ASUAG ("Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG", French: "Société Générale de l'Horlogerie Suisse") was a group of Swiss watch companies formed to protect the industry from financial collapse in 1931 and which became part of SMH (now the Swatch Group) in 1985.
The Swiss watch industry faced a painful reconversion crisis after World War I, induced by the overcapacity of its industrial park. This crisis was compounded by the effects of the global economic crisis, which led to significant changes in the Swiss watch industry's industrial fabric, including closures, mergers, and acquisitions. In response to this instability, the Swiss watch industry began a cartelization process in 1928, led by private industry, as a structural measure to overcome the sector's internal and external difficulties. However, the cartellization of the Swiss watch industry was complicated because it was led by three professional associations, each representing a plethora of interdependent and multifunctional companies. Finally, in 1931, the state participated in financing a holding company, the Société Générale de l'Horlogerie Suisse S.A., tasked with achieving a monopoly in the mechanical watch parts sector.
The birth of ASUAG in 1931 occurred in a particularly difficult economic crisis context. Internal and external reasons to the watchmaking industry explain the need to appeal to the government for help. The industry was characterized by a continuous drop in sales prices since the 1920s, leading to unhealthy undercutting competition between different actors. The practice of chablonnage, which involved exporting a fiercely guarded technological know-how and selling imprecise watches from other countries, also contributed to the industry's problems. In addition to these internal factors, the industry was hit hard by the global crisis, leading to a significant decrease in exports. To address these challenges, on July 3, 1931, three signatories wrote to the head of the Swiss Federal Department of Public Economy, Edmund Schulthess, to request financial help from the government. The government's response was favorable, and on September 26, 1931, the Federal Assembly authorized the Federal Council to participate in funding ASUAG for a total amount of 13.5 million francs.
The Société Générale de l'Horlogerie Suisse S.A. was founded in 1931 with the aim of stimulating the concentration of the watchmaking industry in Switzerland and participating financially in watchmaking enterprises. It is a "mixed control company" that exercises control over other industrial enterprises and sets directives for them. The company created two conglomorates, "Les Fabriques d'assortiments réunies S.A." and "Les Fabriques de balanciers réunies S.A." to address the concentration of the watchmaking industry. The Swiss watchmaking industry was structured as a holding company that exercises control over other companies through a majority shareholding.
Like SSIH, ASUAG was a grouping of independent Swiss watch and component companies. Although they joined together under this umbrella, they remained quite independent. ASUAG allowed the companies jointly to set pricing and limit exports, reducing competition and increasing profitability of the industry. It also acted to push for mergers of smaller member companies as needed to support production.
During World War I, many Swiss watch component makers turned to production of armaments and ammunition. This provided much-needed employment and financial resources and allowed many to grow. But after the war, when these companies turned back to watch production, their newfound strength led to a glut of product on the market. Soon, the component makers especially began to undercut each other, "dumping" product in America just to keep operating. When the great depression hit, the industry was greatly in debt and over-extended. The drop was dramatic: Swiss watch exports fell in value from 307 million Swiss francs in 1929 to 86 million in 1932, while the average price of Swiss watch movements was reduced from 13 Swiss francs to 7 in 1935.
The Swiss banks invested in ASUAG as a way to rebuild stability in the Swiss Swiss watch industry, and the group was founded on August 14, 1931. They invited many of the ebauche and parts manufacturers to join the group and set limits on pricing, production, and exports. The initial talks to form the Société Générale de l'Industrie Horlogère Suisse were held in July on 1931 at the direction of the Swiss banks, the FH, the UBAH, and Ebauches SA. The group would include Ebauches SA (which by that point included a dozen of the strongest ebauche makers) and later adding makers of assortments, balance wheels, and hairsprings.
At a meeting on August 14 at the offices of the Banque Cantonale Neuchâteloise, the Société Générale de l'Horlogerie Suisse or Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG (ASUAG) was officially organized with 10 million Swiss francs of share capital. The board of directors was lead by federal councillor Hermann Obrecht as chairman, Ernest Strahm of Zenith and banker Ernest Scherz as vice-chairmen, and Sydney de Coulon of FHF as secretary. The board also included representatives of most included parties:
- Balance spring makers: Ernest Dubois
- Main spring makers: Camille Flotron of Resist SA
- Balance makers: Robert Henri Guye of S. Jaquet-Huguenin
- Assortiment makers: Louis Huguenin of Fabrique d'Assortiments Le Locle
- Ebauche makers: Maurice Robert of FHF and Bernhard Hammer of Kummer
- Constituent companies: César Schild of A. Schild
- Other companies: Louis-Edouard Berthoud of Universal Genève, Albert Mosimann of Mildia, Louis Müller of La Champagne, Maurice Savoye of Longines, and Théodore Schild of Schild Frères
- Bankers: H. Baechler, C. Buhler, M. Chapuis, H. Grimmelmann, E. Hindenlang, L. P. Monnet, Paul de Pury, P. Reinert, Paul Seid, and Th. Wolfensperger
In addition to Ebauches SA, ASUAG was founded by Fabriques de Spiraux Réunies (FSR), a holding company for makers of balance springs. Two more such holding companies were quickly registered: Fabriques d'Assortiments Réunies (FAR) was registered on September 9, 1932, and Fabriques de Balanciers Réunies (FBR) on October 24, FAR was composed of many makers of balance springs and was headquartered in Le Locle. FBR was a holding company for balance wheels and other small mechanical components and was located in Ponts-de-Martel nearby.
One year after the creation of ASUAG, five cartels existed under ASUAG:
- Société des Fabriques de Spiraux Réunies (formed in 1985)
- Société Suisse des Spiraux (formed in 1898)
- Ébauches SA (formed in 1926)
- Fabriques d'Assortiments Réunies (formed in 1932)
- Fabriques de Balanciers Réunies (formed in 1932)
Reorganization and Growth
After World War II, ASUAG was reorganized to reflect the changes in the watch industry, principally the loosening of legal control over the creation of new manufactures and ebauche makers.
The largest change was the absorption of Société Suisse des Spiraux into Société des Fabriques de Spiraux Réunies. The Genera factory was no longer needed and was shut town, with FSR handling all balance spring production in Bienne.
By the 1970's, ASUAG was the world's largest producer of watch movements and components. The group created Pierres Holding in 1968 to produce jewels for watches and created the General Watch Co in 1971. The latter brought together seven manufacturers of watches: Certina, Edox, Eterna, Mido, Oris, and Technos, with Longines (owner of Record and Rotary) added later that year.
Société des Fabriques de Spiraux Réunies was renamed to become Nivarox SA in 1977 and was merged with Fabriques d'Assortiments Réunies and Fabriques de Balanciers Réunies to become Nivarox-FAR in 1984.
Merger with SSIH into SMH
The quartz crisis of the 1970's greatly affected ASUAG, with production falling by 80% and many companies in crisis. It was merged with SSIH to become Asuag-SSIH in 1983 and finally SMH in 1985. Unlike ASUAG, SMH sought aggressively to merge companies and reduce costs. All watch movement was consolidated into ETA, formerly the watch movement arm of Eterna.
Numerous watch brands were shut down or spun out of SMH due to market overlap. The following would no longer continue:
- Auguste Reymond (Independent by management buy-out in 1984)
- Atlantic (Part of UVB and focused on Eastern European market)
- Edox (Management buy-out in 1983)
- Eterna (Sold to PCW (Porsche Design) and then to International Volant (now Citychamp) in 2012)
- Oris (Reorganized in 1982 with a management buy-out)
- Roamer (Management buy-out in 1985, purchased by Chung Nam in 1994, reorganization with Swiss Watch Group in 2009)
- Rotary (Management buy-out to become part of Dreyfuss Group Holdings, which was purchased by China Haidian in 2014)
- Technos (Now part of Technos Brazil and no longer Swiss Made)
SMH was renamed Swatch Group in the 1990's and is today the largest Swiss watch company.
The companies joining ASUAG mainly fell into two categories:
- Watch movement companies became part of Ebauches SA, an earlier attempt to create a holding company for watch movement manufacturers that included A. Schild, FHF, Venus, Landeron, and Lemania
- Watch companies became part of General Watch Co. after 1971
Ebauches SA would be the holding company for most watch movement and component production under ASUAG, Asuag-SSIH, and SMH. Most of these operations were merged into the modern ETA in 1979, with the remainder added in 1982. Nearly all of these companies, along with their factories, are now part of ETA or are defunct.
- A. Schild (founded Ebauches SA in 1926)
- FHF (founded Ebauches SA in 1926)
- Charles Hahn & Cie (joined between 1926 and 1928)
- Ad. Michel (joined between 1926 and 1928)
- Guerrin-Bourquin & Cie (joined between 1926 and 1928)
- Hora/Cortebert (joined between 1926 and 1928)
- Felsa (joined between 1926 and 1928)
- Venus (joined between 1926 and 1928)
- Unitas/A. Reymond (joined between 1926 and 1928)
- ETA SA (joined 1932)
- Fleurier Watch Co. (joined 1932)
- Peseux (joined 1932)
- Derby (joined 1941)
- Valjoux (joines (1944)
- EEM (joined 1982)
- SEFEA (joined 1982)
- Annemasse (joined 1982)
- Durowe (joined 1982)
General Watch Co.
ASUAG also included a subsidiary for vendors of complete watches, General Watch Co. Ltd. (GWC). This is a literal translation of the German expansion of ASUAG's name: "Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG" means "General Swiss Clock (or Watch) Company." It was established on February 18, 1971 as a holding company for Certina, Edox, Eterna, Mido, Oris, Rado, and Technos. Other companies were added through the 1970s.
General Watch included the following brands:
- Auguste Reymond S.A. (Brands: Arsa, Damas and Hoga) (spun out after 1977)
- Atlantic S.A (spun out after 1977)
- Certina (Still part of Swatch Group)
- Diantus (defunct)
- Dynasty (defunct)
- Edox/Era (spun out after 1977)
- Endura (Still part of Swatch Group, private label brand)
- Eterna (spun out)
- Hamilton (Still part of Swatch Group)
- Longines (Still part of Swatch Group)
- Microma (defunct)
- Mido (Still part of Swatch Group)
- Oris (spun out)
- Rado (Still part of Swatch Group)
- Roamer (spun out)
- Rotary Watches (spun out after 1977)
- Technos (spun out after 1977)
- 1931 - August 14 - ASUAG is founded by Ebauches SA, Société des Fabriques de Spiraux Réunies, A. Schild, FHF, and A. Michel; initial share capital is 10 million francs; the board is composed of industrialists Hermann Obrecht (chairman), Ernest Strahm (co vice chairman), Louis Muller, Louis-Edouard Berthoud, Albert Mosimann, Maurice Savoye, Louis Huguenin, Ernest Dubois, Robert Henri Guye, César Schild, Maurice Robert, Théodore Schild, and Camille Flotron, lawyers Paul Reinert and Bernhard Hammer, and bankers Ernest Scherz (co vice chairman), Emile Hindenlang, Paul de Pury, Marc Chapuis, Hans Baechler, Théodore Wolfensperger, Heinrich Grimmelmann, Carl Buhler, Paul Seid, and Louis-Paul Monnet; Sydney de Coulon was made secretary
- 1932 - Gebrüder Schild & Co is divided into two parts within ASUAG: Watch production was reorganized as Eterna SA under General Watch Co., while the movement manufacture ETA SA Fabrique d'Ebauches (ETA) became part of Ebauches SA.
- 1932 - Fabriques d'Assortiments Réunies is created as a holding company for makers of assortments.
- 1932 - Fabriques de Balanciers Réunies is created as a holding company for makers of balance wheels.
- 1932 - Fleurier Watch Co. is split, with movements going to Ebauches SA.
- 1932 - Auguste Reymond is split, with movements (Unitas) going to Ebauches SA and watches (ARSA) in ASUAG.
- 1932 - Manzoni, Moser, and ED Kummer become part of Ebauches SA.
- 1932 - Atlantic becomes part of ASUAG.
- 1933 - Peseux SA becomes part of Ebauches SA.
- 1936 - Société Suisse des Spiraux is brought into ASUAG.
- 1938 - La Champagne becomes part of ASUAG.
- 1941 - Derby becomes part of Ebauches SA.
- 1941 - Precimax and Gigantic become part of ASUAG.
- 1942 - Glycine becomes part of ASUAG.
- 1944 - Valljoux SA becomes part of Ebauches SA.
- 1948 - Eterna produces its first automatic watch, the Eterna-Matic.
- 1955 - Théodore Renfer becomes chairman of ASUAG.
- 1966 - ASUAG creates Chronos Holding SA, which took over the newly-defunct Cyma and Tavannes brands, as well as taking a stake in Gruen.
- 1966 - Venus is absorbed by Valjoux
- 1967 - Ebauches SA creates Ebauches Electronic SA and begins production of quartz crystals, integrated circuits, and other electronic watch components.
- 1967 - Ebauches SA purchases SEFEA in Annemasse, France and Durowe of Pforzheim, Germany.
- 1968 - ASUAG creates Pierres Holding SA in Bienne for member manufacturers of watch jewels.
- 1968 - Chronos Holding creates Synchron, which includes Cyma, Doxa, and Ernest Borel.
- 1971 - ASUAG begins the creation of General Watch Co. to manage production of complete watches. Seven companies are integrated, including Certina, Edox, Eterna, Mido, Oris, and Technos. Later in 1971, General Watch Co. adds Longines, owner of Record and Rotary.
- 1972 - Pierre Renggli replaces Théodore Renfer as chairman of ASUAG.
- 1974 - General Watch Co. is expanded with five more companies added.
- 1978 - ASUAG purchases Microma from Intel
- 1978 - Cyma is sold by Synchron and moved to the Doxa factory in Le Locle.
- 1979 - ETA SA and A. Schild (AS) are merged to become the modern ETA (Fabrique d'Ebauches ETA. SA) and movement production is focused from 136 to just 40.
- 1979 - ASULAB SA is founded in Neuchâtel to coordinate industrial research for the group.
- 1979 - ASUAG becomes a majority shareholder in Statek Corporation USA, which produces quartz crystals and electronic components.
- 1980 - Synchron is sold, including Doxa, and Ernest Borel.
- 1981 - One more company is added to General Watch Co.
- 1982 - ETA is expanded to include ETA's Grenchen operations, FHF in Fontainemelon, EEM in Marin, SEFEA in Annemasse, France and Durowe of Pforzheim, Germany.
- 1982 - Oris is reorganized and spun-out in a management buy-out.
- 1982 - Eterna is sold to PCW (Porsche Design) and then to International Volant (now Citychamp) in 2012.
- 1983 - Swiss banks take expand their stake in ASUAG from 38% to 97.5% on July 29, and merge ASUAG with SSIH in December as Asuag-SSIH.
- 1983 - Edox is spun out in a management buy-out.
- 1984 - Auguste Reymond is spun out in a management buy-out.
- 1985 - A massive reorganization of the Swiss watch industry results in the creation of SMH (Swiss Corporation for Microelectronics and Watchmaking Industries Ltd) as a holding company for Asuag-SSIG and all of its components.
- 1985 - Roamer is spun out in a management buy-out, purchased by Chung Nam in 1994, and reorganized with Swiss Watch Group in 2009.
- 1991 - SMH acquires PUW Porta of Pforzheim, Germany.