Stauffer, Son & Co.Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2022 all rights reserved.
The watchmaking company Stauffer, Son & Co. was established in Switzerland in 1830 with an office in Geneva and a factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds. A London office was opened soon after to import watches from the Swiss factory and sell them into the British market and the British Empire. Stauffer, Son & Co. became one of the largest, if not the largest, importer of Swiss watches in Britain, also importing watches made by Patek Philippe, Le Coultre, IWC, Fontainemelon and Eterna.
Stauffer, Son & Co., London and Chaux-de-Fonds
Two of Stauffer's many trademarks.
The Stauffer name is not uncommon in Switzerland, but it appears that there were only two generations of this Stauffer family involved in the company; father and son. The son presumably must be Jules (Julius) Stauffer (1808 - 1884), who set up the London branch of the company in the 1830s, in which case the father must be Charles Philip Stauffer as recorded on Jules' marriage certificate. There was some association between Julius Stauffer and Robert Stauffer, Son & Co. but this is not clear; it may be a family relationship that helped Jules get established in London.
The name of the London company officially registered at Companies House in England was Stauffer and Co. (S&Co.) with a single “S”, rather than Stauffer, Son & Co. (SS&Co.) with two “S”s. This was because it was Jules Stauffer (1808 - 1884), presumably the son referred to in the name of the Swiss company, who founded the London branch. The London branch usually used the trading name "Stauffer, Son & Co." on letterheads and in advertisements.
Julius Stauffer initially retailed watches directly to the public from a shop in which he was a partner with two others, and also acted as an importer and wholesaler, initially selling watches made in the Stauffer “Atlas” factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds. By 1885 the Atlas factory was making 60,000 watches a year.
The London wholesale business grew in size to became one of the largest and best known watch importers in Britain. They found that they could sell more watches than the Atlas factory could manufacture, so they also imported and wholesaled watches from other Swiss manufacturers including Patek Philippe, Le Coultre, IWC, Eterna and Fontainemelon.
Watches made in Stauffer's Atlas factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds carry one of their registered trademarks, which are discussed in a later section. The mark shown here with SS&Co under three triangles is frequently seen on early wristwatches. Initially this mark was reserved for use on Stauffer's highest quality movements. At one time I thought that this trademark was used exclusively on movements made in Stauffer's own factory, but I have also seen Fontainemelon calibres stamped with this mark.
Because of the size and financial power of the London operation, when Stauffer ordered watches from other manufacturers they could require that Stauffer's own trademarks be put onto the watches. The best known of these are the second trademark shown here, the initials S&Co under a crown inside and oval, the name "Peerless", and a symbol of the upper torso and head of a ram. These Stauffer trademarks were put onto watches made by IWC, Eterna and Fontainemelon.
Stauffer & Co., London
The company Stauffer, Son & Co. was founded as a watch manufacturer in La Chaux-de-Fonds, with a factory that opened in 1830. It appears that Jules Stauffer, the son of the founder of the Swiss company, formed a London company soon after this to act as importer for the products of the Swiss factory. The exact date when the London branch was opened is not known, but Jules Stauffer's marriage in London in 1837 suggests that London company was probably established in the mid 1830s, not long after after the factory was established in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Shenton (Alan Shenton - Pocket Watches of the 19th and 20th century) states that "... by the 1860s Stauffer, Son & Co. had established a London branch, Stauffer & Co., to import watches to Britain". This text has been copied and repeated widely, perhaps most notably by Kathleen Pritchard in "Swiss Timepiece Makers, 1775-1975". Shenton does not say when he thinks this branch was first established. It was certainly much earlier than 1860, although to be fair he does not state that 1860 was the date the company was founded, just that it was founded "by", i.e. before, 1860.
Jules Stauffer married Anne Rogers Blewitt from Bristol in 1837. Jules must have been resident in England long enough before this to meet and fall in love with an English woman. This shows that Jules Stauffer was operating in London as importer and agent for Stauffer watches well before the date of 1860 quoted by Shenton. The London office must have been set up within a few years after the company was founded in Switzerland in 1830.
Stauffer & Co. London became a trading partnership between Jules Stauffer and Francis Claude (1826 - ?), at 12 Old Jewry Chambers. It is not known when Claude joined the business. Francis Claude was born in Switzerland in 1826. Claude married Mary Ann Hewitt in London in September 1847, so it seems likely that came to England when he was about 20, i.e. circa 1846.
The London company used the name Stauffer, Son & Co. as a trading name on their letter heads and advertisements, as shown in the picture here, even though it wasn't the officially registered name of the London company. This is quite common, when a company has to register a name but preferred to use a different trading name that has "goodwill" built up in it. When the London company imported watches from outside companies, they had them stamped with the logo of the London company S&Co. rather than the SS& Co. of the Swiss factory. This can give an important indication as to who manufactured a particular watch, and can also cause confusion. It is discussed in more detail below.
Jules Stauffer finally parted with the business in 1869. The dissolution of the partnership between Jules Stauffer and Francis Claude on 10 February 1869 was recorded in the London Gazette. The business of the partnership was recorded as Swiss watch manufacturers with addresses at 12 Old Jewry Chambers in the city of London and Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.
A letter in the Horological Journal reproduced further down on this page states that in 1885 the Stauffer Atlas factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds was producing at least 60,000 watches a year with a very high degree of mechanisation.
Stauffer & Co. and IWC
Stauffer, Son & Co. (SS&Co.) was a much older company than the International Watch Company of Schaffhausen, Stauffer having been founded in 1830 whereas IWC was founded in 1868. From 1894 the London company Stauffer & Co. (S&Co.), started to import watches made by IWC. These IWC watches carry Stauffer trademarks “S&Co.” and “Peerless”. Because of this it is sometimes erroneously assumed that all watches with Stauffer trademarks were made by IWC, which is often not the case. See the section Stauffer and IWC on my IWC page for a discussion of the relationship between Stauffer & Co. and IWC, and how to identify an IWC movement.
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Jules Stauffer married Anne Rogers Blewitt from Bristol on 9 December 1837 in London at the parish church in Bloomsbury. Jules must have been resident in England, even if not permanently, for long enough before this to meet and fall in love with an English woman, and was presumably acting as representative and import agent for watches made in the Stauffer factory. This shows that the London office must have been set up within a few years after the company was founded in Switzerland in 1830.
The 1851 Census shows Jules and Anne Stauffer living at Courland House, Wandsworth Road, Clapham. Jules is aged 42, his occupation described as a Watch Manufacturer born in Switzerland. For some reason the census enumerator has added "Retired" to the occupation after the entry was first written. The family has three children aged 7, 5 and 3, and a servant. On 3 January 1857 Jules Stauffer was recorded in The Times as speaking at a meeting of Swiss nationals in London. Jules and Ann had at least 6 children; Julius Blewitt, Edward Reynold, Evelina, Marie Louise, Josephine, and Victoria Ann. The eldest son, Julius Blewitt, was born in 1840 and emigrated to America in 1869.
Jules Stauffer's death on 4 May 1884 in Brussels aged 76 was reported in The Times. His addresses were given as No 12 Old Jewry Chambers and Clapham, Surrey. Evidently none of Jules' children entered the business and so his retirement in 1869 was the end of the Stauffer family involvement in Stauffer, Son & Co.
Francis Eugene Claude was born in Switzerland in 1826 and became a partner in Stauffer & Co. The date that he joined Stauffer in London as a partner is not known, but in the 1861 census he is recorded as living in St. Mary, Islington, London, with his wife Mary Ann nee Hewitt, who he had married in September 1847. Mary Ann Hewitt was born in Bury in Lancashire in 1840, so she was only 17, or perhaps 18, years old at the time of the marriage, and Claude would have been 21. This suggests that Claude came to England in his late teens or about 20 to work for Stauffer, fell in love, married and settled in London.
The business continued as a partnership between Francis Claude and Charles Nicolet (1853 - 1940), a Swiss national who settled in London during the 1870s after spending three years in the horological school at La Chaux-de-Fonds. An obituary published in the Horological Journal in 1940 said that throughout his business career Charles Nicolet had been connected with Stauffer, Son & Co.
Francis Claude retired on 1 January 1879 and Charles Nicolet assumed sole control of the companies in London and La Chaux-de-Fonds. Shenton states that Charles Nicolet took over the business in 1874 but that is incorrect. It may have been the date of Nicolet becoming a partner.
Under the direction of Charles Nicolet, the Stauffer factory became an important producer of chronographs used at sporting events, including supplying the chronographs used during the Gordon Bennet Cup series of motor races. The London branch of the company also began to buy watches from other Swiss manufacturers including IWC, Eterna and Patek Philippe. The name Stauffer, Son & Co. was well known in British markets. Watches from IWC and Eterna, unknown names at the time, were stamped with Stauffer trademarks and were to all appearances Stauffer products, which has caused confusion amongst collectors. Patek Philippe watches were never branded as Stauffer products, Stauffer acted only as agent for the famous Geneva company.
After Charles Nicolet's takeover the company name was switched back and forwards between Stauffer and Nicolet. It seems that Nicolet wanted to establish the company in his own name, but that the long established Stauffer name was too valuable to allow this. This change of management also seems to have been the start of a change of direction for the Stauffer manufacturing operation. To start with they went into making high quality split seconds chronographs. Later the Stauffer manufacturing side seems to have been wound down and watches were bought in from other manufacturers, including IWC amongst others - a very familiar business model.
CN: Charles Nicolet
Charles Nicolet Obituary, HJ 1940
This mark in a watch case is Charles Nicolet's registered sponsor's mark, first registered with the London Assay Office in 1877 so that his company could submit items for assay and hallmarking. In the middle 1870s a practice had begun of sending unfinished watch cases from Switzerland to be hallmarked, to be returned to Switzerland for finishing and to made into completed watches. Nicolet's mark would have been used until 31 December 1887 when the British hallmarking of imported watch cases was effectively stopped by the 1887 Merchandise Marks Act and did not recommence until 1907. I very much doubt that there are any watches with this sponsor's mark dating from 1888 to 1906, but if you find one, please do surprise me.
Pritchard gives Charles Nicolet's lifetime as 1856 - 1944. This is at variance with an obituary in the British Horological Institute's Journal of June 1940 which reports the death of Charles Nicolet at Montreux, Switzerland at the age of 88. The obituary reports that he had been in poor health for some time prior to his death, and since his retirement the business of Stauffer Son & Co. had been controlled by his son George Nicolet. The 1911 census gives Charles Nicolet's birth year as 1853, which agrees with the HJ obituary.
It appears that after the departure of Charles Nicolet, the company under the management of the George Nicolet family gradually withdrew from manufacturing and became a purely logistics and sales operation by the nineteen twenties or thirties.
GN: George Alfred Nicolet
GN: George Nicolet's sponsor's mark with Trademark "The Mark of Confidence"
GN: George Alfred Nicolet
Image by kind permission of and © OldeTimers.com
The GN sponsor's mark shown in the small image was entered by George Alfred Nicolet of Stauffer, Son & Co. after the retirement of his father Charles Nicolet (see above). The mark is taken from an IWC hermetic wristwatch with Glasgow Assay Office import hallmarks for 1929 to 1930.
The larger image shows marks in a nine carat gold Borgel case of a watch sold on eBay. This also has Glasgow Assay Office import hallmarks for 1929 to 1930. This case also has the trademark of a dog sitting upright with "The Mark of Confidence". This trademark doesn't appear in the case of the IWC watch, which suggests that it was introduced in circa 1930.
George Alfred Nicolet trading as Stauffer, Son & Co. entered two sets of marks at the London Assay Office; the first "GN" in a rectangle with cut corners, the second GN in a rectangle. Both appear to have been registered on 2 February 1933, the address given was 13 Charterhouse Street, London.
The date of the IWC hermetic wristwatch with George Nicolet's sponsors mark is earlier than the date given for the registration of his mark at the London Assay Office, implying that he registered his mark at Glasgow first. Unfortunately the records from the Glasgow Assay Office, which was closed in 1964, are very incomplete and the actual date of registration is unknown.
A similar GN mark was registered at Edinburgh in 1955 by British Watch Cases Ltd. This was entered under the name of George Alfred Nicolet trading as Stauffer, Son & Co. The company British Watch Cases Ltd. registered marks at the Edinburgh Assay Office for a number of other companies.
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The first four trademarks shown here, three on the left and one on the right, are recorded in the Swiss trademarks register, the "Archives de l'Horlogerie", dated 1880, the first volume of the Archives to be produced. The company of Stauffer, Son & Co. was formed in 1830 and it is clear that at least some of these trademarks were in use before 1880. All four marks were registered together on 27 November 1880 at 8 o'clock in the morning (8 heure du matin) and we can't tell from this when the individual marks were first used. I have reproduced the marks in the order in which they appear in the Archives, which is not chronological.
These trademarks were registered 1880, but were in use long before that date.
S & Co. London
The first trademark illustrated on the left, No. 316, with "S & Co" under a crown in an oval, is a mark used by Stauffer & Co. (S&Co. Note: only one "S") the London branch of the company. In "Clock and Watch Trademark Index" Karl Kochmann records that this mark was registered in the British trademark register on 11 January 1876, with a note that it had been used for 10 years before January 1876, so from about 1866. The reason for this is that the British Trade Marks Journal was first published in 1876, following the passage of the Trade Marks Registration Act in August 1875. This presented the first opportunity to register trademarks that were already in use, which is the reason for the note about the mark being used for 10 years prior to its official registration.
The mark includes the name of the parent company Stauffer, Son & Co. and the details "fabricants" (makers) and "mouvements de montres"(watch movements) but I think this means that Stauffer, Son & Co. (who did make watch movements) were the party who registered the mark, not that the London branch Stauffer & Co. made watch movements. This entry in the Archives shows that it was in use in 1866, well before 1894 when IWC started applying it to movements they supplied to Stauffer.
This trademark was registered 1880, but was in use long before that date.
Stauffer SS&Co. trademark 1886
The trademark No. 319 to the right is stylistically similar to No. 316 with the use of an oval to contain the initials "S S & C", and is therefore probably contemporary with it. This mark says "Boîtes de montres" i.e. watch cases, rather than watch movements (mouvements de montres) as all the other marks. In a letter that appeared in the journal of the British Horological Institute in 1885, discussed in detail below, Mr J. Lecluse mentions that watch cases were manufactured in Stauffer's Atlas factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
The next two trademarks to the left, numbers 317 and 318 are definitely older than 1880. In "Swiss Timepiece Makers 1775 to 1975" Kathleen Pritchard has taken the 1880 date of registration of these marks as their date of first use, which is incorrect.
Kochmann records that numbers 317 and 318, the "SSc" in a shield (sometimes called a shield with SS inside, because the c is small and difficult to see) and "Stauffer Cx. de Fonds" (sometimes read from watch movements as "Stauffer, X-De-Fonds" or "X-De-Fonde") are shown in the British trademark register on 11 January 1876 with a note that these trademarks had been used for 45 years before that date, which would take the first use of these marks back in time to the date of the formation of Stauffer, Son & Co. in 1830. The first issue of the British Trade Marks Journal was first published in 1876 after the passage of the Trade Marks Registration Act in August 1875, which is the reason for the note about the marks being used for 45 years prior to that publication.
All the trademarks illustrated here registered to "Stauffer Fils & Cie" (Stauffer, Son and Co.) state that they are "fabricants" (manufacturers) of La Chaux-de-Fonds, which we know is a true statement from a letter by a Mr J. Lecluse describing a visit to the Stauffer factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds that appeared in the journal of the British Horological Institute in September 1885 and which is discussed in detail below.
The fifth trademark illustrated above, No. 1603 dated June 1886, has the initials "SS&Co." underneath 3 small triangles or pyramids. The advert from The Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith of September 1886 reproduced here explains the origin of this mark. The mark represents Stauffer's “third quality” watches, hence the three triangles. This mark was originally intended to be used in addition to the earlier trademarks, but eventually became very widely used on its own.
Stauffer Three Triangles Trademark
At first sight it appears to be rather a mystery why Stauffer would want to make such a song and dance about their “third quality” watches. A native English speaker might think that it would be better to promote one's first quality products, perhaps offer the second quality at a bit of a discount, and keep rather quiet about third quality items.
However, it is abundantly clear that something has got lost in translation from Swiss/French to English and that, rather than being inferior to some not mentioned first and second quality watches, Stauffer Third Quality Watches are actually their best, the top of their range, achieving “very great success”. In this reasoning, first quality models would be the basic ones, second quality would be better, and the third quality would be the best; "extra-extra-extra-good". Perhaps in Swiss/French this would be “trés bon” which was somehow translated literally into English as third quality.
Stauffer had previously started to use a similar mark with three stars rather than triangles but as the advert says they soon discovered that a very similar mark had already been registered. Although not mentioned in the advert, the mark with three stars had been registered by Baume, the importers of Longines watches. Baume must have been following the same reasoning, that three stars indicated high quality. In fact, the same reasoning is still used today; the highest accolade awarded by the Michelin Guide is three stars.
This trademark was not used exclusively on movements made in Stauffer's own factory; Fontainemelon calibres have been seen stamped with this mark. The same calibres are also seen with the “S&Co” under a crown in an oval trademark. It is not clear why or when the different marks were used, but the use of the “SS&Co.” under 3 small triangles does not definitively identify a watch made in Stauffer's own factory. Perhaps it shows that a movement from one of the ébauche factories such as Fontainemelon was inspected and cased in the Atlas factory.
The Atlas brand
La Fédération Horlogère Suisse 1928
The name Atlas had a long history with the Stauffer company. The factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds was called Atlas and in the nineteenth century lever watches produced there were called "The Atlas Watch" and the adverts in the Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith from September 1886 reproduced above stated that this was a registered trade mark. The announcement or warning reproduced below states that "Atlas" was registered as a trademark in London in 1885.
For a period from 1892 after Charles Nicolet took over the company was renamed Nicolet Fils & Cie, although it appears to have continued to use the well known Stauffer, Son & Co. as a trading name.
Some time in the 1920s the brand name Atlas Watch Co. was revived, although the English branch of the company continued to be called Stauffer & Co. The picture here shows an Atlas brand from an Eterna movement with the bridge and finger shapes customised for Stauffer as described in the section below about Stauffer and Eterna. The three small triangles used by Stauffer are in the centre of the mark.
In 1927 La Fédération Horlogère Suisse reported results of watch trials at Le Locle and recorded that "Comp. des Montres Atlas, La Chaux-de-Fonds" had received one first class certificate endorsed "particularly good", and another ordinary first class certificate.
The announcement shown here appeared in La Fédération Horlogère Suisse in 1928, warning that the Atlas Watch Co. is the only company authorised to use the brand Atlas belonging to Stauffer Son & Co., filed in London in 1885, Switzerland in 1892, and registered internationally.
The "Peerless" Brand and the Stauffer Ram
Registration of Stauffer “Peerless” and ram image from UK Trademark Journal 1896
The trademark of a picture of a ram together with the word Peerless was first registered in the UK in 1896. An entry in the Trade Marks Journal shows that it was registered by Stauffer Son & Co. on 27 February 1896. It was later also registered in the Swiss trademarks register alongside the other marks discussed above.
This ram mark sometimes appears on the bottom plates of movements supplied by IWC to Stauffer & Co. placed below the foot of the balance cock where it is not normally visible, unlike the S&Co. under a crown inside an oval mark that is clearly visible on movements purchased by Stauffer from IWC and other makers.
The Stauffer ram is similar to the IWC registered trademark of the “Schaffhausen bock” (also a ram) and it appears possible that Stauffer registered their own version IWC trademark in the UK for some reason, perhaps after taking over the IWC Agency for Britain.
It is sometimes thought that this ram is actually an IWC trademark, but it was also used on movements purchased by Stauffer from from Eterna - see below.
Peercee, Peertone, etc.
Stauffer, Son & Co. (SS&Co.) registered the brand names "Peercee", "Peertone" and "En Tout Cas". Peercee seems to have been fairly widely used from the late 1920s or perhaps 1930s onwards when the relationship with IWC was coming to an end. I have seen it most often on watches supplied to Stauffer & Co. by Eterna. Peertone and En Tout Cas are seen only occasionally, but this may be because all the watches that carry these brands are later than the period I normally look at.
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Stauffer and Other Watch Manufacturers
Stauffer & Co. were a large and important Anglo-Swiss company importing large quantities of watches from their own factory in la Chaux-de-Fonds and from many other Swiss manufacturers. Pritchard records that in 1973 "Stauffer Fils & Cie, La Chaux-de-Fonds (Suisse)" was a trade mark belonging to the Atlas Watch Co. (Atlas Montres SA) of Morges St-Jean on Lake Geneva. Pritchard says that Atlas was registered in Morges St-Jean in 1986.
Stauffer & Co. and IWC
From 1894 Stauffer & Co. London began to buy watches and movements from IWC. Tölke and King say that Stauffer & Co. were granted a sales monopoly of IWC watches for Great Britain in 1898, which at the time included the whole of the British Empire. Because of this connection people sometimes mistakenly assume that watches or movements marked "S&Co., or even "SS& Co." are IWC watches, or contain IWC movements, which is often not the case. Stauffer mainly sold watches made in their own factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds since 1830, long before IWC existed. They also sold watches made by other manufacturers, including IWC, Eterna, and Fontainemelon.
For a full discussion of Stauffer & Co., Stauffer, Son & Co. and IWC, and how to identify an IWC wristwatch movement, see Stauffer and IWC.
Eterna cal. 520 showing keyless mechanism
Eterna cal. 520 with Stauffer ram
Thanks to Ventura Mijares for the pictures
Eterna 520 with Stauffer trademarks
Thanks to Marc for the picture
Eterna 520 from Jobin 1936
Stauffer & Co. and Eterna
Stauffer & Co. obtained movements or watches from Eterna. The picture here shows an Eterna calibre 520 movement with Stauffer trademarks on the barrel bridge; the initials S & Co. under a crown inside an oval shield, and the Stauffer trademark name "Peerless".
This is a modified version of the standard Eterna calibre 520 movement. The picture below from Jobin's "La classification horlogère des calibres de montres et des fournitures d'horlogerie suisse" 1936 edition shows the usual form of the barrel bridge and train bridge of the Eterna 520 movement, which are quite different to the Stauffer branded version, although the balance and escape cocks look very similar, if not identical.
The layout of the train and position of the train pivots in the two versions of the 520 movement is identical. The shapes of the bridges and cocks are not functional, they can be any shape provided that the bearing holes for the pivots and the screw holes are in the same place. This allows the appearance of the movement from the customer's point of view to be altered by fitting different shaped bridges, while the bottom plate and all the other components remain identical.
The setting lever cover plate and spring detent remain the same for all versions of the Eterna 520 calibre. These are the "fingerprint" of the movement and allow it to be positively identified no matter how much the top plate bridges and cocks are altered.. In the picture showing the keyless mechanism I have included the footprint picture of the Eterna 520 cover plate, setting lever and yoke from a Bestfit catalogue. You can see that the cover plate with its detent spring is identical to that on the movement.
Stauffer requested Eterna make these changes in the appearance of the top plate so that the movement would appear to be unique to them and could not be easily recognised as an Eterna calibre. The finish is also superior to the standard Eterna finish. The Stauffer version has Côtes de Genève or Geneva stripes, the engravings are gold filled, and the jewels are ruby coloured.
The same bridge shapes were also used for other calibres that Eterna supplied to Stauffer, including a version of the Eterna 600 calibre. I also have an 18 ligne pocket watch movement with the same bridge shapes which the keyless mechanism shows was also made by Eterna.
It was very common for Swiss ébauche factories to make variants like this of a basic movement. The vast majority of the components, including the bottom plate, remained exactly the same, but by changing the shape of the bridges and cocks while still leaving all the pivot holes in the same places, a movement could be given a very different appearance. This was easy to do because the plates are not functional components, they just sit there and form the bearings for the functional parts. Changing their shape has no effect on the function of the movement so long as the bearings remain in the same place. Makers such as Fontainemelon (FHF) and A. Schild often produced several variants of a basic movement with different shaped bridges and cocks, and sometimes with different finishes to the visible surfaces such as gilding, perlage or Côtes de Genève.
At least some, perhaps all, of the Eterna movements supplied to Stauffer have the Stauffer ram logo doing under the barrel bridge as shown in the third picture here. This was a registered trademark belonging to Stauffer and so they could insist that it was applied to any movements that were supplied to them, just as they did with IWC. Does this mean that there was any connection between Eterna and IWC? No, other than that they both supplied movements or watches to Stauffer.
The second image of a ram shown here is from an Eterna pocket watch movement. Again, this was found under the barrel bridge when the movement was dismantled. The top plate carries the Stauffer trademark of S&Co. under a crown within an oval shield and the word Peerless.
Eterna 710 Customised for Stauffer
Eterna cal. 710 with Top Plate Customised for Stauffer
Eterna cal. 710 Bottom Plate. Click images to enlarge.
Thanks to Geoff for the pictures, © Geoff P 2017.
Another movement that Eterna customised for Stauffer & Co. was their calibre 710, which was a tonneau or barrel-shaped movement. The photographs here of a watch marked with the Stauffer & Co. trademarks of S&Co under a crown in an oval and the name Peerless are thanks to and © Geoff P. The same movement is also seen with Stauffer's three triangles trademark and with the Peertone name. Because of the association with Stauffer this is sometimes taken to be an IWC movement, and it does have some superficial similarities to the IWC calibre 87, but the movement in the photographs here definitely has nothing whatsoever to do with IWC.
Bestfit 1965 ETA 715 and Eterna 710
The significant measurement of a tonneau movement is the width. This watch is approximately 20mm or about 8¾ or 9 lignes across. The Bestfit Book shows a number of 8¾ shaped movements, including the diagram shown here of the parts of the keyless mechanism of ETA calibre 715 and Eterna 710. The most significant part for identification is the largest part, the cover plate with integrated detent spring. This is called the "setting lever spring" in Swiss parts lists, with the generic part No. 445, or "set bridge" in American parlance. The other two parts shown are the setting lever and the yoke that moves the sliding pinion.
The shape of the parts of the keyless mechanism of Swiss watches are a "fingerprint" so unique that the Bestfit Book does not show any other part of the movement for identification purposes. A watch repairer needing a spare part would take the movement from the case, remove the hands and dial, and then use the size and basic shape of the movement together with the unique shape of the keyless parts to make the identification and then order parts, confident that they would fit the movement in his hands, and often no other movement. The Bestfit diagram shows that this keyless mechanism is identical for ETA calibre 715 and Eterna 710, and the list of factories and calibres confirms that the Basic Model or base movement of the Eterna 710 is the ETA 715. These two calibres might have some differences in appearance but the main parts, the barrel, train escapement and keyless mechanism, and especially the mainspring, balance staff and stem, the parts most likely to need replacing, are the same.
Eterna Cal. 8¾ - 710 from Jobin
The setting lever spring was an evolution of the earlier simple cover plate that kept all of the parts of the keyless mechanism in place. Stem set keyless mechanism needs a detent to hold the crown in the setting position. In early stem wound and set watches the usual Swiss "positive" set keyless mechanism (in contrast to American or negative set) incorporates this detent as part of the mechanism, usually a notch on the yoke, whereas in later watches it is integrated into the cover plate as in this watch. The long thin arm acts as a spring, the two notches at the end serve as detents that hold the setting lever in either its usual winding position or in the hand setting position when the crown and stem are pulled out. It is not known exactly when this modification to the cover plate was introduced, but it seems to have been in the late 1920s or early 1930s, and it might have been Eterna who introduced it. If you have any knowledge about this, please let me know.
The diagram from Jobin's "La Classification Horlogère Suisse" 1936 edition shows an Eterna calibre 710. The ETA calibre 715 Eterna 710 are identical in their vital parts but differ in appearance. The ETA 715 has exposed winding wheels, the crown wheel and ratchet wheel, the Eterna 710 has the winding wheels concealed below the top plate. This was almost certainly done specifically for the English market. English made watches always had concealed winding wheels and critical English customers considered that exposed winding wheels were a sign of a foreign, and therefore inferior, watch. This attitude was a hang over from the days when English watches were considered the best in the world - at least by the British.
The company that became Eterna was founded in 1856 by Dr. Josef Girard and Urs Schild. In 1932 Eterna spun off its movement making side as ETA SA to supply ébauches to other Swiss watch assemblers. Eterna SA continued to make watches, using ébauches from ETA, and sometimes from other ébauche makers.
So we know that the movement is an Eterna calibre 710 and that it has concealed winding wheels like the calibre shown in Jobin. But the top plate of the watch in the photographs is different from that of the Eterna 710 illustrated in Jobin. Like the Eterna 520 discussed in the earlier section, this was because Stauffer asked Eterna to make these changes to the appearance of the movement so that it was unique to Stauffer and could not be easily recognised as an Eterna calibre, except by a watch repairer with a Bestfit Book or similar.
It was very common for the Swiss ébauche manufacturers to make variations of a basic movement by changing the appearance of the top plate. This enabled them to supply ébauches that were apparently different but actually identical in all other respects to different watch assemblers. It was easy to do because the plates are not functional components, they just sit there and form bearings for the functional parts. Changing their shape has no effect on the function of the movement so long as the bearings remain in the same place. The vast majority of the components, including the bottom plate, remained exactly the same, but by changing the shape of the bridges and cocks while still leaving all the pivot holes in the same places, a movement could be given a very different appearance.
Sometimes I hear people say that similarities in appearance between watch movements show that there must have been some collaboration between their different manufacturers. This is not the case. The Swiss watch industry was fiercely competitive and different movement manufacturers did not collaborate. If two movements appeared with very similar appearance, this was due to coincidence not collaboration. In fact, designing a movement was the easiest part of a manufacturers work, there are only so many ways you can arrange the parts. The most difficult part was designing and making the specialised machines that would manufacture the tiny components to the necessary precision, and spit them out faster and cheaper than their competitors machines. Designing an end stone setting, a plate that holds the jewel and one or two tiny screws to hold it in place, is very easy. Imagine how much harder it is to design a machine that will automatically turn, thread slit and polish those tiny screws, only a fraction of a millimetre in diameter, and that will quickly produce thousands of such screws to exacting tolerances without human intervention. The specialised machines to make the parts are where the real hard work and investment lay, details of which rival watch manufacturers guarded carefully.
Stauffer & Co. and Le Coultre
Le Coultre repeater with S&Co trademark; click images to enlarge.
Thanks to David MacP. for the images
Swiss 18 carat 0.755 gold with three heads of Helvetia
Thanks to David MacP. for the image
Stauffer & Co. also obtained movements from Le Coultre. The pictures here show a fine Le Coultre hunter cased minute repeater pocket watch with the Stauffer trademark of the initials S & Co. under a crown inside an oval shield on the barrel bridge.
The S&Co. mark was the trademark of the London branch of the Swiss watchmaking company Stauffer, Son & Co. This mark was stamped onto watches that Stauffer bought in from other manufacturers, so it shows that the watch was imported into Britain by Stauffer & Co. London, and also that it was not made in Stauffer's Swiss factory.
There are no visible trademarks other than the S & Co. mark, but the movement was made by Le Coultre. Movements like this are seen signed Le Coultre, and also Marius LeCoultre, Genève, and Mathey Genève. Le Coultre also supplied the same movement to Audemars.
Le Coultre usually altered the shapes of the visible cocks and bridges for different customers to look make the movements look different, but the underlying ébauche is the same in each case. The small lyre shaped bridge next the block that attaches the repeater bells to the case is usually identical.
When activated by the slide on the case side, the two steel hammers strike the time on the "bells", the steel rods that can be seen running around the outside of the movement, using different tones to designate the hours, quarter hours, and nearest minute.
The case has Swiss hallmarks for 18 carat gold. These hallmarks are different from the usual Swiss hallmark for 18 carat gold that had been introduced in 1880. The hallmarks in this case consist of "18C" within a square shield and "0.755" within a square shield incuse, and three heads of Helvetia, one small above two large.
In December 1887 the Swiss Federal Council defined the higher fineness standard of 0.755, which is finer than the Swiss legal standard of 0.750, and the special hallmark with three heads of Helvetia to identify it, specifically for watch cases that were to be exported to England. This was in response to the 1887 British Merchandise Marks Act that came into force on 1 January 1888 and is explained in more detail on my page about Swiss hallmarks.
The legend "Swiss made" on the movement was introduced by Swiss watchmakers in the spring of 1888, also in response to the British Act.
Watches imported to Britain from Switzerland continued to bear Swiss hallmarks until 1907 when hallmarking of imported gold and silver watches in British assay offices became mandatory and the Swiss hallmarks were then usually omitted. The fact the case carries the Swiss hallmark of three heads of Helvetia but no British hallmarks shows that the watch was imported into Britain by Stauffer between 1888 and 1907.
The case has a cameo mark AFC in a rectangular shield, which looks like a British sponsor's mark, but there are no British hallmarks so it is not a British sponsor's mark. The mark is most likely the trademark of the Swiss case maker, but these are very poorly documented before 1924 and so the mark is yet to be identified.
Le Coultre 13''' Lépine Movement
The movement in the photograph here is a Le Coultre 13 ligne Lépine marked Swiss and with the Stauffer trademark of SS&Co. between three triangles. It is also well made and nicely finished with a frosted and gilded finish to the plates and bridges and blued screws.
The escapement is a straight line Swiss lever with a cut bimetallic temperature compensation balance and a Breguet overcoil balance spring. In the photograph it is possible to make out the two metals that make up the bimetallic rim; the thin inner layer or lamina of steel and the thicker outer brass lamina. The balance has gold timing screws, and two that appear whiter that might be platinum, which was sometimes used because of its additional weight being one third denser than 18 carat gold.
The train is jewelled to the centre with an end stone for the escape wheel. The centre jewel is set in a gold chaton. Although it is not stated the jewel count is 17, only the top pivot of the centre wheel arbor is jewelled, and only the top bearing of the escape wheel arbors has an end stone. These are the two visible pivots of these arbors and the pivots in the bottom plate are not similarly treated, the centre wheel arbor bottom pivot has a plain bearing and the escape wheel arbor bottom pivot has a plain jewel hole. This implies that the extra jewelling was done for cosmetic effect, and this is not unique to Stauffer, many Swiss and American manufacturers did the same thing. It does add a certain something to the appearance of the movement even if it does nothing for its timekeeping properties.
This came to me as a bare movement, it probably originally had a gold case that has been melted for its bullion value. It is a stem wound and set movement with pin set keyless mechanism for hand setting. It is a Lépine layout with the fourth wheel arbor laying on a line projected from the axis of the stem. It was probably originally in a ladies' open face fob watch case, the Lépine layout is not suitable for a wristwatch and the dial has the 12 o'clock next to the stem.
The presence of the word Swiss on the movement indicates that it was made after 1887. For the explanation of the reasoning behind this remark see The brand "Swiss made".
Jaeger Le Coultre
Le Coultre was a Swiss ébauche manufacturer set up in 1833 by Charles Antoine Le Coultre (1803-1881). In 1826/1827 he had invented a pinion making machine which cut the pinion leaves automatically, which was very successful. Le Coultre also invented other machines for making parts of watches. In 1833 a new factory was founded to produce these machines. In 1835 this factory started to also produce watch ébauches.
Le Coultre developed a specialisation in the machine manufacture of complicated ébauches which they supplied to Mathey-Tissot, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Vacheron & Constantin. It is not clear when Le Coultre started making complete watches, but it appears to have been in the twentieth century.
In 1900 Jacques David Le Coultre, grandson of the founder, met Alsatian Parisian based Edmond Jaeger (1850-1920). Le Coultre supplied Jaeger with ébauches, tachometers and revolution counters. In 1917 Jaeger started distribution in Geneva and Paris of watches with Le Coultre movements, which were cased in Le Sentier using cases bought from a case making company. In 1926 a holding company Jaeger-Le Coultre was established to formalise the relationship between the two separate companies.
Stauffer & Co. and Fontainemelon
Fontainemelon movement with S&Co trademark; click image to enlarge. See Fontainemelon Movement 3 for more details.
Image © Smiths watches
Stauffer also bought movements or watches from Fabriques d'Horlogerie de Fontainemelon (FHF).
The image here shows a Fontainemelon movement with the Stauffer trademark S&Co under a crown inside an oval shield on the barrel bridge, the mark is not very clear so I have ringed it in red.
I have also seen this same Fontainemelon calibre with the "SS&Co." under three triangles trademark.
The movement is a Fontainemelon, easily identified by its very characteristic central bridge. If that were not enough, the Fontainemelon trademark of the "William Tell" symbol, an apple with an arrow through it, is found on the bottom plate underneath the dial. It is on the opposite side of the plate to the "Swiss Made" and I have added it to the image in its approximately correct position. For a view of the dial plate and keyless mechanism of this Fontainemelon calibre see Fontainemelon Movement 3 on my movement identification page.
This is an example of the higher grade movement that Fabriques d'Horlogerie de Fontainemelon could produce when requested. It has a Swiss straight line lever escapement and is jewelled to the centre with a cap jewel (end stone) for the escape wheel, giving a jewel count of at least 17. I have also seen a similar movement with the S&Co trademark but without the centre and cap jewels for a more basic count of 15 jewels.
Stauffer & Co. and Patek Philippe
David Penney has shown a business card dating from c.1900 of the Geneva watchmakers Patek Philippe & Co. which was overprinted in red with a notice that "Stauffer, Son & Co. of 13, Charthouse St, Holborn, London, have the wholesale agency for Patek Philippe in Great Britain." The illustrious Geneva watchmaking company Patek Philippe was actually rather younger than Stauffer, Son & Co., having been founded in 1839 by Count Norbert Anton de Patek, the company adopting the name Patek Philippe in 1845 when Adrien Philippe was made a partner in the business.
If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me via my Contact Me page.
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Letter by J Lecluse, Horological Journal 1885. To read the letter in full click on the picture or here
Stauffer, Son & Co., La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
There is little recorded about the Stauffer factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds, but the following letter from Mr J. Lecluse appeared in the journal of the British Horological Institute in September 1885. I think it is very interesting, so I have transcribed it and you can read the full letter by clicking on the link in the picture caption.
In the letter Lecluse describes Stauffer, Son and Co.'s "Atlas" watch factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds, in the Swiss Jura mountains. The factory has steam heating, steam power from a 30 horse power steam engine, and makes its own gas for melting and soldering etc. It also appears to generate its own electricity, but Lecluse is not specific about this. The factory has 300 machines which produce rapidly all the various pieces of the 60,000 or more watches produced annually.
Starting from raw material, Lecluse describes machines cutting, punching, stamping, drilling, turning and dressing watch components with little human intervention, including machines to file steel pieces, executing with precision work difficult to do by hand. He describes in detail jewelling machines that set all the jewels of a plate, small or large, thin or thick, without once taking off the plate in the course of the operation. For watches with jewels set in gold chatons there are several machines, each of which can produce at least 300 jewel-holes per day. In another part of the factory watch cases are made, their parts pressed into shape by large machine presses. In another workshop the keyless mechanism is fitted and in another the escapement in made. Watches then pass to the finishing and regulating department, from which they emerge ready to be worn.
Lecluse does not describe in detail the watches that are being made, concentrating on the machinery. He does however in the final paragraph mention that watches with lever escapements are made, and for the English market watches with full plate and three-quarter plate movements. At the time the typical style of an English lever was full plate, with the balance above the top plate and pivoted in an elaborately engraved cock, very reminiscent of a verge watch but adapted to take a lever escapement. The alternative three-quarter plate movement had part of the top plate cut away so that the balance could be brought down closer to the bottom plate and the balance cock brought into the same plane as the top plate. This allowed the watch to be made thinner.
In 1891 a Stauffer gold tourbillon chronometer No. 136862 won first prize and honours for the highest results at the Neuchâtel Observatory, beating all records, and the same watch attained 91.6 marks at the Kew observatory trials, the highest mark that had been recorded. The watch was made throughout at Stauffer's own factory at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.
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An early Stauffer movement
Here is the movement of a pocket watch produced in the Stauffer Son & Co. Chaux-de-Fonds factory. I don't know when it was made, there were no hallmarks because I bought it without a case, which was no doubt removed and melted down for its bullion value. You can see straight away that even though it is a fairly simple Lépine movement, it is nicely made and finished. Some notable features are:
An early Stauffer Lépine calibre
- Cylinder escapement with brass balance, no temperature compensation
- Going barrel - no fusee - standard Lépine arrangement
- Cocks and bridges, no top plate, unlike the full and three-quarter plate movements described by Lecluse.
- Key wound and set, with hand setting from the rear by the Lépine friction centre post
- Jewelled to the third wheel with clear jewels, probably clear sapphires that were cheaper than red rubies
- Frosted and gilded plates and bridges, blued screws
Swiss cylinder escapement watches were rather looked down upon by the English watchmakers, who considered that only the English lever escapement was capable of good timekeeping, and that cylinder escapements wore out quickly. But the Swiss made watches with hardened steel cylinders and escape wheels that were not only good timekeepers but also lasted well. They were able to sell these at a price that the British public liked, undercutting the expensive English watchmakers, who continued to look down their noses as their trade was taken away.
The movement is marked "Stauffer Cx De Fonds" for Stauffer Son & Co. Chaux-de-Fonds and has the SS&C in a shield trademark. At one time I thought that these trade marks originated at the time of their registration in 1880, and so I assumed that this movement was made after 1880. However, as I discuss above, these marks were in use long before the registration scheme was introduced and their use dates back to the formation of Stauffer, Son & Co. in 1830, so this watch could have been made at any time after 1830, and in fact it dates from closer to 1830 than to 1880.
Dr. Ranfft describes this layout as "Lépine-Calibre IV", with a bridge for the centre wheel instead of a cock, and says that this layout was used from 1835-1850, after 1850 a layout with the barrel bridge a straight bar and the cocks arranged more in parallel was used. However, I have seen a watch with an identical layout in a Swiss case with English hallmarks for 1880 to 1881, so production of this style of movement carried on after 1850, although not by Stauffer who by then had moved on to making lever escapement movements.
The terms "Lépine movement" or "Lépine calibre" are not a brand name or maker, they describe a type of movement invented in the eighteenth century by Jean Antoine Lépine of Paris and describe the type of movements made in huge numbers by many ébauche makers in France and Switzerland during the 19th century. They were mostly anonymous, it is unusual to be able to tie one to a particular manufacturer.
It might be thought that key winding watches were not produced after keyless winding was introduced in about 1850, but Lecluse's letter of 1885 refers to key winding watches, amusingly he calls them "non-keyless", and in fact key wind watches were produced in Switzerland and England into the 20th century. This kept the cost down. We also know from the letter of Lecluse that Stauffer were making lever watches by 1885.
This type of fairly cheap watch, with a key wound and set movement and cylinder escapement, was made in the tens of thousands in Switzerland. I think this one was a fairly early Stauffer product and that they soon moved on to making better classes of watches such as the one shown further down this page.
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Stauffer waterproof watch
Horological Journal December 1884
In a letter published in the BHI Horological Journal of December 1884, Stauffer described a "hermetically sealed" or "dust-tight" watch case, illustrated with the image reproduced here.
The letter discusses the problems caused by dust stopping watches, saying that sometimes watches have to be cleaned for a second time within a week of cleaning if their owner is engaged in "dusty pursuits", or that watches in "countries of the torrid zone" are ruined as a result of dampness finding its way inside the case, and that these considerations, besides the danger of accidental immersion in water or exposure to clouds of fine dust, have led to the patented invention shown in the picture.
The letter says that the chief difficulty in making an impervious case is sealing the aperture through which the winding stem passes. The illustration shows a short section of screw thread on the stem below the crown and explains that after winding the watch a "slight turn" of the crown brings it into contact with the end of the pendant and seals the opening.
It is said that with the crown screwed down onto the pendant like this, repeated trials have shown that the watch may be immersed in petroleum or warm water with impunity. The choice of petroleum as the first test fluid was probably because it wouldn't damage the mechanism if it did get inside the case. I don't know why warm water was used; perhaps whoever performed the test didn't want to get his hands cold.
When I first read the letter in the Horological Journal I assumed from the way it was worded that it was Stauffer that had patented the invention, but a search through British and Swiss patents failed to reveal any such patent. Then I realised that the design is identical to the "l'Imperméable" (The Impermeable) design patented by Alcide Droz & Fils, British patent 2624 26 May 1883 and United States patent 307027 21 October 1884. The dates tie in nicely, the short piece of left hand thread on the stem shown in the image in the Horological Journal is identical to thread shown in the Droz British patent, and the way that the crown screws down onto the end of the pendant is the same as the Droz invention.
Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith 1885
The entry from a directory in The Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith of June 1885 shown here lists Stauffer Son & Co. of 12, Old Jewry Chambers and La Chaux-de-Fonds and says that they are Manufacturers of the "Waterproof" watch and the "Atlas" Machine-made levers.
The Atlas name for lever watches was a Stauffer trademark, registered in London in 1885, but the reference to Stauffer being manufacturers of the waterproof watch, when taken together with the similarities in design of the Droz l'Imperméable and the illustration accompanying the letter, implies (to me at least) that Stauffer were manufacturing waterproof for Droz watches to the design in the Droz patent.
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Stauffer in the 1880s
In the July 1886 issue of the Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith, Stauffer Son & Co. had a full page advertisement for "watches of every description", fine and complicated watches, Specialties in Atlas levers made by machinery on the gauged and interchangeable principle including Atlas chronographs, Railway Atlas, and four-in-hand Atlas. Atlas was a registered trademark, and watches with Class "A" Kew certificates were in stock, and could be supplied with the customer's own name on the certificate at a few hours notice.
The Kew trials had been started in 1884 to rate watches for makers or members of the public on a similar basis to the observatories at Geneva and Yale that rated watches for Swiss, French and American watchmakers. The intention no doubt was to demonstrate the high quality of English watches and presumably cock a snook at the pesky foreigners. However, Swiss watch manufacturers were not slow to spot an opportunity to gain credibility in one of the their most important export markets, so they started to enter watches for the trials.
For the first years the results to the end of October were reported in the following January, but from 1892 results to 31 December the previous year were usually reported in March. The 1893 report was delayed to May by the untimely death of Mr Whipple.
Over the 14 months ending 31 December 1891, a Stauffer going barrel tourbillon chronometer No. 136862 won first prize and honours from the Council of State of the Canton of Neuchâtel for the highest results at the Neuchâtel Observatory, beating all previous records.
The same watch attained 91.6 marks at the Kew observatory trials of 1891 beating all other watches entered and all previous records. Stauffer were not going to let a red-letter day like that pass without comment and the advert reproduced here appeared in the British trade press. The advert includes a quote from a letter by Mr. G. M. Whipple stating that the watch had obtained the highest mark that had been recorded to that date. An editorial in the same paper recorded that the watch was entirely made at Stauffer's own factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.
In the 1892 trials at Kew, of the 852 watches of all kinds that were awarded certificates, 460 were manufactured by Stauffer.
In the 1896 trials at Kew, the first place was taken by Messrs. Stauffer, Son, & Co., London, with a keyless, going-barrel chronometer-watch, No. 147,545, with the "Tourbillon" escapement, which obtained 89·4 marks out of a maximum of 100.
When Swiss watches started to take the top places in the trials, English watch makers took decisive action; they simply ignored the foreigners.
In Smith & Sons Ltd. "Guide to the Purchase of a Watch" there is an extract from The Times of London of 5 November 1898 over the caption "The record in watch making" reporting one of Smith's watches gaining a Class A certificate endorsed especially good with the "extraordinarily high marks of 88.1". The report is careful not to claim that this is record result rather than just a matter of record, but anyone reading the article could be forgiven for gaining that impression. There was no mention in the report of any Swiss entry, or the high marks gained by Swiss watches such as the Stauffer watch that seven years earlier had gained 91.6 marks.
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Later History of the Swiss Company
The Watchmaker Jeweller and Silversmith reported watches, chronometers and repeating watches exhibited by Stauffer & Co. at the 1885 Inventions Exhibition in London. The firm moved to 13 Charterhouse Street, Holborn, London, on 23rd Feb. 1887. In 1889 Charles Nicolet was recorded in report in The Times concerning some stolen watches as "Charles Nicolét trading as Stauffer & Co. Charterhouse Street." From 1892 the company name was changed to Nicolet Fils et Cie, indicating that Nicolet had taken over the whole company, Swiss factory and all, but the Stauffer name and the SS & Co and S&Co. marks continued to be used, and Nicolet also registered Atlas as a trade mark. After this the name of the company appears to fluctuate between variations of Nicolet and Stauffer, and later Atlas, but as they carried on using the Stauffer brand over the period I am interested in, that is the name I will use.
In July 1894 the British Horological Institute's Journal reported the death at La Chaux-de-Fonds on the 27th June of Mr A Nicolet-Rossel, late senior partner of the Swiss firm Stauffer Son & Co..
Kew Observatory Trial Successes
Feuille d'Avis de Neuchâtel 1891
In 1891 the following editorial appeared in the "Feuille D'Avis De Neuchâtel", a Neuchâtel newspaper.
Watchmaking. - A watch factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the firm Stauffer Son and Co., has just achieved at the Kew Observatory in England, a serious success. One of their watches, a pocket chronometer, observed in this institution, earned 91.6 points out of 100 which is the maximum. That matches the highest known in the observatory, or the figure of 89.1 points obtained by British manufacturers which had not been exceeded up to now.
Stauffer letter to Dr. Chree at Kew
I understand that this success was repeated in 1893 but I have not found the evidence for this yet.
The letter shown to the right is quite interesting. It is dated June 4th 1897 and addressed to Dr Charles Chree at the Kew Observatory, Richmond.
Dr Charles Chree F.R.S. (1860-1928) was Superintendent of the Kew Observatory at Richmond in Surrey, England, from 1893 to 1925, a remarkably long service of 32 years. The letter asks Chree if he will exchange an enclosed certificate for "one made out in a gold case", explaining "we ommitted to alter the original certificate before sending it in for transfer." The certificate in question would be one of the famous "Kew Certificates" that were awarded to watches that successfully passed a series of tests at Kew. These certificates were highly regarded and watch manufacturers could request Kew to reissue them in the name of the purchaser of a watch.
Chronographs, Counters, Split Seconds
The notice reproduced here appeared in the Swiss trade journal "La Fédération Horlogère Suisse" in 1905. It records Stauffer, Son & Co. as taking 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in the "chronograph compteur et rattrapante" category of the 1905 Kew trials.
The first chronographs had only seconds hands to show elapsed seconds. A chronograph compteur or counter chronograph is one that can record minutes and sometimes hours by additional indicators on the dial.
La Fédération Horlogère Suisse 1906
A rattrapante (pronounced rattrapont) or "split seconds" chronograph has two chronograph seconds hands that allow two separate events to be timed. When the timer is started, both seconds hands move together. In a race, when the winner crosses the line one of the hands can be stopped, and then the other hand stopped when the second placed competitor crosses the line. This allows the time of both first and second places to be read off. This of course requires duplication of much of the chronograph mechanism, making for a very complicated movement.
The letter in the Horological Journal in 1885 by Lecluse does not mention watches with complications. The highly automated factory Lecluse describes is turning out large quantities of high quality standard watches that would have a wide appeal. However, in the 1890s, complicated watches, including repeaters and chronograph were added to the Stauffer range. This coincided with the change in 1892 of the company name to Nicolet Fils et Cie.
The Horological Journal for December 1900 contains an advert by Stauffer, Son & Co. for "The Best Chronograph in existence" which mentions several patents, 4821/15, 10582 and 14531. These number all refer to Swiss patents as follows:
- CH4821 of 7 March 1892 granted to Georges Nicolet of la Chaux-de-Fonds for Perfectionnement apporté aux mécanismes de chronographes-compteurs (Improved mechanism of counter chronographs). Patent CH4821/115 granted 18 June 1892 claimed some additional improvements to the mechanism.
- CH10582 of 26 July 1895 granted to Nicolet Fils & Cie for Montre-chronographe. (Chronograph watch) This patent is for a chronograph watch in which the pusher which serves to actuate the chronograph mechanism is diametrically opposed to the pendant of the watch, which greatly simplifies the work of manufacturing the chronograph watch and ensures the regularity of operation of the chronograph mechanism, which is thus removed from the winding mechanism and setting the time of the watch movement.
- CH14531 of 5 July 1897 granted to Nicolet Fils & Cie for Mécanisme de compteur-enregisteur. A mechanism to record on a toothed wheel the number of turns of any axis, and more particularly the number of minutes in the chronograph watches
The chronograph watches that are the subjects of these patents are described as “As testified at Kew, by the remarkable result of 6, in running numbers, passing Class A with 65.4, 60.3, 77.6. 80.9, 67.5, 84.2 marks, two with “especially good.” With or without Kew Certificates. With or without Split Seconds. Perfect mechanism. Unfailable action. As supplied for the Admiralty.”
The remark “running numbers” means that the serial numbers of the movements were sequential, that is a batch of six watches made all together one after the other.
The Georges Nicolet of the first patent could not have been the son named George of the London based Charles Nicolet, because the British 1911 Census records that George Nicolet's birth year as 1882, so he would have been only 10 in 1892 when the patent was granted. Since the Nicolet family was of Swiss origin, the Georges Nicolet in question could have been a Swiss relative or family member.
Greg Steer, the well know IWC collector and historian, has a Stauffer Split Second Chronograph pocket watch that is stamped on the movement with the patent number 4821 and engraved Stauffer and Peerless on bridges. Writing in 2004 Greg had doubts that this watch was made by Stauffer, but there really can't be any question that it was.
The Horological Journal advert also mentions "The Best low price Repeater. Machine made. As worn by most of the leading Generals and Officers now engaged in War in South Africa."
In 1908 the Horological Journal noted that “Mr. Nicolet (Stauffer, Son, and Co.) was agreeably surprised, when recently in the north, to learn quite by accident that his firm's Gordon-Bennett chronographs, which were used in the speed trials of H.M.S. Dreadnought, were also used for timing the famous ships the Lusitania and Mauretania.”
Henri Onésime Stauffer
A Stauffer, Son & Co. 1901 patent CH 24,577 "Mécanisme de chronographe" is itself quite interesting, not just from a technical viewpoint. This entry from a December 1902 edition of La Federation Horlogere Suiss refers to the same Patent CH 24,577. It seems that Stauffer Son and Co. ayant cause de l'inventeur (successor of the inventor) acquired the rights to this patent from Henri Onésime Stauffer of Ponts-de-Martel - another relative presumably. The name which appears on the published patent is Stauffer Son & Co., so Nicolet must have acquired the rights between registration and publication.
Notice of Stauffer 1901 patent CH 24,577
Henri Onésime Stauffer founded his own watch making company in 1850, and won Honourable Mention for finished watches at the 1881 National Exhibition of Horology in La Chaux-de-Fonds. He seems to have specialised in repeating watches, so the patent CH 24,577 may be one that he decided that he didn't want to pursue and made it over to Stauffer Son. and Co. who did make use of it.
Les Ponts-de-Martel is a municipality in the district of Le Locle, and Jaquet and Chapuis mention that "This district has long been known for its highly complicated watches, and for excellent watches in general". Henri Onésime Stauffer received many Swiss and US patents, including for repeating and chronograph watches. His 1887 patent for a repeating watch was improved by Charles Meylan of New York, whose 1888 patent US 390,501 was used in the third model of repeating watch produced by Waltham. The Waltham Watch Company remains the only American watch manufactory that produced a repeating watch, made in very small numbers.
The early Waltham repeaters are thought to have used Swiss designs and parts by George Aubert of Vaud. The repeating mechanisms, after having been acquired abroad, were then fitted to the movements by the New York agents for Waltham. Whether Henri Onésime Stauffer supplied parts for the movements made to the Charles Meylan patent is not known, but would appear unlikely, he probably just provided the inspiration for Meylan, although he may have received some payment for the use of his patented design.
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The Gordon Bennett Cup Races
The 1892 and subsequent patents seem to mark the entry into the world of high quality complicated chronograph watches by Nicolet Fils et Cie, trading as Stauffer Son & of La Chaux-de-Fonds and London. The first major sporting event to which they supplied split second counter chronographs for timing to that I have been able to find evidence of was the 1903 Gordon Bennett cup race held in Ireland, and the subsequent 1904 and 1905 races held in Germany and France respectively.
The Gordon Bennett cup for motor racing was one of three trophy cups created by James Gordon Bennett, Jr. (1841 - 1918). Gordon Bennett was publisher of the New York Herald newspaper, which had been founded by his father, James Gordon Bennett, Sr, and was extremely wealthy. He was educated primarily in France, and emigrated there in 1877 after an incident in New York which gave rise to the saying Gordon Bennett! as an expression of incredulity. The story goes that Bennett arrived drunk at the home of his fiancée's parents one evening and proceeded to urinate into either the fireplace or the grand piano (versions differ) in full view of all those present. When he sobered up and realised what he had done, Bennett exiled himself to France.
La Fedération Horlogère Suisse 1903
The Gordon Bennett cup races of 1900, 1901 and 1902 were held as part of races between major towns on public roads over one day. After the 1901 Paris-Bordeaux race, in which at least eight people had been killed, and severe accidents during the 1903 Paris-Madrid race, which had to be halted at Bordeaux because there had been so many accidents, the 1903 and later Gordon Bennett cup races consisted of competitors completing three timed laps of closed circular course. This required much more precision in timing than the city to city dashes, where the first to arrive was the winner. For the 1903 race, Stauffer Son & Co. supplied 91 split second counter chronographs, which were highly praised by the chief timekeeper and others after the race.
This must have been quite a red letter day for Stauffer because after the race the La Fedération Horlogère Suisse published the following editorial:
Le Chronometrage de la Course Gordon Bennett
le 2 juillet 1903
Chronograph watches, manufactured in La Chaux-de-Fonds by the house Stauffer, Son & Co., and including 91 pieces were used exclusively to settle the International Automobile Race of Ireland (Gordon Bennett Cup Race) and as the announcement in one of our previous issues, have discharged their duties in an extraordinary manner, exceeding the most optimistic hopes, because without exception, each of these watches has worked perfectly for the duration of the race, an entire day, despite the very severe handling and treatment that these watches have been submitted to throughout the day. The following excerpts from the press are exceptional praise:
Le Matin (Paris), July 3. - "The timing was perfect."
The Autocar (London) 6 July. - "The 3 watches of the "Chief Timer" of the Race, M. T. H. Woollen, which were together in a box, have operated for the duration of the race, and have shown a variation between them l/5 part of a second throughout the day. These are Split Chronograph watches manufactured by the house Stauffer."
The Automobile Club Journal (London) 9 July. - 'Stauffer Chronograph watches, employed to settle the race, have operated smoothly, with no fault, and we have no hesitation in declaring that they are the best chronographs that have ever been manufactured."
Considering the large quantity of Chronograph watches employed for the timing of the race, the long-term observations, and severe handling during these observations, the result obtained has been of great honour to Swiss watchmaking, and in particular to the house that produced them.
The Gordon Bennett cup
Stauffer Son & Co. trademark registered 17 August 1905
The Gordon Bennett motor racing cup
A correspondent in Sydney Australia sent me this picture of a mark in the back of a watch from his late father's collection - a Stauffer/Nicolet split second silver chronograph in excellent working condition. The mark is of the Gordon Bennett motor racing cup, shown in the picture to the right.
As The Times, Friday, Jan 30, 1903 described it: "it is not a cup at all, but a model of a motor car carrying two figures in anything but motor costume." The two figures are in fact female, balancing very precariously on a motor car and clad in very unsuitable (at least unsuitable for motor racing) diaphanous dresses. The current whereabouts of this trophy appear to be unknown.
Stauffer Son & Co. registered a picture of the trophy as a trademark on 17 August 1905. The entry in the Archives de l'Horlogerie states "Stauffer Son & Co (maison principale à Londres) fabricants Chaux-de-Fonds Toutes pièces d'horlogerie. This indicates that London was the company's headquarters.
Subsequently Stauffer Son & Co. supplied split second counter chronographs for the 1904 and 1905 Gordon Bennett cup races, and may other sporting events, and they also entered chronographs for the Kew Observatory time trials with success. In 1907 the La Federation Horlogere Suisse published the following editorial:
The extraordinary fame that has accrued during the last years to the split second counter chronograph watches of the firm Stauffer, Son & Co, of our city, is recently justified by the brilliant results obtained at the Kew Observatory during the year 1906, their watches of this type have obtained 1st, 2nd, 3rd places out of 18 observed.
This success is even more remarkable than the previous year. In 1905 the firm Stauffer, Son & Co. had already won the first three places in this same category of split second chronographs.
In addition, their watch that got 1st place in 1906, with 88.7 marks, constitutes a record for all Swiss made split second watches that ever passed at the Observatory at Kew, and also beats all split second watches made in England with the same escapement, ordinary lever, without cage (tourbillon?) or rotating platform (Karrusel).
These excellent results maintained for so long, give to the split seconds watches of Stauffer, Son & Co. an almost official reputation in the sports world of all countries, and these watches were used (often to the exclusion of any other watches) for the official timekeeping of all important races in recent years.
Our most sincere congratulations.
1920 Stauffer advert
So what happened to the company of Stauffer & Co.?
This advert from the 1920 edition of the Indicateur Davoine states that Stauffer, Son & Co. are manufacturers of chronographs which have won first prizes and first class awards from Kew, Neuchâtel and Geneva, and been adopted by the English Admiralty. The telegraphic address is the factory name Atlas, Chaux-de-Fonds. The advert refers to Systèmes Brevétes, or patented systems.
Considering that Stauffer Son & Co seems to have been a large and successful Swiss watch manufacturer with a modern factory in 1885, and a major British watch importer, recipient of Kew and other observatory trial winnings and suppliers of chronographs used at many large sporting events, it is strange that they seem to have disappeared without trace.
The Stauffer name seems to have been dropped from the Swiss watch making operation in the 1920s in favour of Atlas Watch Co, although the London firm continued to use the name Stauffer Son & Co.
Research is still required to establish exactly what did happen to the Swiss and British companies. Adverts by Stauffer Son & Co. were still appearing in the Horological Journal until June 1964, then they abruptly stop with no editorial explanation.
The Times, August 1845
The theft in 1842 of five watches being exported to India by a well known clock and watch retailer, A B Savory & Sons, of Cornhill London, was reported in The Times. The report stated that three of the watches were marked with the maker's name A B Savory and Son, and in the remaining two the maker's name was Stauffer. It is clear that the two watches were imported by Stauffer & Co. from their Swiss factory and supplied wholesale to Savory. A reward of £50was offered for information about the theft. A B Savory & Sons later traded under the name of Goldsmiths Alliance, and then were incorporated into The Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Company Ltd.
In 1892 the editor of the Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith visited Stauffer's premises in Charterhouse Street. Amongst other things he was shown was a letter from a customer asking if the could supply a watch similar to one that he had purchased over fifty years ago (i.e. before 1842) which was still keeping accurate time. The reason for the letter was that the gentleman wished to buy a similar watch for his grandson!
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