Adolf Michel (1865-1928) was a watch movement manufacturer in Grenchen, founding the firm of A. Michel in 1898 with Jean Schwarzentrub. Note that his name is consistently spelled "Adolf" in German and "Adolphe" in French, both at the time and today.
Adolf Michel was born on September 13, 1865 in Bönigen but lived in Grenchen for most of his life. After an apprenticeship in Couvet he worked in La Chaux-de-Fonds and Saint-Imier before establishing his own business.
The Michel family moved back to Grenchen by 1891. Adolf Michel went into business with Jean Aumann and Alfred Hofer under the name of Aumann & Cie, manufacturer of center case bands for pocket watches. The company was located in a building on today's Viadukstrasse that burned down in 1893, forcing it into bankruptcy.
Collaboration with Jean Schwarzentrub
Michel subsequently went into production of watch case components on his own, building a three-story house with a workshop at Schützengasse 65 on the road to Lengnau. This would have placed him in close proximity to Jean Schwarzentrub's factory, and the two would soon go into business together.
It is generally accepted that it was in 1898 that Michel and Jean Schwarzentrub established a manufacture of metal goods, including pendants and bows for watches. The pair is recorded as establishing a manufacture of ebauches in Lengnau on September 1, 1901 called Ad. Michel & Cie, Ebauches-Fabrik. On June 26, 1903, the company was moved to central Grenchen. This factory was purchased by Schwarzentrub and others in 1904, with Michel starting again in the former Schwarzentrub factory on Schützengasse. His collaboration with Jean Schwarzentrub soon ended permanently.
Adolf Michel then purchased the neighboring property of his brother in law Arnold Niederhäusern, and soon expanded his property to encompass nearly 3 acres. The firm of Ad. Michel grew quickly into one of the largest and most important in Grenchen, and one of the largest producers of ebauches in Switzerland by the start of the First World War.
Adolf's personal life was very difficult, however. He had attempted to work with his son, also named Adolf Michel, but their relationship collapsed after the death of wife and mother Elisabeth Michel-Vogt in 1918, reportedly by suicide. The younger Michel was unhappy with his inheritance and soon left the new A. Michel AG (established in 1918), taking with him nearly half the company's assets.
Shortly after his wife's death, Adolf Michel traveled to America with a group of Swiss industrialists, visiting his brother and cousin and seeing the American industrial capacity. He returned home to a post-war industrial collapse and was forced to contribute most of his personal property and wealth to shore up the finances of the company.
Although he re-married in 1920, Michel's life was increasingly difficult. His new wife, Marie Hammelbacher (1896-1947) soon gave him another daughter, but he spent most of the following years suffering from diabetes and arthritis. Michel left his namesake firm to his sons-in-law and to a new chairman, National Councilor Hermann Obrecht, and watched as it became a founding component of Ebauches SA in 1926.