the keyless and other wheels - the machine to number – a perfect gem, which renders immense service – and others which would be endless to describe.

From here all the different pieces pass into another department, where the pinions are pivoted, and where all the motion works with the barrel are put together. To this department belongs also the jewelling, where we notice several jewelling machines, which are the very best of their kind. The best proof of this is that these machines set all the jewels of a plate, small or large, thin or thick, without once taking off the plate in the course of the operation, which is a high standard of security and regularity. For watches with jewels set in gold and screwed on the plate - as all are for the English market - the accuracy is not less striking. There are several small special machines for that purpose, each of which can produce at least 300 jewel-holes, set in gold, per day, while other machines, constructed with the greatest precision, make the sinks to receive them. From here we pass into the workshop where the keyless work is adjusted to the watch - next to the one where all the escapement in made and then to the finishing and regulating department, from which the watch emerges ready to be worn.

I have not mentioned the workshops where the watch cases are made. By means of large and solid presses, large parts of metal are transformed into backs of cases, bezils [sic], and bands. By these means solder is not used, but for the joints and pendants; the parts thus struck are passed on to large tools for the finishing purpose. They are of such great regularity, that but for the slight deviation caused by the soldering of the pendants and joints, the interchangeabiliy is complete.

All the machines we have mentioned are made on the premises, in a workshop well stocked with tools and under the supervision of an engineer who elaborates all the necessary plans.

This firm, taking advantage of every improvement, have engaged an able electrician, who is introducing at present the making of electric horology. In passing through I also noticed a new system of electric clocks which appeared to be of great simplicity, and at the same time of a security in working quite unknown to this day, and for which one may predict a bright future. It is right to state that the firm have protected this invention in all countries.

Amongst the calipers [sic] of the Atlas Lever Watches, keyless and non-keyless, two of them commend themselves more particularly to the English market. These are "full plate" and "three-quarter plate," made in different sizes, from the smallest to the large four-in-hand watch, with a twenty-six line movement, which is the largest watch movement yet made.


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Copyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2024 all rights reserved. This page updated December 2019. W3CMVS. Back to the top of the page.