With its mix of familial and geopolitical upheaval, entrepreneurialism, determination and innovation, the story of H Moser & Cie is a rare delight
Physical traits such as red hair, blue eyes and cleft chins, or an aptitude for maths or fondness for drink, often skip a generation, but the love of watchmaking seems to have lain dormant not for a generation, but for almost a century in the family behind H Moser & Cie.
The defiant one
In 1826, 21-year-old Heinrich Moser, the heir to a long line of Swiss watchmakers, had just completed his training in horology, but his youth and relative inexperience meant the conservative burghers of his hometown, Schaffhausen, refused to allow him to open a workshop or maintain the town’s clocks, as previous generations of Mosers had done.
So, with a head full of dreams and (we imagine) a mouthful of curses, the ambitious young watchmaker set off to make his fortune abroad. Consequently, in 1828, H Moser & Cie was founded in the imperial Russian city of St Petersburg.
Persistence pays off
By the 1840s, the Moser name had become synonymous with fine watches (it was even cited in Dostoevsky’s writing), and the company had swiftly become a market leader with branches in the major Russian cities and more than 50 employees catering to clients that included the imperial court and Peter Carl Fabergé (Moser movements powered his ornate table clocks).
Moser also established a supplementary factory in the Swiss cantonment of Le Locle in the 1830s, and in 1853 he decided the time was ripe to make a triumphant return to Schaffhausen—a decision probably driven in part by a desire to show the naysayers of his youth what this “unproven” watchmaker was able to build from nothing abroad.
The archetypal local boy done good, Heinrich employed the fortune he’d made in Russia and lucrative export markets—including Japan, China, Persia and France—to open workshops in his hometown featuring machinery of his own design and a method of manufacture that foreshadowed the modern production line.
He was instrumental in transforming Schaffhausen into a bustling industrial hub, and spearheaded construction in the 1860s of a dam to harness the energy of the Rhine to power the town’s growing crop of workshops.
Keeping it in the family...kind of
Heinrich’s son Henri, however, inherited his father’s wanderlust but not his love of watches and industry. Around the time Heinrich was busy damming the Rhine, Henri rejected his father’s pleas to enter the family business and fled Schaffhausen to tour the Middle and Far East extensively.
He amassed a large collection of Asian and Islamic art, weapons, armour and hunting trophies, which were displayed at a number of European museums and eventually donated to the Bern Historical Museum (along with a sum of 100,000 francs to ensure the collection’s preservation).
Heinrich’s disapproval of his son’s chosen occupation as adventurer, merchant and patron of the arts meant the two had been estranged for several years by the time he died in 1874. In the absence of an heir willing to take the reins, his wife, Fanny, sold the trading company and workshops in 1877—on condition that they operate in perpetuity under the Moser name, per her husband’s dying wish.
While the Moser operations in Le Locle continued apace, the Russian business was expropriated when the Bolsheviks toppled the tsar in the October Revolution of 1917. Octave Meylan, a co-owner and director of the Russian business, returned to his native Switzerland, hamstrung by the Marxists’ seizure of the means of production and the source of his livelihood.
In 2012, however, his family reclaimed its birthright when a grandson of Octave, Georges-Henri Meylan, acquired H Moser & Cie under the family-owned group MELB Holding.
A roaring resurrection
In 2005, a dormant H Moser & Cie had been relaunched by a group of entrepreneurs that included Roger Nicholas Balsiger, the great-grandson of the original founder, Heinrich Moser. The recessive gene governing a fascination with horology had finally come to the fore, and Roger oversaw the construction of new production facilities in the family’s ancestral home of Schaffhausen.
Following his 2012 takeover of Moser, Georges-Henri Meylan, a former CEO of Audemars Piguet, appointed his son Edouard as boss of the revitalised company.
A new era
Edouard Meylan brought a youthful dynamism and irreverence to Moser, and over the past six years has presided over the launch of numerous critically acclaimed, commercially successful timepieces balancing traditional horological savoir faire and classical lines with a contemporary aesthetic and refreshing sense of humour.
The rounded-rectangular Swiss Alp watch, for instance, was created as a witty mechanical riposte to Apple’s smartwatch, while the barmy Swiss Mad timepiece—its case hewn from Swiss cheese strengthened with resin—was intended as a statement against the loosening of regulations governing what can legitimately be classed as “Swiss made.”
The modern-day incarnation of Moser is perhaps best known for its “fumé” dials, artfully emblazoned with a smoky, graduated sunburst effect in a range of eye-catching colours, from vibrant blue, green and red to misty brown and grey.
The brand’s beautifully minimalist, Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix-winning perpetual calendar model is another Moser signature, famed for its ingeniously simple design, which uses a short central arrow hand to indicate the month.
All Moser watches are developed, constructed and hand-finished in-house, each of them powered by one of the brand’s proprietary movements. Today, H Moser & Cie’s 60 employees painstakingly handcraft just 1,500 watches per annum, hence the all-too-apt company tagline, “Very rare.” We reckon the brand’s story is just as rare a delight as the sight of one of those stunning fumé dials.
Find out more at h-moser.com