Reinhard Straumann-Heid (1892-1967) was a Swiss engineer and inventor who made significant contributions to the field of precision engineering and watchmaking.
Reinhard Straumann was born on November 3, 1892 in Bennwil, Switzerland, to Reinhard Straumann, a teacher, and Anna Heinimann. He spent his early years in Waldenburg, where his father was later elected as a teacher, and was closely associated with that town throughout his life. He attended primary and district school in Waldenburg and later studied at the cantonal technical school in Le Locle from 1908 to 1912, where he developed an interest in watch technology and precision engineering.
After completing his technical education, Straumann worked as a technician in Bienne until 1914. He then trained as an engineer at the Ecole supérieure d'Aéronautique et de Constructions Mécaniques in Lausanne, where he earned his engineering degree. In 1916, he joined Thommen's Watch Factory in Waldenburg as a designer, and later became the technical manager. His efforts were mainly focused on introducing the manufacture of wristwatches and aircraft onboard instruments.
Straumann was made an official manager of the Thommen factory in 1921, serving alongside factory director Erwin Meyer. The following year, after Meyer's death, the factory was reorganized with Straumann alone in charge. He was promoted to be vice-director of the factory in 1925 and director in 1927, following director Emanuel Jenny's promotion.
Through his wife, Reinhard Straumann came into the succession to the firm of Tschudin & Heid AG in Waldenburg. He was appointed to the board of this company in 1931 and became chairman in 1935. In 1939, Straumann took sole control of the company and expanded it into a precision decolletage operation and the manufacture of hydraulic and pneumatic machine controls. He also established a research laboratory for the development of new materials and new measurement methods for technology, especially for the watchmaking industry. In 1954, the laboratory was converted into a stock corporation under the name Institut Dr. Ing. Reinhard Straumann.
Straumann also served as chairman of the board for the electro-technical factory J. J. Buser in Basel from 1936 and on the board of a similar firm known as Peravia in Bern in 1939. Straumann's connection to Georges Perrenoud through Nivarox also brought him into other projects, including glass factory Verreries de Moutier in 1943. He also served on the board of agriculture equipment firm A. Grunder & Cie of Binningen from 1949 through 1955.
Nivarox and Nivaflex
Straumann realized that the further qualitative development of watches depended not only on design measures, but also on the availability of new materials with specifically adapted physical properties. As a result, he began to focus on research work, and in close cooperation with the vacuum smelter in Hanau, Germany he created a new material for spiral springs that possessed temperature-independent properties. The industrial exploitation of this development was initially taken over by the Karl Haas company in Schramberg, though it was Thommens Uhrenfabriken that registered the name Nivarox in 1932.
At the urging of ASUAG, Straumann established a laboratory to produce Nivarox hairsprings at the facility of W. Ruch & Cie in Saint-Imier in 1934. This would become a full department and its success would prompt ASUAG, lead by Georges Perrenoud to take over the company in 1936. Straumann joined the board of W. Ruch & Cie in 1936 and was part of the group split off to form a separate company called Nivarox SA in 1937, serving there with Georges Perrenoud, Ernest Dubois, Louis Huguenin, and Paul Renggli. Management of Nivarox SA was entrusted to accountant Georges Jacot and technical director Paul Pingeon.
Straumann also developed an alloy known as Nivaflex for springs and wires. In 1951 he incorporated Nivaflex SA to produce and commercialize this material, working with André Schweingruber and Max Schweingruber (scions of the eponymous firm in Saint-Imier) as well as Fritz Straumann. The company was located in Saint-Imier at Rue Baptiste-Savoie 17.
After Georges Perrenoud died in 1952, Reinhard Straumann took over as managing director of Nivarox SA. He lead the company through the 1950s and joined the board of Fabriques de Spiraux Réunies in 1965. Nivarox SA and Virola SA (successor to W. Ruch & Cie) would be reunited as components of FSR in 1977 and would be merged with FAR to become Nivarox-FAR in 1983.
Straumann began turning his firms over to the next generation in the 1950s. He appointed Fritz Straumann-Schmidlin to lead his Institute in December 1958 and Kurt Schmid-Straumann to lead Tschudin & Heid, retiring from his family firm the following January. Still, he remained involved in the industry, joining the board of Wittnauer in 1959 and becoming secretary in 1961.
Straumann was also active in politics and became a district administrator and district administrator. However he was ill-suited to politics and was forced to resign in a scandal in 1946.
In addition, he studied the mechanics of ski flying in his free time and laid the foundations for the construction of modern ski jumps in a theoretical and experimental study of the aerodynamics of ski flying. He also had an artistic talent and built up a valuable collection of the best-known Swiss painters. He strongly supported the holding of artistically high-quality concerts in Waldenburg's acoustically favorable room for concerts in the gymnasium and showed his inclination towards art.
Straumann's work was recognized through various honors, including honorary membership of the Finnish watchmakers' association with the gold medal of merit in 1936, the Wilhelm Exner Medal from the Austrian Trade Association in 1959, honorary membership of the Swiss Ski Association in 1960, honorary membership of the Swedish Watchmakers Association and the Viktor Kullberg Medal by the Academy of Engineering in Stockholm in 1966, and honorary membership of the Société Suisse de Chronométrie in the same year. In 1967, the Fédération Internationale de Ski honored him with honorary membership, and his hometown of Bretzwil gave him honorary citizenship.
Reinhard Straumann passed away on October 3, 1967, at the age of 74 years and 11 months. He was remembered for his significant contributions to the field of precision engineering and watchmaking and his devotion to art.