Baehni et Cie was a Bienne-based maker of balance springs founded in 1863. It was one of the five companies that combined in 1895 to form a cartel to corner the production of these springs, Société des Fabriques de Spiraux Réunies (FSR), with Baehni's Bienne operation taking on most volume production.
Founding by Anna Baehni-Rouget
The company that would become Baehni et Cie was founded by Anna Baehni-Rouget in 1863. Her name is mis-spelled as "Ronget" in some early listings. Located at Grognerie 10a in La Chaux-de-Fonds, now known as Rue du Progrès, the small building still stands next to the Temple Allemand. The business was a "Réglage" or watch finishing and regulating shop. At the time, watches were delivered without a balance, escapement, or balance spring (assortiment) and these were procured, tuned, and installed by a regulator, who also finished the wheel train. This work was likely performed at home, with some sent out to various workers, and it would have made balance springs by hand.
By 1866 the business was renamed for Anna's husband, Jean Baehni-Rouget. Now shown specifically as a "fabricant de spiraux", it had moved a few blocks to the west to number 16 Rue de l'Hopital (now called Rue Docteur Coullery). The company is listed at Rue Jaquet-Droz 17 in 1868 (a few blocks down, near the railroad) and east at Rue de la Chapelle 3 from 1869 through 1873. These were residential houses with workshops, and the frequent moves suggest that the family was experiencing financial issues.
Things turned around in the 1870s, with the company exhibiting at the World's Fairs in Paris, Vienna, and Philadelphia in 1867, 1873, and 1876. Sensing an opportunity, the Baehnis decided to build a true balance spring factory. But La Chaux-de-Fonds was not the ideal location.
Move to Bienne
The company relocated to Bienne in 1875. The 1889 25th anniversary article in La Fédération Horlogère claims that the firm moved to Bienne a few months after it was founded, but the Indicateur Davoine listing in 1875 specifically states that the company was moving to St. Georges in Bienne that year. The fact that it is shown in La Chaux-de-Fonds through 1873 and in Bienne in 1877 strongly supports this.
The company was initially listed at Braun Quartier No. 20 in the area of town called Brühl. This was a developing industrial area near the main railroad yard east of town and was home to a wire-drawing factory built in the 1850s. Now called Werkhofstrasse, it provided Baehni room to grow. Baehni used specialized machines of their own design and construction, giving them a great advantage over their competitors.
Baehni frères manufactured ordinary soft steel hairsprings but in 1882 added tempered precision springs. These had been invented by Jean-Célanis Lutz around 1850, but were increasingly popular in the 1880s. The company produced flat tempered hairsprings as well as cylindrical and spherical springs for special applications. They also produced gold hairsprings and hairsprings for manometers, aneroid barometers, pendulums, and precision clocks, as well as steel, copper and brass wire, rolled and drawn for various uses. Baehni springs were used even beyond Switzerland, with one third of their total output exported, including a large number sent to the United States.
On the evening of Sunday, December 6, 1885, the Baehni factory was destroyed by fire. Although it was feared at first to be a total loss, the company was able to salvage the spring-making machinery from the ruined building and promised to re-start production within a few weeks at a new location. This appears to be the so-called "Mattenhof" located just across Mattenstrasse. This large building was built as an inn but soon converted to a residence.
But the company's address was again listed as Braun Quartier No. 19 in 1888 suggesting that the original factory was re-built. This appears to be the same location later called rue du Quartier (or Chantier) 9-10, later 9-11, which was the company's home for decades and is pictured in an 1894 advertisement. The street was renamed Werkhofstrasse by 1900 and the building at number 11 remains to this day.
The company was recognized with 10 medals in those years, beginning with a silver medal at the Antwerp exhibition in 1885 and culminating with a prize in Paris in 1889. In 1889 the firm celebrated its 25th anniversary and noted its growth to employ 60 workers at 5 rolling mills and 25 benches. The company boasted of a 12 horsepower engine. It noted at this point that the company had produced over 52 million hairsprings. The firm had reduced the workday to 10 hours, which was quite generous for the time.
Baehni springs were distributed locally by well-known depots: Henri Sandoz of La Chaux-de-Fonds, Philippe Faure and Haldimann & Perrenoud of Le Locle, Perret-Peter (successor to Béguin-Bourquin) of Neuchâtel, and Jeanneret-Lebet of Fleurier.
Baehni et Cie
A partnership between Jean Baehni-Rouget and La Chaux-de-Fonds based watchmaker Georges Tissot-Balmer was formed in 1888, with Jean Baehni junior also joining the firm at this time. This replaced the former Baehni Frères firm, with Tissot-Balmer providing funding to further expand production. A Le Locle watchmaker, Tissot-Balmer later invested in a number of different firms in different businesses, including a grocer and rare book merchant.
Baehni et Cie continued in the balance spring business but also added production of specialized machinery for watch cases. The company won a silver medal at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris for their collection of tempered steel hairsprings in various forms (spherical, cylindrical, and flat). Notable was the round end of the spiral, useful for securing the spring to the balance and for fine adjustment. Baehni also showed a new elastic alloy cheaper than palladium yet of high enough quality for manometers. The firm employed 60 people and produced 6 million springs per year, or about 30,000 per day.
Tissot-Balmer increased his investment in Baehni et Cie to 60,000 francs in 1890 as the company became increasingly important in the watchmaking industry, both in Switzerland and abroad.
Fabriques de Spiraux Rèunies
Both the elder Jean Baehni-Rouget and younger Jean Baehni were advocates of industrial production of balance springs and of concentration of the industry. They pushed for the creation of the Syndicat des Fabricants de Spiraux to organize production, and this included their competitors Georges Sandoz, Charles Dufaux, Guye et Cie, and Montandon-Lütz. In 1892 the syndicate agreed on a supplier arrangement with the similar Syndicat des Fabriques de Montres. But these syndicates were unable to truly control the brutal price competition that threatened all of the factories with bankruptcy.
The Baehnis soon approached their fellow spring producers with a novel idea: They would form a cartel to corner all production of balance springs. In 1895, the Société des Fabriques de Spiraux Rèunies (FSR) was announced, with total control over all balance spring production and sales in Switzerland. Baehni et Cie joined forces with Huguenin-Girard of La Chaux-de-Fonds and G. Sandoz, Chs. Dufaux, and Guye et Cie of Geneva. C.-A. Paillard, Julien-Albert Courvoisier-Clément, and Montandon-Lütz agreed to exit the market.
As the largest producer of balance springs (Baehni produced more than half of all springs worldwide), the company was the primary driver of the cartel. But management of FSR was taken on by Charles Dufaux, Louis Huguenin, and Professor Philippe-Auguste Guye, with the elder Jean Baehni-Rouget and younger Jean Baehni less involved in day to day activities of the cartel. Representation of the family within the organization was handed over to Jean Baehni's brother Eugene Baehni, while Jean and his other brother Charles focused on the Bienne factory. Eugene and Charles officially joined the board in 1897 as the company diversified into construction of machines and transmissions.
20th Century Diversification
With the manufacture of balance springs firmly under the control of the cartel, the Baehni family focused on other endeavors. The three brothers became involved in manufacture of screws and machinery, and the elderly Jean Baehni-Rouget financed the La Chaux-de-Fonds watchmaking firm of Arthur Lebet in 1899.
Jean Baehni-Rouget died in 1900. The firm was taken over by his widow Anna Rouget and their three sons, a pattern of female involvement that would continue in future generations. Jean Baehni-Rouget had been involved in civic affairs, serving on the commission for the secondary school for girls in the 1880s and 1890s, and was missed by the city of Bienne.
The new company, now named Baehni et Cie, was reestablished to produce "engine parts and construction of machines," with the balance spring operation firmly part of FSR.
Jean Baehni junior was quite involved in industry and technical issues in the 1890s, engaging in a vigorous discussion in the Journal Suisse d'Horlogerie over the merits of various belt designs used to carry power in a factory setting. This suggests that he was deeply involved in the design of the specialized tools that Baehni et Cie used to produce their springs. Indeed, Jean Baehni junior would exhibit specialized metal roughing machines at the Exposition Nationale Suisse in Geneva in 1896, including a small folding machine for blank metal parts. This work would give Baehni a new focus after the consolidation of the balance spring industry.
Charles Baehni left the firm in 1913 and Jean Baehni junior died in 1915, leaving the company in the hands of Eugen Baehni and Jean's son Paul Eugen Baehni (1894-1970). Anna died and was removed from management in 1923.
Baehni & Co. remained a major producer of watch springs through 1954 as part of FSR.
- 1864 - Mme. Baehni-Rouget is listed under "Reglage" in La Chaux-de-Fonds at Grognerie 10a
- 1865 - J. Baehni-Rouget, fabricant de spiraux, is listed at Hôpital 16 in La Chaux-de-Fonds
- 1869 - J. Baehni-Rouget is listed under "Spiraux" at Chapelle 3 in La Chaux-de-Fonds
- 1873 - Bæhni Frères is listed under "Spiraux" at Chapelle 3 in La Chaux-de-Fonds
- 1875 - Bæhni Frères relocates to Bienne
- 1877 - Bæhni Frères is listed under "Fab. de Spiraux et trèlilerie" in Bienne
- 1880 - Bæhni Frères is listed under "Spiraux" au Brühl
- 1883 - The firm is officially known as Baehni Frères, headed by Jean Baehni-Rouget of Bolligen; it is located at Braun Quartier No. 20, Bienne
- 1886 - Bæhni Frères is listed under "Spiraux (spéc. trempés)" and "atelier de construction pour machines et outils en t. g." at Mattenhof in Bienne
- 1888 - March 31 - Baehni Frères ceases to exist; Jean Baehni-Rouget partners with Georges Tissot-Balmer from Chaux-de-Fonds, watch manufacturer in St. Imier, in a limited partnership called Baehni & Cie; Jean Baehni-Rouget is a partner with unlimited liability, while Georges Tissot-Balmer is a limited partner with 50,000 francs liability; Jean Baehni (junior) is made manager; the company is located at Mattenhof, Braun Quartier No. 19, Bienne
- 1890 - An ad for Bæhni & Cie. claims "Maison fondée en 1863" and "production annuelle 6,000,000"
- 1890 - February 18 - Georges Tissot-Balmer increases his investment to 60,000 francs
- 1893 - Bæhni et Cie is listed at rue du Quartier 9-10 in Bienne
- 1894 - Bæhni et Cie is listed at rue du Chantier 9-11 in Bienne
- 1899 - Bæhni et Cie is listed under "Spiraux" and "Méchaniciens" at rue du Chantier 9-11 in Bienne
- 1897 - June 2 - Eugen and Charles Baehni are added to management; the firm adds construction of machines to its business focus
- 1900 - February 20 - Following the death of Jean Baehni-Rouget, a new partnership between widow Anna Bähni (née Rouget) and her three sons, Jean, Eugen and Charles Bähni, is formed to take over Bähni & Cie. The company focused on manufacture of engine parts and construction of machines and is located at Werkhofstrasse 11 in Bienne
- 1913 - January 4 - Charles Bähni resigns from Bähni & Cie.
- 1915 - Jean Bähni (junior) dies
- 1921 - January 1 - Eugen Bähni, manufacturer, and Paul Eugen Baehni, mechanic, both from Bolligen, establish a partnership called Bähni & Co.
- 1923 - January 13 - The partnership of Anna Bähni-Rouget and Jean Bähni, called Bähni & Cie., is dissolved after the widow's death; assets and liabilities are transferred to Bahni & Co. located at Werkhofstrasse No. 9, Bienne
- 1923 - Eugen Baehni, technical director, dies
- 1954 - Baehni & Cie. is last listed as a maker of Spiraux
- Jean Baehni (-1900?) married Anna Rouget (-1923?)
- Jean Baehni (-1915)
- Paul Eugène (or Eugen) Baehni (1894-1970) married Marguerite Külling
- Louis "Philippe" Baehni (1931?-1966) married Odette Schwarz
- Jean "Thomas" Baehni married Anne Marie Schindler
- Luc Baehni
- Noëlle Baehni
- Matthieu Baehni
- Auguste Baehni (1896?-1923)
- William Baehni (1896-1962)
- Cécile Laure Anna "Anny" Baehni (1899-1984) married Arthur Gustav Ulrich (1891-1971)
- Pierre Ulrich-Daguet
- Adrienne Ulrich
- ? Ulrich married Daniel Pons
- Paul Eugène (or Eugen) Baehni (1894-1970) married Marguerite Külling
- Eugen Baehni (1864-1927)
- Charles Baehni (1872?-1958) married ? Henriod
- ? Baehni married Louis Duret
- Jean-Jacques Duret
- Madeline Duret
- Charles Baehni
- Elisabeth Baehni
- Jacques Baehni
- Pierre Baehni
- ? Baehni married Louis Duret
- Jean Baehni (-1915)