Le Phare Repeater

Discussion in 'Complicated Watches' started by John Cote, Jan 4, 2020.

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  1. John Cote

    John Cote Director
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    I have wanted to post here for a while and want to thank Phillip and all of the contributors here for a fantastic forum on the NAWCC Message Board.

    I am not an avid complicated or European watch collector but I have picked up a few pieces over the years. This Le Phare repeater was my father's. My father was an avid watch collector and passed on the bug to me. He had always wanted a minute repeater but was too cheap to buy a decent one when he was supporting his 4 kids etc. When the kids all became independent the possibility became more real but his cheapness remained.

    I remember one day years ago he called me in the middle of the afternoon to say he had just stopped into a Jewelry store in Northern Indiana and had found his dream watch...a minute repeater jeweled to the hammers with a simple chronograph and in an 18k case. But, he told me he had passed it up because it was just too expensive. I asked him about the watch and about the price. In the end, I told him I would disown him if he did not go back and buy the watch right away....He did.

    Dad has been gone for several years now and I have the watch. I know (I think) it is a Le Phare but don't know much else except it works well and makes a wonderful clear chime.

    Happy New Year

    01-RepeaterCase.jpg 01-RepeaterDial.jpg 01-RepeaterMark.jpg 01-RepeaterMvtGlass.jpg 01-RepeaterMvt.jpg
     
  2. musicguy

    musicguy Moderator
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    Great story and a very beauiful movement and dial(and case).


    Rob
     
  3. Tom McIntyre

    Tom McIntyre Technical Admin
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    John, the watch looks rather better than the Le Phare's I have seen. Most of those have a push repeat mechanism as well as the exposed governor.

    It is interesting that the chronograph button is very large and looks a bit like the repeat button I associate with Le Phare.

    I think it is a beautiful piece.
     
  4. John Cote

    John Cote Director
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    Thanks Tom. I would not be surprised if someone might say it is something other than a Le Phare but, although there are a lot of more crude Le Phares, I have also seen a few pretty decent examples. I do think that the better grade Le Phares are jeweled to the hammers and have slides instead of push buttons for the repeat.

    Here is a link to a web page which has a Le Phare catalog. This watch looks a bit like the illustrated #43 "Calibre EVC Lepine Repetition et Chronographe." It is a little different but perhaps the hunter and the open are a bit different:???:

    Mission
     
  5. Philip Poniz

    Philip Poniz Moderator
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    Nice story and nice watch, John!

    My grandfather, a collector, gave me a few watches and two clocks (one of which is lost) which also have a special place in my heart.

    Tom is right that your watch is almost too good to be Le Phare.The company, whose history is convoluted, produced mostly mediocre watches, typically repeaters but also some average-quality time-only pieces. For instance, Bulova 10P, 17AP, 17AT, 17P, are all made by Le Phare.

    However, they regularly won first prizes in Le Locle timing contests, sometimes beating Ulysses Nardin and Zenith (who later owned Le Phare). Clearly, they produced some high-end pieces too. Those victories were due to the company's precision adjusters, Pierre Huguenin and Henri Matthey, who were on par with Henri-Albert Pellaton, the highest paid group of horologists.

    The company*, or rather its owner, Charles Ami Barbezat-Baillot, invented in the late 1880’s (patented 1889), a silent governor, a device controlling the speed of striking. Previous systems produced unpleasant buzzing noises. It was a big success discussed by all horological press of the time. The inventor employed it in his new line of repeaters which quickly became very successful for the clean sound of the striking, and for relatively low prices. The low prices, were realized by a number of factors.

    Show and tell Model C.jpg

    First, Barbezat-Baillot implemented his patented (1894) push-piece activation mechanism which simplified production but, unfortunately, allowed for dust to creep to the movement much easier. Theresfore, in the high quality watches, like yours, he used old fashion slide. Ads featuring the push-piece systemdid not mention the dust drawback but claimed an improvement to enable the owner to activate the repeater with the same hand that holds the watch.

    Secondly, a simplified repeating system, without all-or-nothing, was installed.

    Thirdly, the production was mechanized on a strictly interchangeable-parts system. For that purpose, they invented and produced jig boring machine (machine a pointer) making the design and the production so much easier. It was even a bigger deal than the governor. Before I bought one, reconstructing missing complicated mechanisms was much more time consuming.

    Le Phare machine la pointer ca 1900.jpg Le Phare Cal 108 off machine a pointer.jpg Le Phare Cal 108 C.jpg
    Machine a pointer ..............................Le Phare Cal 108 from the machine ..................................... Le Phare Cal. 108

    The company was also one of the first in Switzerland to use the decimal system in their production (from 1881) yet keeping the movement sizes in the traditional lignes. It was a large, modern company with the factory looking like a palace, one of the largest in Le Locle.

    Le Phare 1920.jpg

    However, nothing lasts forever and after years of growth and prosperity, the depression, after the 1929 crash, forced the company, in 1931, to bankruptcy. The next year a new company was established, Nouvelles Fabriques, Le Phare, S.A. which, already a year later, won two prizes at the Le Locle timing contest for their complicated watches. In 1980s I bought in Switzerland pounds of parts for Le Phare repeaters which, I presume, came from the bankruptcy auction.

    Among hundreds of thousands of mediocre watches, the company produced some of high quality. For instance, in Magdeburg, Germany, in 1895, an identical Le Phare like yours, was stolen (fortunately, different serial number). Its value was approximated as 1500 marks. Today, judging by the gold bullion value, it would be equivalent to about $35,000**.

    Your watch has Le Phare caliber YMC which was based on a repeater caliber MC. YMC has a traditional Louis Audemars type repeating mechanism with all-or-nothing mechanism, a slide, and the chronograph with concentric clutch lever with characteristic for Le Phare eccentric-screw adjustment system***.

    Le Phare Cal YM & YMC.jpg

    MC and YMC were classified by the company as Qualités chronométriques versus Qualités civiles, a name reserved for the regular production.

    It was one of the highest priced Le Phares. The caliber came also with a minute register (which I have seen) and, according to the company’s advertisements, with split seconds and perpetual calendars (which I have never seen)****.

    In a few advertisements after 1906, the company showed the caliber of your watch with a caption “GRANDS PRIX, PARIS 1900 – MILAN 1906”.

    1911 Ad C.jpg

    I hope it helps,

    Philip

    _____________________________

    * Actually, in the beginning, Le Phare was just a trademark, like Camaro is a trademark of the Chevrolet company.
    ** Deutsche Uhrmacher-Zeitug, 1895, Vol XIX, p. 224.
    *** The system itself was used by many other companies, including Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Breguet, and others but the shape of its components is unique for Le Phare.
    ****I have seen Le Phare split seconds chronograph watches but without a repeating mechanism. In Berne exposition of 1914, the company presented a perpetual calendar watch, and thus we know that Le Phare perpetuals exist. They had there also a curious striking chronograph (chronographe à sonnerie). View attachment 564862 View attachment 564866
     
    Dr. Jon, tick talk and Ethan Lipsig like this.
  6. John Cote

    John Cote Director
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    Phillip,

    This helps a lot. Thank you very much. I too have seen a watch similar to mine but with a minute register sub dial. I think it was a movement only. I have also heard that a similar watch with split and a register exists but like you, I have not seen it.

    Thanks for moderating this forum.
     
  7. Scott Tzorfas

    Scott Tzorfas Registered User
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    John,
    I really loved your story about your Dad. I think my Dad was very much like yours. I inherited the collecting bug as well. My Dad also collected antique american pocket watches. He never bought anything at an auction. Only from jewlers that he knew well, and sometimes at state fairs! I remember my Dad looking at a repeater at the Danbury state fair in Connecticut (probably in the mid 70's). I was only around 14 years old. I remember him going back and forth about buying a repeater and I think he really wanted this- but I think the price of the watch got in the way. Can you imagine?! The price of the repeater in 1975 was probably a bargain compared to what it is worth today. I don't remember any details about the repeater. If I really like a watch, I try to not let the price get in the way. But the apple doesn't fall far from the tree- so I can only go so far in regards to buying an expensive watch.
    Scott
     
  8. John Cote

    John Cote Director
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    Thanks for your story Scott. I think more than a few of us in the NAWCC had watch collecting fathers. I just dug out and sorted a few drawers full of my dads movements and junker pocket watches. There were a few decent things in this last remnant of the hoard...about 300 watches and movements. I was glad to find a few nice model '83s and a beautiful tu-tone Hamilton 940...with a few problems.
     

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