Martel Watch

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Martel Watch Company was a Swiss watch movement company in the 20th century.

Georges Pellaton's Martel Factory

Georges Pellaton-Steudler began his own watchmaking company in Le Locle by 1910, focusing on repetition and chronograph movements. This category was rapidly rising, especially in Le Locle, and Pellaton soon became a favored producer. The company is first listed in Indicateur Davoine in 1913 as Georges Pellaton-Steudler, maker of "Répétitions et Chronographes" at 5 Rue du Chemin-Blanc in Le Locle and is shown in the Annuaire by 1910. Georges was the son of famed tourbillon creator Albert Pellaton-Favre and brother of Le Locle watchmaking school director Jämes-Cesar Pellaton.

On June 23, 1914, the Martel Watch Co. was established in Ponts-de-Martel by Pellaton-Steudler, though the Le Locle office remained active as well through the 1920s. Additional members of the company included watchmaker Albert Guye (partner in Mathey-Tissot) and accountant Bernard Perret-Roulet, both of whom lived in Ponts-de-Martel.

Martel's initial production facilities were modest and distributed throughout Ponts-de-Martel with the company's original office located on Rue de l'Industrie. The famous headquarters building was then only one floor above a garage, and this is where ebauches were produced. These were shipped to a different factory above Mathey-Tissot at Rue de l'Industrie for finishing. Ponts-de-Martel is located near Le Locle, home of Zenith and Universal, and the company long shared some production and management with those companies.

Bernard Perret-Roulet left the company in June 1919, exactly five years after it was founded, and was replaced by René-Philippe Pellaton, George's son. Trained as an accountant, René would continue with the firm until it was acquired by Zénith in 1959. It is also noted this year that Georges Pellaton-Steudler officially moved from Le Locle to Ponts-de-Martel to manage the business in person, though it appears that this happened before 1916 in the Le Locle directory. Ten years later, in 1929, René's brothers Georges (junior) and Raoul Pellaton joined the board as the company's financing was expanded from 100,000 to 150,000 francs. In 1933, co-founder Albert Guye left the firm and it was reorganized with Georges Pellaton (senior) as president, Georges Pellaton-Perrelet (junior) as vice-president, and René-Philippe Pellaton as secretary.

As early as 1917, Martel began specializing in chronograph movements, working with Universal (then in Le Locle) for a movement that the company boasted was the world's first wrist chronograph. These were mono-pusher movements with the chronograph pusher integrated into the crown as on pocket chronographs. In 1932, Universal launched what they claimed was the world’s first two-pusher wrist watch chronograph. With its dual-subdial design and pushers at 2:00 and 4:00, these remain the template for all future chronograph watches. They were powered by the Universal 281 movement, produced in Les Ponts-de-Martel by Martel. A year or two later, in 1933 or 1934, Universal launched a three-subdial chronograph, also called the world's first. Zenith and Universal named these chronograph designs compur and compax around 1936, a name which has stuck ever since.

The Martel chronograph movements were available in sizes from 12 to 15.75 lignes and with two or three counters, but all were essentially similar. This was the hallmark of Georges Pellaton (then called Pellaton-Dubois after his second marriage) who was focused on simplifying complicated watch movements and using as many identical components as possible. These movements were called Cal. 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 287, 288, and 292 by Universal or 122, 136, 146, 156, and 166 by Zénith. Universal was apparently in charge of casing the chronograph movements and delivering them to their customers or to their partner Zénith.

In 1937 the Martel factory was unified, with the garage below replaced by new workshops. Georges Pellaton retired in 1940 as Universal Genève took a larger stake in the firm. Management of the company was taken on by his three sons, Georges, René, and Raoul. Pellaton senior died in April 1950.

Martel and Universal

Universal Genève provided funding to completely renovate the building in 1941, and two floors and an attic were added. The facade of the building then carried the name "Universal", and the company proclaimed that chronograph movements produced there were built in-house. This was facilitated by Universal president Raoul Perret, who served on the board of Martel and Zénith as well. The Martel Watch Co. was still in the hands of the Pellaton family at this time, however, and celebrated the 30th anniversary of their move to Ponts-de-Martel in 1945.

The next great advancement for Martel, with partners Universal and Zenith, was the introduction of a wrist watch chronograph with a calendar complication. Launched around 1942, the new four-subdial design added a dial at 12:00 to show the date, two adjacent windows for day and month, and optional moon phase indicators were also added two years later.

In 1952 an annex was added to the factory with new modern equipment. In the 1950s, Martel began marketing watches with their own brand name, both time-only and chronograph models. One notable model in the mid 1950s was the Martel Victorious, an automatic movement with date in a waterproof case.

Universal built their own new factory near Geneva in 1956, dramatically reducing demand but opening new opportunities for Martel. The late 1950s saw new products and customers, including an increasing reliance on their own brand. But Zenith would soon step in and change the fate of the company.

Martel Watches

After becoming independent from Universal, Martel quickly established itself as a full watchmaker once again. This included registering a variety of logotypes, the most widely-used being a winged V in a circle, and models.

Martel issues a catalog of branded watches in 1954 under commercial director John Matthys. The key product of this time was a line of automatic watches with calendar called Victorious. These were produced in waterproof steel cases with a gold plated version also available. The company boasted of "extreme regularity, ensured by the almost continuous operation of the rotor and by precision adjustment, the date well readable, changing automatically, perfect protection against shocks, a high-quality unbreakable spring, subjected individually to the tests of strength, a self-compensating and anti-magnetic spiral, ensuring a running of the same precision at any temperature."

Martel's highlight at the 1957 Basel Fair was the Lady Dream, the smallest automatic watch ever produced. It used Martel's own Cal. 613.

Zénith and Martel

Starting as early as 1942, Zenith had also used Excelsior Park chronograph movements from Saint-Imier and Le Sentier, but they continued to rely on Martel. Eventually, in 1959, Zenith purchased Martel and absorbed its expertise, movement designs, and production facilities. This acquisition filled a need at Zenith not just for chronograph movements but also for a well-developed automatic movement. The Zenith Cal. 25x2, produced at the Martel factory, would be the company's primary movement through the 1960s.

Zenith planned to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the company in 1965 with a revolutionary product that brought together Martel's skill in chronograph and automatic movements: An automatic chronograph. Development started almost immediately after the acquisition but was derailed by economic issues in the mid-1960s. Still, Martel was able to deliver the movement a few years late, and the Zenith El Primero is widely regarded as one of the finest movement designs of the era. Martel even added a full calendar and moon phase for the 1971 Zenith Espada.

Throughout the 1960s, the Martel factory was still called Martel Watch locally but was treated as a branch of Zénith. It became part of Movado-Zenith-Mondia when that group was founded in 1969 and Zenith Time after the 1972 purchase of the group by Zenith of Chicago. But it was closed just before Dixi purchased Zenith and thus was not rescued by Paul Castella like so many other local watch brands and factories.

The Martel factory slowly dwindled in staff until January 1976 when the decision was made to close the factory. By this time it employed just 36 people (down from 100 at its peak) and all were offered new positions in Le Locle. The remaining equipment was liquidated at auction in August, though the El Primero tooling was retained in the attic of the Zenith factory in Le Locle. A maker of meat pies was to take over the factory in 1977 but this move was delayed by a fire in January of that year. Although the building was damaged, it was able to open later in the year.

Through the Universal and Zénith periods, the Martel factory was lead by three sons of the founder, Georges, René, and Raoul. Raoul Pellaton (1902-1977) died in April 1977. René died in 1982, and his estate bequeathed the annex of the factory building to the village in 1991.

Martel Calibres

  • Cal. 1016 - 10.5 ligne chronograph (for Universal Genève)
  • Cal. 1226/1326/1426 - 12.25/13/14.3 ligne chronograph (for Universal Genève)
  • Cal. 1416/1516 - 14.3/15 ligne chronograph (for Universal Genève)
  • Cal. 1916 - 19 ligne chronograph
  • Cal. 749 - 14 ligne chronograph (aka Universal 285 and Zenith 146)

Martel Chronology

Georges Pellaton-Steudler

  • 1911 - Georges Pellaton-Steudler founds his watchmaking firm in Le Locle; his son Georges Pellaton-Rickli immediately joins the firm
  • 1914
  • 1917 - Martel begins supplying Perret et Berthoud with chronograph movements for their Universal watch; Raoul Pellaton joins the company
  • 1919 - June 2 - Bernard Perret-Roulet is removed as director, replaced by René-Philippe Pellaton, accountant and son of the founder
  • 1923 - February 16 - Martel received Swiss patent 34579 for a simple watch movement
  • 1929 - December 20 - Capital is expanded to 150,000 francs; Georges Pellaton and Raoul Pellaton are managers, while the board presumably remains the same
  • 1932 - Universal Genève begins selling the first two-pusher wrist chronograph with a Martel-made movement
  • 1933 - June 1 - Albert Guye leaves the board; the company is reorganized with Georges Pellaton (senior) as president, Georges Pellaton-Perrelet (junior) as vice-president, and René-Philippe Pellaton as secretary
  • 1934 - Universal Genève begins selling the first three-subdial chronograph (later called Compax) with a Martel-made movement
  • 1936 - February 19 - Swiss patent 56293 is awarded to Martel, showing the "Compax" dial arrangement
  • 1937 - The Martel factory is enlarged, taking over the garages on the ground floor
  • 1940 - The Martel factory is raised, with two additional floors added; founder Georges Pellaton retires

Under Universal Genève

  • 1942
    • March 12 - A special shareholder meeting is held which completely overhauls the company; Raoul Perret of Universal becomes president, Georges Pellaton (senior) is vice president, René-Philippe Pellaton is secretary; Georges Pellaton and Raoul Pellaton handle day-to-day management; the company headquarters is Rue Neuve 21
    • The Martel factory wears the "Universal" name
    • Universal Genève launches a four-subdial Tri-Compax chronograph
  • 1944 - A fund for workers is established
  • 1948 - December 23 - A trademark is registered featuring a left-facing arrow through the capital letter "M" for watches
  • 1950 - Founder Georges Pellaton dies
  • 1951 - December 29 - A trademark is registered of the name "MARTEL" for complete watches
  • 1952 - A factory annex is constructed next door
  • 1955
    • April 5 - Following the death of Georges Pellaton-Steudler, Raoul Pellaton is named vice-president; John-Oscar-Alphonse Matthys is made commercial director
    • April 27 - The "Flying V" trademark is registered, along with a similar mark inside an "O"
    • July 20 - The "Martel Victorious" brand name is registered
    • November 12 - A variety of similar "Flying V" trademarks are registered, including in Arabic

Independent Again

  • 1956 - May 4 - Universal divests from Martel and Raoul Perret leaves the board; Raoul Pellaton becomes president, Georges Pellaton is vice president, and René Pellaton is secretary, while Robert Maire becomes technical director and joins the board
  • 1957
    • March 16 - Robert Maire's design for an automatic winding mechanism receives Swiss patent 337457 for Martel
    • May 1 - The "Lady-Dream" brand is registered
    • December 3 - Georges Pellaton's design for an automatic winding clutch receives Swiss patent 343300 for Martel

Under Zenith

See also