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Berna is a historic watch brand named for the canton of Berne. The brand was originally used by Droz & Cie of Saint-Imier around 1890.

Droz & Cie

The predecessor to Montres Berna is first seen as Droz et Perret in 1869, though contemporary accounts say the company was founded in 1864. The company produced "remont. au pend." and was a partnership between Alcide Droz and Henri Perret. It was located at Rue du Stand in Saint-Imier through 1869 before moving to Rue de la Cure from 1869 through 1877 and finally Rue des Marronniers until 1880. This location, along the railroad to the west of town, would be the location of the large Droz factory for a century. Droz became known as Alcide Droz et Fils in 1883 after Henri Perret died of bronchitis on March 1, 1882, and this was the company's name through 1886.

Alcide Droz patented a waterproof watch in Paris and London, and this was the main focus of the company in 1883. A contemporary account in l'Impartial claimed it "is bathed in a glass of water and which is no worse for it. This watch ... is intended to render real services in hot countries, where it will be protected from rust; in the mines and factories, where dust and steam will do nothing to him; on the sea, where it will resist damage to humidity and saline exhalations. Finally, I recommend this amphibious piece to water sports enthusiasts - prone to being shipwrecked."

Alcide Droz became ill and the company was renamed Droz et Cie or Droz & Cie in 1885. He died after a long illness on October 25, 1887. The company was already using the Berna brand name by 1895 and this would become the primary brand for the landmark factory. But the company also used the Jonchéres and Maxim brands around the turn of the century.

Berna SA and High-Life

By 1905, the company was officially called Fabrique d'Horlogerie Berna S.A. (Ancienne Maison Droz & Cie). The company expanded rapidly and soon ran into trouble. It was offered for liquidation, including the brand, factory, materials, and house and farm, in July 1908.

It is not clear what the result of this public auction was, but Berna did not disappear. Indeed, by December 1908 Berna Watch Co. purchased the patents of Ernest Degoumois for a thin pocket watch with a visible balance and was hiring representatives again. An advertisement from that period shows the same factory (Marronniers 20) from a different angle, along with the claim "Maison Fondée en 1864" and claims about awards from 1900 and 1906. The advertisement further claims that the company specializes in good quality watches of both normal and thin profile, from 11 to 26 ligne.

By 1916, Berna was using the term, "High-Life Watches" in advertisements. Bernard Gabus was an apprentice watchmaker in 1893 but his profile was raised considerably when, in 1907, he chaired a committee to raise funds for a statue to honor Jules Grossmann, director of the Technicum in Le Locle. The committee was a who's-who of watchmaking at the time and it enabled Gabus to rise rapidly in the business. Gabus became a director of Montres Berna in 1922. By 1925, Gabus was named a member of the administration council for High-Life SA, which was formed to distribute watches produced by Berna Watch Co. and Unitas Watch Co. SA, along with Ernest Degoumois and René Henry.

The connection between High-Life and Berna saw the brand used specifically on 17 ligne ultra-thin watches. Berna had also begun manufacturing stopwatches, chronographs, and rattrapante chronographs by this time. The company's 10.5-22 ligne watches were variously sold as Berna, Marna, Maxim, Va Bien, and Chronoberna. Berna was again in financial trouble in 1927, coming close to liquidation. In 1929, Degoumois sued Gabus, after he was found to be using the funds of Montres Berna to pay his personal debts.

Under Charles Jeanneret

Berna Watch Co. was dissolved on March 6, 1928, just 4 days after Gabus' personal bankruptcy. The liquidation was handled in part by Charles Jeanneret, who would quickly re-register the company on May 18, 1928 as Charles Jeanneret, Fabrique de Montres Berna. Gabus was never able to fully clear his name, though he did form a joint venture with his brother, Génia, in 1931. This ultimately failed and was dissolved in 1936.

On May 5, 1930, Berna was re-established as a Societe Anonyme, with Charles Jeanneret as the administrator. It was soon seen in an advertisement as "Leonidas et Berna." By 1931, Berna and High-Life appear to be merged, and were located officially across Saint-Imier at Beau-Site 8. This was directly next to Leonidas Watch Factory and was formerly used by watchmaker Henry Schaller since 1922. The company was reorganized on June 8, 1933, as Leonidas Watch Factory and again on December 20, 1934. Berna and High-Life remained at this location at least through 1962.

The company was reorganized as Berna Watch Factory SA in 1963, remaining in Saint-Imier through at least 1970. For most of these years it was run by Charles Jeanneret personally, though he also served on the board of Heuer-Leonidas and numerous public and official boards. In the late 1960s the company used the Adler, Aguila, Aigle, Berna, and Eagle brands.

Charles Jeanneret died in May 1979 at the age of 87.

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