Consul is a historic Swiss watch brand established in La Chaux-de-Fonds tracing its roots to 1900. The brand was associated with the Hueguenin family before passing to Charles Virchaux around 1934. Virchaux' marriage connected him to Girard-Perregaux and Consul fell under Girard-Perregaux Holding from 1969 through 1979. It was then owned by Desco von Schulthess, parent company for Maurice Lacroix, until 1996. Consul is currently located in Neuchâtel and focuses on the Asian market.
François Huguenin and Charles Virchaux
According to company tradition, watchmaker François Huguenin (1864-1940) established a watch workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1900 and registered the Consul brand in 1901 or 1904. Consul claimed to be "since 1901" in advertising in the 1980s, though other sources list 1900 as their start date. The company celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1950, suggesting this earlier date. But there is no record of this in primary sources, nor any evidence of the Consul brand until the 1930s.
The Huguenin workshop at Concorde 7 in La Chaux-de-Fonds was first listed in 1904, with François' son Louis-François Huguenin listed as proprietor. Located in the hills above town, it was a small operation, consisting mainly of family members, and each was simply listed by their trade. This suggests that it was not as a watch manufacturer but simply a workshop supplying others.
All of this changed in 1923 when a notice in the local paper appears clarifying that Louis-François Huguenin was the "chef de la Maison Huguenin," and the firm was now listed as a true watchmaker. François Huguenin's wife Bertha (née Aebi) died in 1934, with ownership passing to Charles Virchaux, who had worked in the shop since 1920. Louis-François had married one of Charles' sisters, and sometimes listed his last name as Huguenin-Virchaux. The operation is listed as being run by François Huguenin through 1952, but Charles Virchaux was the owner of Montres Consul. François Huguenin died on July 15, 1940, with Virchaux now firmly in charge.
The first mention of the Consul brand comes in Indicateur Davoine in 1938, though Charles Virchaux had been listed as a full watchmaker at Concorde 7 since 1934. This is the same year that the company's address is moved to Avenue Léopold-Robert 63, a high-profile address on the main boulevard. This move signifies the change in status from a small workshop at the Huguenin home to a true watch brand, though it was likely still limited to final assembly and shipping.
Eglantine and Valory
Louis-François Huguenin-Virchaux registered Eglantine SA on November 24, 1933, with the address shown as Concorde 7. This business passed to the control of Charles Virchaux in 1942 after a brief administratorship following Louis-François death in 1941. Eglantine was taken over by Valory of Geneva in 1944, and Charles Virchaux soon became president of that company as well. Valory remained active through the 1970s, though the Eglantine brand was not continued past the 1940s.
Charles Virchaux passed his share of the business to his son Charles-Edouard Virchaux in 1942. He would become an important figure in the watchmaking world, running Girard-Perregaux Holding through the 1970s.
Consul received recognition for "50 years at the Basel Fair" in 1991, suggesting that they first exhibited in 1941. By 1946 Virchaux and Consul had relocated to a true factory at Rue Numa-Droz 141, an address they would use until 1970 at least. It is at this time that Consul began producing watches in volume. This factory was formerly the home of Blum Frères, White Star, and Calendar Watch and appears to have been built around 1920.
On May 23, 1950, the company was officially renamed from "Charles Virchaux, succ. de François Huguenin, Montres Consul" to "Charles Virchaux, Montres Consul." It became simply "Montres Consul S.A." in 1962.
Consul and Girard-Perregaux
Charles-Edouard Virchaux married Paulette Graef, heir and owner of Girard-Perregaux, in 1951. He would slowly become responsible for both companies, combining them in the 1960s. Virchaux became a director of Girard-Perregaux in 1958, and continued to run the company until it was acquired on September 6, 1979, the day after Paulette's death.
In 1952, Consul won a chronometer certificate from the Neuchâtel Observatory, and this fact was celebrated for decades to come. The company had been testing all of its watches since 1946 and boasted chronometer status for many watches in the 1950s.
A 1954 advertisement in Europa Star shows Consul as a producer of 21 jewel watches with a 1st prize from the Neuchâtel Observatory chronometer competition in 1953. The company is also listed as the producer of Landi brand watches at that time. Consul was shown at the Basel Fair in 1957, and both Consul and Landi were shown from 1959 through 1962.
Consul listed a 30 jewel automatic calendar wristwatch in 1965, along with a men's fob-style watch with a square or round case. The company was using the Orly brand by this point as well. The company listed ladies pendant watches in the 1960s as well.
The company was officially named Montres Consul SA by 1966 with the same address that Virchaux had listed. Consul and Landi again exhibited at Basel that year through 1972. The Consul Alertic, introduced by 1969, was a dual-crown alarm watch.
In 1977, Consul is listed as a subsidiary of Girard-Perregaux, Rue Girardet 1, La Chaux-de-Fonds. The company had adjoining booths with Girard-Perregaux at Basel since 1972, and appears to have specialized in pendant watches by this point.
Girard-Perregaux was sold by Desco in 1985.
Catamaran and Consul
Consul had launched the Catamaran brand in 1983, with a line of nautical themed watches. A shockproof Catamaran Turbo was shown in 1985. A new design Catamaran followed at Basel in 1987, with a line of complicated quartz calendar models launched the next year. The Consul brand was no longer featured on the watches.
Montres Consul moved from La Chaux-de-Fonds to Bienne in 1986. By 1992, Consul was listed as "operating independently" within Desco Zurich. The Catamaran was still their major product line at this time, and in 1994 this was listed as a separate division of the company, with a new "double hull" design. An Europa Star report suggests that Catamaran had sold 120,000 units in 1993, and present in 52 international markets.
Consul was sold by Desco in 1996, and the company was moved to Neuchâtel in 1998. By the 2000s Consul brand watches were once again on the market. Most were fashionable watches with jewels or mother of pearl.