Portescap was the common name for Le Porte-Echappement Universel SA, the maker of Incabloc, Triovis, Vibrograf and other watch-related devices. Today, Portescap SA continues as a maker of miniature electric motors while Incabloc SA, a separate company, continues in the watchmaking field.
Porte-Echappement and Incabloc
Le Porte-Echappement Universel SA was established in 1931 to commercialize the Incabloc shock protection system, which was introduced two years later. The company was founded by Frédéric "Fritz" Marti, inventor of Incabloc, who had learned of the need for an effective balance staff shock protector while working at Election. Georges Braunschweig was later said to be co-founder with Marti, but he did not officially join the board until 1934. This may be because Braunschweig, son of the founder of Election, was embroiled in that company's 1929 bankruptcy, though he was absolved of responsibility as he was not a director.
Instead of Braunschweig, Marti brought two others into Porte-Echappement as managers. Henri Quaile, of la Brévine, was responsible for manufacturing, a position he retained for decades. Roland Bloch of Bordeaux, France, served as board secretary and business manager, though he was replaced by Georges Braunschweig in 1934. Le Porte-Echappement was located across the street from Election's massive factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds, and Braunschweig would lead the company to become a dominant factory in the city as the rest of his family worked to re-establish Election.
Fritz Marti was a prolific inventor, having patents for numerous inventions including electric clocks and watch cases in the 1920s and 1930s. His system, which would become known as Incabloc, used cone-shaped jewel and distinctive lyre-shaped spring embedded in an easy to apply chaton. The system was extremely successful, and Portescap encouraged or required companies to use the Incabloc name widely, including adding it to the dial of watches so equipped. In 1938, the double-cone shock protection system was introduced, which remains dominant today.
In just 15 years, it came so synonymous with anti-shock devices that the company was forced to take aggressive legal action against competitors and counterfeiters. Competing systems, notably KIF from Parechoc, were eventually able to offer similar performance without the advertising and dial labeling requirements. Portescap also produced testing equipment throughout the 1950s under the Vibrograf brand. With high-beat watches appearing, Portescap introduced the Triovis fine regulator in 1968.
Georges Braunschweig turned over management of the company to his son, Philippe Braunschweig, in 1960. He had been deeply involved with the company since 1954, and would become sole owner of the firm soon after. Georges remained Chairman of the Board until 1973 and died in 1975 at the age of 83. Three quarters of Swiss watches are equipped with the famous Incabloc system in the 1950s.
The name Portescap was registered in 1962 and this brand was added to the company name on January 29, 1963. By this time the company had relocated to Rue Numa-Droz 165 and was still owned and operated by Georges Braunschweig and Fritz Marti. The company was officially renamed Portescap on April 1, 1969.
Philippe Braunschweig became vice-chairman under his father in 1970 as the company opened offices in France, the UK, and America. Georges Braunschweig officially resigned as chairman in 1973, replaced by his son. Georges Braunschweig died in April 1975.
By 1970, Portescap was the largest employer in La Chaux-de-Fonds but had diversified into the production of electric motors and linear actuators. These would find use throughout the Swiss quartz watch market, making Portescap as important to high-end quartz movements as it had been to mechanical movements.
Portescap introduced a lower-priced alternative in 1974, Antichoc 2000. This used a synthetic material as both bushing and anti-shock membrane, replacing the cone jewel entirely. A later addition was Novodiac, a lower-priced jewel-set shock absorber with a three-leaf clover look reminiscent of KIF Trior.
Divesture and Sale
Portescap refocused on micrometers after the quartz crisis but still came very close to bankruptcy in the 1980s. Pierre-Alain Blum took over the firm in 1986 and in 1987 the company was sold to a group of investors based in Luxembourg. Portescap divested the watch testing market to Greiner, and the company divested Incabloc and other watch shock absorber technologies to a new eponymous company the following year. Incabloc SA, founded in 1988, received the equipment and some staff and began a new era of production in La Chaux-de-Fonds. In 2003, Incabloc became entirely independent of Portescap, which continued to focus on DC motors. The remainder of the business was absorbed into a Zurich holding company called Inter Scan, which was owned by a Swedish financier.
In the early 1990s, Portescap still employed nearly 600 people. It was acquired in 1997 by the American group API Motion, for 40 million francs. API was acquired by the giant firm Danaher in 2000, which had nearly 24,000 employees worldwide. In 2002 management closed a production plant in Marly, France and considered relocating production to Asia. Danaher took over Thomson Industries, which also specialized in micromotors, that same year. In 2004 Danaher decided to proceed with the relocation of micromotor production to India, with only research and development remaining in La Chaux-de-Fonds.