Paul Schwarz-Etienne

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Paul-Arthur Schwarz-Etienne (1870-1940) was a watchmaker known for the La Chaux-de-Fonds firm of Schwarz-Etienne which he founded in 1905. He married Olga Etienne, taking on her name to become Schwarz-Etienne, which Schwarz-Etienne his firm still uses.

Early Life

Paul Schwarz was born in 1870 in Lauperswil in German-speaking Canton Berne. His daughter Helyette was born around 1890 in Le Noirmont, a watch town in the French-speaking Swiss Jura near the border with France, so he may have begun his career there. It is likely that he was married to Olga Etienne before this time, and he took her name formally, becoming Paul Schwarz-Etienne. His three sons, Gaston, Herbert, and Henri, were born between 1893 and 1896 in Trubschachen, which is located very close to Paul Schwarz' home town of Lauperswill, so he must have returned there.

Paul and his brother Emile appear to have moved together to La Chaux-de-Fonds by 1898, likely drawn by the booming watch industry there. Paul became a remonteur, working for one of the established firms in the city and living at Rue du Progrés 71. His brother left shortly after, and Paul moved to Rue Numa-Droz 98 by 1902. He remained employed by one of the city's watchmakers as a remonteur until 1905.

Paul Schwarz was a musician as well, playing double bass in "Les Armés-Reunies" in La Chaux-de-Fonds from 1898 through 1920. He also served as an administrator for the group and was its president by 1908 and later served as its chairman. He also instigated a music competition in the city in 1913. His three sons joined the group as well, and were connected with it until their deaths.

Independent Watchmaker

Paul Schwarz-Etienne appears to have set up shop as an independent watchmaker in 1905. This is the year specified in a 1918 business filing, and it lines up with the first appearance (in 1906) of "Schwarz, Paul, horlogerie" as an independent firm in Annuaire. Although many sources today claim that the firm was founded in 1902 there is no support for this in primary sources. Paul Schwarz is listed as an independent watchmaker in Indicateur Davoine in 1908.

The company began in a small workshop and operated from the family home at Rue Numa-Droz 98. The family relocated to Rue du Pax 85 by 1907 and Paul continued to operate his watchmaking business from this address. His brother Ernest had returned to La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1905 and soon came to work with Paul.

Paul's daughter Helyette and son Gaston joined the watchmaking industry by 1914, and his children would soon boost the home workshop into a much larger group of businesses. Gaston was a remonteur like his father, while Helyette was a régulier, and the siblings worked with their father. Unmarried, Helyette lived with her brother and his wife at Avenue Léopold-Robert 58 by 1916. The pair would found Sultana together in 1935 and were also very involved in other family businesses.

During World War I Paul and Gaston were able to continue working as watchmakers, though Helyette became a tailor. Paul's two other sons, Herbert and Henri, joined the family business by 1918, with Henri serving as a remonteur like his father while Herbert became an accountant. On July 1, 1918, Paul-Arthur Schwarz re-registered his business as Schwarz-Etienne, though he had personally used the name for decades. Still he was often simply called Paul Schwarz in business listings.

The Sons Take Over

The watchmaking firm of the Schwarz-Etienne family outgrew their home and moved into a dedicated workshop at Rue du Parc 128 in 1920. In the 1920s, Schwarz-Etienne specialized in small and highly-styled watches with movements as small as 5 ligne. The company relocated again about 1926, moving to Rue Jacob Brandt 61.

Olga Schwarz-Etienne died on January 23, 1931 after a long illness, and Paul stepped back from the business in June of that year. The firm was renamed Paul Schwarz-Etienne & Co., reflecting the increased importance of Gaston, Herbert, and Henri, though they remained limited partners legally. By 1932 it was moved back to Parc 130. By now Schwarz-Etienne had parlayed their success in ladies and jewelry watches into the production of fine wristwatches for men. The company exhibited at the 1933 Salon Suisse de l'Horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds and they impressed the crowds with their moderate prices and good quality.

In early 1936 the three brothers took over the firm completely, renaming it Fils de Paul Schwarz-Etienne. At the same time the company leased the famous and iconic "Palais Invar", formerly the home to Achille Hirsch's Montres Invar and the 1933 Salon, at Avenue Léopold-Robert 94. This high-profile showroom along the main road in La Chaux-de-Fonds would be home to the company through at least 1988. The building also housed Le Phare, which was merged with the family's Sultana in 1950.

Paul Schwarz-Etienne suffered a long illness in the 1930s and died on October 22, 1940 in Berne, where he had traveled for an operation. He was especially remembered for his involvement in Les Armes Réunies and the local football and billiards clubs.

The firm of Schwarz-Etienne was continued by his sons as Les Fils de Paul Schwarz-Etienne and retains his name to this day. They survived into the 1950s, when the third generation took over.

Family Tree