Cortebert was a highly regarded Swiss watch manufacturer. They produced their own high-quality movements and supplied them to other brands such as Rolex, Panerai and IWC. In the 1920s they produced a jump-hour movement, which was the world’s first timepiece to use a digital display. When the quartz crisis hit the watchmaking industry in the 1970s, Cortebert like many other Swiss watchmakers went out of business.
Abraham-Louis Juillard opened a small watchmaking workshop in the village of Cortebert, Switzerland in 1790. This date is generally recognised as the founding date of the Cortebert brand name. However, the Cortebert brand name was not officially registered until 1855 using the bottony cross as a logo. In 1865, the watch manufacturer Raiguel Juillard et Cie opened a factory in the village. It was later renamed Cortébert Watch & Co.
In the early 20th century Cortebert became well-known for their high-grade railroad watches. They supplied railroad watches to both the Turkish and the Italian railroad systems. Additionally, they supplied watches to a number of street car systems throughout Europe. In 1927, at the request of Mussolini, the company started distributing their watches in Italy under the Perseo brand name. This was because the fascist regime in power in Italy at the time rejected foreign brand names. Perseo was the brand name that was used by the Italian railroad system.
In the early 1920s, Cortebert was approached by Soviet Russia for assistance in establishing a watchmaking industry. Russia purchased machinery and technical advice from Cortebert. They produced a version of the Cortebert caliber 616 pocket watch movement under the brand name “Molnija”. By 1944 Cortebert had a catalogue consisting of 20 different calibers. They continued to produce high-quality pocket watches and wristwatches throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
As a result of the quartz crisis, the company closed its manufacturing facilities for the last time in the early 1970s, and production ceased. However, the representatives of Cortebert in Italy purchased the rights to the brand name Perseo and continue to operate today as an independent watchmaking company supplying the Italian railroad network.
There is not a great deal of information about the history of the company online. There is certainly very little in the way of citations on most entries. In one online forum, there was mention of a factory fire in 1959 which destroyed the company’s records. This would explain the lack of history, but again, this particular mention was uncited. Additionally, most of the Cortebert branded watches that I have seen available online date from the 1920s and 30s. I assume that this means that they were possibly only producing private label pieces until this point.