A. Michel AG (also known as A. Michel SA or AMSA) was a watch movement manufacturer in Grenchen and founding member of Ebauches SA. The company was founded in 1898 by Adolf Michel (1865-1928) and Jean Schwarzentrub (1850-1912). Note that the founder's name is consistently spelled "Adolf" in German and "Adolphe" in French, both at the time and today.
Adolf Michel (1865-1928) was a watch movement manufacturer in Grenchen. Born in 1866 in Bönigen, Michel lived in Grenchen for most of his life and is widely credited as a father of watchmaking there. After an apprenticeship in Couvet he worked in La Chaux-de-Fonds and Saint-Imier before establishing his own business. Michel moved to Grenchen by 1891 to work for the firm of Aumann & Cie, manufacturer of inner case bands for pocket watches, with Jean Aumann and Alfred Hofer. This company went bankrupt in 1893 after the factory (on the present Viadukstrasse) burned down. Michel next built a residential and workshop building in a growing area of Grenchen near Lengnau known as Schützengasse, and this would be the historic home of A. Michel.
It is generally accepted that it was in 1898 that Michel and Johann "Jean" Schwarzentrub (1850-1912) established a manufacture of metal goods, but there is little documentation to support this. Schwarzentrub had established an ebauche factory with Edouard Kummer and Peter Obrecht in 1883 and this went on to become the successful Obrecht & Cie after his departure. He founded a watch manufacturing business in 1893 and this had established his name in the town, but this was bankrupt in 1898. He was also part of the team behind another ebauche manufacture, Friedli, Triebold & Cie, in 1897, but this was purchased by Johann Michel two years later, with the founders (including Schwarzentrub) replaced by Ernest and Arnold Baumgartner.
The earliest official collaboration between Adolf Michel and Jean Schwarzentrub was the establishment of a manufacture of Roskopf watch plates and bridges in Lengnau on September 1, 1901. Located a short distance from Schwarzentrub's factory and Michel's home on Schützengasse, the new operation was named Ad. Michel & Cie, Ebauches-Fabrik. Some reports suggest that Adolf Michel had opened this factory in Lengnau in 1898, thus establishing the start date for the A. Michel company, but there is not official record of this. The factory was located at what is known as Kändlenstrasse 15 today, and was quite an impressive operation, having one of only four telephone lines in the town.
On June 26, 1903, the company was moved to Grenchen, adding the production of conventional ebauches. The firm used a former beer barrel factory owned by Adolf Girard, who had previously produced Roskopf watches there. The company was taken over by a new firm, Obrecht-Hugi & Cie in 1904, with Emil Obrecht-Hugi and Jean Schwarzentrub as directors. It is said that the building was simply too cramped to accommodate Michel's production goals and could not be expanded due to its location.
In August 1905, Adolf Michel acquired a factory on Schützengasse from his brother in law, Arnold Niederhäusern. It had previously been used by Steiner & Co and included over 500 m2 of production space and a steam boiler. It also included the residential building and workshop formerly owned by Schwarzentrub in another failed venture with Bienne businesswoman Hulda Grünberg. In June 1906, the firm of Ad. Michel in Grenchen was re-established with Adolf Michel listed as sole proprietor. Schwarzentrub would no longer be involved in the company.
Michel's firm began with just 46 employees in 1906 but soon grew and continually expanded the Schützengasse property to cover the entire block with a landmark building. Michel began aggressively buying up more land around the factory in 1908 and owned nearly 3 acres by 1917. The factory was first expanded in 1910, with 200 employees in 1911, and 300 the following year. The factory produced up to 4,000 ebauches daily at this time. The landmark curving cove and east wing was added in 1918 facing a new rail line.
A massive string and lockout impacted A. Michel and Meyer & Stüdeli, which they supplied, in 1914. When his son was beaten by the locked-out workers, Adolf Michel rushed out with a gun to rescue him. Soon the Grenchen council asked for troops to be brought in to restore order. But agreement was reached and the factory returned to production with 1,000 workers again employed by June of that year. The start of the First World War caused a surge in demand and the factory was again operating efficiently. Michel began production of 8-day watches in the style of the famous Hebdomas in 1916 using the brands Octanta, Octissima, and Octidurna.
A. Michel AG
The firm of Ad. Michel was converted into a Société Anonyme called A. Michel AG in February 1918. Adolf Michel's son, who shared his name, was listed as a board member and given 492 of the 1,000 shares issued. Sadly, Adolf Michel junior would face many issues related to his famous father and family wealth.
The post-war period was tumultuous for Swiss industry, with a boom in production followed by a bust and general strike. Adolf Michel's wife Elisabeth Michel-Vogt died by suicide in July 1919, shortly before Michel himself left for a trip to America with other Swiss industrialists. Adolf Michel junior is said to have felt betrayed by the small inheritance he received following his mother's death so he took his share of A. Michel and left the firm in 1920. He also took over the Favoris brand of watches as well as operation of the Michel factory in Walde. Michel junior would soon purchase the Scilla, Wartime, and Estima brands in an attempt to build a watchmaking dynasty of his own. But he was bankrupt in 1923 and these companies were liquidated as Michel's personal troubles took hold. Following a failed attempt to re-enter the watch business in Geneva, Michel junior accosted Hermann Obrecht, national councilor, former A. Michel chairman, and head of Ebauches SA, to claim a share of the holding company. He was incarcerated at the mental institution at Waldau and expelled from Holland and France, finishing his life at a care community in Bönigen, always believing that he was owed a share of Ebauches SA.
After the departure of his son, Adolf Michel brought in the husbands of his daughters Aline Martha and Elsa, Walter Roth-Michel and Mario Bello-Michel, respectively. Bello (who lived in Milan) was removed the following year but joined again another year later. Adolf Michel also re-married in 1920, and his new wife Marie Hammelbacher of Bamberg, Bavaria soon gave him another daughter, Nelly Maria. But Michel's health was failing and he was forced to spend time seeking cures at spas and clinics. And the financial impact of the post-war bust (not to mention his son's exit with nearly half the company's capital) forced him to contribute all of his personal wealth to prop up the firm.
National Councilor Hermann Obrecht was added to the board in 1922, and Virgile Juillerat and Eugen Gustav Schürch joined as managers. Share capital was reduced from 1 million francs to 750,000 francs in January 1923. The company was transitioning from a family firm to a true corporation. With new management (and an economic turnaround) A. Michel was able to raise additional capital, increasing total share capital to 2 million francs.
Adolf Michel died in Grenchen on February 21, 1928, at 62 years of age. By this time, A. Michel had become a true corporation, controlled by a dispassionate board, and a founding component of the Ebauches SA cartel.
A. Michel joined forces with former rivals FHF and A. Schild to form Ebauches SA in 1926. This cartel moved quickly to bring additional ebauche makers under its control, including local rivals Felsa, Optima, Eta, and Ed. Kummer.
These same firms joined forces with Fabriques de Spiraux Réunies to form ASUAG in 1931. The chairman of this so-called "superholding" cartel was none other than A. Michel board member Hermann Obrecht.
Michel was replaced on the board by Walter Hirt-Häni.
Adolphe Michel SA (AMSA) was an ébauche maker in Grenchen in the early 20th century. A founding member of Ebauches SA, the company's iconic factory is currently home to MECO, successor to Ernst Meyer's Meyer & Co. and part of the Swatch Group.