Le Phare

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Jean d'Eve is a Swiss watch brand associated with Le Phare. It traces its roots to 1888 and the firm, Barbezat-Baillot. Other brands used include Memory, Lighthouse, Rolnik, Kowal, Temporis, and Elfarc.

Guye & Barbezat

Charles-Ami Barbezat-Baillot (1846-1938) was born in the village of Bayards in Canton Neuchâtel on June 3, 1847. His father was Charles Henri Barbezat and his mother was Aline Eulalie Chédel. At about 15 years of age, Barbezat was hired as an apprentice in the Le Locle watchmaking shop of Henri Victor Jean Guye (1838-1877). This is listed in Indicateur Davoine in 1864 at Grande Rue 66, Marais 159.5 in 1868, and Côte 194 in 1869. Barbezat came from the town of Bayards, as did the Guye, Baillot, and Bôle families, and it is likely that this was how he became acquainted with his wife, his business partner, and the field of watchmaking.

Henri Guye died in 1877 at just 39 years of age, apparently leaving the business in the hands of Charles Barbezat. Some sources suggest that Guye and Barbezat formed a partnership by 1867, which would be logical given the continued use of the Guye name after his death. We can certainly say that the partnership was in place by 1873 when it is listed in Indicateur Davoine at Rue du Pont 334. It is moved to Pont 336 in 1877 then Envers 363 in 1883. The company was officially registered on January 17, 1883 as "Guye & Barbezat". It is unclear to what extent the Guye family remained involved with the business during this time.

Guye & Barbezat moved to Côte 222 by 1886, taking out a large ad. It was a fabricator and seller of complicated high-end watches. The firm found great success in producing complicated and accurate watches and was also said to have specialized in the repair of marine chronometers. A patent for a calendar corrector was registered in the United States on April 12, 1878 (no. 212.882) and the company earned a gold medal at Gröningen in 1880. In 1881, Guye & Barbezat earned a gold medal at the National Watch Exhibition in La Chaux-de-Fonds.

The company registered the trademarks Tempora and Viam Temporis Illumino on February 17, 1883. This same year, Charles Barbezat married, taking the alliance name Barbezat-Baillot afterwards. The company soon earned a Grand Honorary Diploma for Swiss exhibitors in Amsterdam alongside Patek Philippe. It was represented by Ed. Barbezat of Neuchâtel in the late 1880s.

Barbezat-Baillot and Le Phare

On November 30th, 1888 Charles Barbezat-Baillot (1846-1938) registered the Barbezat-Baillot watch factory in Le Locle. This was the successor company to Guye & Barbezat, and took over its stock and market. The new company was located on Rue de la Côte 222. Charles Barbezat-Baillot was involved in local business and became President of the Société des Fabricants d'Horlogerie du Locle in the 1890s. He also owned a residential construction company in the town to provide low-cost housing to workers.

Barbezat-Baillot specialized in high-end watches with repetition, and boasted of a centrifugal force mechanism and special mechanism that silenced the noisy mechanics, allowing the alarm to ring clearly. The company also introduced a pushbutton to activate the alarm, a novelty for the time, and reduced the size of the mechanism to fit in a normal watch case. These inventions were created by Georges Pellaton-Steudler, who left the firm around 1910 and would go on to found the Martel Watch Co. in 1914.

Barbezat-Baillot sold the products under the brand name "Le Phare" ("The Lighthouse") by 1896. Le Phare repeaters were more reasonably priced and produced in high volume. Some models also included complications like a chronograph, full calendar with moon phase indicator, and various automata. These were a highlight of the Swiss National Exhibition in Geneva in 1896. The brand name "Tempora" was also used by 1899 and "Memory" was also used beginning in 1925.

Charles added two additional board members in June 1889: Adèle Huguenin-Virchaux and Alfred Perrenoud-Jacot. His son Alfred-Louis Barbezat soon joined the company and became a member of the board on December 30, 1904. On March 3, 1905, the company changed its name officially to Manufacture d'Horlogerie "Le Phare" C. Barbezat-Baillot.

Jämes Favre and Zénith

Charles Barbezat-Baillot retired in 1913 and on April 3, 1914 the company was reorganized and recapitalized as a société anonyme called Fabriques Le Phare in Le Locle. Although Charles' son Alfred-Louis was part of the company management for a decade, control of the company passed to Jämes Favre, nephew and son in law of Georges Favre-Jacot and president of Zénith. This timing coincides curiously with the founding of the Martel Watch Co. there by former Barbezat-Baillot watchmaker Georges Pellaton-Steudler just two months later. Charles did not stay retired long: He founded Fabrique Suisse d'Orfèvrierie in Peseux, a maker of household items including silverware, in February 1915.

During World War I, the Barbezat-Baillot factory produced military trousers. Switching back to watches after the war, the company once again experienced success, tripling the size of its operations at Rue de la Côte 29-33 in 1920. The former seamstresses were now producing new complications, including chronographs, calendars, and moon phase watches.

Barbezat-Baillot also produced machines for watchmaking under the Dixi brand, and this would become a successful firm in its own right. Indeed, Dixi would purchase nearly every watchmaking form in Le Locle in the 1970s, saving brands like Zenith and Zodiac from extinction. Dixi was a product of Le Phare until it was spun out as an independent company in 1931.

Georges Perrenoud, Machines Dixi, and Nouvelle Fabrique Le Phare

The Great Depression caused issues for high-end firms like Le Phare, and the company was reorganized in 1933 as Nouvelles Fabrique Le Phare S.A. Le Phare produced complicated pocket watches in the 1930s, including rattrapante and standard chronographs, stop watches, alarm watches, and repeaters.

Charles Barbezat-Baillot died at the age of 92 on January 24, 1938 at his retirement home in Caroline near Les Brenets. He had retired to the town in 1913, though he remained active in the firm. It would move in a new direction after his death.

In 1939, Le Phare relocated to La Chaux-de-Fonds, changing ownership the following year. The company continued to specialize in complicated pocket watches but also added wrist watches by 1940, including pilot's watches. The brand's slogan was "Précision, Qualité Irrérochable" and their products reflected this focus.

Le Phare-Sultana

In 1950, the company changed its name to Le Phare-Sultana SA after merging with Sultana. By 1970 the company was the second-largest manufacturer of chronographs in Switzerland, and it was widely known for masculine watches with modern designs. As early as 1974, Le Phare offered a watch with retrograde hour and minute hands. By 1976, the company also offered LED watches and quartz movements. In 1977, the "Pebble" model embedded a quartz movement in a semi-precious stone as a table clock or pocket or pendant watch. The company continued to produce mechanical watches, however, including an ultra-thin skeleton model in 1980.

Jean d'Eve

In 1981, the brand "Jean d'Eve" was launched, generally being used for higher-end models. One signature piece was the Spinnaker, which included a rope design around the bezel and inspired many copycats. In 1984 the brand launched its "Sectora" models, in which the time was represented in sectors of the dials by retrograde hands. The company also changed its name to Le Phase Jean d'Eve SA in 1984.

The 1988 Samara model is claimed to be the first automatic quartz watch in the world. The Kentron Cal. 861.0 "Generotor system" features a dial-side rotor (between the hands and dial) that winds a generator spring that spins up a multi-polar generator to 15,000 rpm. This charges a condenser which can hold 10 days (240 hours) of power for the quartz movement. It also included an "Energizer" which can re-start the watch once it has stopped.

Le Phare-Sultana was acquired in 1991 by Renley Watch Manufacturing along with Buler Quartz SA of Lengnau. Founded in 1983 by Hong Kong-based Stanley Lau, Renley was a private label producer of Swiss and French watches.

The "Quarta" model was launched in 1993 and included retrograde hands in all four corners of a rectangular dial. The Sectora was updated with a new case in 1999. The 2006 Sectora II Automatic turned this display sideways in a new case. In 2010, Jean d'Eve launched a tourbillon at BaselWorld based on the Progress movement.

The Le Phare brand is no longer active as of 2020, but the Jean d'Eve brand was active at least until 2017.

Le Phare Chronology


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