In 1941, Universal in JSH: new factory in Les Pont-de-Martel

Temps de lecture : 4 minutes

Just as the brand has been bought by Breitling, the Swiss watchmaking journal JSH digs up a historical treasure: this article appeared in its Basel Fair special edition of January-February 1941. A delightful reread…

Joël A. Grandjean, JSH Magazine & Swiss-Watch-Passport.ch’s editor in chief & Publisher
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Switzerland’s oldest watchmaking journal, launched in 1876, was the Official Basel Fair Organ in 1941. A status that JSH would maintain for decades thereafter.

A renowned watchmaking cluster in Les Ponts-de-Martel

Grand Rue in Les Ponts-de-Martel, in the Swiss Neuchâtel canton

In the edition of this special issue, JSH, which was also the Société Suisse de Chronométrie SSC’s Official Organ, reports on pages 15 to 18 about the opening of the new Universal factory in Les Ponts-de-Martel. Looking through the JSH in its entirety, I discover that Les Ponts-de-Martel was also the home of two other major companies, E. Mathey-Tissot, founded in 1886 by Edmond Mathey-Tissot, and Montres Pontifa, alias M.-T. Stauffer-Jeune, founded in 1865 by Henri Stauffer.

Universal is mentioned in this JSH journal: Montres Universal, established in Le Locle in 1911, then relocated to Les Ponts-de-Martel. Specialized in the manufacture of chronographs and aviation timepieces, special on-board equipment.”

Opening of the dossier dedicated to the Universal new factory in Les Ponts-de-Martel ( Neuchâtel Canton). A brand born in Le Locle and headquartered in Geneva

Article in French appearing in 1941: “Inauguration of the new Universal Chronograph Factory on January 31, 1941.

January 31st of this year marks another milestone in the history of Universal, Perret & Berthoud S.A., Geneva. Over the last few years, this company, which once limited itself to working with Italy and Spain, has acquired new markets all over the world. It is thanks to the initiative and tenacity of its directors that, despite the difficult times we are experiencing, the company has found a new, large and faithful clientele. As you know, Universal is active in two watch categories: highly stylish civil watches and Chronographs.

Universal chronographs have been manufactured in Les Ponts-de-Martel for many years. The particularly severe climate of this region seems ideally suited to training the specially skilful craftsmen needed to make chronographs and other complicated watches. We would even venture to say that the very essence of the place, and its climate, are predestined for the production of this type of watches. We all know that chronographs are becoming increasingly popular, and that demand is growing daily. No wonder, then, that the Universal Chronograph Factory in Les Ponts-de-Martel suddenly started to get a little cramped, and the need for bigger premises and bigger equipment became obvious. The directors of Universal were faced with the alternative of refusing new orders or expanding their factory at a particularly uncertain and difficult time. They opted for the second option, proving their faith in the future; building a factory in the present circumstances requires a great deal of courage and a tenacious determination to persevere in the way they have chosen.

Front cover of the JSH in 1941: Swiss Journal of Watchmaking and Jewelry, Bulletin of the Swiss Watchmaking Fair in Basel, special issue. Reference, JSH archives
Caption appeared in the JSH of 1941: "Terminage" Workshop. We can see that this factory is laid out in such a way as to offer the workers maximum light for their delicate work." (VanceAI processing)

A tour of the Factory

Our visit to the Factory showed us that Les Ponts-de-Martel has been equipped with a modern, state-of-the-art factory. It’s fair to call it a new factory, even though it was built on the old building’s foundations. The factory has a first floor and three upper floors.

Vast, luminous workshops everywhere, from which the eye can suddenly take in the valley and the surrounding mountains, draped in their winter finery.

The factory is fitted out with the latest technical improvements: phone installations in all workshops, modern freight elevators, Zenith electric pendulums in all premises, the most advanced safety and hygiene measures. A number of new machines further optimize manufacturing processes. It’s remarkable that, despite very difficult circumstances – mobilization, lack of benzine, lack of means of transport – the factory was built in a record time of five and a half months. Better than a description, our few illustrations show the reader that the new Universal factory for the production of Chronographs will further enhance the brand’s worldwide renown.


The new Aero-Compax Universal counter. The start time is no longer set by the rotating bezel, but by a special dial in place of the number 12, using the left-hand crown. This allows the start time to be set to within one Vf minute. Patent application + 60617. International registration 8331
Caption appeared in the JSH of 1941: "Movement of the Aero-Compax counter seen from both sides". (VanceAI treatment)

During our visit to the factory, we were able to get acquainted with two recent Universal models. The Aero-Gompax is a precision watch and counter designed specifically for aviators, drivers, sportsmen and technicians. The watch features all the known chronograph functions, i.e. recording of hours, minutes, seconds and 1/5ths of a second; but in addition to these mechanisms, instead of the number 12, it has a small dial for recording a precise time, such as the departure time of a plane, car or other mode of transport; it can also be used to record the time of an appointment. This small dial is operated by a special crown on the left side of the watch.

This means that the start time can be marked more reliably and accurately than with a rotating bezel”

and on-board register

The on-board totalizer is a Chronograph used as an on-board watch. It allows observations accurate to 1/5th of a second, while the number of hours of flight is indicated by a rotating bezel. When the plane departs, the bezel is rotated to place the red index opposite the hour hand. On landing, simply read the graduation on the outer mobile dial to see the number of hours flown, expressed in hours and fractions of hours. Thanks to the two-piece anti-vibration chassis connected by a leather band, this watch is totally immune to the aircraft’s vibrations. It is equipped with a Glucydur balance train and a Nivarox spiral. Housed in a bakelite case, this timepiece is weatherproof.

Aircraft chronographs. The movement is encased in a special case that protects it from humidity and vibrations

Inaugural festivities*

After the inaugural visit, a simple banquet attended by numerous local and village dignitaries was held at the Hôtel du Cerf. For Les Ponts-de-Martel, the Universal chronograph factory is of great importance. It provides a livelihood for around a hundred families, almost a quarter of the village’s population. The production of complete watches plays a vital part in the economy of this region, which is not favored by nature and is preventing depopulation.

It was a great privilege for us to witness the rare event of a Factory Inauguration. Some might consider the directors of the Manufacture de montres et chronographes Universal to be foolhardy, but if they have decided to carry out their plans despite adverse circumstances, it’s because they have confidence in the future, because they have confidence in their abilities and in their work.

It’s these very qualities of courage and perseverance that made our industry great, and keep its traditions alive”

Caption appeared in the 1941 issue of JSH: "Machine for cutting column wheels for chronographs, conceived and manufactured in the factory itself. The cutting of wheels with tiny teeth - some wheels have up to 224 teeth - is a special and very difficult process. To ensure perfect success, the milling cutters intended for this purpose are specially treated in-house. Above, a column wheel" (VanceAI processing)
Caption from the 1941 JSH: "Grinding wheel used to thin the springs needed for chronographs. Jumping counter wheel before and after grinding." (VanceAI Treatment)
Caption from the 1941 JSH: "The tempering of delicate steel parts requires special care, especially in the manufacture of chronographs. A Wild-Bärfield quenching device is used for this purpose, which heats the parts electrically; an electro-magnetic detector, based on an invention by Curie, is triggered automatically when the quenching temperature is reached." (VanceAI Treatment)
A few years before the birth of the Tri-Compax, Universal Genève appears in this 1941 JSH Journal's special issue

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