Louis Moinet: Rewriting history

Louis Moinet: Rewriting history

Writing history is fascinating but rewriting it can be truly moving. Rarely do we have the opportunity to experience such a sensation. However, this is exactly what happened to the Ateliers Louis Moinet on 21 March 2013, when a key chapter of watchmaking history was rewritten.

The Ateliers Louis Moinet were created by Jean-Marie Schaller in 2004 with the aim of returning Louis Moinet to his rightful place in the watchmaking pantheon. Much of his work had been forgotten or dispersed, but thanks to research carried out over the past ten years, many of his creations have been identified and purchased. During this time, clocks, pocket watches, manuscripts and other items have been brought together in an exhibition room at the Ateliers Louis Moinet head office in Saint-Blaise.

It was while reading Louis Moinet’s Traité d’Horlogerie from 1848 that Jean-Marie Schaller realised that Louis Moinet was the father of high frequency. He created a compteur de tierces (‘thirds timer’) capable of measuring a 60th of a second that beat at 216,000 vibrations/hour for guaranteed accuracy.

For six years, the fate of the compteur remained a mystery, despite the tireless efforts made to locate it… Forgotten in history, no one knew what had become of it. Worse still, certain experts cast doubt on Louis Moinet’s description, believing that there simply were not the technical means available at that time to produce an object so technically advanced.

The story came back to the fore in May 2012, when the precious compteur appeared at a Christie’s auction in Geneva. It had been part of a collection owned by a prince from Luxembourg and had been expertly preserved, arriving at auction in perfect condition. On Monday 14 May 2012, Jean-Marie Schaller walked out of the auction room with a little piece of history in his pocket, after a fierce battle in which he won a last-minute victory over a major Geneva museum.

The authenticity and features of the compteur were subsequently established through detailed analysis of the timepiece itself, the historic manuscripts held by the Ateliers Louis Moinet and the hallmarks on the case. From this analysis it emerged that the timepiece was not only the compteur de tierces, but also the world’s first chronograph, invented by Louis Moinet in 1816!

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Gaia Award 1998 for History and Research

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