The main dates of the French horological history
The French clockmaker known: Jehan
Since the dawn of time, man has sought to measure time so as to better control it. Studying the cycle of day and night, the movements of the stars or the ebb and flow of the tides, he created measurement.devices of varying degrees of precision: the gnomon (a vertically positioned stick allowing the time of day to be established with regard to the sun), the sun dial, the hourglass or waterclock, well before conceiving of a mechanical clock. The first such clock is mentioned in Jehan de Meung's Roman de la Rose in the late twelfth century. Around that time, in 1292, we find records of the first French clock-maker, Jehan l'Aulogier.
First public clock at the royal palace of the City
In the Middle Ages, mastery of time rapidly became a key to power, disputed among political and religious figures. Following the example of Saint Benoit, whose order defined so-called ''canonical'' hours dedicated to prayer, study or manual work, all religious orders adopted clocks to regulate life within their monasteries. In turn, the high dignitaries of the Catholic Church endowed their cathedrals with astronomical clocks to structure Christian life, as can still be seen today in Beauvais, Bourges, Strasbourg and Lyon.
Kings and lords, the holders of political power, took issue at this mastery of time on the part of religious authorities and were prepared to do anything to stop it. In Paris in 1370, King Charles V ordered Lorraine clock-maker Henri de Vic to build one of the first public clocks for the Palais de la Cité. He would then order that all of the kingdom's clocks should be synchronised with it and thenceforth continued to install further clocks in order to uphold the supremacy of time and the power of royalty over religion. Still admired today, the clock of the Palais de la Citè is framed by two large allegorical statues representing Law and Justice. Since the 14th century, it has had numerous restorations, the last of which was completed in 2012.
1430 first spring clock
Weighted inner wall-clocks were succeeded by small and very refined so-called ''table'' clocks. The weights were replaced by a spring the first spring loaded clock dates from 1430 ֠which was wound up with a key. Round and generally made of brass, they were extremely refined and elegantly chiselled creations. Nonetheless, with just one hand (the hour hand), they remained imprecise. They were sometimes drum-, bellor sphere-shaped.
first wearing clock
The miniaturisation of clocks had only just begun. We owe the first ''carry'' clocks to Julien Coudray, clock-maker to King Francis I. In 1518, he created a pair of small mechanical clocks which would adorn two daggers belonging to the French king. The presence of the royal Court in Blois transformed the town into a renowned centre for clock-making and it was a Blois clock-maker, Jacques Delagarde, who in 1551 would create the very first French watch, which remains famous to this day (it is kept in the Louvre).
When time measurement becomes a jewel:
Goldsmith-watchmakers began to freely express their engraving talent. Silver or gold would sometimes replace cut brass. It was during this period that the first enamelled dials appeared. Little by little, table clocks gave way to smaller, highly ornate pocket watches, generally round or oval but sometimes octagonal or crossshaped. Protected by a metal or rock crystal cover, they had only an hour hand and remained imprecise. In 1582, thanks to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, the day was divided in two and dials adopted a twelve hour display. The first watches with added features came into being: some had an astronomical dial showing the movements of the planets while others had sounds, sundials or showed the phases of the moon...
1685 Revocation of the ''Edict of Nantes'' : French Huguenots spread over all Europe
Enamels techniques From 1630 onwards, engraving and enamelling techniques became more advanced. Enamellist-painters Jacques Bordier (1616-1684) and Pierre Huaud (1612-1680) were artistic rivals: their botanical and floral compositions would adorn watch cases, becoming genuine jewels in their own right.
Arrival of grandfather clock At the cutting-edge of technical advances, French clock-makers created flatter watches, inventing the ''grandfather clock,'' complete with a ''pendulum.'' In French, clocks were thus referred to as ''pendules.'' They were genuine pieces of furniture with a plinth or ''box'' in precious wood, either painted or inlaid. They soon became widespread in welloff bourgeois households. Today, so-called ''comtois'' clocks carry on this tradition, still produced in the Franche Comté region today whose capital is Besançon. Thanks to Christiaan Huygens and his development of the ''spiral,'' from 1674 onwards, clocks began to tell the time more accurately: coupled with the pendulum, the spiral allowed it to oscillate in a more regular fashion. This system became widely adopted. It led to the creation of a unique French piece, the ''onion watch'' whose convex shape allowed it to house the somewhat voluminous mechanism of the pendulum and spiral protected by an ornate engraved balance cock. The oignon watch remained popular until 1720.
Horology becomes a Science Driven forward by Colbert, the Académie des Sciences was founded in 1666. A year later, construction of the Paris observatory on the left bank was completed. The world's first observatory its London counterpart was not opened for another eight years it played an essential role in western astronomy. Thanks to the work of its key members, cartography, meteorology, geodesy and, I would add, clock-making, would make great progress.
The revocation of the Edict of Nantes : a disaster for French horology
Unfortunately, in 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes promulgated in 1598, granting political and religious rights to protestants. This decision impelled many French clock-makers to flee to England (at the City Clock museum of London, the first royal clockmakers are French Huguenots), to the Netherlands, to Germany (they have created jewellery and clock industries in Pforzheim) and Switzerland. They took their expertise and thus helped develop competing clock-making industries in these countries. This is the first horological delocalization in the world. But this one really started at the previous century as the first protestant watchmaker identified in 1554 in the Republic of Geneva was French : Thomas Bayard.
The Age Enlightenment or the horological century for Arts and Technique
The Age of Enlightenment would see French clock-making take off once again. It became the golden age of French clock-making, an age of innovation and luxury with famous master clock-makers whose renown once again spread well beyond French borders. The first of them, eminent physician Julien Leroy, would allow France to make up ground lost due to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In 1748, one of his descendants, Pierre Le Roy developed the first lever escapement. Two years later, Jean-Antoine Lépine and Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais perfected the cylinder escapement. That same year, Louis Dauthiau (1713-1769) completed an exceptional astronomical clock, which was bought by King Louis XV for the château of Versailles. As a reward for his talent, the King granted him a pension and the title of clock-maker to the king.
The cartel clock or the French Art of Time The 18th century also saw the appearance of ''cartel clocks'': decorative clocks hung on walls or fixed to wall plinths. Richly ornate, their cases were often created by renowned ebony craftsmen such as André-Charles Boule or Riesener. Made of tortoiseshell, precious wood or bronze-coated using the ''Tarsia a incastro'' technique, cartel cases featured an opening for the pendulum to be seen. The nobility of the day included a great many lovers of watches and clocks. The ultimate royal gift, they were the delight of foreign dignitaries and other important recipients. Initiated by Louis XIV who gave watches to the first ambassador of Moscow, the tradition of giving watches as gifts was continued by Marie-Antoinette who offered them to her wedding guests. Surpassing his elders in scientific knowledge, King Louis XVI was passionate about mechanics, cartography, sailing and clock-making. His collection included many watches as well as tools, such as a rose engine lathe, now exhibited in the Paris Musée des Arts et Métiers.
Paris : worldwide knowned horological center
French watch-making made its influence felt throughout Europe! Famous watch-makers defined their eras with their exceptional inventions, not to mention their no less famous clients. Thus, in 1768 Ferdinand Berthoud was the first to adapt the technique of jewel bearings in watches rubies or diamonds developed by the Dehaufre brothers during their time in London. Between 1779 and 1793, his workshops produced 1,500 numbered watches, some of them with added features, such as one with equations, repeaters and seconds, delivered to the King4s Aunt, Madame Adélaïde, in 1783. Jean-Antoine Lépine's list of clients was no less prestigious, including Louis XV, the Count of Provence and even George Washington. Lastly, in 1780, Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823) invented the perpetual watch which used the principle of the automatic watch designed on paper by Liege clock-maker Hubert Sarton in 1768. He would become the most sought-after watch-maker of his day. In 1783, he received an order for an extraordinary watch destined for Marie-Antoinette, bringing together all possible added features. This was the famous ''montre 160 (watch 160).'' She will never wear it because this watch was completed by descendants of Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1827. In the contrary of wrong indications on some websites or books, we have to point out the fact that Breguet had never been Swiss by its nationality: he is dead in Paris with the French nationality. If he was born in Neuchâtel, this town with its hinterland was only admitted to the Confederation September 12th, 1814. In reality, at Breguet's birth, Neuchâtel was ruled by the Prussian Kingdom whom it disjoined only in 1848. That the same for Berthoud.
When literature and horology are getting in touch The second half of the age of enlightenment would see science and technology at its peak. The influence of Diderot and Alembert was evident. Men of letters such as Beaumarchais and Voltaire became watch-making enthusiasts. Acting as true entrepreneurs, both would make a significant contribution to the development and influence of French watch-making. The eldest son of watch-maker André-Charles Caron, Beaumarchais invented the double virgule escapement thus improving the regularity of the watch mechanism. In 1770, the true visionary that was Voltaire created the Ferney Royal Watch Manufacturer, successfully running its production and recruiting numerous protestant watch-makers. He would defend them in his Tolerance Treaty published in 1763, ardently supporting their return to France. ''The world is a clock and to go around, it requires a clockmaker''. While the watches gained in precision and ergonomics, their cases gained in sobriety. Seen in gold and silver, they were engine-turned with a ''barley grain'' finish, avoiding any traces of oxidation on handling. The dials were made of white enamel with Roman or Arabic numerals...
Opening of the horology training school in Besançon
Franche Comté region and Doubs department are little by little becoming the first French pole for watch industry. The horological school of Besançon was opened in 1862. At the end of 19th century this region is representing 90% of the production of complete watches. France is then the second horological nation in the world.
The first counterfeits A great many clock-making inventions came about in the 19th century. Thanks to François-Regnault Nitot (the founder of Chaumet) and Abraham-Louis Breguet, the first bracelet watches appeared between 1810 and 1812. Then, in 1826, inventions such as the crown, push button and winding stem allowed watches to be wound up without a key.Reduced production and material costs meant that watches were no longer reserved for the elite. The price of success: watches by famous French watch-makers began to be copied as the first counterfeits appeared! During this time, luxury watches and especially those with special features remained prized possessions of the wealthier classes.
Clocks in the ''bourgeois'' homes In Europe, the Bourgeoisie was emerging, with interiors abandoning the austere Empire style fashionable in the early 19th century. Unique hotels were styled in the image of their rich owners: opulent, triumphant, baroque or frankly extravagant. Often flanked by candelabras or candlesticks, clocks elegantly held pride of place on fireplaces, consoles or dressers. Architect Eugène Viollet-Le-Duc would have a key influence on the decorative arts: this was the period of cathedral clocks, genuine neo-gothic structures in ornate bronze. For a time, Boulle clocks were favoured by the bourgeois. A Renaissance inspired neo-romantic style also flourished: clocks were thus fashioned from marble or stone and adorned with allegories or mythological bronzes.
The generalization of the manufacturing processes democratizes the industry of the watch
The economic expansion of the second half of the 19th century saw the organisation of working hours and the division of tasks. Serial production became standard practice. Watch manufacturers began to group together the various stages of watch production and all of the different skills involved. In 1867, German watch-maker naturalised as a Swiss citizen Georges-Frédéric Roskopf serial-manufactured watches for sale at twenty francs, calling them ''montres prolétaires (proletarian watches)'' he was the inventor of the budget watch. Technological innovations ensued in scores.
The unification of time or the stake in the journeys
By the end of the 1870s, watches boasted luminescent dials thanks to calcium sulphate which allowed their hands and numbers to glow. Thanks to the development of modes of transport, particularly railways, distances and journey times were significantly reduced, making it essential to adopt a universal time, since towns and villages previously worked by their own solar time. This was achieved at 1875s International Geographical Congress. Greenwich meridian became the international benchmark, used as a reference point for rail networks across the world. Now in motion, the wheels of progress would continue to roll. A series of universal exhibitions were seen. For French watchmaking brands, they represented the opportunity to showcase their incredible creations and garner multiple prizes. Their reputation and influence would spread internationally. They requested a great many patents, for example, in 1897, a patent would cover a watch case's water resistance for the first time
The first patent(certificate) of the stepping motor by Marius Lavet prefigures the revolution of the quartz
The last most complicated watch in the world, realized with the only human brain, remains French
The 1900 Paris universal exhibition was in full swing. There, the L. Leroy brand would unveil an as yet unfinished watch designed to feature every possible added extra, which took away the judging panel’s top award. A Brazilian businessman residing in Portugal, Antonio Augusto de Carvalho Monteiro, who was a great lover and collector of watches, was won over by the L. Leroy brand’s creations. A close relationship would develop between the extremely rich entrepreneur and the famous brand. In 1904, Leroy watch 01 was finally finished, boasting 25 added features. Today, it is displayed in Besançon’s Musée du temps (Museum of Time).
The wrist watch pays tribute to the femininity
Though the 20th century was unquestionably that of the bracelet watch, the accessory got off to an awkward start. It was incorrectly accused of causing wrist fractures when subjected to strong impact, and of being overly fragile. It remained a jewellery item reserved for women, though it was still thought impolite to look at one’s watch. The pocket watch had a few good years in front of it yet! Little by little, thanks to aviation pioneers who adopted it for its practicality, the bracelet watch caught the interest of their admirers and soon won over a broader male client base. The First World War was not unrelated to its development, since pocket watches fared poorly in the trenches and were forced to evolve. Officers wore their watches on their belt or wrist. For a more practical design, the winder was repositioned: traditionally above the number twelve like that of the pocket watch, on the bracelet watch it was moved around to number three. Another improvement inspired by circumstance, watches designed for soldiers were fitted with a metal grill to protect the glass from shrapnel. Soon, people began to talk of safety glass. Initially, watch-makers used counters to display hours, minutes and seconds, before the invention of anti-shatter glass in 1931: coated mineral glass or synthetic sapphire. In this period, French engineer Alfred Chauvot patented the "reverso" watch case, originally designed for polo players. With women’s emancipation following the First World War, society underwent profound developments. Many women took on responsibilities previously held by men, while their fathers, brothers and husbands were on the front line. Now independent, they worked, drove, smoked, wore make-up and took up sports. Freed from their corsets, they shortened their skirts, showed their ankles and arboured stunning watches on their wrists in the Art Deco style which was all the rage in Paris at the time.
From the electric clock-making to the quartz clock-making
The bracelet watch never ceased to evolve and become ever more affordable throughout the 20th century. Gradually, it became part of people’s daily lives. It benefitted from every kind of technical advance, becoming a functional item and fashion accessory in turn. We owe major developments to French watch-maker Léon Hatot, who produced the first battery-operated watches in 1919. His work on electric clock-making was of great benefit to French watch-maker Lip and the American Elgin, who created the first electric watch in 1952. In the 1970s, the arrival of quartz represented a true revolution. Highly affordable, Asian-manufactured digital quartz watches inundated the global market, to the detriment of the European and American watch-making industries. Many forgot that the quartz technology results from several patents applied by the French engineer Marius Lavet whom we have to consider as the father of the quartz watch. In 1936, he applied his first patent for the realization of the micro stepping motor. In 1949, he developed the oscillation of a quartz by an electronic circuit. During the second part of the twentieth century, the biggest names of the German, American, French, Japanese or Swiss watch-making industry exploited the patents Lavet.
French clock-making: an industry of the future French clock-making might very well have disappeared but unlike the United Kingdom and the United States, France was able to bounce back thanks to its fierce and passionate collective drive. Its watch brands are positioned in niche markets or are linked to fashion. Component manufacturers have either diversified their activities in microtechnical areas or have become suppliers, especially in the assembly of high added value watches, destined for the luxury market and internationally renowned brands. Large volume clock-making has reconverted its activity towards more technical products such as sports timing, time controls. With the transmission of a time signal on France Inter Long Wave frequency, since 1984, time synchronization constitutes a new outlet: stations, airports, urban lighting, nuclear power plants … The maintenance and the financing of this signal is assured from now on by the French Horological Federation with the cooperation of the observatories in Paris and in Besançon. The world leader in parking meters is in Besançon. The quality of training for French labourers is recognised around the world: more than 50% of the Swiss clock-making workforce is French. So it is not without reason that France is today ranked in 4th position on the list of exporters of clocks and watches.
Connected time, synchronized time, Fashion time, Timeless time
What will the 21th century will reserve us? The previous century offered an unprecedented distribution of time with watches and clocks for all publics. But the time is now integrated to various equipments : thermostats, computers, TV, hi fi sets, ovens, phones... Time is everywhere. French Start up aren't offering connected watches. A consortium of French firms and laboratories launched in 2014 a R&D project to synchronize time by Internet. Whether time is everywhere, the world requires a more and more accurate precision of events and its reliability. The multi-centuries French horological history shows that the evolutions can still go on by combining knowhow, fashion and technique as in clock industry than in digital economy. Watch can be timekeeping instrument, jewel, fashion, mechanical, quartz, atomic or connected.. What will the 21th century watch be? Even if the time wouldn't exist, considering relativity theory and quantum mechanics, or would be a simple convention of our mind, let us conclude for a time by this sentence of the French author Voltaire : ''the world is a clock and, to go around, it requires a clockmaker''
Les données concernant la production horlogère française ont fait part d'une progression de 9%, pour un chiffre d'affaires total de 294 millions € HT, le
plus élevé depuis 2006. Ce dynamisme a profité aux fabricants de composants et de bracelets de montres qui ont
vu leurs ventes augmenter respectivement de 16% (128 millions € HT) et 9% (81 millions € HT) mais également
au secteur de l'horlogerie de gros volume dont le chiffre d'affaires a bondi de 23% et atteint 29 millions € HT.
En revanche, 2014 a été une année en retrait pour les fabricants de montres français qui ont subi une baisse de
leur chiffre d'affaires de 9% (56 millions € HT). L'industrie horlogère demeure fortement exportatrice avec un taux
de 82% (+2 points par rapport à l'année précédente). Entre 2009 et 2014, l'évolution annuelle a été de 34% en
horlogerie-bijouterie. Ces résultats confortent à la fois la politique de soutien à l'exportation menée depuis de
nombreuses années par le Comité Francéclat et les projets de développement sur les marchés émergents tel que
celui mené en Chine.
c'est le montant
des exportations et réexportations horlogères en progression de 18% enregistré par le Comité Francéclat pour
l'année 2014 d'après les résultats des douanes françaises et de Information Handling Services (IHS). Durant la
période 2009-2014, l'évolution annuelle des exportations et réexportations d'horlogerie-bijouterie a été
exceptionnelle (+160%), y compris pour la seule production exportée (+34%).
Les exportations et les réexportations du secteur montres ont progressé de 20% pour un montant de 1,6 milliard € HT principalement à destination de l'Union européenne, ses principaux marchés ayant été l'Italie, le Royaume- Uni et l'Allemagne. En outre, il convient de noter qu'en 2014, selon les chiffres de IHS, la France se situe au 4ème rang mondial des pays exportateurs de montres derrière la Suisse, Hong Kong et la Chine et au 5ème rang des pays exportateurs de composants et de bracelets de montres derrière Hong Kong, la Chine, la Suisse et le Japon, notre pays présentant une des meilleures évolutions mondiales (+9%) en 2014.
Selon le Comité Francéclat (de source douanes françaises et IHS), les importations
horlogères ont atteint 2,5 milliards € HT (+6%). La Suisse est restée notre premier fournisseur de montres en
valeur devant la Chine, notre premier fournisseur en volume.
Origine des montres mises à la consommation en France Les études statistiques du Comité permettent enfin de distinguer l'origine des montres mises à la consommation en France durant l'année 2014. Ainsi en termes de volume, 80% de ces pièces provenaient de Chine et 6,5% de Suisse. En valeur, les montres mises sur le marché français provenaient essentiellement de Suisse (78%) et de Chine (10%). Quant à l'origine des réveils et pendules mis à la consommation en France, elle est d'abord chinoise en valeur comme en volume.