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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)

Martel watch co
was founded in 1911 in Les Ponts-de-Martel by
Georges Pellaton-Steudler.
(see http://www.antiquewatchworld.com/watch/html/watch_co.html)

1911 was also the year that Georges Favre retired and changed his company name from "Georges Favre-Jacot" to "Zenith” (see Roessler, p.11-12).

Note that Zenith and Universal were both in le Locle, at approx. 10 km from Martel.

Around 1918 Martel is seen supplying Universal with chronograph movements (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Genève#1930s-1949:_The_Chronograph_and_.22Watch_Couturier.22_er a).

Universal Geneve claims on their website that in 1917 they launched the world’s first wristwatch chronograph (see http://www.universal.ch/newsletter/en/details/didyouknow.htm).

Combining this information we can conclude that "the world's first wristwatch chronograph, launched by Universal", probably used a movement made by Martel.

From this advertisement (ca. 1927?) we can see what those early Martel wristwatch chronographs looked like :
martel1927.jpg


Next thing we know around 1932 Universal launched the world’s first wristwatch chronograph with two pushers.

The wristwatch chronograph with two pushers as we still know it today, was born!

And it will become clear from the watches produced during the 1930's that the movement had been created by Martel.


The next year in 1933 Universal launched the world’s first two pusher chronograph with three counters. (other sources say it was 1934).

The chronograph with three subdials, another important and exciting improvement which remains a classic until today!


Thus the two chronograph movements were born which Martel was going to make for 37 years (1932-1969).

These two could easily be made in different sizes : of 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 lignes.
Zenith named them according to their size cal. 122, 136, 146, 156, 166. They are all basically the same, different in size only. Each can be made with two or three counters: cal. 136 D and cal. 136 H, and so on.

Universal used the same movements and of course their own caliber codes, caliber 281 and so on.

It should remain clear that Universal had the initiative. Zenith perhaps got in the project thanks to its investment power in those days. Exactly at which date Zenith got in the project, we don't know, but it was probably quite early.

In 1933 Raoul Perret, the son of Georges Perret (the co-founder of Universal Watches in 1894), came in charge of Universal. The same Raoul Perret can be found in 1935 on the board of administration of Zenith :

raulperret.jpg

Through Raoul Perret the Universal and Zenith Watch companies could easily cooperate in the field of the new wristwatch chronographs with two pushers.

Thanks to this cooperation Zenith from the beginning around 1932 had the same first wristwatch chronographs with two pushers available, as Universal had.

Take a look at this 1930's advertisement for Zenith chronographs:

zenith1930s].jpg

This probably dates to around 1932-35. It could be the first known advertisement for a two pusher chronograph. The title is : "A new chronograph caliber with two pushers".

The text mentions that it is one and the same caliber for different sizes, with as a result the ease of interchangeable parts : a characteristic of Martel calibers.
Zenith praised the extraordinary quality of the movement and the reasonable price.

The advertisement also mentions that the chronograph dials could easily be exchanged. This is interesting, because it is possible that changing the dial was about the only thing that Zenith had to do in the making of these chronographs. There is a plausible theory that in this period not only the movements were made by Martel, but the chronographs were then also cased by Universal, before they were delivered as complete chronographs to Zenith.

In any case since Martel was making the movements, all there was left for either Universal or Zenith was adding the dials, hands, and cases to the movements, with the company names and numbers.


An example of the gold watch in the advertisement, an early 1930's Zenith chronograph with two pushers and Martel movement (Zenith caliber 136), can be seen in this thread :
https://www.watchuseek.com/f27/my-grandfathers-zenith-596561.html

In Roessler's book about Zenith, we can also see several examples of early Zenith chronographs with two pushers, made in the 1930’s (p. 216-218).

Around 1936 Universal then introduced the “Compur” and “Compax” names for chronographs with two or three subdials. Zenith used these names as well.

Roessler shows some Zenith chronographs from this period with ‘Compur’ on the dials (p. 219-220).

From advertisements we also know that there was a direct and open collaboration between Universal and Zenith, both using the Compur and Compax name. This advertisement for the Compur must date to ca. 1936 :

!B2Re93w!mk~$(KGrHqV,!i8E)sQb!CtHBMh0o7Bomw~~_12.jpg

Here is another one :
universal%20%20zenith.JPG

And here is an advertisement from the same period (ca. 1936), where we find Zenith (and Universal is mentioned as well) advertising the Zenith Compax :

zenithcompaxuniversal.jpg


Next we should mention the renaming of Universal as Universal Genève in 1937. (Again I found some uncertainty about the exact date: some sources cite 1934, but 1937 is more likely to be the correct date).

Due to the succes of the chronographs in 1941 Universal Geneve had to build a new, ultramodern production line for chronographs (see for instance : http://www.montreshorlogerie.com/histoire-montres-universa-geneve.html ).

From this follows an example of a mistake which originates from one site, and is then copied by others. The opening of a new production line for chronographs in 1941 was misinterpreted by somebody as the founding date of Martel. This mistake has since spread to more sites, who copied the wrong information. As a result, some people have started believing that Martel was only founded in 1941. Please note that Martel was not founded in 1941 by Universal, as it had already been founded in 1911 by Georges Pellaton-Steudler.

Around 1942 the Martel/Universal Geneve/Zenith collaboration then led to the first wristwatch chronograph with date. (see for instance Page Modèles)

A Zenith example of the first chronograph with date can be seen in Roessler on p. 217.
It is estimated by Roessler as "1930"(s), this should probably be "1940"(s). Interestingly the movement is signed with two caliber codes : "287" and "146" (a Universal Geneve and a Zenith caliber code for the same movement).


But this chronograph with date
was only the last step before Martel came to make the star product, the first wristwatch chronograph with full calendar and moonphase in 1944.

And
Zenith also got it: an example of the Zenith "Tricompax" can be seen in Roessler p. 221.

Then towards the 1950s it seems that Universal Geneve shifted its attention more and more to that other novelty of those years : the automatic wristwatches. This eventually led to the Universal Geneve Polerouter, which (starting in 1954) became another success for Universal Geneve.

Zenith in the meantime started using the Excelsior Park chronograph movements as well. During the 1940's, starting ca. 1942, a movement was made by Excelsior Park which was then used by Gallet, Girard-Perregaux and Zenith for their chronographs (see Page Modèles).

Still at the same time Zenith remained faithful to the Martel chronographs as well.

Thus for a period of ca. 10 years (1946-1956) Zenith used both Excelsior Park and Martel chronographs.


We then find Martel ca. 1956 happily, independently and optimistically doing business.

Martel all the time had continued to supply Zenith and Universal Geneve with chronograph movements during the 1940's and '50's.

But now they also had watches under their own brand name.

martelmoonphasechronograph.jpg
An interesting non-chronograph with full calendar and moonphase.

Around 1956 they can be seen advertising for their own new automatic watch with date.
martel1956victoriousenglish.jpg
martel1956french.jpg
martelvictoriousenglish.jpg

Note how this ad mentions that the watch was made in the best Martel tradition of precision and that Martel already had more than 40 years experience at that time :

"...precision workmanship and impeccable quality guaranteed by Martel's 40 year reputation for dependability and outstanding service to the watch trade."

This funny ad dates to ca. 1957 :

martel1957.jpg

Shortly afterwards, around 1958, Zenith bought the entire Martel Watch co.
Usually 1960 is cited as the date of the acquisition (for instance by Roessler). Elsewhere I read 1959. But in Roessler's movements and calibers' list (p. 32) 1958 is indicated as the date when they effectively started with the Martel 25x2 movements.

Not only was Martel the supplier of excellent chronograph movements for Zenith since (at least) the early 1930’s, by 1956 they also had developed a modern automatic watch (with rotor), with date, and the same Martel precision. Zenith could use a modern automatic movement. Until then Zenith only had bumper automatics.


The Zenith Martel cal. 25x2 could also be used for handwound watches. It became the main Zenith movement line during the 1960’s and ‘70s (until 1975). It was further developed and updated by Zenith almost every year during the 1960’s, until ca. 1975.


At the same time the Zenith Martel chronographs could be continued and developed further, now also by bringing all the new technologies together : wristwatch - chronograph ; automatic - with date; with the addition of a very high frequency (a novelty from the 1960's).

As a result, in 1969 the Zenith El Primero was born.

Martel had made the worlds’ first automatic wristwatch chronograph movement.

And not only that : they made it straight away with chronometer precision; with three counters; with date (and quickset); they made it ultra-thin; with a very high frequency (36000 bph); and yet very solid and stable, durable and reliable.

In 1971 followed the worlds’ first automatic wristwatch chronograph with full calendar and moonphase (Zenith Espada).

Unfortunately for Zenith and the mechanical watch industry in general, at the same time during the ‘60s other people had been experimenting with electronic and quartz watches.

As a result Bulova, owner of an electronic watch movement, was able to buy Universal Geneve in 1967.

And in 1972 a Zenith radio (and television) company was able to buy Zenith watches.


In 1975 the Zenith radio company ordered Zenith watches in Switzerland to stop the production of mechanical movements altogether, including the chronograph production in Martel and selling the Martel building and destroying all their tools.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?

Martel was 64 years old, when it was not needed any more.


Fortunately Charles Vermot (who for 40 years was chef of ébauches production at Zenith), at that time went against the foreign orders and saved many tools, machines as well as know-how from the Martel building, which all proved to be very valuable for Zenith ten years later in 1985 when the El Primero was revived. Charles Vermot was a visionary and saved the finest tools and machines from the Martel plant in Ponts-de Martel.

You can see a moving interview with Charles Vermot on the Zenith site :
http://www.zenith-watches.com/en/#/manufacture/saga/el-primero/saving-el-primero/movie

A golden age came to an end, however soon to be revived.

In the early 1980’s a few business men bought up the old stocks of Zenith’s Martel chronograph movements (both automatic as well as handwound chronograph movements), cased them, and sold them with a profit.

Soon orders for new movements followed and around 1985 the El Primero was resurrected.

The rest is history.


Through the El Primero, which is now more alive than ever, the legacy of the small Martel Watch Company from Les Ponts-de-Martel also lives on.

But it also lives on in the many fine watches from the past, such as most Zenith chronographs starting from around 1932 and many Zenith watches from the 1960's (until 1975).


In memory of the Martel watch company, founded a hundred and one years ago (in 1911) in Les Ponts-de-Martel by Georges Pellaton-Steudler. Among its accomplishments are the world’s first wristwatch chronograph with two pushers (1932), with three registers (1934) with date (1942) and with full calendar and moonphase (1944); and the world’s first automatic wristwatch chronograph (with three registers, date, high frequency and ultra-thin) (1969) and with full calendar and moonphase (1971).
 

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Bravissimo ! ;-)


...Around 1936 Universal then introduced the “Compur” and “Compax” names for chronographs with two or three subdials. Zenith used them as well.
...

... But this chronograph with date was only the last step before Martel came to make the star product, the first wristwatch chronograph with full calendar and moonphase in 1944....

And
Zenith also got it: an example of the Zenith "Tricompax" can be seen in Roessler p. 221....
Rassegna di
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Thank you Nicola ! And credits should go to you for providing some of the most essential information and illustrations which I could find (for instance concerning the role of Raoul Perret and the Universal Geneve/Zenith joint advertisements).
b-)

edit : I've added three more old advertisements, found on the page for which you gave the link (Rassegna di) and I should mention that it also contains many interesting pictures of actual watches, early Zenith chronographs, Compur's and Compax and so on.

Thank you !
 

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Great job summarizing the intertwined histories of Martel, UG and Zenith. Thank you for putting this together, it should definitely be a sticky!
 

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Wow, what an impressive compendium! Your radically revisionist recitation certainly raises several interesting points, and if it turns out to be accurate, is revolutionary. Many a chronograph collector will be surprised to learn that all of the mechanical achievements of the vaunted UG brand are actually those of Martel, a company that until about the 1950s did not produce a wristwatch with its name on it. It raises several questions as well, and leaves me somewhat confused.For the sake of clarification and a little critical evaluation, let me present a few points and express some reservations
Around 1918 Martel is seen supplying Universal with chronograph movements (see Universal Genève - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia a).
On further examination, this statement appears to be unsupported. Your source is wikipedia, and their source is no less an horological authority than a reporter for the Singapore Business Times, whose article states only that Martel bought Zenith in 1960 - nothing about Martel supplying UG. Check it yourself: http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/sub/supplement/story/0,4574,453681,00.html?You have pointed out elsewhere that statements can become fact by simple repetition on the internet - we see here an example of how. On the italian site, Nicola extracts an apparently supporting statement from inevneitetfecit.com (Rassegna di). However, again tracking back to the source, we see that this is in reference to the Datocompax, known to be manufactured at the UG facility at Ponts-de Martel after 1941. Unfortunately, this unsupported assumption about Martel being the source of UG movements proves rather key in all that follows, as here
we can conclude that the world's first wristwatch chronograph, launched by Universal around 1917-18, probably used a movement made by Martel.
In Universal Watch Geneve, Pietro Giuliano Sala has written an horological history that more lavishly documented from primary sources than all but a few others. He has stated thatn in 1933, upon his accession to the management of UG with the death of his father, Raoul Perret concentrated all manufacturing operations in Geneva, which would seem to preclude Martel being a source of movements.
"A new chronograph caliber with two pushers".The text mentions that it is one and the same caliber for different sizes, with as a result the ease of interchangeable parts : this is a characteristic of Martel calibers.
...and of UG calibers, which the advertisement is in fact talking about.
In any case since Martel was making the movements, all there was left for either Universal or Zenith was adding the dials, hands, and cases to the movements, with the company names and numbers.
Wouldn't it be odd for UG to have bought ebauches from Martel, and the sold them - as ebauches - to Eberhard, Jaeger LeCoultre and Vacheron & Constantin, all well documented in Sala, as if those firms did not know Martel's telephone number themselves? Now, there is no doubt the Swiss watchmaking industry works in mysterious ways, with all sorts of collective agreements that do not jibe with expectations of competitive corporate culture, but that seems curiously complicated and improbable to me.
Then it is reported by some that due to the succes of the chronographs by 1941 Universal Geneve had to open a new, ultramodern production line for chronographs
This piece of information is not "reported by some." It is documented. I will quote Sala at length "This latest chain of events (Zenith's demand for UG ebauches - my note) convinced the partners to build a new plant in Pont-de-Martel in record time, where they began manufacturing chronographs and timekeepers for military and industrial purposes...the new factory was opened on 31 January 1941....It was in this facility that, among others, the new chronograph presented on 6 November 1940 was built: the Aerocompax...in the following year, production of a new totalizing chronograph fro aviation commenced, along with other watches and chronographs for purely military purposes which dominated the period." Along with this, Sala offers two pictures of the plant itself with "UNIVERSAL" across the front of the building. This last suggests strongly that you are right that the establishment of this plant is different from the establishment of Martel, the point of confusion being the place name. It also raises the possibility that the identity of Martel watch and UG's Pont de Martel facility have been conflated in other ways, namely that many of the achievements of the UG works have been ascribed to Martel Watch company when in fact the two are different. Here is a good example of that:
Around 1942 the Martel/Universal Geneve/Zenith collaboration then led to the first wristwatch chronograph with date. (see for instance Page Modèles)

The DatoCompax is plainly a UG product, made at the Pont-de-Martel works. That, as you have showed, is not the same as a Martel product. The author of invenitetfecit (your source) regards the two as synonymous, it now seems to me erroneously. Very confusing...



only the last step before Martel came to make the star product, the first wristwatch chronograph with full calendar and moonphase in 1944.

That will surprise many people! Again Sala, shortly after discussing the Tri-Compax introduction for UG's 50th anniversary, "All chronographs produced (Unicompax, Compax, Medico-Compax, Dato-Compax, Aero-Compax, and Tri-Compax) along with more simple pieces, were equipped with movements designed and manufactured entirely in-house."

So, I'm skeptical - to say the least - of your casting Martel as the "little man behind the curtain" to Universal Geneve's Wizard of Oz, and assigning all of UG's accomplishments to little Martel. Nevertheless, there remain many ambiguities. Left to explain is the Martel-UG shared, near-identical triple-calendar moonphase with the cal 291, the cal 146 which entered into Zenith's posession as well as the 'Victorious' product line, similarly in Zenith's portfolio. From where did each originate?

It seems to me that four elements clearly existed and must be accounted for
1. Martel watch company established in 1911
2. a wholly-owned UG facility at Pont de Martel
3. an independent Martel watch company functioning in the 1950's with self-branded products, some of which are shared with UG
4. an entity named 'Martel' which Zenith bought 1958-1960, and which brought a new time-only watch movement (never used by UG), and UG-derived chronograph movement, and the 'Victorious' product line into the Zenith portfolio

To me, the 1911 Martel seems unrelated to anything else. The only statement that relates it to UG is an unsupported Wikipedia item. As a footnote, I should mention that "Martel" does not enter Sala's history until the plant is build there in 1941. The UG facility and the independent 1950s Martel are linked by the cal 291 triple-calendar moonphase watch. The independant Martel and Zenith are linked by teh 25x2 series calibers and the 'Victorious.' The UG facility and Zenith may be linked by the cal 146 - I know of no Martel-branded chronograph at all.

From this, my hypothesis: 1911 Martel died or was absorbed at some undetermined point in the past. UG built a chronograph works at Pont de Martel in 1941, and spun it off as a separate brand, perhaps wholly independent, perhaps not, in the 1950s, using a name from the past that had fallen into disuse, as many companies have done recently. That company developed the 25x2 series of calibers to support a time-only watch line as a main product. That brand and the physical facility in Pont de Martel was acquired by Zenith, looking for a rotor automatic and an in-house chronograph. UG's accomplishments belong to UG and no one else, and UG was the parent of 1950s Martel, sold to Zenith.



 

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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
but dear Lou, Whatever the fans of Universal Geneve or Zenith may think or say about the UG or Zenith chronographs being made wholly "in-house", you should see through all that.

Tell me, what movements did Universal Geneve use when it started, in the 1930's? Everybody knows that these were identical to the Zenith calibers, they were Martel made movements.

The Zenith advertisement from ca. 1932-1935 for the two new chronograph caliber with two pushers is not about Universal Geneve calibers, it is about Zenith chronographs with Zenith cal. 122 and 136.

But whether called Universal cal. 281 or Zenith cal. 122, the movement was the same, and it was designed and made by Martel.

Take a look also at the advertisement for the Martel single pusher wristwatch chronograph from ca. 1927, another addition thanks to Nicola.

Nicola has studied the thing more and we seem to agree on this short history being correct!

Take your time to study the movements.

Thanks
 

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Thanks you, sempervivens, for the write up and LouS for the additional comments. My only contribution at this stage is two corrections:

1. The Zenith Cal. 126 was not a chronograph movement, not was it made by Martel. It is the in house cousin of the Cal. 106 (HW, sub second but 12''' instead of 10'''). You are thinking of the (Martel chronograph) Cal. 122.

2. Prior to using the 25xx P(C) series, Zenith had only one automatic movement (Cal. 133) and derivatives (Cals.133.8 and 71) but these were in house. Zenith did not obtain external automatic movements at that stage.

Hartmut Richter
 

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SV, thank you so much for your intrepid and valuable research. This issue has long interested me (ever since I read in a JLC book that UG had subcontracted chronograph manufacture to Martel in order to keep up with demand in the late '40s), and it is all so hard to pin down! Fascinating to learn that UG's Raoul Perret was on the board of Zenith! I have to admit that information I have seen (admittedly not as much as you have seen!) has always indicated that UG developed and manufactured its chronograph movements in-house in the '20s, '30s and '40s, being, with Lemania, one of the only houses to do so outside of the ebauche-makers, Ebauches S.A., Venus and Valjoux. It is so interesting to see the connections in those days between Universal, Zenith and Martel!

Your conclusion "that the world's first wristwatch chronograph, launched by Universal around 1917-18, probably used a movement made by Martel" seems rather thinly supported to me. Lang and Meis, "Chronograph Wristwatches, To Stop Time" (1993) credit the Moeris firm with the first small (13''') chronograph movements marketed as wristwatche around 1910. Frustratingly, they barely mention Martel except to note a 1937 patent concerning the hour register wheel drive.

Incidentally, you have repeated what I have read elsewhere that Zenith ceased mechanical manufacture in 1975 on the orders of its parent Zenith Radio Corporation, deviously undermined by the sainted Charles Vermot. It is clear, however, that Zenith Le Locle continued to produce the El Primero 01.0200.415 "Fernseher" (TV set) (and no other) right up to 1978 when the last 50 were produced in black (see how our purchases guide our research; see also Roessler, p. 241). My assumption has been that this continued production was tolerated by ZRC because it used up existing parts and connected in to the TV set image - they were advertised under ZRC's slogan "The quality goes in before the name goes on." But I have never seen an authoritative explanation for this limited continued mechanical production from 1975-1978. Anyone?

SV, thanks again!

Chris
 

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Discussion Starter #11 (Edited)
SV, thank you so much for your intrepid and valuable research. This issue has long interested me (ever since I read in a JLC book that UG had subcontracted chronograph manufacture to Martel in order to keep up with demand in the late '40s), and it is all so hard to pin down! Fascinating to learn that UG's Raoul Perret was on the board of Zenith! I have to admit that information I have seen (admittedly not as much as you have seen!) has always indicated that UG developed and manufactured its chronograph movements in-house in the '20s, '30s and '40s, being, with Lemania, one of the only houses to do so outside of the ebauche-makers, Ebauches S.A., Venus and Valjoux. It is so interesting to see the connections in those days between Universal, Zenith and Martel!

Your conclusion "that the world's first wristwatch chronograph, launched by Universal around 1917-18, probably used a movement made by Martel" seems rather thinly supported to me. Lang and Meis, "Chronograph Wristwatches, To Stop Time" (1993) credit the Moeris firm with the first small (13''') chronograph movements marketed as wristwatche around 1910. Frustratingly, they barely mention Martel except to note a 1937 patent concerning the hour register wheel drive.

Incidentally, you have repeated what I have read elsewhere that Zenith ceased mechanical manufacture in 1975 on the orders of its parent Zenith Radio Corporation, deviously undermined by the sainted Charles Vermot. It is clear, however, that Zenith Le Locle continued to produce the El Primero 01.0200.415 "Fernseher" (TV set) (and no other) right up to 1978 when the last 50 were produced in black (see how our purchases guide our research; see also Roessler, p. 241). My assumption has been that this continued production was tolerated by ZRC because it used up existing parts and connected in to the TV set image - they were advertised under ZRC's slogan "The quality goes in before the name goes on." But I have never seen an authoritative explanation for this limited continued mechanical production from 1975-1978. Anyone?

SV, thanks again!

Chris
Thank You Chris.

I agree that there is not much documentation concerning the chronograph which Universal claims they launched around 1917, 'the world's first wristwatch chronograph'. It is possible that Moeris had one before Universal, or both arrived at the same time. Difficult to tell. The only point being made here is that the one which was launched by Universal around 1917, was possibly designed by Martel and then maybe looked like one of those which can be seen in the Martel advertisement from ca. 1920's.

There is the mention on the Universal Geneve Wikipedia page that Universal started using Martel movements as early as 1918: I couldn't verify the source for that. But anyway it is general knowledge that Martel supplied chronograph movements to Universal.

Concerning the ending of the production in 1975 and the production of 'TV' El Primero's after that (until 1978) : it is my understanding that in 1975 the production of movements was halted. But Zenith had plenty of stock movements and cases to continue producing some more TV Primero's during the next years. To produce the black TV Primero in 1978 they only had to order 50 more black dials from the company that supplied their dials.

@ Hartmut : thank you for the comments and corrections ! I've edited the text with your corrections.

Strange that Zenith called the 12 lignes version caliber 122 and all the others with a 6 : cal. 136, 146, 156, 166 : that got me confused.
 

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Great thread, and high time we tried to hash this out.

but dear Lou, Whatever the fans of Universal Geneve or Zenith may think or say about the UG or Zenith chronographs being made wholly "in-house", you should see through all that.
I see through this as well as the Martel fans see through the Martel origin of the movements ;-)

Take your time to study the movements.

Thanks
I would love to, but I can't find any Martel movements to study. None in the Ranfft database, none in Lang & Meis's Chronograph Wristwatches, no mention of any in Ghidoni & Ribolini's Il Cronografo Interpretato, no mention of any in Salm's Armband Chronographen. At the same time, Lang & Meis has 7 Universal Geneve movements and Ranfft has 16. Further, neither existing UG monograph - Bonifacio & Rivolta's Universal Geneve, and Sala's Universal Watch Geneve - make any mention of Martel movements, and of course there are no Martel monographs. Nor do I find any mention of Martel in Antiquorum's storied Universal Geneve sale of 9 April 1994. The tracks of Martel are so well covered that the story begins to ask for a conspiracy theory.

Tell me, what movements did Universal Geneve use when it started, in the 1930's? Everybody knows that these were identical to the Zenith calibers, they were Martel made movements.
Universal started making wrist chronographs in 1917 from 17 ligne pocket watch ebauches (Sala), ebauches presumably Universal's own. This does give some room to speculate on the source of the ebauches, but certainly stops well short of affirming an outside source, much less Martel. As for 'identical to Zenith calibers,' one need hardly bend over backwards to arrive at an explanation - Zenith was supplied by UG, as amply documented by Sala using UG archives. He actually has photographs of records of the Zenith watches from UG archives, entered before they left the UG works to go to Zenith.

The Zenith advertisement from ca. 1932-1935 for the two new chronograph caliber with two pushers is not about Universal Geneve calibers, it is about Zenith chronographs with Zenith cal. 126 and 136.

But whether called Universal cal. 281 or Zenith cal. 126, the movement was the same, and it was designed and made by Martel.
Nothing in this supports a Martel origin.

Take a look also at the advertisement for the Martel single pusher wristwatch chronograph from ca. 1927, another addition thanks to Nicola.

Nicola has studied the thing more and we seem to agree on this short history being correct!
Again, the advertisement proves nothing at all other than Martel was producing wrist chronographs that could be mistaken for those of a dozen other manufacturers by that date. Martel could just as easily have outsourced its movements from UG, or from another supplier. I have read Nicola's valuable posts as best I can with the help of Mr. Google, and I do see that he suggests that UG was obtaining movements from Martel before 1941 (In merito a Universal.....). Here, though, I believe he makes the error of conflating the UG works in Pont-de-Martel with the company Martel (Bonifacio & Rivolta suggest there was a UG facility there which was demolished to make way for the new 1941 factory).

Here's a photo of the new factory of 1941 - clearly not a Martel Watch Co. Facility


Back we come to the central issue - how was 1911 Martel related to the Universal Geneve works in Pont-de-Martel? Did 1911 Martel die and was the UG works a totally separate entity? Was it bought by UG and demolished, the Pont de Martel works representing its descendant? And if it was bought, what intellectual property came with it? Was UG producing 1911 Martel hardware, or did it simply use the real estate to augment production of its own from Geneva?

If UG received ebauches from Martel, the absence of traces from the historical record are hard to explain. Has any other movement supplier been as thoroughly buried?
 

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We were posting siumulatenously, SV - obviously much engaged in this topic!

I agree that there is not much documentation concerning the chronograph which Universal claims they launched around 1917, 'the world's first wristwatch chronograph'. It is possible that Moeris had one before Universal, or both arrived at the same time. Difficult to tell. The only point being made here is that the one which was launched by Universal around 1917, was possibly designed by Martel and then maybe looked like one of those which can be seen in the Martel advertisement from ca. 1920's.
here is a cautious, well-qualified remark - "possibly designed by Martel...maybe looked like one of those in the Martel advertisement"
No evidence in favor, and none against - just informed speculation - a responsible researcher's statement.

There is the mention on the Universal Geneve Wikipedia page that Universal started using Martel movements as early as 1918: I couldn't verify the source for that. But anyway it is general knowledge that Martel supplied chronograph movements to Universal.
There is no source to verify. The footnote refers to the second statement in the sentence, that Zenith bought Martel (and a cites a "lifestyle" article in the Singapore Business News - gotta love Wikipedia). As for Martel supplying movements, here is the "conflation error" - the source of all the misunderstanding. The Universal works in Pont de Martel supplied chronograph movements to Universal - but what was Martel Watch Company?
 

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Discussion Starter #14 (Edited)
Great thread, and high time we tried to hash this out.

...

Universal started making wrist chronographs in 1917 from 17 ligne pocket watch ebauches (Sala), ebauches presumably Universal's own.

...
Thanks Lou. There is no hurry, but I hope we will learn and find out more.

If the first Universal wristwatch chronograph from around 1917 was 17 lignes, as you quote, that would agree perfectly with the Martel advertisement from the 1920's, where they advertised a 17 lignes chronograph.
Since you say it was only "presumably" Universal's own movement, then it might as well be presumed that it was not their own movement but bought from a specialist like Martel.

Martel was a typical ébaucheur : an ébaucheur does not take any credit for the watches they delivered to the établisseurs. They don't boast about what they do. All the advertisement business is left to the établisseur. That's why we can find very little information about Martel.

Perhaps you should take another look at the advertisement for Martel's "Victorious" watch (ca. 1956). The advertisement mentions : "impeccable quality guaranteed by Martel's 40 year reputation for dependability and outstanding service to the watch trade". 1911-1956 = 45 years. The ad confirms the uninterrupted existence of the 1911 Martel, which never 'died' (until it was closed by the Zenith Radio company in 1975).

The fact that Martel was the original creator of the chronograph movements of course doesn't mean that Universal (and Zenith) did not invest a lot of money in Martel : the money needed for investing in further chronograph developments was obviously coming from Universal and Zenith. And considering that they paid for the development and practically were the sole customers of Martel, I can understand that Universal would still claim that it was wholly their in-house movement.

Also this doesn't exclude that from 1941 onwards there came an additional plant in Les Ponts-de Martel for chronograph production and that this new production line was wholly owned by Universal Geneve. Apparently it is so. However it is possible that Universal Geneve then paid Martel for the right to start producing the chronograph movements directly themselves (from 1941 onwards) and still did this with the help and under supervision of Martel (hence the location).

Two questions for you: the Universal building in Les Ponts-de-Martel was built in 1941. Why exactly in Les Ponts-de Martel, if Universal Geneve was producing everything else in Geneva? And where were the Universal chronograph movements produced before the new plant opened in 1941?

Note that the Martel building in Les Ponts-de-Martel can still be seen in the video with Charles Vermot (around minute 4).
 

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If the first Universal wristwatch chronograph from around 1917 was 17 lignes, as you quote, that would agree perfectly with the Martel advertisement from the 1920's, where they advertised a 17 lignes chronograph.
Since you say it was only "presumably" Universal's own movement, then it might as well be presumed that it was not their own movement but bought from a specialist like Martel.
...or someone else. There is no evidence it was Universal, but neither is there evidence it was Martel. It is all presumption.

Martel was a typical ébaucheur : an ébaucheur does not take any credit for the watches they delivered to the établisseurs. They don't boast about what they do. All the advertisement business is left to the établisseur. That's why we can find very little information about Martel.
Such a degree of anonymity is not typical at all, I think. When we think about other chronograph ébaucheurs - Valjoux, Venus, Landeron - we find that they leave plenty of traces in the horological record. The names of the movements are in common circulation, and the companies that use them - think Breitling, Heuer - make no hay about having in-house movements. Universal Geneve is completely different - we hear in house all the time, and we don't know of any Martel movement. What is a Martel movement, other than what we here on the forum call the movements that came into Zenith possession when they bought the Universal Geneve Ponts-de-Martel works?

Perhaps you should take another look at the advertisement for Martel's "Victorious" watch (ca. 1956). The advertisement mentions : "impeccable quality guaranteed by Martel's 40 year reputation for dependability and outstanding service to the watch trade". 1911-1956 = 45 years. The ad confirms the uninterrupted existence of the 1911 Martel, which never 'died' (until it was closed by the Zenith Radio company in 1975).
Yes, this statement, plus the documentation that Nicola has supplied shows that Martel was in continuous operation. That part of my hypothesis is invalidated.

The fact that Martel was the original creator of the chronograph movements of course doesn't mean that Universal (and Zenith) did not invest a lot of money in Martel : the money needed for investing in further chronograph developments was obviously coming from Universal and Zenith. And considering that they paid for the development and practically were the sole customers of Martel, I can understand that Universal would still claim that it was wholly their in-house movement.
I'm not entirely satisfied that a company can receive ebauches from an independant manufacturer and claim they are in house. Have we any similar examples from horology? And remember that UG sold ebauches further on. It would be strange for other companies to buy them from UG when they were available from Martel.
Assuming that Martel and UG were related, could the relationship have been the inverse of what you have hypothesized? Namely, could Martel have been retained as a subcontractor to produce additional UG movements, perhaps when Universal was in Le Locle? It would explain the absence of Martel movements, and UG as the sole source of UG ebauches perhaps.

Also this doesn't exclude that from 1941 onwards there came an additional plant in Les Ponts-de Martel for chronograph production and that this new production line was wholly owned by Universal Geneve. Apparently it is so. However it is possible that Universal Geneve then paid Martel for the right to start producing the chronograph movements directly themselves (from 1941 onwards) and still did this with the help and under supervision of Martel (hence the location).

Two questions for you: the Universal building in Les Ponts-de-Martel was built in 1941. Why exactly in Les Ponts-de Martel, if Universal Geneve was producing everything else in Geneva? And where were the Universal chronograph movements produced before the new plant opened in 1941?
Some excerpts from Sala(S) and Bonifacio & Rivolta(BR) to reconstruct the geographic history of UG:
18 January 1894: Descombes & Perret founded "Universal Watch Company" on rue du College in Le Locle for the purpose of "Fabricatoin de boites, des cuvettes, des cadrans, de mouvements, d'etuis et emballages des montres" (S)
1897: Perret & Berthoud take over all patents and trademarks, establishing at no 7, rue Daniel Jean Richard, Le Locle (S, BR)
1918: a shop (by which I understand a retail outlet) opens in Geneva (S)
1919: administrative offices transferred to Rue de L'Arabesque, Geneva, but "A Le Locle venne mantenuta la parte ideativa e construttiva." "Le Locle remained the creative and construction hub" (S)
1933: upon the accession of Perret fils to the directorship after the death of his father, "all manufacturing operations were concentrated in Geneva" (S) "THe Manufacture des Montres UNiversal Perret & Berhtoud SA Geneve was founded" (BR)
1935: head office moved to 43 rue du Rhone, Geneva (S)
1941: unable to keep up with demand, UG opens a new plant in Ponts-de-Martel (S). INterestingly, BR state that there was an old property there "In January 1941, faced with the prospect of either turning down orders fro chronographs or boosting the productivity of the Ponts-de-Martel factory, which had already been making them for years, Universal in less than 6 months demolished the old premises and openeda new manufacturing facility on the same site. Far ahead of its time, the factory featured telephones in every room, goods lifts, pilot clocks throughout the factory and innovatively designed machinery that boosted the quality of its output even further. The plant produces the latest additions to the UNiversal range, the AeroCompax and the totalizer chronograph fro airline pilots. " (BR)
mid-1940s: Geneva premises refurbished to include workshops on the top floor (BR)
1954: new manufacturing plant opened in Carouge (a municipality of Geneva) (S, BR) apparently to accommodate production of the microrotor movements

So in answer to your questions: Question 1: the plant in Ponts de Martel opened there because UG already had real estate there where it was making movements before. The fact that it had 'UNiversal' across the front makes it improbable that it was a Martel facility, as already discussed. We have no images of the antecedent facility. Two possibilities appear to exist. It was a UG property, set up nearby when the directorate was in Le Locle (10km away). Alternately, it was a Martel plant that was replaced. However, it seems to me that UG would have had to purchase the facility, if not the whole company (P-d-M is not that large - it's not clear to me how many physical plants 1911 Martel could have had) to put 'Universal' across the front. That's not impossible, but it seems highly unlikley that such a transaction would have gone unrecorded in the Swiss press, based on the items that Nicola has found so far. I rely on him to find some evidence of such a transaction.

Question 2: first in Le Locle, then in Geneva and Ponts de Martel

In fact, I think futher clues lie in the press and trademark and patent office records. For example, it would be interesting to compare the board of directors and executives of UG and Martel at some equivalent moment in time. It would be interesting to see when Martel registered its little circle with wings trademark that it used on its 1950s watches, when it registered its 'Victorious' trademark, and what movement patents it held.



Note that the Martel building in Les Ponts-de-Martel can still be seen in the video with Charles Vermot (around minute 4).
Yes, I saw that - it was converted into something ignominious like a dry goods warehouse or something similar....can you be sure it is the same building? To me, it looks like the same building with two rows of large set-back windows and two floors below. I ask because that would at least help us determine that it was Universal plant that Zenith bought.
 

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Discussion Starter #19 (Edited)
...or someone else. There is no evidence it was Universal, but neither is there evidence it was Martel. It is all presumption.
Yes but it is a logical presumption. Since Universal always used Martel chronographs, this cooperation probably started as early as 1917. I agree there is no 100 % proof here. But Martel was there, they were chronograph specialists, they had a 17 lignes wristwatch chronograph, it probably was that which Universal used.

Such a degree of anonymity is not typical at all, I think. When we think about other chronograph ébaucheurs - Valjoux, Venus, Landeron - we find that they leave plenty of traces in the horological record. The names of the movements are in common circulation, and the companies that use them - think Breitling, Heuer - make no hay about having in-house movements. Universal Geneve is completely different - we hear in house all the time, and we don't know of any Martel movement. What is a Martel movement, other than what we here on the forum call the movements that came into Zenith possession when they bought the Universal Geneve Ponts-de-Martel works?
I'm no expert, but it seems anyway there is not so much knowledge around about the earliest wristwatch chronographs.

Breitling also claims they launched the first wristwatch chronograph in 1915:

"1884 - In St. Imier, in the Jura mountains of Switzerland, Leon Breitling opens a workshop specialising in making chronographs and precision counters for scientific and industrial purposes. In 1914 Leon Breitling dies and the company is passed over to his son Gaston, a year later Gaston creates the first wristwatch chronograph and subsequently provides pilots with the first wrist instruments. By 1923 Breitling had developed the first ever independent chronograph pushpiece." (Breitling watches at Watches.co.uk) On the official Breitling site there are more confused claims, I don't think they know their own history all that well either.

Also about Valjoux, Venus, and Landeron I would say there is relatively little that we know, considering they are responsible for so many chronographs.

The difference is that the Valjoux, Venus and Landeron chronograph ébauches were available for everyone and effectively were sold to many different brands.
Obviously there nobody can claim a Valjoux or Venus to be their own in-house movement (maybe some do).

Universal on the contrary seems to have reached an early exclusivity agreement with Martel. Nobody but Universal and Zenith got to use the new Martel chronographs with two pushers.

Universal possibly owned a part of the stock of Martel. That could be.

Martel Watch Co SA took the legal structure of a stock corporation (Société anonyme) in 1914 as Nicola has shown.

In December 1929 the capital was raised from 100 000 to 150 000 franks. That is a clear sign of an important investment being made!

And a few years afterwards, in 1932 appears the first "modern" chronograph with two pushers.

Universal has IMO some right to call it their own in-house movement, since they had the exclusivity and helped developing it by their investments (with the help of Zenith also).

Universal however never concealed they got the chronographs from Martel. This is part of general knowledge after all. It seems to me that many people in the watch world already know or have heard that the Universal Geneve chronograph movements came from Martel!

1933: upon the accession of Perret fils to the directorship after the death of his father, "all manufacturing operations were concentrated in Geneva" (S) "THe Manufacture des Montres UNiversal Perret & Berhtoud SA Geneve was founded" (BR)
1935: head office moved to 43 rue du Rhone, Geneva (S)
1941: unable to keep up with demand, UG opens a new plant in Ponts-de-Martel (S). INterestingly, BR state that there was an old property there "In January 1941, faced with the prospect of either turning down orders fro chronographs or boosting the productivity of the Ponts-de-Martel factory, which had already been making them for years,
It is clear from this quotation that we should understand that "when all manufacturing operations were concentrated in Geneva", this means : all except the chronographs (which were being made in Les Ponts-de-Martel).

Due to the succes of the first two pushers chronographs which were launched in the 1930's, Universal could open a modern new production facility in 1941 for chronographs.

The new Universal building was then apparently an additional production centre where Universal could produce more chronographs, however still in cooperation with Martel.

Is the addres of that building mentioned?

It is in the same style, but to me it seems a different building from the Martel building, that can be seen in the Vermot video.


Yes, I saw that - it was converted into something ignominious like a dry goods warehouse or something similar....
The Martel building after 1975 was taken over by "une entreprise d'alimentation", that is French for a company specialised in food products. And they kept the name Martel apparently, so they didn't have to remove the Martel name on the building. Who knows how long that lasted; that video must have been made in the nineties.
 

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Originally Posted by sempervivens
Note that the Martel building in Les Ponts-de-Martel can still be seen in the video with Charles Vermot (around minute 4)."

"Yes, I saw that - it was converted into something ignominious like a dry goods warehouse or something similar....can you be sure it is the same building? To me, it looks like the same building with two rows of large set-back windows and two floors below. I ask because that would at least help us determine that it was Universal plant that Zenith bought."(LouS)


Being a detail kind of guy, I reviewed the Charles Vermot video carefully and compared the shot of the Martel manufacture with Lou's photo of the 'new' Universal factory in Les Ponts de Martel. There is no doubt whatever in my mind that they are one and the same building (the details of # of panes of glass in outlying windows as compared to central windows, etc. are a dead giveaway). The question remains, how did that factory come to change hands? Did Universal build it to expand its chronograph production, then decide it was too much capital, sell it to Martel and sub-contract its chronograph production? Or was it always a Martel facility that bore the Universal name until its production ceased being almost entirely for Universal? (Just as the Aegler facility in Biel bore the name Rolex long before it was owned by Rolex.) Over to youse guys!

Chris
 
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