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spinynorman

Complete(ish) History of Allaine watches

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A while ago I posted a history of the Allaine watch brand, as far as I knew it at the time. Since then, I have uncovered more information, which answered some of the questions left over from my original research. @Roger the Dodger kindly deleted it for me, so I could replace it with something a little more complete. I realise there’s probably only a few people who share my level of interest in Allaine, but since the information most often quoted from Mikrolisk is at best misleading, I think its worth documenting what I have found out.

Most of this is based on a number of original sources:-

FOSC = Feuille officielle suisse du commerce (Swiss Official Gazette of Commerce) at https://www.e-periodica.ch/

FHS = Journal of La Fédération Horlogère Suisse at https://doc.rero.ch/

Davoine = Indicateur de l'horlogerie suisse (annual industry trade directory) at https://doc.rero.ch/

Newspapers such as L’Impartial and L’Express at https://doc.rero.ch/

 

The Achille Barré era

FOSC records that the trademark “Allaine” was registered by the watchmaker Achille Barré, of Porrentruy in Switzerland, on 22nd March 1941. The registration shows the trademark in script, rather than the stylised block capitals that came later.

An Allaine watch with the original script signature on the dial. This automatic with an inflated “30 Rubis” is driven by an AS 1361N movement. (Picture saved from eBay.)

 

Allaine 30 rubis auto s-l1600 aa

In April 1944, Achille Barré, who we learn was the son of Arthur Barré of France, went into partnership with Alfred Barré, son of Emile Barré of Ocourt. The company, known as “Achille Barré & Co”, operated from Belfort Street in Porrentruy and advertised “Marque Allaine”, in Davoine from 1946 until 1950, when the partnership ended. Alfred continued to be listed in Davoine in his own right, as a supplier of “sertissages” (settings), operating in Bressaucourt.

In July of that year, the company was renamed ‘Achille Barré, Montres Allaine’, with Achille Barré as the sole director. From 1952 until 1954, its Davoine advert features “Montres Allaine et Dania”.

Achille Barré advert from Davoine of 1954.

Davoine 1954 Achille Barre advert

Auguste Petignat

On 31st January 1957, ‘Achille Barré, Montres Allaine’ was wound up. The assets and liabilities were sold to Saras Watch S.A., “a public limited company whose purpose is the manufacture, purchase, sale and trade of watches, as well as the conclusion of all kinds of related business”. The sole director was Achille Barré, until May 1958, when two new directors were appointed: Georges Sutro of Zurich and Auguste Petignat of Miécourt. The company continued to advertise the Allaine and Dania brands.

In March 1959 Achille Barré and Georges Sutro left the board, leaving Auguste Petignat the sole director. Six months later, the general meeting of shareholders changed the name of the business to Allaine Watch S.A. and in December 1960 the company moved its registered office to the nearby town of Miécourt, where Petignat was Mayor and had his own watch finishing workshop. The manufacturing premises, however, remained in Porrentruy.

In October 1960, Allaine Watch S.A. renewed the trademark ‘Allaine’, previously owned by Achille Barré. In this renewal, the wordmark was shown in the block capital font that appears on most of the watches that we are familiar with today. Initially watches bearing this signature were similar to the script signature models, with FHF hand-winding or early Felsa automatics, such as cal 692 or 1560.

Allaine automatic I own, with Felsa 1560 movement.

 

DSC_0909as

In common with the script signature watches, these had their jewel count expressed in “Rubis”, with features like “Incabloc”, “Waterproof” and “Unbreakable Mainspring” listed on the dial. Casebacks are screw-down, typically with “Stainless Steel Back”, “Antimagnetic”, “Swiss Made” and “Waterproof” etched in a circle. In the middle of the circle some stated proudly “Made and Cased by Swiss Precision Watchmakers”, or in other examples “Cased and Timed by Precision Swiss Watchmakers”.

 

DSC_0910as

Further into the 60s, the dials and case-backs became simpler and less cluttered with writing. The letter ‘A’ enclosed in a shield appeared above the Allaine wordmark.

A later Allaine that I own, with a Felsa 4004 automatic movement.

DSC_0108as

 

A less common, probably earlier version of the shield (picture collected from Ebay).

 

Allaine 25J Black Shield s-l1600bs

 

By then, ‘Jewel’ counts had replaced ‘Rubis’, still with some inflation in evidence. For example, Felsa 4000 powered watches, sub-branded “Super” and loaded with “41 Jewels”.

Quite how successful Allaine Watch was at this point is difficult to gauge. However, in October 1964, local newspapers reported that the factory was the victim of a robbery, when watches and other stock were stolen, the value estimated at the time to be 180-200,000 Swiss Francs. At the then exchange rate, that was over £16,000, equivalent to more than £320,000 in 2019 terms.

It’s also evident that Allaine was advertising directly to consumers outside Switzerland, for example this Dutch language advert, I would think from the 1960s.

Allaine advert NLs

From 1962 until 1970, Allaine Watch S.A. was advertising the brands ‘Allaine’, ‘Dania’ and ‘Rubina’ in Davoine.

In June 1979, L’Impartial reported that Micro-Time of Tramelan had acquired four new companies, one of which was 'Allaine Watch of Porrentruy'. Micro-Time was a holding company formed by merging Charles Gigandet SA, Dulux SA,  and a number of other watch manufacturing companies, all of which continued trading under their own brands.

In October 1980 Allaine Watch SA renewed its ownership of the ‘Allaine’ trademark. There is nothing in FOSC about the Micro-Time ownership, but I suspect Allaine Watch was sold off as an independent company again towards the end of the 1980s. Auguste Petignat remained a director until May 2005, when an association lasting over 40 years came to an end.


Other Achille Barré and Allaine Trademarks

The trademark ‘Dania’ was initially registered in Switzerland by Gottfried Amstad, also of Porrentruy. Amstad was formerly a director of Manufacture d'horlogerie “Lion", a company making movements, watch cases and packaging. “Lion” was dissolved in September 1939 and Amstad set up his own business, buying and selling watches. He registered ‘Dania’ in September 1940 and transferred it to Achille Barré & Co in July 1945. It was passed on to Allaine Watch in November 1960 and expired in April 1981. I haven’t found any example of a Dania watch I can reliably trace back to either Amstad or Barré.

There is one other trademark owned by Achille Barré, as far as I can see. ‘Atomic’ was registered in September 1945 and transferred to Allaine Watch in 1960. Again I haven’t found any Atomic brand watches that I believe were his. The ones I have found were made by a contemporary, but separate company: Léon Zuckerman, Montre Benedict (Benedict Watch Co) of La Chaux-de-Fonds. Strangely, these two different versions of the ‘Atomic’ wordmark were registered within a few days of one another and retired on the same day in April 1986. However, I can’t find any connection between the companies.

‘Rubina’ was registered by Allaine Watch in October 1959 and retired in March 2000. It had previously been owned by Compagnie de Montres Marvin from 1950-1955. A German company also owned the trademark and some of their watches survive, but there are others that bear the hallmarks of Allaine.

Rubina watch I own, with ‘R’ in shield and an Arogno movement, in common with similar watches that carry the Allaine branding.

Rubina face

 

As a trademark, ‘Saras’ was registered by Allaine Watch in October 1961 and retired in May 1982. I haven’t found any watches carrying that signature, or any reason why ‘Saras’ would have been chosen as the original name of the company. The name ‘Allaine’, on the other hand, is most likely derived from the river l’Allaine that runs through Porrentruy.

The two other trademarks that Mikrolisk assigns to Achille Barré / Allaine Watch are ‘Allena’ and ‘Veronica’. These were in fact registered personally by Auguste Petignat in August 1962. They expired in March 1983 and I've seen no evidence they were used.

That isn’t quite the end of the story, but I will save the last instalment for another time.

 

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Excellent stuff, my dear "Spiny". Many thanks for sharing your research (to date).

It would probably be useful if things like this, not covered by the excellent Honour's Topics, could be saved for future reference in a suitable repository, whether in the "Brands" clubs or elsewhere.

Regards.

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42 minutes ago, Balaton1109 said:

Excellent stuff, my dear "Spiny". Many thanks for sharing your research (to date).

It would probably be useful if things like this, not covered by the excellent Honour's Topics, could be saved for future reference in a suitable repository, whether in the "Brands" clubs or elsewhere.

Regards.

Thanks, I hope it's useful, or at least interesting. I must admit to getting a bit obsessed about this story and the connections it throws up. I did think about starting an Allaine "club", but I don't think it would have many members.

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37 minutes ago, spinynorman said:

Thanks, I hope it's useful, or at least interesting. I must admit to getting a bit obsessed about this story and the connections it throws up. I did think about starting an Allaine "club", but I don't think it would have many members.

Well, it would have at least two, no worse than some of the existing ones.

And I've been down so many rabbit holes over the years, that I'm sometimes not sure whether I'm above or below ground at any given time. Almost certainly the latter.

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Thanks for that, dear @spinynorman . In response to Balaton's idea that useful topics be held in some sort of repository for future access, may I just mention the very helpful Search feature on the Forum which seems to be used rather less than might be expected. I have quite frequently used it, sometimes to locate and re-examine one of my back topics.:)

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7 hours ago, Always"watching" said:

Thanks for that, dear @spinynorman . In response to Balaton's idea that useful topics be held in some sort of repository for future access, may I just mention the very helpful Search feature on the Forum which seems to be used rather less than might be expected. I have quite frequently used it, sometimes to locate and re-examine one of my back topics.:)

We did used to have a 'pinned' section with memorable topics saved in it. I think it disappeared during one of the software upgrades.

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I suppose, dear Rog, that it might be tricky to define and decide upon what constitutes a "memorable topic." I would like to make one suggestion here and that concerns topic titles. If a member takes the trouble to write a useful and substantial piece of information as a topic then please could they take care over the topic title. I now always try and incorporate a word or phrase that defines the main subject of each topic in order to make it easier for later researchers to locate it either on the Forum or online.

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This post takes the story on until the present day. The legacy of the Allaine brand and company continues in two separate forms, in Switzerland, and less auspiciously, in China.

Incidentally, I started an Allaine club.

 

Allaine in the Late 20th Century

The commercial records don’t throw any light on the period when Allaine Watch was a subsidiary of Micro-Time. The objective of the group was to standardise components and rationalise production, while leaving the individual companies to sell under their own brands. August Petignat remained as managing director of Allaine Watch, but didn’t take a seat on the board of the parent.

Certainly Allaine did, at some point, move away from the mostly gold plated dress watches it produced in the 1950s and early 60s.

17J hand-winding with date (picture saved from Ebay)

 

Allaine 17j grey dial T Swiss T s-l1600a ss

25J automatic with bezel, guaranteed to 20ATM and tested at 30ATM, according to the case-back. (Picture saved from Instagram)

allaine-diver-vintage-instagram

7J hand-winding ETA 2750 cushion cased from 1970s (Picture saved from Ebay)

Allaine 17j 1970s ETA 2750  from china s-l1600b ss

A rather intriguing addition to the line is the brand ‘Allenby’. The trademark was owned by Mustang Watch SA of Basle, registered in 1956 and renewed in 1976. Watches with sub-brands like ‘Firebird’, ‘Fleetmaster’, ‘Jetstreamer’ and ‘King of Rio’ are probably by this company. There was also a range of watches signed ‘Allenby by Helsa’, using the wordmark registered by Mustang, so it seems they were licensing the trademark to other manufacturers. Helsa moved to Porrentruy in 1957 and were neighbours of Allaine when they folded in 1966.

Allaine Watch never owned ‘Allenby’, but it appears they did pick up the licence, probably after the demise of Helsa, and adapted the trademark with their own characteristic font and shield. (Picture from Ebay).

Allenby Luxus s-l1600a ss

 

The Chinese Connection

In July 2005, an article in L’Impartial identified Marcel Lachât as the owner of Allaine Watch, implying that the purchase occurred a short time before November 2004. A notice in FOSC of May 2005 records that Auguste Petignat had ceased to be a director and Lachat had taken his place on the board as manager and partner.

Lachât had run his own watch finishing workshop in Alle, a few miles up the road from Porrentruy, and in March 2000 had transferred the assets to a new company he set up, named ‘Horlogerie Allaine Sarl’. In December this company registered the trademark ‘Allaine’ and the original Allaine Watch version was allowed to expire. Between 2005 and 2007, Allaine Watch was listed as a partner and shareholder in Horlogerie Allaine and Lachât was a director of both companies.

There were two other new members of the board of Allaine Watch from 2005. One was Yuming Yang, who had arrived from China in 1980, studied horology at IUHEI (Graduate Institute of Development Studies) in Geneva and worked as a consultant for Swatch Group. He met Lachât when accompanying a delegation of Swiss businessmen to China and the two discovered a mutual interest in selling Swiss watches on the Chinese market. The other investor was Sha Shengxi, chairman of the Ruihui Watch Company, which owns the ‘Poscer’ brand of watches in China.

In 2010, the ‘Allaine’ trademark was transferred from Horlogerie Allaine back to Allaine Watch and renewed for a further 10 years. Then, in October 2016, it was transferred to Vankor, a company that appears to have been set up by Sha Shengxi in order to give the appearance of a Swiss heritage to his business in China. It seems he was the real power behind the takeover of Allaine Watch.

In 2009, Vankor was one of a number of watch brands that were investigated by the Chinese Administration for Industry and Commerce, and all found to be falsely claiming Swiss origin. The sanctions, including fines and confiscation, were against the retailers rather than the manufacturers. Vankor continued to be promoted as a Swiss brand through Vankor AG, a company established in September 2012, with its registered address on Dorfstrasse, Rümlingen, near Basel. One of the directors is Sha Shengxi.

Chinese media profiles of Sha Shengxi portray him as a visionary, who in 2005 obtained the agency for the “famous Swiss brand Vankor” in the Asia-Pacific region and negotiated a 60% equity in Allaine Watch, along with rights to the ‘Allaine’ brand. The story goes on that he met the head of Allaine, “an old watchmaker who worked at Patek Philippe, and whose family has been working tirelessly for the watch business”. This contact enabled Sha Shengxi to bring high-end Swiss mechanical movement technology to China.

The description of ‘Vankor’ as a famous Swiss watch brand will be news to anyone outside China. The first reference I have found to the company is as Swiss Vankor Time (Far East) Co., Limited, which was established in Hong Kong in December 2001. It registered the trademark ‘Vankor’ in May 2002. Vankor AG still owns the rights to the Allaine brand, but I can't see any sign that it has been used on watches originating in China.

Allaine Watch SA went into liquidation in December 2016, but this was revoked in November 2017 and the company was renamed ‘Advanced Glass Technology’, with a remit for “manufacture and marketing of sapphire glass; manufacture, purchase, sale and trade of watches and all timepieces; manufacture and trade of renewable technologies, LED lamps and panels”. Yuming Yang was the only director. This company is still trading.

Patek Philippe

In May 2008, L’Impartial reported that Patek Philippe had acquired a majority stake in Horlogerie Allaine, with Marcel Lachât remaining as Chief Executive and Thierry Stern of Patek joining the board. Patek promised to invest in a new factory in Alle and to increase the workforce from 17 people to 50. In July 2009, L’Express Neuchatel published a photo of the new Horlogerie Allaine factory in an article about the expansion of industry in the Jura region. (Picture saved from L’Express).

L'Express 7th July 2009

Aside from Horlogerie Allaine, Marcel Lachât also has a number of other watch manufacturing interests, including having set up the Cecil Purnell company’s workshop at Alle in 2006. The notice of company formation in FOSC listed Lachât as the sole director. In 2007 an advertorial on the website europastar described how co-founders Jonathan Purnell and Stéphane Valsamides travelled worldwide as the brand’s ambassadors, while Marcel Lachât “performs in his workshop aiming at the perfection of the complicated movements and their finishes”. Purnell moved away from Alle at the end of 2009 and Lachât ceased to be a director.

Horlogerie Allaine is still a going concern within the Patek Philippe Group, specialising in the casing of movements, with Lachât remaining as managing director. The company cases around 20,000 movements a year for companies including Patek Philippe, Piguet and Cecil Purnell. It is listed on Hoovers with an annual turnover of 230m Swiss Francs.

Picture from www.rfj.ch shows Marcel Lachât (left) with Phillipe Stern of Patek Phillipe.

093.jpg

Postscript

Auguste Petignat died on November 28th 2014 at the age of 88.

Edited by spinynorman
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