La Champagne

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La Champagne was a watchmaking company based in Bienne in a former agricultural area of the same name. The firm was founded by Louis Müller and passed to his son (of the same name) in 1890. The company registered the "La Champagne" brand in 1906 and continued to use the name through the 1960s.

Louis Müller

Louis Müller-Finkbeiner established a watchmaking operation in Nidau in 1854. Finding some success, he answered the call from the elders of Bienne to move to that growing city in 1858. The company was located at Rue Neuve 2 that year but relocated to Rue de l'Industrie 24a by 1869. By 1880 the company was located at Quartier-Neuf 55.

The firm opened a branch in Delemont in 1873 to expand production.

After Louis Müller died in 1890, his widow Carolina (née Finkbeiner) took over the company along with their son, also named Louis Muller (1864-1943). The firm was officially called Vve. Louis Müller as of August 18, 1890. The younger Müller had attended watchmaking school in Bienne after attending the Neuchâtel Gymnasium.

Louis Müller & Cie.

The company was registered as Louis Müller & Cie. as of January 1 1893, with the widow Müller turning over control to the younger Louis Müller, though she retained her ownership stake. The new company was located on Centralstrasse 18.

The company introduced a compact 11 ligne movement in 1888, and it is claimed that some examples were mounted as wristwatches. By the turn of the century the company was manufacturing its own movements from 5.5 ligne to 17 ligne, with high quality and finishing for mass produced products.

Franz Joseph Morand became a manager of the company in June 1901 and remained through October 1907. Alfred Perrenoud also joined the company in 1904 and would rise rapidly in the company in the following decades.

La Champagne

Production was expanding so quickly that a new factory was needed. The fields to the east of Bienne had been drained and were rapidly being developed. Known as La Champagne, this location gave the company its new name. The first building was constructed on Bözingenstrasse, with a large U-shaped factory expansion directly behind it on Falkenstrasse.

The company was officially renamed Fabrique d'Horlogerie "La Champagne" Louis Müller & Cie in May 1906 and relocated from Neuengasse 9 to Bözingenstrasse 64 on November 1 of that year. Alfred Perrenoud replaced Franz Joseph Morand as manager in November 1907.

The company was reorganized as a limited partnership on May 1, 1908. The new company had the same name and was still controlled by Louis Müller and Carolina Müller (née Finkbeiner). It was managed by Alfred Perrenoud and Louis' wife, Sophie Müller (née Grunau).

The firm was also known as Champ. Watch Co. starting in 1912. It experienced great success in the pre-war years, exporting watches to the United States, Canada, England, India, and Japan.

On May 1, 1916, the company became a Société Anonyme with share capital of one million francs. Alfred Perrenoud was made president and Louis Müller chairman. The company was located at Falkenstrasse 21. Share capital was increased to 1.5 million francs in July 1920. Perrenoud and Müller made up the board of directors as of 1922.

Emile Schweizer and Otto Beckert were named managers of the company in December 1925. The two served in this role until March 1934.

Two major technical developments came around 1930. A new family of five ultra-thin movements was introduced in 1929 and a self-winding watch called "WIG-WAG" appeared in 1931.

La Champagne hit on hard times in the 1920s, and 100 shares of the company were cancelled in a special meeting in June 1928. This reduced share capital to 1 million francs without forcing all shareholders to reduce the value of their holdings. But business continued to suffer and all shareholders saw the value of their shares reduced by 70% in May 1936, reducing the company's value to just 300,000 francs.

In the 1930s, La Champagne developed the capability to produce movements using miniature ball bearings. This lead to the creation of a second company, Roulements à Billes Miniature SA. The company continued separately from the watchmaking firm.

Robert Moser joined the board in April 1937 and soon took over the watchmaking operation with Alfred Perrenoud. Otto Beekert and Max Perrenoud were made managers of a new company of the same name in October 1939 as the buildings at Falkenstrasse 17-21 were moved to a new firm run by Louis Müller and Perrenoud.

ASUAG and Ebauches SA were strongly pushing companies to abandon ebauche production, and La Champagne agreed, joining ASUAG in 1938 and ending ebauche production in 1939. From that point on, the company only used movements produced by the cartel.

Otto Beekert left the firm in November 1945, leaving Max Perrenoud as sole manager.

Louis Müller died on April 29, 1943 at the age of 79.

Following the death of Robert Moser in April 1947, Max Perrenoud was made a board member. After Alfred Perrenoud's death in 1952, Max Perrenoud became chairman and Jean Louis Perrenoud joined the board.

La Champagne entered bankruptcy proceedings in June 1959 and was dissolved on March 2, 1961. Ownership of the Champ brand was taken on by Nicolet Watch of Tramelan.