Louis Cottier and Agassiz and Co.
- A UNIQUE AND HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT YELLOW GOLD WORLD TIME WATCH WITH ENAMEL DIAL
MVT 44496 CASE 44496 "VICTORY WATCH" CIRCA 1945
- yellow gold
- diameter 46 mm
- Sotheby’s, London, 15th July 1998, ‘The Political sale’, lot 96.
When, in May 1945, the horror finally ceased, not only the enrolled countries but the entire world celebrated the end of this terrible period.
Naturally, Switzerland also celebrated the victory of the Allied Forces against Nazi Germany. Among the population of Geneva, a group of people from a variety of backgrounds and social positions wanted to show their gratitude and solidarity to those who fought for a safer and fairer future.
Just weeks after Germany’s unconditional surrender, the group agreed that it might best show its appreciation though demonstrating skill in a craft for which Switzerland is truly renowned: Watch making. In fact, it was not only one but four watches to the four commanders of the Allied forces: Charles de Gaulle, Harry S Truman, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill. To celebrate the beginning of a new period of global unity, and in memoriam of the global reach of the conflict, it was decided that these precious objects should feature the world time complication. Furthermore, each of these watches was decorated by a unique enamel dial and featured a unique hour hand both symbolizing the country and the leader.
The group commissioned Agassiz and Co. to manufacture these important watches. However, it was Louis Cottier who played the pivotal role in this project. Indeed, he prepared the movements, designed the dials and the engravings. It is interesting to note that, so crucial was Cottier’s involvement, it was his name, rather than that of Agassiz and Co., that the press quoted on completion of the watches.
The project was carefully kept secret by Agassiz and Cottier. For example, the Maison Wenger, manufacturer of the four cases, remained oblivious as to reason they were made even though Edouard Wenger and Louis Cotter had been friends since school.
Agassiz and Co. commissioned Cottier to aid in the manufacture of the four watches in August 1945. In September of the same year, the group considered presenting a commemorative coin to Eleanor Roosevelt for the decisive involvement of her late husband Franklin D Roosevelt. They instead awarded her a clock; like the watches it featured a World Time complication.
The contract between Agassiz and Cottier stated that the pieces had to be finished before the 30th November 1945 so as to be awarded to the Allied leadership at Christmas. When completed, these exceptional time pieces were described as ‘symbols of perfection’ and Louis Cottier widely congratulated as having ‘combined art and science’.
The same group of citizens already offered, in August 1945, a personalized 100 CHF coin watch to the General Henri Guisan who was the leader of the Swiss Army during WWII.
Sir Winston Churchill preciously kept the watch his entire life as did his family after his death in 1965.
The watch reappeared nearly 20 years ago at Sotheby’s before disappearing again.
Today, exactly 70 years after the end of WWII and 50 years after the death of Britain's most iconic leader, the watch is more than an exquisite masterpiece of horology, it is a historical testimony of one of the most important events in human history, a symbol of courage echoing Churchill’s call to ‘never surrender’.
The dials and hands of the watches are as follows:
President Truman: NO 44 495, the dial with the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of freedom, the hour hand an olive branch representing peace.
Prime Minister Churchill: NO 44 496 (present lot), Saint George slaying the dragon with the hour hand as a trident symbolising the heroic fight of England.
General de Gaulle: NO 44 497, Joan of Arc planting the Lorraine Cross in the French shore. The hour hand is the Lorraine Cross as a symbol of Liberation.
Marshall Stalin: NO 44 498, a worker standing in front of burning industrial plants, above him, the stormy skies of Stalingrad. The hour hand, a five branched star, mirrors the communist insignia of the USSR.
Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt: The pendulette bears an inscription in memoriam to her husband and a depiction of the Armada with the emblem of Justice on the sails coming from New York symbolised by the Statue of Liberty to Europe, represented as a city in flames. The hour hand is the symbol of Earth, the feet of the clock in V-form, for Victory.
Thanks to the Cottiers’ archives, we know that the dials he designed were produced by Maison Stern (since 1981 known as Stern Creations) and Louis Calame and enamelled by Michel Deville. The dedications on the case backs were engraved by Edgar Maerky. The case of the clock was realised by Jules Reusse.
Several sketches show the different possibilities Louis Cottier elaborated. They simply serve as testament, not only to the importance of the watches, but also to the amount of time and energy this genius watchmaker invested in them. Whereas each dial is unique, all four watches feature the same case back depicting an enamelled map of the world bisected by “V” for victory. At the top of the case back, there is a personalized dedication. The one on Churchill’s watch reads “1939 – Prime Minister Winston Spencer Churchill – 1945”. The watches were delivered with a letter signed by the members of the group and bearing the seal of Geneva. Interestingly, only the letter addressed to Churchill was written in English.
Text taken from the letters:
1941 – 1945
Au president des Etats-Unis d’Amérique
Harry S. TRUMAN,
l’hommage respectueux d’un groupe de citoyens de Genève, en témoignage de leur espoir confidant dans ses efforts pour l’avènement dans le monde des “quatres libertés” proclamées par son illuster prédécesseur Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Genève, Noël 1945.
Prime Minister Churchill:
1939 – 1945
To the right Honourable
Winston Spencer CHURCHILL,
The happy warrior. He inspired England with courage and endurance when she was alone, defenceless and in great peril, and led her through five years to victory.
The gift of some citizens of Geneva.
Geneva, Christmas 1945.
General de Gaulle:
1939 – 1945
Au general de GAULLE
president du Gouvernement de la République française,
pour la ferveur de sa foi et de ses
espoirs en la Résistance française
victorieuse, l’hommage de citoyens de Genève, auxquels des Français
se sont réunis, dans une admiration
commune pour l’héroïque combat
commence le 18 juin 1940.
Genève, Noël 1945.
1941 – 1945
Au maréchal Joseph STALINE,
le chef glorieux des armées russes,
l’hommage d’un groupe de citoyens
de Genève, en témoignage d’admiration
pour l’ardent patriotism des
people de l’U.R.S.S. et leurs
Genève, Noël 1945.
Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt:
Au president Franklin D. ROOSEVELT,
l’immortel apôtre de l’idée démocratique,
l’hommage reconnaissant de citoyens de
Genève, pour la lute victorieuse qu’il a
menée dans la défense des libertés
Genève, Noël 1945.
The earliest known depictions of Saint George and the dragon date back to the tenth and eleventh centuries, brought back from the crusades. It later became part of Christian tradition whose stories told of Saint George gallantly saving the King’s daughter from being sacrificed to the dragon.
The adopted, and still now, celebrated patron saint of England, whose banner, the St Georges Cross, forms the National flag as well as being a central motif in the flag of the United Kingdom was an obvious and powerful choice for Cottier’s design. St George is the symbol of the victory of good over evil, of light over darkness. Indeed, this was imagery the British public was familiar with, Churchill was portrayed as the Dragon-slayer by E. H. Shepard in January 1941 in Punch. It is also interesting to note that Churchill’s World War II plane was named Ashkelon after the lance of Saint George.
The thank you letter of Winston Churchill was published in the press in September 1946 in: La Suisse 14th September 1946 (translated from French):
Dear Mr. Baumann,
It is a delight to own the beautiful watch that you were kind enough to give me.
I admire so much the care and the quality with which this delicate example of craftsmanship and Swiss precision was realised. My family and I will always cherish your superb gift which will remain in our estate as a souvenir of your beautiful country and your friendly feelings which inspired your delicate attention to me.
Please accept and pass your friends my warmest thanks for your testimony of kindness that I was so pleased to receive.
Winston S. Churchill
Louis Cottier (28th September 1894 – 16th September 1966) was born in Carouge, his father, Emmanuel Cottier, was himself a watch and automata maker. The young Louis studied watchmaking in Geneva and acquired, very quickly, the reputation of an extremely talented student with true artistic flair.
As an independent watchmaker, Louis Cottier opened his own workshop in Carouge, making watches, wristwatches and desk clocks. Such was his reputation that Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Rolex and Tudor, entrusted his precious collection to him to restore and service. Cottier also specialised in developing watches without hands (for example the Patek Philippe NO 977 121 prototype), jumping digital hours and other unusual displays, as well as “angle” aviator watches and automata.
In 1931 he invented the “Heure Universelle” (World Time) mechanism and made this complication for famous manufacturers such as Agassiz, Patek Philippe (ref. 605, 1415, 2523, etc.), Rolex (ref. 4262) and Vacheron Constantin (ref. 3372) (for an early example of Vacheron Constantin world time, please refer to Sotheby’s Geneva 14th may 2014, lot 209). The first world time was produced in 1931 by Cottier for the jeweller Baszanger. In the 1940’s the day and night indication (as on the present lot) became the norm for World Time. In the 1950’s Louis Cottier upgraded the mechanism by adding a second crown to make the use of the complication easier.
Extensive research shows that only 455 movements were supplied for wristwatches, pocket watches and clocks by Cottier, now rightly regarded as one of the most important Swiss watchmakers of the 20th century. A man of extreme and demonstrable humility, Louis Cottier never registered a hallmark and none of the watches he produced bare his signature.
The Agassiz watch Co. was founded in 1876 by Georges Agassiz. Established by the same family, the name is very closely associated with Longines.
Mr. Ernest Baumann and the other members of the group:
As previously stated, the group was composed of a variety of very different people representing Swiss politics, culture, industry and education. They were Congressmen, presidents and professors at the University of Geneva, members of the Geneva Court, politicians, watchmakers, jewellers, students, booksellers and presidents of various associations.
We were able to identify some of them:
Mr. Baumann: Chairman
Mr. Cottier: Watchmaker
Mr. Perréard: President of the Council of State
Mr. de Ziegler: President of the Swiss writters and professeur of University
Mr. Magnat: General Secretary of L’Oeuvre (Association for Art and Industry)
Mr. Babel: President of the University of Geneva
Mr. Deville: Enameller
Mr. André Guinand: National concillor
Mr. Henri Bussiny
Mr. Sack: Bookseller
The enamel technique:
Craftsmen use different techniques to decorate dials and cases with enamel such as champlevé, cloisonné and basse-taille. The cloisonné technique, as on the present watch, is used to produce some of the most beautiful and sought-after timepieces. It consists of outlining the scored motifs with a fine metal wire, then filling the troughs created with an enamel paste. In fact, different layers of enamel are often required to get different colours or effects and each of them necessitates a different temperature of firing. As a result, several firings are necessary, each of them reducing the artist’s margin for error virtually to zero. The piece is often protected with a translucent layer of enamel named flux.
Among horological production, only a fraction of the finest pieces are decorated with enamelled dials. This is considered by connoisseurs as the ultimate expression of beauty and craftsmanship.
Examples of World Time with enamel dials are exceedingly rare, most of them signed by Patek Philippe. When enamelled, the undeniably travel conscious World Time usually depicts a map of the world or a part of it. Examples, such as the present lot, with a different representation are part of a very limited circle of extraordinary pieces.