Fabrique Nationale de Spiraux

From Grail Watch Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Fabrique Nationale de Spiraux was a dissident maker of balance springs in La Chaux-de-Fonds operating from 1905 through 1929. The company was officially registered as La Nationale-Spiraux SA in November 1905 (though even then it used the name "Fabrique Nationale"), briefly represented Paul Perret's Invar springs, and merged with the defunct competitor G.-A. Ulrich (formerly Bucher-Moser) in 1914. The company was purchased by the FSR cartel and merged with Stella and W. Ruch & Cie.

La Nationale-Spiraux

La Nationale-Spiraux was officially formed on November 7, 1905 at Rue de la Charrière 37 in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The company was founded by Alphonse Gogler (1866-1945), a well-known watchmaker who took over the Indicateur Davoine directory in 1902, styling himself a publisher and industry leader. Gogler was a founding member of the Société Suisse des Spiraux in 1898, which was formed by watchmakers to resist the control of the Fabriques de Spiraux Réunies cartel, which had been formed a few years earlier. The creation of La Nationale-Spiraux reflected Gogler's impatience with the growth of SSS and his desire to break the cartel's control.

La Nationale-Spiraux was a Société Anonyme funded with 30,000 francs, enough to come up to speed quickly but not nearly the 125,000 francs used to set up SSS. The workshop was located at Rue de la Charrière 37, the same building used by SSS since 1902. The industry group closed that shop in 1908, moving all manufacturing to Geneva, and it is likely that Gogler's operation was a continuation of production, perhaps using the same suite and machinery. This location was previously used by Eugene Cattin and would later be used by Eugène Couleru's Montres Octo and by Fritz Jetter to produce watch cases under the Diala name in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Annuaire shows the balance spring operation at Charrière 37 as Société Suisse des Spiraux in 1902 and 1903 but as "Fabrique Nationale des Spiraux" starting in 1904. This suggests a de facto change for the operation, which was certainly transitioned from the industry group to Gogler's company by the end of the following year. It also lists the operation (and many other spring factories) under the "Réglages" category, suggesting that these workshops provided regulation as well as manufacturing services.

Paul Perret's Invar Springs

In 1898, La Chaux-de-Fonds regulator and inventor Paul Perret announced that he would exclusively manufacture balance springs using the Invar nickel-steel alloy invented by Charles-Edouard Guillaume and himself. He set up a factory in Fleurier to produce these springs, which promised to upset the entire balance spring industry. Although Perret actively advertised them for sale that year, it is likely that it took a few more years to perfect the material and manufacturing process, and his company was bankrupt in 1902. But production continued despite stiff resistance from the FSR cartel, which took over the operation in 1906, two years after Perret's death.

It is surprising, therefore, that Annuaire lists "Spiraux compensateurs Paul Perret" under Société des Fabriques de Spiraux Réunies in 1903. Perhaps this is an error, since this listing falls under Fabrique Nationale des Spiraux from 1904 through 1907. It is more likely that Perret's factory, which was reorganized as an SA on December 23, 1902, was re-capitalized with an investment from the Société Suisse des Spiraux or Gogler himself. The Fleurier factory remained in operation after Perret's death under Albert Welter with a board made up of respected businessmen and national councillors Henri Wittwer and Edouard Ledermann.

It is likely that Gogler's Fabrique Nationale served as a depot and distributor for Paul Perret's Invar balance springs until the firm was purchased by the FSR cartel in September of 1906. Starting in 1908, Perret's springs were advertised under Fabriques de Spiraux Réunies.

Fabrique Nationale de Spiraux

During World War I, the La Nationale-Spiraux was officially renamed Fabrique Nationale de Spiraux. The company moved to Rue du Pont 8 and 10, and share capital was increased to 60,000 francs as the purpose of the company was changed to allow acquisitions of other firms. These actions were taken at meetings on May 7, 1914 and September 29, 1916.

In 1916, Fabrique Nationale purchased the assets of Bucher-Moser & Cie. Fritz Bucher-Moser began manufacturing balance springs in Saint-Imier by 1902 but soon moved to La Chaux-de-Fonds. He formed a company there called Bucher-Moser & Cie with funding from brewer Charles-Auguste Girardet. His factory was located at Rue de l'Industrie 16 but soon relocated to Rue de la Chapelle 3. The company used a fox as its logo. The firm was renamed G.-A. Ulrich in 1913 but failed by 1914 and was closed.

Gustave Ulrich, director of the failed firm, joined Fabrique Nationale to manage operations. Gogler and Ulrich would work together in many businesses afterwards, but Gogler officially left the company at this time. Ulrich proved to be a shrewd businessman and developed this business into a success over the following decade. He impressed Gogler enough to be brought in as a board member for a new graphic design and printing business called Artographic in 1917. The third board member was none other than Saint-Imier balance spring maker Emile Schweingruber. Although the company failed in 1923, it brought together these "dissident" balance spring makers.

Fabrique Nationale de Spiraux was reorganized in 1926, with 60,000 francs of additional share capital raised. Ulrich remaining as the sole owner. The factory was listed at Serre 106 in 1926, but another filing showed the move from Pont 8 and 10 to Serra 106 in 1933. He soon brought in his brother Arthur Ulrich, who assisted him for decades.

Fabriques de Spiraux Réunies

The hairspring operation of Fabrique Nationale merged with Ernest Dubois' Stella in La Chaux-de-Fonds and W. Ruch & Cie in Saint-Imier in 1929 under the overall ownership of Fabriques de Spiraux Réunies, with Dubois and Ulrich joining the board of the cartel. This was the end of balance spring production by Fabrique Nationale.

Ulrich resigned in 1932 to focus on other types of springs. Fabrique Nationale thus became a leading producer of non-balance springs, with Ulrich managing the company. He brought in Louis Huguenin and Albert Perret in 1946 and renamed the company Fabrique Nationale de Ressorts in 1952.

Ulrich also served on the board for W. Ruch & Cie after Nivarox was split off, joining in 1944 along with Ernest Dubois and Louis Huguenin. The trio continued to run the company after the sudden death of Werner Ruch in an automobile accident in 1952, though all three left and handed the company to a new generation in 1959 following Ulrich's death.

Ulrich remained involved in balance spring production, however. He was part of the management committee for FSR and was specifically the commercial director for the La Chaux-de-Fonds branch of the cartel from 1953.

Ulrich's La Chaux-de-Fonds factory soon became the Jardinière branch of the Fabrique Nationale de Spiraux and Fabrique Nationale de Ressorts. Ulrich himself was director of the new cartel while remaining managing director and commercial director of his own factory.