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spinynorman

The Curious Story of Allaine Watch SA, Achille Barré and Patek Philippe

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I recently bought a watch signed Allaine on the dial, with a Felsa 4004 automatic movement. I soon realised I wasn’t alone in trying to find out about the maker of Allaine watches, but nobody seemed to get beyond the basic information on the Mikrolisk trademark database. I wondered if it would be possible to find out more about the Allaine story.

It turns out there is quite a lot out there about Allaine Watch SA, taking in a venture to sell watches in China, a spell as part of the Micro-Time conglomerate and finally, sale to Patek Philippe. If you want to by-pass the gory details, there’s a summary timeline at the end.

This is a long post, but I hope it will be interesting to a few people, especially those with Allaine watches. Some of it may already be known, but I wanted it to be as complete as I could make it. If anyone has additional information, please post it here and I’ll fill in the gaps. Likewise, any factual errors, please point them out.

Who or What is Achille Barré?

The information we can get from Mikrolisk is that Allaine Watch SA was associated in some way with Achille Barré and had registered the trademark “Dania” in Porrentruy, Switzerland on 24th September 1940. The trademark “Allaine” was registered on 22nd March 1941. The company had a number of other trademarks: Allena, Atomic, Rubina (in 1959), Saras Watch, Saras (in 1961) and Veronica. But who, or what, was Achille Barré?

The earliest reference I can find is in the journal of La Fédération Horlogère Suisse, which reports on February 28th, 1917: “The Emile Barré-Cie partnership, Horloge Courgenay, is dissolved. The liquidation is carried out by Achille Barre and Joseph Petignat, under the reason Emile Barré & Cie, in liq.” (The original is in French and this is a Google translation. I’m not sure about “reason” in this context, it seems more likely to be “registration” or “partnership”. The original is “la raison”.)

Then, on 24th August 1917, the journal carries the registration of “Achille Barré (of Faverois, France) for manufacture of watchmaking in Courgenay (Porrentruy)”, a town in the Jura district of Switzerland.  

The next appearance is on 25th Nov 1924. - “The Achille Barre house, watchmakers of Courgenay, transferred the headquarters of his business to Porrentruy.”

Then a slight detour, as in August 1926, an Adolphe Barré, fabr. d'horlogerie, Porrentruy, begins negotiations with creditors and in July 1928 is declared bankrupt.

This doesn’t seem to affect the Achille Barré operation and there is no further news until April 1944, when the journal records: “Achille Barre, at Porrentruy, manufacture of horlogy. The reason is canceled because of the handing over of the business to the reason "Achille Barre et Cie" in Porrentruy. Achille Barre, son of Arthur, of France, at Porrentruy, and Alfred Barre, son of Emile, of Ocourt. in Porrentruy, formed under this name a partnership which began its operations on April 1, 1944 and which took over, as of that date, the assets and liabilities of the house "Achille Barré", Porrentruy, canceled. Watchmaking manufacture. Belfort Street 53.”

So this brings us into the period covered by Mikrolisk, with Achille Barré now trading as ‘Achille Barre et Cie’.

Connection Between Achille Barré and Allaine Watch SA

Is there one? Apart from both companies trading in Porrentruy, I haven’t found anything I would regard as a conclusive link. I did find an advert hidden on the La Clinique Horlogère website for  Achille Barré of Porrentruy offering “Montres <<Allaine>> et <<Dania>>”. All that proves, however, is that they were using the names.

1487782769_Achille_Barre_porrentruy_allaine_diana_montres_publicites_horlogeres_1954_indicateur_Davoine

The question of where the “Allaine” name comes from is easily answered by looking at a map of Porrentruy, where you will see that the River Allaine flows through the town and out towards Alle, a few kilometres north of Courgenay. It’s likely that Achille Barré used the name of the nearby river to brand some of their watches, but what I don’t know is whether the name was transferred legally to a new “Allaine Watch SA”, or whether it was just a coincidence. On Clinique Horlogère I found a list of watchmakers in Porrentruy which shows:-

Allaine Watch | Saras Watch | 1959
Allaine Watch | Allaine and other brands | 1966
Barré Achille & Co | Allaine | no date

Again, inconclusive and, whatever those dates are, different from Mikrolisk. There is one further piece of circumstantial evidence – in 1964 L’Express Neuchatel stated that Allaine Watch was owned by Mr. Auguste Petignat, Mayor of Miécourt. A Joseph Petignat appears above in the 1917 dissolved partnership Emile Barré-Cie, so it may be the Petignat family is the link.

What is there to know about Allaine Watch SA?

I found three references to Allaine Watch SA in various trade directories.

Swissguide.ch states that the company was founded in 1957, trading from Quai de l'Allaine 2, 2900 Porrentruy, with Yuming Yang (of whom more anon) as “representative”. The road Quai de l'Allaine  appears to house small commercial premises by the river.

Swissfirms.ch lists “Horlogerie Allaine SA, La Fenatte 20, 2942 Alle”, founded in 1985, manager Marcel Lachat. Alle is a town a short way from Porrentruy. La Fenatte is a short road not covered by Google Streetview, but with only a couple of buildings visible on the satellite map.

Kompass gives us Horlogerie Allaine SA, established in 2000 and trading at Route de Miécourt 20, 2942 Alle. Area of activity: Watch subcontracting and any activity in the field of watchmaking. Thierry Stern, Director (of him also more anon).  Route de Miécourt houses a number of watch component manufacturing businesses.

This gives us a somewhat straight line for Allaine Watch SA from 1957, though it is possible the company didn’t trade uninterrupted.

The Clinique Horlogère site has pictures from 1960 of a rather fine Allaine Chronographe sporting a Landeron movement, calibre 149. I think if more Allaine watches like that were turning up on Ebay, the brand’s reputation would be a lot higher.

Allaine Chronographe

https://www.cliniquehorlogere.ch/en/base-chronos/landeron-hahn-charles-le-landeron/landeron-149.html

On 9th October 1964 disaster struck. L’Express Neuchatel reported: “A major robbery was carried out on Wednesday night in Porrentruy, on the premises of the ‘Allaine Watch’ watchmaker, owned by Mr. Auguste Petignat, Mayor of Miécourt.” The thieves made off with four thousand pieces including 150 to 200 gold masters. The haul was valued at 180-200,000 francs and wasn’t adequately covered by insurance. It was, apparently, unusual for so much stock to be stored at the factory, but this was due to a delivery the previous day worth 30,000 Francs. It was thought the contraband would be heading for France.

The Micro-Time era and ambitions in China

In June 1979, the newspaper L'Impartial reported that: “Micro-Time SA of Tramelan has just appointed a new president in the person of Mr. Guy Cattin … Micro-Time is a watchmaking factory that currently has seventeen affiliated companies, including twelve watchmaking factories and five partner suppliers. Essentially Jurasian, with houses such as: Arly, Dulux, Gigandet Ch, Soprod, Speraà Tramelan (the only member of the Neu-Châtelois society being Nestor Landeron), it has just welcomed four other houses watchmaking: Allaine Watch of Porrentruy; Hebe of Alle; P. V. Matthey of Tramelan; Nitella of Tramelan.”

Allaine Watch seems not to have stayed in the Micro-Time hemisphere. On 2nd July 2005, L'Impartial carried a lengthy article on Allaine Watch and its flamboyant owner Yuming Yang.  Yang arrived from China in Switzerland in 1980 to study watchmaking and graduated from the IUHEI of Geneva. He then became a consultant for Swatch Group before acquiring New Onivia SA in Porrentruy, a company specializing in manufacturing mineral crystals and crowns for watches. However, his dream was to manufacture his own brand of watches in China. Through a delegation of Chinese businessmen to Jura he met Marcel Lâchât, who had recently become owner of Allaine Watch. In March 2005, Yang became the majority shareholder and president of Allaine Watch SA, with Marcel Lâchât as managing director. A third partner, ShaShengxi, a “powerful Chinese watchmaker” based in Shenzhen, also joined the company.

“My ambition, says Yuming Yang, is to launch this autumn a line of mid-range watches by Allaine Watch in the Chinese market. The assembly will be operated at Alle, from elements manufactured locally or acquired from subcontractors in the region.”  

In the article, Allaine Watch was described as making “watches, assembled at Alle and labeled Swiss”. A later article, about Yuming Yang’s scheme to hold a Miss China contest in Switzerland, said he employed a total of 25 people at Onivia and Allaine. It also reveals he was a Red Guard under Mao and his father-in-law was the former secretary of the Communist Party of Inner Mongolia.

Allaine bought by Patek Philippe

I don’t know how well Mr Yang did with his venture into selling Swiss watches to China, but in 2008 a press release announced “The Geneva group Patek Philippe strengthens its industrial capacity in the Jura. It has just acquired a majority stake in Horlogerie Allaine in Alle (JU), for an undisclosed amount. New jobs will be created.”

The announcement continued: “Specializing in the assembly of movements - mainly canning - it will remain at the service of all its clients in the watchmaking sector. The current managing director, Marcel Lachat, is kept in office. As part of this new partnership, Horlogerie Allaine has purchased a plot of 4000 m2 to build a production area of 1000 m2. Founded in 1985, Horlogerie Allaine currently has 17 employees. The workforce should reach 50 employees by the end of 2010.”

Those who have been paying attention will remember Kompass listed Thierry Stern as Director of Allaine Watch. Thierry Stern has been Chairman of Patek Philippe SA since August 2009, taking over the reins from his father.   

Conclusions

There’s enough information here to form a partial time-line for the Allaine Watch company.

1917 - The Emile Barré-Cie partnership, Horloge Courgenay, was dissolved by Achille Barré and Joseph Petignat.  Achille Barré came to Courgenay from Faverois, France and registered as a watchmaker with  La Fédération Horlogère Suisse.

1924 – The business moved from Courgenay to Porrentruy.

1944 – A new company, Achille Barre et Cie, was registered in Porrentruy. Achille Barre used the trademarks “Allaine” and “Dania”.

1960 – An Allaine Chronographe was produced using a Landeron movement, calibre 149.

1964 – Allaine Watch, owned by Auguste Petignat, Mayor of Miécourt, was the victim of a major robbery and lost stock worth 180-200,000 francs.

1979 – Allaine Watch was acquired by Micro-Time SA of Tramelan, a conglomerate including Gigandet, Nestor Landeron and Matthey.

2005 – Chinese businessman Yuming Yang becomes Chairman of Allaine Watch SA, with Marcel Lâchât, the previous owner, as managing director. Yang’s plan is to sell mid-range Swiss watches into the Chinese market.

2008 – Patek Philippe acquired a majority stake in Allaine Watch, promising new investment in the company. Marcel Lâchât remained managing director. The company now specialised in the assembly and casing of watch movements.

There are still lots of gaps, including the conclusive connection between Achille Barré and Allaine Watch. That’s something that requires more research.

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I found a Dania pocket watch on Ebay. Too expensive to buy out of interest and later withdrawn. No idea what vintage or if it's even the same Allaine Watch brand. Anyone recognise the movement? (Seller's pics)

Dania pocket watch

 

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