REVIEW: Audemars-Valette: The Story of Louis Audemars & Cie, Watchmakers,

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Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

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Sep 23, 2001

All the Details a Louis-Benjamin Audemars Aficionado Would Ever Want to Know

The Story of Louis Audemars & Cie, Watchmakers, founded in 1811 in Le Brassus. Recorded in 1922. By Louis Audemars-Valette, transcribed and translated by Paul Audemars. Published 2013 by the translator, doing business as Combier, Somerton, Somerset, UK. ISBN 978 0 9575596 0 8. Paperback, perfect bound, 182 pages; 30 illustrations (mostly in color), 13 appendices (incl. family genealogy tree), and 96 pages of facsimile of the original manuscript version. Available at the publishers website at for UKP 40 (including worldwide shipping), or members can borrow from the NAWCC Library in Columbia.

Any serious pocket watch collectors with an interest in high grade Swiss pocket watches of the early 19[SUP]th[/SUP] century probably have come across the watchmaking firm of Louis Audemars & Cie., founded in 1811 in the small Jura Village of Le Brassus by Louis-Benjamin Audemars (1782-1833, hereafter L.-B.A) and liquidated in 1885. This enterprise was the first in the Vallée de Joux region to produce complete signed watches (while other early local watchmakers focused on supplying parts or subcontracting to the Geneva based houses). The L.-B.A brand was particularly noted for its watches with extra complications, especially is repeater watches, but also such complications as calendars or time zones. At the peak of their success this firm was one of the pillars on which the stellar reputation of the Vallée de Joux as a high-grade clock making region was built, a reputation that has survived to the present.

Compared to many of his contemporaries the life and achievements of L.-B.A. and his sons is relatively well documented in the literature, particularly since the publication of ‘Louis-Benjamin Audemars, His Life and Work - The Rise and Fall of a Watchmaking Family’ (written by Hartmut Zantke, published in a fully bilingual German/English edition 2003 by Sozialkarteiverlag , Leonberg Germany). The first half of that book is a narrative about the person, the business and its products, and includes over 100 illustrations. And more than half of its 510 pages book devotes more than half of the book to a detailed documentation of 136 watches signed by the maker (plus a similar number signed by others, but based on ebauches apparently made by L-B. A.). That documentation section must have over 600 additional pictures. The 2003 book originally cost well over 200 Dollars, but the print run seems to have been larger than needed; for several years now new copies have been available for ever decreasing prices. Once those really interested in this narrow subject had their own copies few new potential buyers seem to surface.
This reviewer was therefore initially was quite surprised to hear that a “new” book on the history of the L.-B. Audemars enterprise was to be published. The origin of this “new” book is in some ways as interesting as its content: Its publisher is a recently retired Englishman named Paul Audemars, who is the great-great-great-grandson of the founder of the Audemars dynasty, with a longstanding interest in family history.

It turns out that after the L-.B.A.’s firm was liquidated in 1885, there were a series of local ‘successor’ businesses, and around 1900 one branch (another Louis Audemars) emigrated to London and operated a watch trading business there for two generations. The forefather of the UK branch (Louis Audemars-Valette, 1850-1933), the great-grandfather of the current publisher, in 1922 as an old man at the age of 72, decided to write down a handwritten 96 page narrative combining family and cooperate history, both based on his personal recollections and as passed down through the generations.

The core of the new book consists of an annotated English translation (40 pages in the new book) of that hand written French language document (which is included in facsimile format in the new book, taking an additional 96 pages). A variety of related images and documents (including a detailed genealogical family tree) take an additional 40 pages. The most important excerpts from the core historic document had already been translated by Paul Audemars, and made available to Zantke around the turn of the millennium. Therefore do not expect in this new book any fundamental changes to the brand’s history as narrated in considerable detail in the first half of the Zantke book.

Nevertheless there is significant value added by the new book, even if there are but a few fundamental new facts contained in the 1922 manuscript. The incremental value to a student of the Audemars story is of a different kind: Now that the narrative is available as recorded by a first-person eye-witness (the narrator was 35 years old when the Swiss manufacturing firm was liquidated in 1885), even if recorded later in his life, we get a much more vibrant, and a much more ‘real’ version of the history of that business enterprise. And the fact that Audemars-Valette wrote things down in his mother tongue make the details yet more vibrant and real again compared to reading about them in Zantke.

That of course does NOT mean that the new telling of the brand’s history is free from accidental (or possibly even self-serving) errors, but doubtlessly the newly available form of the narrative provides a substantially more nuanced and more realistic picture than what was available before.

All that makes the new book useful and nice to have if you own (or like) watches by L.-B.A. But the real surprise is hidden in a few sentences in Appendices F to I (pages 59 to 66) which track the history of the historic ledgers of the firm: a number of ledgers from the original L.-B. A. Company were discovered after the publication of the Zantke book in 2003. These ledgers are briefly described and illustrated (but not reproduced in toto) in the appendices. They appear to reveal a substantial amount of previously unknown detail about the company’s products, including more than 8000 serial numbers (with descriptions) starting in about 1850 right up to the 1885 bankruptcy. These recent discoveries have also enabled the creation of more extensive lists of customers than existed earlier.

After the book under review (which originally was intended for ‘in family’ distribution only, and whose public commercial release was an afterthought) went to print Paul Audemars decided to produce a small pamphlet (Louis Audemars & Cie, Watch and Movement Serial Numbers, ISBN 978-0-9575596-1-5) with additional information. While the details on this seem not to be completely finalized, it appears that this publication will be also made available to buyers purchasing the book under review directly from the mentioned website. It seems that additional services (like e.g. photocopies of entries from the original ledgers) are available as well but this reviewer can not offer an opinion on their usefulness.

The community of scholars of horological history owes thanks to people like Paul Audemars, who not only takes pride in the accomplishments of his prominent horological ancestors, but is willing to make an active personal effort to share his own family lore with strangers who happen to be passionate about the professional accomplishments of somebody’s great-great-great-grandfather. Thank you Paul Audemars for sharing your family history with the horological community.

.Fortunat Mueller-Maerki - June 2013
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