The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Republic of Neuchâtel (1848-1898) and some considerations about this pocket chronometer
In 1898, the canton of Neuchâtel celebrated the 50th anniversary of its definitive attachment to Switzerland.
Following the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, this territory became the 21st Swiss Canton, while at the same time constituting a Principality attached to the Kingdom of Prussia. In the first half of the 19th century, this dual position as subjects of the King of Prussia and members of the Confederation was not without its problems for the Neuchâtel liberals. On March 1st, 1848, a revolution broke out that brought an end to the monarchical regime. The Republic was proclaimed and, despite a royalist counter-revolution in 1856, it was definitively established by the Treaty of Paris on May 26, 1857; the King of Prussia having finally recognised the independence of Neuchâtel.
We refer our readers to the book by Alfred Chapuis dedicated to “Fritz Courvoisier, 1799-1854, Chef de la Révolution neuchâteloise”, to relive the adventures of the owner of one of the most important watchmaking companies in Neuchâtel at that time: the 1831 Revolution, exile, trips to Russia and the Orient, the 1848 Revolution, the Republic, etc. (Neuchâtel, Editions Victor Attinger, 1947; 260 pp.). This is enough to make a biopic to the glory of this forgotten but endearing figure of Swiss history.
The State Council therefore organised splendid celebrations to mark the event, which took place in July 1898.
In keeping with a Swiss tradition, a Federal Shooting Competition was organised where the best shooters were rewarded with numerous prizes, including watches of various values (ranging from pocket chronometers with a Neuchâtel Observatory Bulletin de marche worth 200 francs to silver watches worth 50 francs and ladies’ gold and enamel pendant-watches worth 100 francs).
In addition to the watches offered as prizes for this Federal Shooting, two gifts of honour were offered by the State of Neuchâtel, which ordered four pocket chronometers from a young and already renowned manufacturer from La Chaux-de-Fonds, Paul Ditisheim (1868-1945).
These watches were both technical masterpieces – as each was equipped with a Bulletin de marche from the Neuchâtel Observatory – and aesthetic achievements – as their cases were ornamented by the best craftsmen of the time: engravers, chisellers, enamellers and painters on enamel.
The first watch, in gold, is engraved by Hans Frei (?-?). It shows the profile of Helvetia, with a calm and noble appearance, the helmet adorned with a crown of edelweiss, with the old castle of Neuchâtel standing out against the Alpine peaks; the rim is chiselled with foliage and mountain flowers. The movement of this chronometer won the First prize in its class at the Observatory (most probably No. 11 102). The recipient and current location of this watch are unknown.
The other three chronometers ordered by the Neuchâtel State Council are intended to be presented to the authors and the main performer of a historical musical piece entitled “Neuchâtel suisse” (Swiss Neuchâtel), which was one of the main attractions of the festivities. They were presented by the Swiss politician Robert Comtesse (1847-1922) at the closing ceremony of the federal shooting and the 50th anniversary celebrations.
Robert Comtesse was a National Councillor (1883-1899), President of the National Council (1893-1894), then the 35th Federal Councillor (1900-1912) and twice the President of the Swiss Confederation (1904 and 1910).
The second watch is a gift to Philippe Godet (1850-1922), the author of the text of “Neuchâtel Suisse”. Its decoration is also the work of Hans Frei and consists of three parts: in the middle, a reproduction of the poster for the festival; on either side of this composition, on the left, an old mountain fir-tree, on the right, a sentence from the text: “C’est un noble récit, digne d’être écouté.” (It is a noble tale, worthy of being heard.). The movement number and current location of this watch are unknown.
The third watch (movement No. 11 100) is a gift to Anton-Joseph Lauber (1864-1952), composer and conductor, then organist at Le Locle (Neuchâtel Mountains), author of the music for “Neuchâtel suisse”. It is decorated with an engraving chiselled in high-relief on a cloisonné enamel and enamel painting background, taking up the theme of the poster by Louis-Fernand Ritter (1870-1949) produced for the Comité d’Organisation des fêtes du cinquantenaire de la République neuchâteloise (Organising Committee for the fiftieth anniversary of the Neuchâtel Republic). In the centre is the monument to the Republic, sculpted by Jakob-August Heer (1867-1922) and Adolf Meyer (1867-1940), inaugurated on July 11, 1898, and showing Switzerland welcoming Neuchâtel. At the foot of these two main figures, the People, personified by a robust young man, rest after the effort of emancipation, looking confidently to the future. The enamel is by Louis Millenet (1852-1933) and the chasing-work by Felix-Eugène Jacot-Guillarmod (1843-1901), both of whom worked in Geneva. The watch is kept since 1969 with its original fitted box and its Bulletin de marche from the Neuchâtel Observatory in the Musée International d’Horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Anton-Joseph Lauber wrote, among other things, an opera, six symphonies, two piano concertos and two violin concertos, symphonic poems and numerous vocal and chamber music compositions. His style is influenced by late Romanticism, but also by French Impressionism. Lauber was particularly enamoured of the music of Claude Debussy (1862-1918), Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) and Henri Duparc (1848-1933).
Finally, the fourth piece (movement No. 11 098) depicts the “Messager boiteux” (lame messenger) from Neuchâtel, a popular figure embodied in the musical performance “Neuchâtel suisse” by Henri-Ernest Bouvier (1862-1913). The engraving on the case is by Johann “Jean” Lanz (1864-1941), a professor at the Art school in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The line, which stands out in black, is covered with a enamel so-called “sous fondant” (under flux) intended to preserve this delicate work from the ravages of time. Johann Lanz, a sculptor and goldsmith, teaches engraving at this institution between 1895 and 1915. This watch has remained in the Bouvier family until today. Like the previous one, it is preserved in perfect condition in its original fitted box, with its Bulletin de marche.
Henri-Ernest Bouvier was an important local figure – owner and director of the almanac “Le Véritable Messager boiteux de Neuchâtel” –, also active in Neuchâtel politics (Liberal Party). He was the brother of Paul Bouvier (1857-1940), a renowned Neuchâtel architect and painter who specialised in ephemeral architecture (construction of temporary buildings for exhibitions). As a painter and decorator, he took part in the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Republic of Neuchâtel.
At the time of their creation, these four watches were photographed and published on several occasions, notably in a series of articles on shooting and commemorative watches published in the “Journal Suisse d’Horlogerie” in 1908.
Ernest Bouvier’s watch is still published in the catalogue of “Chronomètres & Montres d’Art construits par les Ateliers Paul Ditisheim à La Chaux-de-Fonds (Suisse)” (Chronometers & Art Watches built by the Ateliers Paul Ditisheim in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland) published on the occasion of the 1914 Swiss National Exhibition in Bern (p. 8, b&w photograph; p. 38, description No. Cl. 173). In this catalogue, the watch is mentioned as belonging to the Bouvier family.
La Chaux-de-Fonds, October 28, 1868 – Geneva, February 7, 1945
After early training in Switzerland, he studied in Berlin and Paris, arriving in England in 1891, where he worked as a technician at the Rotherham factory in Coventry. He started his own manufacture at La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1892, specialising in very high precision watches and jewelled watches. Success in both spheres followed rapidly, and he won many honours for adjusted watches, especially at the Neuchâtel and Kew Observatories.
He designed and patented his own compensation balance (Swiss invention patent No. 98 234), developed a new oil with remarkable stability, and was known for his superior skills in adjusting, skills that won him many prizes and honours.
He collaborated with Dr. Ch. E. Guillaume (1861-1938) in the use of both the Guillaume “integral” balance and the Elinvar-type of auto-compensating balance spring. He also contributed many papers to scientific and horological journals, and was associated with Dr. Paul Woog, an oil chemist, in the development of Chronax oils.
Le Véritable Messager boiteux de Neuchâtel
The Messager boiteux (lame messenger) is the name given to various almanacs published in Switzerland from the second half of the 17th century onwards (in German Hinkender Bote, in Italian Corrier zoppo).
From 1676 onwards, two almanacs entitled Der Hinkende Bote appeared in Basel and were soon widely distributed. A French translation of the almanac was circulated from Vevey in 1707. The title was taken up by other almanacs, such as the Historischer Kalender oder der Hinkende Bote from Bern, which is still published today. A French edition was sold as early as 1748 in Vevey, where it was printed from 1755. Le Véritable Messager boiteux de Berne became Le Véritable Messager boiteux de Vevey in 1799, then Le Véritable Messager boiteux de Berne et Vevey in 1803, which is still in existence. A German edition (Hinkende Bott von Vivis) was also published in Vevey from 1794 to 1848. Le Véritable Messager boiteux de Neuchâtel appeared from 1805 to 1962; it was preceded in the last quarter of the 18th century by a similar title of unknown duration. Based on the same model and the Mercurio storico, e politico of Venice, a Corrier zoppo, o sia Mercurio storico e politico was published in Lugano by the Agnelli printing house between 1756 and 1762.
Le Véritable Messager boiteux de Neuchâtel, like the other Messager boiteux, is a publication with a strong regional character containing the Protestant and Catholic calendars, astronomical observations on each month, the course of the sun and the moon, the main fairs in Switzerland, the departments bordering France and the Aosta Valley, a collection of stories and anecdotes accompanied by engravings, a review of the main events that took place in the world, in Switzerland and in each of the French-speaking cantons during the previous year, and obituaries of personalities from Neuchâtel. The Messager boiteux also contains statistical weather forecasts for the coming year. It is often referred to in everyday conversation as well as in press articles of the time.
Created in 1805 in Neuchâtel by the Société du Jeudi, a weekly meeting of men wishing to learn from each other and to discuss matters of general interest to the country, it initially appeared under the title of d’Almanach historique, nommé le véritable Messager boiteux de Neuchâtel, pour l’an 1805. Several printers took over and from 1876 onwards, the editorial committee was made up of contributors from the Musée Neuchâtelois and new contributors. Several editors, including eminent Neuchâtel figures, succeeded one another at the head of this journal until 1962, the year in which the publication ended.
• Henri-Ernest Bouvier (1862-1913), owner and director of “Le Véritable Messager boiteux de Neuchâtel”.
• A descendant of the original owner.