According to genealogical records Achille Hirsch was born in Alsace, France, in 1847. Not much is known about his early life, other than his move to La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland in the 1870s. Initially, it is believed that he worked in the agricultural field until he secured employment in the watchmaking industry. At first, he worked as an établisseur using the local traditional watchmaking methods. This involved assembling watches using components bought from local suppliers. There was a cottage industry at the time of local households producing specific components. These were then sold on to local watchmakers to assemble into complete watches.
Factory and brands
Sometime in the 1880s Achille Hirsch branched out and built his own watchmaking factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds. It was an innovative company. It was one of the first watch manufacturers to use machinery and a production line process to produce integrated components. The factory employed up to 100 workers and produced watches in their thousands. Achille Hirsch registered dozens of brands over the years as one of the most prolific watchmakers in Switzerland. His brands included Vigilant, Tosca, Normal, Unicum, Sopra, Stentor, Travail, Antoine, Climax, Omnibus, Velox, Corona, Invar and Criterion.
The company was one of the biggest producers of watches in La Chaux de Fonds at the beginning of the 20th century. They produced a huge range of watches and was one of the first manufacturers to seriously consider wristwatches, producing them as early as 1902. This was at a time when wristwatches or wristlets, as they were known, were considered feminine and not suitable for men. The wristwatch didn’t really become popular until the trench watch evolved during the First World War. Pocket watches continued to be used by the pilots in the Royal Flying Corps.
In 1902 the company became the Vigilant Watch Manufactory and in 1904 the Compagnie des Montres Invar. In 1914 the company was run by the sons of Achille Hirsch. They traded under the name of Fils de Achille Hirsch & Co. At that time the company specialized in wristwatches with brands such as Ultonia. Ultimately, the company merged with the Compagnie des Montres Invar and continued to produce good grade watches and chronographs.
Achille Hirsch died in 1927. Surprisingly, for such a prolific watchmaker, there is not a single consolidated online biography for Achille Hirsch. I was also unable to find a definitive history of the company as it progressed through its various name changes. Additionally, I was unable to determine, if or when the company closed for business. I can only assume that the watches produced were good quality, but at the budget or entry-level point of the market. In other words, timepieces that were practical and reliable, but otherwise unremarkable. As I am only interested in antique watches, I am going to stop my timeline in 1914.
Read about other Manufacturers and Makers.