César de Trey

From Grail Watch Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

César de Trey was an industrialist credited with the creation of the Reverso (with Jaeger and LeCoultre) as well as the Ermeto (with Movado) and other key specialty watches in the 1930s.

Marc César de Trey, known as César, was said to be from Chamblandes near Pully on the northeast shore of Lake Geneva. This is just east of Lausanne, and this city is most closely associated de Trey's professional career. He was born in 1876, one of eight children. He married Renée Streuli in 1903 and the couple had two children, Irène (1904?-?) and Jean-Pierre (1906-1985). César de Trey was extremely successful in business but died in 1935 at 59 years of age.

E. de Trey and Dentsply

César de Trey's father, Emile de Trey (1846-1898), came from Savigny near Lake Geneva. He was a brilliant student at the Academy of Lausanne and the Cantonal Hospital of Lausanne. In 1866, his mother sent him to finish his medical studies in the United States, near his grandfather, Marc Fivaz, where he did his doctorate in dentistry at the age of 21. In 1868, he moved to Vevey as a dental surgeon. But Emile was an alcoholic and his wife Léa Elisabeth was designated his guardian in 1890. In 1891 the family left Vevey to settle in Basel, where Emile developed a new dental technique using gold chloride that led him to the invention of so-called Solila Gold. This dental filling material earned a gold medal in 1896 at the Geneva National Exhibition and Emile and his sons opened a dental products company in Basle, moving to Lausanne in 1896.

After the turn of the century, and his sons César and August formed a firm in 1910 to sell the product in the United States. To their surprise, American dental products were quite advanced, so the brothers decided instead to distribute these products in Europe. They formed a company called De Trey & Co Ltd. with another Swiss businessman they met in America, Charles Alfred Barbezat (1875-1938) of Le Locle. The Swiss operation became an SA in 1920.

Within a decade, E. de Trey & Sons was the sole distributor for the American Dentists' Supply Co. in Europe, expanding its market to cover Paris, Milan, Petrograd, Brussels, Zurich, New York, Moscow, Madrid, and London by 1923. The surging "Dentsply" company faced off against Ash Company of London, beginning a vicious price war that threatened the survival of both firms. In 1923 a settlement was brokered with the distribution of Ash and De Trey merging to form the Amalgamated Dental Company Limited under the leadership of Barbezat.

Although César de Trey was very involved with the family firm, it was his brother Auguste (1873-1934) who was primarily driving the company. Later his younger brother Emmanuel (1878-1970) took over.

Hermetica and the Ermeto

de Trey himself related a story of his entry into the watch trade. He says that he purchased a hermetic watch in 1927 for use while golfing, likely produced by Huguenin Frères of Le Locle, which patented the case in 1928 (Swiss patent 43381). It had an outer case to protect the watch from dust or damage. But he was unsatisfied with the durability of this watch and sought to improve it. According to de Trey, he approached the respected firm of Movado in La Chaux-de-Fonds asking for an improved hermetic watch case. This lead to the creation of the Ermeto in 1928, which was to be represented in international markets by de Trey. The watch featured a leather-covered metal case and automatic winding as the case was opened and closed, a real novelty at the time. The Ermeto brand was trademarked by Movado in January 1927 and maintained by the form for many decades after.

de Trey and Jules Savary (a local engineer) formed a Société Anonyme called Hermetica SA on September 26, 1927 to trade in "a variety of industrial products." The name suggests that this firm was primarily focused on the Hermetic watch. His son, merchant Jean-Pierre de Trey of Payerne, joined the firm a month later. César de Trey formed two more companies, Permaneo SA (to produce and sell devices and products related to hairdressing) and Electa Instruments et Produits Thérapeutiques SA (to produce and sell medical devices), the very next month. He would leave Electa in June 1930 and Hermetica was liquidated in July 1933.

Given the timing, it is almost certain that Hermetica SA was de Trey's international representative for the improved Movado-produced Ermeto watch starting in 1928.

Spécialités Horlogères and the Reverso

César de Trey, Jules-César Savary, accountant Maurice Racine, Jacques-David LeCoultre, and Jean-Pierre de Trey created another firm focused on the watch trade on November 14, 1931. Spécialités Horlogères SA was primarily a distributor of products produced by LeCoultre and Movado, notably the Ermeto and Reverso.

The commonly-heard story is that de Trey was on a business trip in British India when a polo player requested a wristwatch that could stand up to the rigor of sport. de Trey was said to have envisioned the slide-and-flip case of the Reverso himself, hiring engineer Alfred Chauvot to create a proper design. The famed Reverso case was registered in France on March 4 (patent L712868), May 27, and November 21, 1931 by René Alfred Chauvot, and received patent number 159982 in Switzerland on February 16, 1932.

The brand name Reverso was assigned to Marc César de Trey on November 4, 1931, while the brand name Uniplan was registered by Spécialités Horlogères SA on September 19, 1932. On December 22, 1932, Spécialités Horlogères received additional investment specifically to exploit the French Reverso patents (311388 and 29212). This registration specifies that it was invented by René Chauvot of Paris, produced by A. and E. Wenger of Geneva, and distributed by César and Jean-Pierre de Trey. Jacques Monod joined the board at this time, along with Richard Eberhard and André Wenger.


César de Trey was an outspoken critic of cut-throat competition and chablonnage, the export of watch movement parts for assembly by foreign competitors, which nearly lead to the ruin of the industry in the 1920s. He was credited with selling the Duoplan watch with an insurance policy as a way to prop up its price: Lloyds of London insured it against loss or damage for two years, and dealers were able to rapidly replace the tiny baguette shaped movement "in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette." The Duoplan was originally created in 1925 and this insurance plan was publicized prior to 1932.

On April 4 and 5, 1932, de Trey spoke at a conference in Montreux to unify the producers and distributors of fine Swiss watches against chablonnage. This conference was organized by E. Gubelin of Lucerne along with C. Zigerli of Berne and de Trey himself.

By 1933 the Reverso, Duoplan, Uniplan, and Atmos and Ados clocks were widely advertised by Spécialités Horlogères on behalf of LeCoultre. The firm was the general distributor for all products of LeCoultre & Cie. of Le Sentier. The firm also produced the Paddock, a travel case for women with space for cosmetics as well as a small clock, and the Vanity Case, a tabletop case with cigarettes and a removable clock. A later invention was a clip-on watch that could be attached to a cord or clothing.

Administrators Maurice Racine, Jean-Pierre de Trey, Jules-César Savary, Jacques Monod, and André Wenger were removed from the board of Spécialités Horlogères on November 28, 1933, replaced by Gustave Delage and Paul Lebet, close friends of Jacques-David LeCoultre and investors in his family firm and in Jaeger. Frenchman Delage became chairman of the board, replacing de Trey.

Death and Legacy

César de Trey died on March 30, 1935 at the age of 59. On October 9, 1935, the Reverso brand was transferred to Spécialités Horlogères. This was likely triggered by his death.

Spécialités Horlogères was renamed Sociédé de Vente des Produits Jaeger-LeCoultre SA on June 26, 1937, shortly after the union of those two firms. Richard Eberhard left the company at this time, leaving Jacques-David LeCoultre as chairman, Gustave Delage, Paul Lebet, and sportsman Edmond Audemars as the board.

External Links