Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Breguet, Piaget. They are the big boys, the ones we usually talk and squabble about because they’ve been hanging around for several hundred years to duke it out for most spectacular achievements. For every brand in existence there are many more that failed and you hardly ever hear of them. Some were quite the stars of the day, making excellent award-winning watches. And, if you can find one of their watches, then you’ve got a real gem not to mention conversation piece. One of these companies is Haas Neveaux & Cie. If you haven’t heard about it, don’t worry. Neither had I until recently.
Just who was Haas Neveaux & Cie? It was a Swiss brand from Geneva founded by brothers Benjamin and Leopold Hass in 1848. They were known for their high-grade watches and concentrated on complications such as chronographs and repeaters. To get an idea of how complex these guys went, consider an 18K yellow gold astronomic pocket watch with minute-repeater, perpetual calendar, moonphases, split-seconds chronograph and 30-minute register. They also took a special interest in chronometers and entered watches into competition at the Geneva Observatory, where one of its chronometers won with 878.8 points.
Even back in the day watch companies fiercely competed for record breakers and awards. Haas Neveaux & Cie. was no exception. It’s said they introduced a 2mm high manually wound movement in 1896 at the Geneva exhibition, the slimmest of its time. Later they were able to shave it down to 1.3mm, which is .051 or 51/1000 of an inch. That’s a little more than the thickness of a guitar string.
It wasn’t until 61 years later in 1957 that Piaget and their Calibre 9P claimed the title of first ultra-thin hand-wound mechanical movement coming in at 2mm. So the question remains, if Haas Neveaux really did produce these movements, how come no one else has picked up the design and why don’t they get credit for holding the world records in thin movements? Perhaps it’s the old adage that the victors write the history.
Did you know that Haas Neveux made such good chronographs that companies such as Leonides and Girard-Perregaux sourced their movements. And here’s one of the biggest compliments of all. In an interview with The Purists, the God of independent watchmaking, Philippe Dufour, commented that the brand’s minute repeater pocket watches particularly impressed him when he was doing restoration. They were “very high grade”. When Dufour speaks, it’s a good idea to listen.
In the modern world, watchmakers have access to CAD programs and CNC machines and can come up with nifty ideas to build into watches. But back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, all these guys had was their imagination. Haas Neveaux & Cie. applied for a patent for a pocket watch that wound by opening and closing the lid. Perhaps not practical but certainly worthy of some good press. In fact, Movado made the Ermeto, which uses a system where sliding the case open and closed winds the watch.
Video Courtesy of Archilaudtis
Haas Neveaux wasn’t just innovative with their watches. They knew where to get exposure and were the first watch brand to exhibit at the Paris Salon with jewelry watches and also won a Grand Prix at the Bernese national exhibition for men’s and women’s watches. In 1918 they showed up at the Geneva Salon to present their first minute-repeater. These guys got around and knew how to do their marketing—all this without a PR agent.
Unfortunately, the Depression hit Haas Neveaux & Cie. hard. Too hard. The company went under in the 1930’s. Fortunately, we’ve got their watches left to enjoy. If you’re lucky enough you can find one of them at auction.