History of ENICAR S.A.

1913 - 1988

 

Introduction

Mid 16th century Geneva (Switzerland) became the center of watch making. In 1601 the world's first watchmakers guild was founded in Geneva. Business was flourishing and watchmakers needed qualified workers. The Jura Mountains, north of Geneva, was a low-wage-area, where farmers were offered - as a means of passing the time - to assemble watches. Villages and towns like La Chaux-de-Fonds, Le Locle, Tramelan, Vallée de Joux, Biel (Bienne), Lamboing, Longeau (Lengnau) and Grenchen became important centers of the Swiss watch industry. Many 'manufactures d'horlogerie' moved from Geneva to that area or new companies were founded in one of the towns mentioned. To train the local people watchmaker's schools (école d'horloger) were set up quickly in many towns like Genève and Besançon (1824), La Chaux-de-Fonds (1865), Le Locle (1866), St-Imier (1867), Biel (1872), Soleure (1884) and Sentier (1901). Neuchâtel already had a school since 1738!

The Racine family, based in the Jura, was a well-known family of artisans. For many centuries they were involved in arts and craftsmanship. In 1708 David Racine (1669-1726?) was mentioned as an 'expert maître horloger', famous for his nice clocks. His prosperous business enabled him to buy a large piece of land in 1729 in Montagne de Tramelan-Dessus, Switzerland. In 1725 his brother Pierre (±1665-1728) was allowed by the Basel Court to carry the title 'engineer-architect'. Other members (see here) of the Racine family were active in watch industry, too.

Ariste Racine & Emma Blatt

 

On October 1, 1913 Ariste Racine (1889 - 1958) and his wife Emma Blatt started a 'Manufacture d'Horlogerie Ariste Racine' in the Rue du Crêt 24 in La Chaux-de-Fonds*.

official announcement of the 'registre de commerce', published on January 24, 1914.

As the name 'Racine' was already a trademark, registered since 1870 by Jules Racine Sr., Emma Racine-Blatt proposed an anagram of the family name: 'ENICAR'. Ariste Racine registered his manufacture and that brand name on January 6, 1914. ENICAR was used - however - only as his telegram address. In his publications he used 'Horlogerie Ariste Racine' (see ad of November 1914 below).

 

Ariste and Emma were using the sun room of their house as their factory. Because of the limited space, they were able to house one technician, two others were working at their respective home. One of their first products was a pocket watch with the possibility to integrate a compass or a permanent picture in a second little space of the case (see ad below). On February 3, 1915 Ariste registered 5 models of that design. On March 11, 1915 a wrist watch with built-in compass was registered. They produced a great variety of lever watches with movements ranging from 4 - 17 Lignes**, too.

Amazing is his statement in an ad (see above) that he is able to produce 3,000 watches per day! This design was a bull's-eye as - despite a world war - business was flourishing. Ariste's watches were exported to Germany, Russia and China. Many landed in the pocket of soldiers. An interesting customer was a Japanese merchant, Tenshodo-san, who imported Swiss watches since 1889 and who was sole agent for Narudan, Tissot and Zenith watches since 1913. His company, anno 1879, still exists.


* La Chaux-de-Fonds (aka 'Watch Valley') - close to the Swiss-French border - is a famous watchmaker's center for centuries. Many companies, like Girard-Perregaux, Rolex, Omega, TAG-Heuer, Breitling, Invicta, Gallet, etc. started their life and some are still located in this town. It is also the birth place of e.g. Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (1887-1965), better known as Le Corbusier, the famous architect. His family was involved in the watch industry as well. And of Louis-Joseph Chevrolet (1878-1941), who emigrated to the USA and started (with two others) the Chevrolet Motor Car Company; in 1915 he sold his shares to William Durant, the founder of General Motors. Although Switzerland was not involved directly in W.W. I La Chaux-de-Fonds was run over by occupying forces twice in 1917.

** Ligne is a French watch movement measuring system; 1 Ligne = 1/12th of a French Inch = 2.2558 mm.


Longeau Watch Co.

Ariste Racine opened a radium laboratory as well, as radium was used on the hands of the (alarm) clocks and watches, making them readable in the dark. As business was booming the Racine's had to find more space. In 1916 they rented a part of Ariste's mother's house in Longeau (Lengnau). They named that branch of their business 'Longeau Watch Co.'. In 1918 they bought the entire house of Ariste's mother and some land around it. Longeau became the official seat of the company. The Racine's were also active on the (still) famous Plainpalais Market in Geneva. In January 1931 that branch was closed, though.

 

Oskar Racine, Ariste's brother, was joining the company in 1918. He owned a shaft factory in Biel, which he closed down in May 1930. Both Ariste and Oskar were brilliant salesmen and were quite ingenious. Again, mother's house became too small, so the Racine's decided to build a brand new factory in Longeau. Since late 1919 it became operational and the name ENICAR was used on all products.

In the new factory they started to produce their own movements (AR); until then they used mainly movements of Adolph Schild (AS)***.


*** Adolph Schild (1844-1915) opened his movement factory in 1896. His brother Urs (1829-1888) was the founder of a watch manufacture, later known as ETERNA. Adolph Schild invented and made a great variety of movements and became the main supplier to nearly all Swiss watchmakers. His factory didn't survive the quartz revolution and was closed down in 1983. ETERNA landed - via various mergers and takeovers - finally into The Swatch Group.


ENICAR S.A.

Probably to spread commercial risks Ariste and Emma Racine announced a marriage settlement/contract on June 11, 1924. On April 11, 1932 the company was named ENICAR Société Anonyme (equiv. to Ltd.), with a nominal capital of 50,000 Swiss Francs. In 1934 Ariste Racine Junior, son of Ariste and Emma, entered the company and as per October 30, 1939 he became general director. His sister Paulette Racine and Otto Bratschi were allowed the company's procuration.

On April 14, 1943 the nominal capital of the company was raised to 150,000 Swiss Francs by a share issue of 20 nominal shares of 5,000 Francs each. Both Ariste Sr. and his wife Emma were resigning, while Ariste Jr. held his function as general director. Paulette and Otto retained their authority. After Ariste Racine Senior died on October 13, 1958 Ariste Jr. became CEO of ENICAR S.A. BTW: brother Oskar celebrated his 50 years cooperation in June 1968, but not known is when he left the company!

ENICAR S.A. had registered - among others - the following trademarks: ENICAR, Longeau, Etsira, Savillon, Alprosa, Swisbaby, Swisboy, Teddy, Chrono M, Sykos and Chromicar.

After W.W. II

Switzerland has been neutral in both World Wars. These wars didn't much harm to Switzerland (neither to other Neutrals). As we all know: on the contrary. In 1914 in Switzerland was accommodating 1,8 billion Swiss Francs as savings; at the end of W.W. II this amount came to 6,6 billion Swiss Francs. If we take 1914 as an index 100, 1945 would come to 209, so the (inflation) adjusted figure would still come to 3,2 billion Swiss Francs. ENICAR did good trades with many military forces all over the world. After the W.W. II ENICAR had to focus on regular consumers. Ariste Racine Jr. was aware of the situation in Germany and Scandinavia. In 1953 a new factory and high end laboratory in nearby Oensingen was opened, where all own movements were 'ultrasonic' cleaned. A modern method that was printed or engraved on all watches. ENICAR was also able to epilamize (= avoiding oil to run on) surfaces of its movements.

Modern production methods were introduced and production and sales went sky-high. In the early 1950's over 70,000 movements were produced annually. ENICAR developed interesting watches, which were sturdy and reliable. On July 16, 1954 ENICAR received its first 'Gangschein' (certificate of accuracy) of the Neuchâtel forerunner of the COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres = Swiss Official Inspection of Chronometers; founded in 1973) for its 1010 Caliber. A waterproof wrist watch with a newly developed case (with bayonet lid) was introduced as 'Seapearl' in 1955; its back has an engraved open oyster, maybe to tease competitor ROLEX. 'Seapearl' was registered as a trademark on April 10, 1953 already. In 1956 the first automatic winding chronometer (based on Felsa 1560 Caliber) was introduced. Three years later ENICAR was able to produce its own automatic caliber (1125). Caliber 1125, 1126 and 1127 were offered as 'Rubyrotor' with 33 Jewels! A steel version is the 1145 caliber.

ENICAR's first automatic chronometer* wrist watch was called 'ENICAR Supertest' (caliber 1124, 30 jewels, aka Supertest 300 caliber), although it wasn't officially a chronometer watch as it wasn't officially tested by whatever testing agency. ENICAR tested the watch via a home made testing procedure of three days with a maximum tolerance of 5 seconds. Each individual watch was given a certificate with all test's results.


*In 1925 the Swiss Association for Chronometrie stated that 'a chronometer is a watch which has received a certificate by an astronomical observatory'. However - testing on observatory level, because of its rigidness and duration, would have seriously limited the output of chronometers to the trade.


Most movements for ENICAR chronographs (e.g. Valjoux 23, 72 and 92) were bought elsewhere. Alarm watches were bought at Adolph Schild or Lemania. When ENICAR tried to produce its own alarm watch movement in 1959, ENICAR faced a serious and expensive lawsuit, due to patent infringement.


"Precision time in space, on the earth and over the seas"

ENICAR's slogan in the 1950's


Sherpa

ENICAR watches were receiving high appreciation in Northern Europe, Russia, China and the USA (where cousin Jules Racine**** was selling ENICAR watches). Both Ariste Sr. and Ariste Jr. had a good nose for public relations. They invented various stunts and invited many celebrities to promote their watches.


*** In 1635 the first Racine (Etienne Racine 1607-1689) emigrated to 'New France', nowadays Quebec, Canada. Jules Racine sr. (born in Switzerland in January 1828) emigrated as a watch case spring maker around 1849 to New York, USA. In 1864 his cousin Lucien Gallet (1834-1879) opened a GALLET sales office in Chicago; a few years later he asked Jules Racine to assist him in managing the New York Gallet-office. In 1870 Jules Racine introduced Gallet watches under his own name 'Jules Racine', which became a registered trademark. Per 1877 he gained the exclusive sales of Gallet watches in the USA; later he was joined by his younger brother-in-law Oscar Hauriott (born in 1849). Gallet is a Swiss watchmaker since the early 15th century (!) with sales (and later) production facilities in the USA. Gallet USA acquired the Racine Company in the USA in 1975.

The story of the Gallet Watch Co. can be found here


On May 18, 1956 a Swiss expedition reached the summit of the Lhotse Mountain (8,516 meters) in the Himalayas, followed by the summit of the Mount Everest (8,848 meters) four days later. All expedition members were wearing ENICAR Seapearl watches. They all turned out to be very reliable - as the Nepalese sherpa's were - which led to the brand name ENICAR Sherpa. That name was registered on November 6, 1956. From that moment on many Sherpa varieties (over 100 different designs) were introduced. The top wrist watch was the Sherpa-Graph featuring the Valjoux 72 movement, which you may find in a ROLEX Daytona as well.

In 1957 the famous (replica) sailing ship Mayflower II was crossing the Atlantic with an ENICAR Sherpa attached to its keel. The watch survived the trip and thus the 'Ocean Pearl' was born. A variety of this watch was the Sherpa Dive, which was introduced in 1958, followed one year later by an improved model. An other stunt was organized in January 1963: a regular Sherpa wrist watch was (notarized) placed on a ski, which was used for one week during downhill races. Needless to say that the watch - though frozen from time to time - was waterproof.

October 13, 1958 Ariste Racine Sr. died. The Swiss photographer and sculptor Willie Ernst (1900 - 1980) made this bust of Ariste Racine in 1958.

 

Export is flourishing; in 1960 ENICAR even opened a special ENICAR shop in Johannesburg, South-Africa!

In 1961 the first electro-mechanic watch was introduced. Marksmen, participating in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, were wearing ENICAR watches. In 1965 the 'Star'-collection followed. Many Star models were the successors of the Sherpa models: Sherpa Dive became Star Dive etc.

Besides men's and women's wrist watches and alarm clocks ENICAR also produced chronometers for airplanes, boats and cars. Famous racing drivers, like Stirling Moss and Jimmy Clark, were wearing ENICAR watches. ENICAR was also active as the official timekeeper at various (cycle, car, boat, etc.) races. In 1968 ENICAR even sponsored its own cycling team; unfortunately it wasn't very successful.

Quartz crisis

In 1969 cheap and fancy Japanese watches with quartz movements, run on batteries, conquered the world of watches. The following so called Quartz crisis played havoc among the Swiss watch industry. Many watch makers had to close their business. ENICAR introduced in 1970 as one of the first Swiss watch makers quartz watches, using Beta21 movements, developed by CEH (Centre Electronique Horloger)* in Switzerland. Even a Sherpa Quartz was presented.

*CEH is a cooperative research laboratory founded in 1962 in Neuchatel, Switzerland. An industrial consortium of 16 Swiss watch manufacturers was created in 1968 in order to mass produce the Beta21 movement (13 jewel, 8 Khz quartz module).

Many other Swiss watch makers were saved by Mr. Swatch, nickname of Nicholas Hayek (1928-2010), founder of The Swatch Group. He was able to mobilize many Swiss watch makers to put up a fight against cheap Asian products.

Unfortunately ENICAR was suffering great losses, which led to the presentation of a bankruptcy petition against ENICAR on November 13, 1987. On that date the official receiver of the Court in Biel/Bienne, Mr. Hoff F. Lee, was informed that all material in stock and the brand name were sold to 5 creditors. On February 8, 1988 the brand name was sold by auction; the remaining watch cases were sold to a German manufacture (Mr. Gerd-Ruediger Lang, owner of Chronoswiss). An investor in Hong Kong bought the brand name and did not continue the 75-year old manufacture. The quality of his products is far below that of Racine’s products, which is worldwide regarded as a pity. The websites enicar.com/enicar.ch are telling visitors that the company was founded in 1854 by a man called Artiste Racine (sic!); and they are stating that his company has an expertise of 160 years of watch making! In the timeline on that website the period 1854-1913 is blanco, though!! BTW: the father of Ariste Racine Jr. was an well-known architect in Granges/Grenchen and had no connections to the watch industry!

Many watch magazines (Armbanduhren, Rikketik, etc.) and websites worldwide have often informed the readers that the present brand name owner is misleading the general public. The Swiss FH is fighting illegal products and imports (see its 2012 seizure at Zurich Airport). It is also tighten up the rules of the use of ´Swiss made`.

The present ENICAR Watch Co. S.A. was registered in La Chaux-de-Fonds on June 25, 1988 as a wholesale trader in watches! Registration text: import, export and sale of goods of all kinds, especially in the field of watches, their parts, their electronic and mechanical components and other products related to it and the manufacture thereof; participate in other businesses and acquire buildings!!

On July 2, 1997 ENICAR S.A. is opening a branch office in Ligornetto (Italy), which is closed on September 22, 1999. Since September 2004 the official address of that company is: rue Cernil-Antoine 17, La Chaud-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The present owner of ENICAR has his office in Hong Kong and in the well-known tax haven The British Virgin Islands.

Swiss made ENICAR watches (1913-1988) were and still are high end wrist watches, that were/are equaling the quality of watches made by Rolex, Omega, IWC and many others. On second hand markets prices are remaining relatively high. Very early AR branded watches and clocks made for the aviation industry have become very rare.

Collectors have to be careful as many copies and illegal watches - named ENICAR - are offered worldwide. ENICAR watches made after 1988 are in no way related to the Racine's creatures!!!

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The holder/maker of this website has been threatened with a lawsuit by the present owner of the ENICAR brand name. ENICAR S.A. was represented in this case by Attorney-in-Law in La Chaud de Fonds, Mrs. Marie Tissot (!) Despite all efforts by Swiss government and watch industry to protect 'Swiss Made' products money still prevails by one of the world's black money treasurer.