Fabrique d’Horlogerie de Fontainemelon

Fabrique d’Horlogerie de Fontainemelon (FHF) was a Swiss watch movement manufacturer. They specialised in producing ébauche movements. These were basic movements that could be purchased by a watchmaker from an external manufacturer and then modified and branded. FHF became part of Ebauches SA in 1926 and then became part of the ETA group in 1985.

Ébauche

In watchmaking, ébauche is the general term for the basic movement of a watch, such as the movement plates and bridges, and mainspring barrel. The word ébauche is borrowed from the art world, where it refers to the preliminary underpainting over which a finished painting is done.

Borgel trench watch with a FHF movement. © The Vintage Wrist Watch Company

History

Historically, watching making was a cottage industry consisting of a range of specialists. One cottage would produce the springs, another the plates and yet another the wheels and so on. It was the watchmaker’s job to collect these pieces and combine them into the finished product. In 1793 FHF was founded by Isaac and David Benguerel together with Julien and Francois Humbert-Droz in Fontainemelon initially under the name “Benguerel & Humbert”. Their business model was to produce entire blank movements, known as ébauches, in a single factory. FHF is recognised as the oldest ébauche movement manufacturer in the world. In 1816, FHF started industrial production of watch movements in its first purpose-built factory. This move would prove to be the foundation for ETA, the largest movement manufacture in the modern world.

FHF movement.

Expansion

FHF expanded throughout the 19th century, purchasing a factory in Corgémont in 1838 to use hydraulic energy from the River Suze. They introduced steam power in 1862. By 1876, FHF was producing nearly 250,000 ébauches per annum with around 400 employees. In 1900, Paul Robert modernised an FHF workshop with American machinery. As a result, the quality of FHF watches improved up to the standard of mechanised American factories. FHF merged with Landeron in 1925 and became a founding member of Ebauches SA in 1926.

Modern history

In the 1950s, FHF was relegated to mass-production of watch movements for Ebauches SA. They introduced a low-priced mechanical option which became the “standard” grade in 1955 and was precluded from advanced developments.

In 1979, FHF introduced the mini-quartz, the world’s smallest movement. By 1982, the quartz crisis forced Ebauches SA to reconsider the business model of its movement manufacturers. The focus was moved from FHF, and the company was effectively acquired into ETA in 1985.

Read about other Manufacturers and Makers.