Fritz Marti

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Frédéric "Fritz" Marti (1892-1983) was a Swiss engineer and businessman famous for inventing Incabloc and leading Portescap.

Early Life

Friederich or Frédéric (called "Fritz") Marti was born in Lyss on February 18, 1892. His family were poor farmers, with a few cows and horses, and young Fritz worked in the fields. He was sent to Bevaix to learn French, showing quick aptitude for learning. On the advice of an aunt, his father sent Fritz to the technical school in Berthoud. He lived with his aunt there, working hard around the house and studying late into the night.

Marti moved on to the Technicum in Saint-Imier, obtaining a cantonal certificate and gaining his first exposure to the watch industry in the watch town. His next step at just 18 years of age was Zurich, where he earned a baccalaureate at the Lémania Institute before entering the polytechnic university. His skills there earned him a spot as a laboratory assistant, meeting Georges Braunschweig, his future business partner. Marti also served as an assistant to Albert Einstein at ETH for a time.

On graduating from ETH with a degree in mechanical and electrical engineering, Marti received offers to work in the United States. But World War I had started and he was instead called into the Swiss military. He instead applied for a position as director of the Technicum in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1915, despite being just 23 years old. Declaring "Knowledge has no age", the president of the committee hired the young and talented Marti.


Despite taking the prestigious position as director of the Technicum in La Chaux-de-Fonds at a young age, Fritz Marti resigned in 1919 to join his friend from ETHZ, Georges Braunschweig at his family watchmaking firm, Election. His responsibilities there included examining manufacturing plans, and Marti quickly learned much about the business of manufacturing watches. An accounting scandal erupted at Election and the firm was facing bankruptcy in 1929. Georges Braunschweig was a technician and researcher, unlike his brother Lucien who ran the firm, and was acquitted of wrongdoing.

Marti saw first-hand the fragility of the balance staff and sought to better protect watches against shocks. His invention would be called Incabloc for "incassable" ("unbreakable"): It was a combination of a conical jewel with a movable block or cap held in place with a clip. Seeing the potential of the invention, Marti brought in Henri Quaile and Roland Bloch to form Le Porte-Echappement Universo SA to commercialize it. Raising 50,000 francs, the company was incorporated on January 21, 1931. Bloch was removed at the general meeting of the firm in 1934, replaced by Marti's old friend (and heir to the Election company), Georges Braunschweig. This year also saw the commercialization of Incabloc.

Marti remained with the firm for many years, dedicated to his laboratory and inventions. Braunschweig (followed by his son and ETHZ physicist Philippe) directed the massive growth and market share of the firm, while Quaile focused on manufacturing. Renamed Portescap in 1963, the company capitalized on Marti's inventions, shifted to electronics and micro-motors, and lived through the quartz crisis. Fritz Marti retired from Portescap in 1967.

When the University of Neuchâtel awarded him an honorary doctorate for his contribution to science, technology, Neuchâtel watchmaking, and the Swiss economy, he replied simply "But no, I'm not a scientist, an applicator, at most! You see, of the approximately one hundred and thirty patents that I filed in half a century, the one that put our factory at the pinnacle of success was the one that was all beef: the Incabloc. But beware, this all beef still had to be tirelessly perfected. Advertising can make a product triumph. If he is not more and more perfect, he will perish like so many others."

Personal Life and Legacy

Fritz Marti married Blanche-Caroline Senaud (March 2 1887-May 1949) on June 8, 1918. His children include Davyd Marti (January 1923-2002), Ewan Marti (1927-2009), and Rose-Roxan Marti (1926-?). He married Marta or Martha (perhaps Bellani) of Nyon later in life, and she survived him.

Fritz Marti died in Nyon on December 24, 1983, at the age of 91. He was widely memorialized and remembered as a "genius" with many eccentric hobbies.