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Pierce is the 20th century brand of Swiss watch manufacturer Léon Lévy Frères of Bienne and Moutier.

The Lévy Family in Switzerland

The Lévy family came from Hegenheim, and it is there that Gaspard Lévy (1814-1860) married Henriette Barbe-Schmoll (1820-1895) in 1849. Henriette was the daughter of a laborer, Salomon Schmoll, and it is likely that Gaspard was a simple peddler or craftsman. The family included eight children, three girls and five boys, one of whom died as an infant. Henri was the oldest son, born in 1851, followed by Moïse in 1853, Léon in 1856, and Théodore in 1859. Gaspard died in 1860, just as anti-semitism was rising again in the region. The Lévy sons saw Switzerland as an opportunity to establish a new life away from the pogroms. Moïse emigrated to Starrkirch in Solothurn in 1874 to escape conscription, followed by Léon and Théodore, who settled in Aegerten, close to Basel.

Léon Lévy Frères

It is unknown how Léon Lévy became involved in watchmaking, but the city of Bienne/Biel was actively seeking to expand this industry in the 1880s and set in place tax incentives to bring watchmakers to town. It is likely that Lévy entered an apprenticeship to a watchmaker before establishing his own workshop, since this is how most entered the trade at the time.

Léon Lévy and his brother founded a watch company in Bienne Switzerland in 1883 under the name Léon Lévy et Frère. The company was located at Rue Neuve 22. Another firm known Lévy Frères already existed in the city at Place de Moulin 7 and had been in operation since at least 1867. By 1890 Léon Lévy's firm was known as Léon Lévy et Frères and had moved to Quartier-Neuf 29. It moved to Rue Centrale 6 by 1893, just as the continuing firm of Lévy Frères moved a short distance down that same street.

Léon and his brothers sent for their mother to join them in Bienne in 1884, and she remained there with them until her death in 1895. By 1886, the Lévy workshop was said to employ 700 workers, manufacturing a wide range of watches. Léon married Léonie Grumbach that same year, an Alsatian from Colmar. They soon had two children, Margot (1887) and Pierre (1894).

By 1894, Léon Lévy et Frères had grown again and had returned to Rue Neuve 20.

Lévy moved to a new office at Faubourg du Lac 103a in Bienne by 1902 and became a Société Anonyme the following year. Located in the "Rockhall" complex opposite the main post office, it was situated on a rocky outcrop known as Jägerstein. This villa complex is on the hills above the city and is a short distance from Aegler's Rolex factory but is not suited for large-scale production. This office would be the official office of the company through 1965, at which time the company (known called Pierce) moved to a modern office building at Quai du Bas 92.

In Moutier

By 1896, Léon Lévy et Frères had established an operation in Moutier, and this would grow to become the focus of the company. Lévy Fréres purchased 23 acres of land in Moutier from a Bernese banker in the 1890s for 21, 420 francs. Although the company's official address remained in Bienne for another decade at least, the "Usine a Moutier, G. V." (Moutier steam-powered factory) was increasingly important to the company and the large factory was even featured in advertisements in the 1940s. The factory remained the center of production for Lévy and Pierce through at least 1958.

It is widely reported in modern times that Lévy employed 1,500 people by 1910, and this is often compared to the 23,000 inhabitants of Bienne at that time. But this number likely also included the Moutier workers, which made up the majority of it. Moutier was said to employe a thousand workers there around this time, producing two thousand movements a day. Many of these were cased by the company into inexpensive watches for export.

In 1908, Léon's daughter Margot married Geneva silk merchant Lucien Flegenheimer. His father, Clara née Nordmann, was also from Hegenheim and his father was a ribbon peddler like Gaspard Lévy.

After World War I, Lévy expanded rapidly with the export boom but suffered quickly after 1920 amid cutthroat competition. It is said that the company reduced its workforce by half at this time, and was approached by Ebauches SA later in the decade to sell their movement operation. But Lévy refused, becoming one of the dissident watchmakers that resisted the strict export controls of the 1930s.

From Lévy to Pierce

Léon Lévy himself died in Paris in 1934 at the age of 78. He was buried in the Jewish section of the Montparnasse cemetery, leaving control of the company to the sons of Moïse, Henri and Adrien, to take over the company. Adrien was commercial manager while Henri focused on manufacturing.

The younger Lévy brothers were interested in expanding the company as an export brand. They initiated the Pierce brand in the 1930s and established an office in New York on Beekman Street. While Léon Lévy focused on the Eclipse brand, they used the Rocail and Darius names, along with Pierce for mass produced products.

Léon Lévy was one of the pioneers of automatic watches, registering Swiss patent 172,127 in 1933 for a movement that shifted longitudinally inside the case to wind. This was quite different from the later rotary approaches but was somewhat similar to the contemporary designs. The movement was widely produced through the following decades. Another innovation of the company was a waterproof case. It featured a back held in place with screws, which was quite different from the snap or screwed back cases manufactured by others.

But it was patent 195,382 of 1935 that truly established Pierce on the international stage. This was a chronograph with a vertical clutch, the first such mechanism ever produced. Pierce was forced to develop it entirely in-house since Ebauches SA and UBAH refused to trade with the dissident firm. This inexpensive chronograph was a wide success at the Berlin olympics in 1936 and was widely exported.

Pierce SA

The Pierce chronograph was so successful that the Lévy brothers adopted that name exclusively in 1938, renaming the firm Manufacture des Montres et Chronographes Pierce." Although the early models were mono-pusher, a two-pusher model appeared in 1939, which remains famous today because the function of these pushers is reversed from other brands.

From the 1930s Pierce produced in series the first self-developed calibre. The Royal Air Force awarded the contract for the development and construction of the pilot's watch Flight Calendar. In 1956 Pierce presents the mechanical alarm wristwatch Duofon. The name refers to its ability to deliver the alarm signal in two volumes, loud or silent. A window in the dial indicates the selected setting.

Like many Swiss watchmakers, Pierce experienced a boom in international sales after World War II, and their success was especially acute since they produced their watches entirely in-house in Moutier and were thus able to undercut the cartel on price. Other models included a compact watch with a full calendar and moon phase, introduced in 1952, and a new automatic model called the Correctomatic in 1955. The company also adopted the pi symbol on their watch dials by 1953. Another unusual model was an alarm watch called the Duofon which featured two different settings, in 1956.

The only new model in the 1960s was the Intercosmos of 1964, with day and date. But the company was then in decline, and ceased producing movements entirely in the 1970s. The Moutier factory was closed and later sold to ETA.

Even during the quartz crisis in 1970, the company remains faithful to the principle of the purely mechanical watch and sees no need for a change.

The temporarily shut brand has been revived in 2005. The current models can be described as low-priced. They are named Arabesque, Observer, Commander, Air Command, Calendar Flight and Ocean Drive. Their design is inspired by the well-known historical models of the brand. Today still Swiss movements are used, while the final assembly and regulation of the watches takes place in Germany.


Pierce 1883 Repräsentanzkontor Europe
Demminer Str. 23
D-17159 Dargun
Tel. (+49) 039959-173-00



  • "La Maison Léon Lévy & Frères SA", Revue Internationale d'Horlogerie, 1936, p.210
  • Journal Suisse d'Horlogerie, 1955, 1-2
  • From Colportage à l'edition, Catherine Lawton-Lévy, Métropolis edition, 2004