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An Empire of Brand Names: The Ed. Kummer Story

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Eduard Kummer was born on 16 March 1845, in Bettlach, a municipality in the canton of Solothurn, Switzerland. At the age of 15, he commenced a watchmaking apprenticeship which resulted in his becoming a Master Watchmaker, and followed this with a number of years spent in Reconvillier and Grenchen. For a while, Kummer worked as a postman in Bettlach and innkeeper/bar landlord in Grenchen before finally returning to watchmaking in 1882. In that year, Kummer started work at the watch and watch parts company, “Obrecht & Cie,” a firm that he later wanted to take over himself but was thwarted by the interests of his partners. Mikrolisk gives a trade mark registration by P. Obrecht & Cie of Granges, Grenchen, dating to 8 April 1897, when the firm is listed for watches and watch parts, and it is known that Obrecht & Cie produced complete watches, some of them with simple Roskopf-type movements. Kummer had left Obrecht & Co some 9 years prior to 1897, and it may be that while he was active there, the company was only involved in the production of rough watch movements/movement-blanks.




A rare glimpse of Eduard Kummer himself, date unknown (pic from uhrenpaul.eu):





Eduard Kummer was apparently lured back to Bettlach by the local Bettlach authorities who requested him to establish an ébauche factory in Bettlach, the place of his birth, in order to contribute to its development. For this purpose, they provided building land on which had stood “Lehnipeters Grits,” a double house made of straw, before being burnt down in 1886 in a village fire. Kummer was in business in Bettlach by 1888, in which year he was employing 20 people and promising the local citizenry that he would bring esteem and well-being to the area. Initially, the company made rough watch movements and watch components and was named, Eduard Kummer Bettlach (EKB). Production of complete watches commenced at about the turn of the century in addition to the manufacture of parts/movements and the company went from strength to strength, becoming an AG – Ed. Kummer AG, Bettlach – some time before 1912. Additional buildings were subsequently added to the original factory in 1890, 1902, 1905, 1910, 1917, 1920 and 1929, and at the time of World War One, the company was employing 720 workers with Inventic and Ariston being the main watch brands (using anchor, cylinder and and Roskopf-type escapements) while EKB was the main brand for movements. The expansion of production also necessitated a change from water power by pressure line to steam, and Kummer acquired a steam engine plant, Lokmobile, which brought a continuous power of 900hp.




A marvellous small signage for the Inventic brand, date unknown but probably c.1920 (pic from largevintagewatches.blogspot.com at 3.bp.blogspot.com):





In an advert for Obrecht & Cie, at which time that firm claimed to employ 800 workers, the term “système americaine” is used to describe the working practices being employed, and this form of mass production (of interchangeable parts) was evidently used by Kummer later, at EKB, where output demands on staff were considerable - an eleven hour day, six days a week, being the rule, with staff absenteeism on Mondays being common. In general, EKB was regarded as one of the most innovative companies of its time, partly expressed in the honours gained. In 1908, the manufactory received a gold medal from an exhibition in London, with a diploma awarded by a Brussels exhibition in 1910. In 1911, the “Almanac de l'Horlogerie et la Bijouterie” mentions a branch of the Kummer company in Besançon which was producing watches with the then revolutionary “interchangeability” system which meant that all watch parts were interchangeable. Ed. Kummer, Besançon also sold two different qualities; quality 'A' with a certificate of the Besançon Observatory and adjustments also in temperature, and quality 'B' regulated to an accuracy of +/- 2 seconds in 2 positions without temperature. Also in 1911, the firm was awarded the Grand Prix in Turin. From 1920 stopwatches branded Aristo were produced.

The addition of new brand names for watches by the Kummer concern began early and was to continue until Ed. Kummer and his eponymous company had registered more than 100 different brand names. Ariston seems to have been the first, in 1897, followed by Eximia, Speciosa, and Veridica in 1905. Pernix was registered in 1906, and even the name, “The Policeman” joined the ranks in 1910, with Inventic being used from December 1914 and registered in 1915 (see illustration of US Patent Office document for Inventic). More will be said later concerning brand names of the Ed. Kummer company, but for now it is important to note that we do not now how many of these brand names were actually used on watches and/or watch parts. Note that it has been claimed that the Kummer company abandoned the production of pocket watches in 1914, subsequently concentrating on wristwatches only; this is contradicted by the survival of post-1914 pocket watches by the firm, such as the example immediately below:




An Ed. Kummer SA gunmetal pocket watch with rose gold highlights dating to about 1922-25 and marked with the "Dollar" brand name which was registered by Kummer in 1922 (pics from images.antiquesatlas.com):





A US Patent Office document from 1921 registering the Inventic trade mark in that country. Ed. Kummer and his company seem to have been sticklers for ensuring the "property rights" of their brand names/marks, as this document and other mentioned in my text concerning the Magnific brand name (pic from tsdrsec.gov/ts/cd)



During the 1920s things did not go all Kummer's way, in spite of continued expansion of factory buildings and some innovative products. As early as 1922, the company sought a moratorium or debt deferral to allow it to deal with debt amounting to 2.5 million Swiss francs; this was granted with a dividend of 40%. Then, in 1927, a senior employee and two customers embezzled monies to a sum of over 500,000 francs from the firm, although once again the company managed to struggle through and save itself from bankruptcy. Unfortunately, the turn of the decade did not see an improvement in company finances, and on 28/30 July 1931, the manufactory was integrated within Allgemeine Schweizerische Uhrenindustrie AG (ASUAG), in its time the largest holding company or group in the Swiss watch industry, set up with the assistance of the Swiss government and banks to ameliorate the effects of the Great Depression. Under this takeover, ASUAG split the Kummer concern into two. Firstly, the “Rohwerkeabteilung (Cylinder- und Ankerwerke)” or rough movements division, was absorbed into Ebauches SA, a company established in 1926 and already comprising around ten movement manufacturers by the time EKB came on board. And secondly, the watch finishing/completed watch department became Ed. Kummer SA, later to be retitled Atlantic SA. Under the umbrella of Ebauches SA, “Ebauches Bettlach” (as the Kummer movements division now traded) specialised in the cheaper movements, marking them “EB” within a shield from 1937. In 1939, Ebauche Bettlach also took on the group's department for production of the Roskopf pin-lever movements, having already been set up for the manufacture of this type of movement.




The Ed. Kummer factory at Bettlach in 1930 (pic from atlantic-watch.ch):





Before concluding this topic with a further look at brand names devised and accumulated by the Kummer concern, I will take a look at the fate of Ed. Kummer SA/Atlantic SA and Ebauches Bettlach, the two arms of what had been EKB/Ed. Kummer AG.

Ebauches Bettlach under the ASUAG umbrella was a successful enterprise right up to the Quartz Crisis finally caught up with it. This success was partly due to specialisation in 6 basic calibers in which 80% of the parts were used in all of them. In addition, Ebauches Bettlach concentrated on producing the more inexpensive movements, successfully competing in a boom market whereby such movements could be sold in double-digit million quantities, especially in the third world. Unfortunately for makers of cheap mechanical movements, the writing was on the wall by the beginning of the 1980s with the advent of cheap mass-produced quartz movements, and Ebauche Bettlach went bankrupt.

The other Kummer branch, Ed. Kummer SA, having suffered severe staff cutbacks in the transition to ASUAG, launched its “Atlantic” watch collection in 1932 which contained some of the first water-resistant watches ever produced. This collection proved popular and was so successful that in 1952, the firm decided to adopt the name, Atlantic, adding the trading title “Atlantic Watch Ltd” to its appearance in the commercial register. In the 1940s, the “Worldmaster” collection was launched, with similar success to the Atlantic collection, and in addition to the water resistant watches, the company innovated in other areas. In 1960, Atlantic developed and introduced the “Speedswitch” system of date-change whereby in addition to a quick-set mechanism for setting the date, the date moved on to the next day within minutes rather than over several hours in the case of some systems; a revolutionary new procedure, this was soon imitated by other watch companies and is still in use on many watches today. It is important at this point to note that the company name Ed. Kummer SA did not suddenly vanish on the formation of Atlantic SA, and these two sister firms were legal or business entities, though obviously bound together, right up to the late 1960s. Interestingly, Atlantic watches soon became popular in the Eastern Bloc (especially in Poland), at first smuggled through Sweden, then later, directly sourced through a rare import deal with the Communist authorities.




From an original print advert of 1957 advertising the Atlantic watch brand (pic from i.ebayimg.com):




An Ed. Kummer SA/Atlantic promotional advert announcing the new Speedswitch system and showing an Atlantic wristwatch branded for the new mechanism, c.1960 (pic from atlantic-watches.ch):





Atlantic continued to seek and find export markets from the middle of the 20th century and the main clients included Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, South America and the Middle east; the brand being one of the most popular in Poland for almost thirty years. This focus on exports meant that Atlantic watches were, and still are, relatively little known in the Swiss domestic market. The success of Atlantic SA continued until the Quartz Crisis began to seriously impinge negatively on the Swiss watch industry. In 1983, on the insistence of the Swiss banks, a merger took place between ASUAG and the second most important Swiss watch group, Société Suisse pour l'Industrie Horlogère (SSIH), but this merger did not benefit the fortunes of Atlantic, which in 1988 fell into the hands of private investors, and since that time, Atlantic has been managed by Jürg Bohne, who is one of the shareholders. The Atlantic watch company has been based in the Bernese town of Lengnau/Longeau since 2008 and readers can find current Atlantic watches for sale online.

As a conclusion to this topic, I must return to the question of brand names devised or claimed by the Ed. Kummer concern. This “activity” of brand name acquisition was probably started by Eduard Kummer himself and then continued as a company practise. Unfortunately, the date of Eduard Kummer's retirement and/or death is unknown to me as yet, and we don't have a full list of Kummer company brand names, together with their dates, taking us from 1888 up to the time when Atlantic SA was the sole company title. Ed. Kummer SA obviously took brand names seriously, as a 1928 document headed “Avis important” (Important Notice) testifies; this states categorically that the brand name, Magnific, is legally owned by Ed. Kummer SA for watch movements and parts as well as for complete watches, and has been registered with the Federal Bureau for Intellectual Property, in Berne.




An 1951 advertisement for the Ed. Kummer SA listing no less than 8 brand names; note that Inventic was a particularly long-lasting Kummer watch brand, with examples known from the 1970s (pic from largevintagewatches.blogspot.com at1.bp.blogspot.com):



A 1952 Ed. Kummer SA advert for Atlantic watches showing, on the left, a calendar wristwatch (pic from old-pocketwatches.com):





One of the more important sources of information about the Kummer concern (uhrenpau.eu/Uhrenseite/Unterseiten/Subseite_Bettlach.php) provides a useful list of many, but not all, Kummer brand and company names but does not date them; this list includes names that postdate the company trading name of Atlantic SA as well as the early names acquired by Ed. Kummer, Bettlach (EKB). I quote this list here below:


Other names of the manufactory were: “Atlantic SA”, “Fabrique d'Ebauches de Bettlach”, “Manufacture d'Horolgerie de Bettlach”, “Ariston Watch Co.”, “Atlantis Watch Co.”, “Aristo Import Co., New York”.

Brands of the manufactory were: Accurate Lever, Alacris, Alpari, Atlantic, Amicitia, Ardua, Arista, Aristex, Aristo, Ariston, Aristonia, Artiflex, Athletic, Atlantic Rip, Artelux, Atlantic Watch, Atlantis, Atletic, Biemson, Bombay Mail Regulator, Bostonia, Butterfly, Cummersa, Cummer Times, EKB, Eximia, Fabulosa, Flambeau, Friendly, Gotham, Integra, Inventic, Invention, Kummersa, Laudata, “Mailguards”, “Miracle”, “New Cyl”, “New Friend”, “NEWCO”, “OKO”, “Opus”, “Right Ahead Lever”, “Sea Hunter”, “The Policeman”, “Timely”, Timeroy, Times, Timestar, Vivax, Worldmaster, Worlstime [sic].




A Swiss magazine advertisement by Ed. Kummer SA for Atlantic watches from 1956 (pic from s.ecrater.com):




An Ed. Kummer SA Atlantic Worldmaster wristwatch from the mid-late 1950s powered by a hand-wind 17J Schild caliber AS1188 movement and with a plated 36mm case (excl. crown) (Pics from sellingantiques.co.uk):






As a final postscript to this topic, I must just say something about the illustrations I have chosen which, in the main, are original period advertisements/documents. My reason for using these is two-fold; firstly, there is sufficient period material available, and secondly, This topic leans towards the subject of Kummer company brands/brand names. Over the history of the Ed Kummer watch and ébauches concerns, the actual watches produced were very similar to those currently produced by other Swiss watch companies of the same market level; thus having a handle on the various brand names is the key to identification and attribution of Kummer company watches. Oh, and don't be surprised to find movements from various companies in Ed. Kummer company watches including ébauches by Unitas and Schild.


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Very interesting, thank you. I find it extraordinary the way watch makers accumulated trademarks, for what purpose isn't always clear. I guess sometimes they got lucky and were able to sell spare names to other companies. A bit like buying domain names in the 90s and 00s.

Edited by spinynorman
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blimey honour thats an epic,...well done roy should pay you double time for all that work on a sunday. 

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