Lugrin/Rueff Freres Repeater

Downing

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I recently acquired this pocket watch and posted it on the European Watches Forum. But it occurred to me that I might get more information about it if I also post it here in Complicated Watches. So for those who have seen it already, feel free to move on, nothing new to see here, etc.

I got it from a dealer in Tel Aviv. Previously it was part of a large collection of pocket watches belonging to a now retired Israeli Air Force pilot.

Here's what little I know about it: It's a Swiss-made watch thought to date to around the 1920s. Alfred Lugrin's stamp is on the movement. I assume that means the Rueff brothers finished the watch. They all operated out of La Chaux-De-Fonds. Mr. Lugrin died in 1922, so I doubt the watch was assembled much later than that. It's a 17-Jewel watch in a 51.5 mm 18K gold case.

I've included two short videos so you can hear it ring. I was a little nervous about posting anything on YouTube, not sure why, but it turns out that it's fairly intuitive, even for a computer illiterate like me, and you can make your videos private so that the whole world isn't looking at them.

If anyone can tell me anything more about this watch or the makers I'd really appreciate it. Thanks!

NIK_9946.jpeg NIK_9949_400x400.jpeg NIK_9957_400x400.jpeg NIK_9959_400x400.jpeg NIK_9960_400x400.jpeg NIK_9962_400x400.jpeg


 
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Tom McIntyre

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It is an interesting watch.

I wish your pictures were a little larger. If you upload full size images the software takes care of the scaling and the viewer is free to enlarge the image to see details.
 

Downing

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It is an interesting watch.

I wish your pictures were a little larger. If you upload full size images the software takes care of the scaling and the viewer is free to enlarge the image to see details.
PM sent.
 

Downing

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Thanks, Tom.

Here are some larger photos.

IMG_1116.jpeg IMG_1119 2.jpeg IMG_1118.jpeg IMG_1120.jpeg
 

Philip Poniz

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THE RUEFF FAMILY


Loading one of the above images into an image recognition app shows that it was sold here.

The movement is one of many low-cost Lugrin’s calibers utilizing, most likely, his 1889 “simplified” minute repeating mechanism. An interesting part, though, is the retailer of the watch.

In a private collection in Neuchâtel there is a woman’s enameled minute repeater with a perpetual calendar with an inscription in French: From A & M. Rueff to the Best Mother-in-Law. Doing research in order to catalog the collection, I had to explore the convoluted relationships between the two important La Chaux-de-Fonds families, the Rueffs and the Didisheims[1]. Comparing to the Rueffs, the Didisheims are quite complicated. For our story, fortunately, we do not need much of the Didisheims.

There was a mystery regarding the Rueff Freres; originally the company started as Rueff Freres, then changed to Maurice Rueff, successeur de Rueff frères, only to revert back to Rueff Freres. One of the speculations was that there was a feud among the brothers, one left, and eventually they made up reverting to the old name. The real story turned out to be different.

Gabriel Didisheim of St-Imier, was a producer of watches of ordinary commercial grades, as described by the jurors of the Philadelphia 1876 International Exposition. He had two sons and two daughters. Both sons went on their own; Arthur formed a watch factory, EXACT, and Bernard seemed to be involved in watch trading in France and South America. In any case, even if they were involved in the father’s business in the beginning, eventually, they went their own ways. When Gabriel Didisheim died in 1874, the business was taken over by his widow, Zélie Céline, in the early phase, possibly, with the help from their children.

Zélie Céline’s two daughters, Marie and Julie married two brothers, Maurice (1851 – ca 1920) and Aimé (1854-1895) Rueff[2]. Both were watchmakers. Maurice married Marie (1857-1938), and Aimé Julie (1859-1928)[3].

Zélie Céline took her two sons-in-law into a partnership and formed a company Didisheim & Rueff Frères with the address Leopold-Robert 4. The official registration was in 1883 but the company had existed already in 1882. It was a branch of the main establishment located in St-Imier. In 1883 it was on rue du Parc 39, and a year later, in 1884, it moved to rue du Grenier 14, and changed the name to Ruess Freres with the same addresses as the previous Didisheim, both in La Chaux-de-Fonds as well as St-Imier. It was run by the two Rueff brothers, Aimé and Maurice, probably with their wives. It might have been a form of dowry.

The company was doing quite well. Unfortunately, in 1895, Aimé died without any male issue. Maurice (1851- ca 1925) took over the firm and changed the name to Maurice Rueff, successeur de Rueff frères. Under Maurice leadership the company was doing great. Pierre-Yves Donzé, who did substantial work on La Chaux-de-Fonds’ watchmakers, placed Maurice (in 1910) as the wealthiest manufacturer there.[4]

There were other Rueffs in La Chaux-de-Fonds; an unidentified A. Rueff who in the early 1870’s established fabrique d’horlogerie with one Monsieur Haas, in a building where forty years earlier the famous Georges Frederic Roskopf started his career. In 1876 A. Rueff went on his own and continued into the early years of the new century. Abraham Rueff was dealing with cattle, rented horses, and appeared to have an inn. Henriette Rueff was the main (if not the only one) hairdresser in la Chaux-de-Fonds. There were also few other Rueffs.

In 1916, Maurice, 65 years old at the time, retired and the company ceded to his two sons, Jean and Gabriel, who had been involved with the company for years.
The name was changed again to Rueff Freres, this time with the brothers Gabriel and Jean.
Jean (ca 1880- ?? ) graduated in 1903 from Ecole de commerce de la Chaux-de-Fonds.

The Rueffs, like their predecessor, Gabriel Didisheim, specialized in low cost watches, the one for The Best Mother-in-Law was, by far, the best I have seen. Usually, I see repeaters like the one starting this thread, some with chronographs, vast majority with Lugrin ebauches. The earliest advertisements by the new Rueff Freres, in 1916, featured repeaters with chronographs. I have also seen a few Rueffs with enamels.

Generally, the company was selling watches wholesale. In the 1880’s they were selling women’s 13.5 ligne cylinder stem wound watches in gilt brass cases, with glazed cuvettes for 90CHF including a fitted box. Same watch in a men’s size, in a hunting case, cost 99CHF. To change the cylinder to a lever escapement cost 10CHF more per watch. At the time, Roskopf's poor man’s watch, cost 30CHF. I do not have any data about the costs of their repeaters but, in 1882, a simple minute repeater cost about 800CHF. There was approximately five francs to a dollar.

The years after Maurice’s retirement were far from good generally; the Great War and the 1920 Spanish Flu pandemic slowed down the economy to the point of forcing, in 1923, Rueff Frères to bankruptcy. They were declared bankrupt on February 12, 1923 and Gabriel Rueff, personally, was declared bankrupt on March 23, 1923.
After 1920 we do not hear about Jean any longer, it is possible that he died either during the war or was one of the tens of millions victims of the Spanish Flu.
The stresses were too much for Gabriel also, who died later this year. The bankruptcy proceedings took another three years and the case was finally closed in 1926.

Watchmaking, often, was a risky business, this is a good example of how easily the tables can turn. It goes to show how a thriving business, a few years later, can become just an annotation in the local bankruptcy books.

Philip Poniz

________________________
[1] In the area there were three similarly named watchmaking families, Didisheim, Ditisheim (Vulcain Co. and in the second generation, Paul Ditisheim, Solvil), and Ditesheim (Movado)
[2] There was also Louis (1848-??), but he is not a part to the story.
[3] Aimé and Julia Rueff’s (nee Didisheim) daughter, Rose Rosalie, married Issac Ditisheim, to give you a taste of fun researching the Didisheims, Ditisheims, and Ditiesheims.
[4] Les patrons horlogers de la Chaux-de-Fonds, dynamique sociale d'une élite industrielle (1840-1920), Neuchâtel, 2007.
 

Downing

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Wow, thanks for the info. Hopefully someone will do a comparable write up on Alfred Lugrin as well.

I knew about the Rueff Freres--->Maurice Rueff--->Rueff Freres name change and had speculated maybe there had been a family feud. It never occurred to me that there could be two sets of brothers.

Thanks again.
 

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