In 1830, two brothers, Louis Victor Baume and Pierre Joseph Célestin Baume, founded the watchmaking company Baume Frères (Baume Brothers) in Les Bois, Switzerland. Initially, there was no factory and the business was conducted from a workshop in the family home in Les Bois. Watches were made according to the établissage system, whereby materials and rough components were delivered to ‘out workers’ in their cottages. They refined and completed the components. The finished parts were then collected and assembled into watches.
The Baume Brothers motto was “accept only perfection, only manufacture watches of the highest quality”. They adhered to this rule and their business and reputation prospered. In 1844, keenly aware of the potential represented by new markets, the company set up a branch in London. This was under the name of “Baume Brothers”. This gave them access to the growing markets in the Commonwealth nations via British ports. This opened access to the many colonies of the massive British Empire. Australia, New Zealand, India, Singapore, and many African countries soon had access to Baume timepieces.
In addition to watches manufactured by the Swiss parent company, Baume & Company imported watches from other manufacturers, such as Fontainemelon. In 1876 Baume & Company became the exclusive importers of Longines watches into Britain and the Commonwealth. Arthur Baume was prominent in the London office and his maker’s mark AB frequently appears on watch cases from the late 19th century.
In the latter half of the 19th century, the company began making chronographs and other complications. In particular, they specialised in minute repeaters, calendars and tourbillons. The precision of these instruments led the company to win multiple awards. This included ten Grand Prix awards and seven gold medals at international exhibitions in Paris, Melbourne, Zurich, Amsterdam, London and Chicago. The watches set accuracy records and won various timekeeping competitions, particularly the 1892 precision timing trials held by the Kew Observatory, London. Baume won the competition with a chronometer pocket-watch equipped with a tourbillon movement. The record remained unmatched for over ten years.
William Baume joined Baume Frères in 1909 at the age of 24, after serving his watchmaking apprenticeship elsewhere. He worked for a year with his father until he was entrusted with the management of the company in 1910. In 1918, after a family disagreement, William left Les Bois and moved to Geneva with the intention of starting a watch company. He partnered with his friend Paul Mercier. Together, they founded Baume & Mercier, Genève. Baume and Company, London continued to trade as a separate entity in England until it was later acquired by Time Products UK. I’m not sure of the takeover date, but I found a reference linking the two companies in a 1992 trade journal.
I have not found any reference to what happened to the original Baume Frères company in Les Bois. It is clear that William Baume set up a separate business in Geneva. However, there is no suggestion of a merger between Baume Frères and the new business. I have seen vintage UK advertising for Baume and Company watches up to the 1950s. However, there is no mention of the Baume & Mercier brand until the 1970s and ’80s. There may have been a naming rights issue that prevented Baume & Mercier from advertising using the Baume name. I would be interested to know what happened to the original company with its century of heritage.