The legendary ‘Russian Swiss’ company Henry Moser & Cie was by Johann Heinrich Moser in Le Locle, Switzerland. In sending their products to Russia, the company found a very large and lucrative sales market, and so all production was focused on the Russian market.
Johann Henry Moser
Johann Heinrich Moser, the founder, was born in the Swiss city of Schaffhausen, to the family of a watchmaker. He and his father later moved to Le Locle, where he perfected his watchmaking skills. Moser then moved to Russia in the 1820’s, and in 1826 in St. Petersburg he set up a watch workshop, changing his name slightly to the English version – Henry Moser. By 1828, Moser had opened a trade office in St. Petersburg, and another one in Moscow in 1831. Finally, in addition to the Moscow and St. Petersburg addresses, he also gained a residence permit for Nizhny Novgorod. Through the fair at Nizhny Novgorod Moser’s watches made their way from Russia to India and China, with all the watch parts ordered from the Le Locle workshops and assembled in St. Petersburg. Some cases and dials were also made in Moscow, as evidenced by the Russian inscriptions found on some copies that reads “H. MOSER IN MOSCOW”.
Moser’s factory produced a wide range of pocket watches for both men and women, with and without a strike, in gold, silver, and steel cases of various styles, each with a winding key and knob, and chronograph. Gold watches with a repeater were particularly expensive, with a chime for minutes and quarter hours, as well as a calendar that included the lunar phases. The company offered a variety of pocket watch types, including ‘Blondel’, ‘Robert’, ‘Lepin’, ‘Salter’ and ‘Tobias’. Products were branded according to the specific kind of mechanism used. Moreover, the location of the mark and its information content reflected the quality and value of the watch. For example, a watch with only one inscription of “Hy Moser & Co” on the inside cover, without the company name, were of good quality and cost more. Of these, watches with inscriptions of the company name in Gothic script were considered to be of superior quality. Carl Faberge ordered these superior watches from Moser for his jewellery works.
Wall clocks and regulators with weekly and fortnightly winding were manufactured with oak and walnut cases, made in the Art Nouveau style at the beginning of the 20th century. Usually, a distinction is made between wall clocks and more expensive regulators, made with a quarter beat, which were actually used to check the correct function of other home clocks. The company also produced mantel clocks of various sizes, often called ‘dining rooms’, in cases of black marble and onyx (green marble), with gilded bronze and zinc decorations.
The ‘H. Moser’ pocket watch was so popular and in-demand that counterfeits started to appear. In response to this, warnings were posted in the company’s trade price lists. An example of this is found in the Trade Price List of the Moser Factory for March 1906, in which it is written that “…in order to eliminate cases of abuse of the name of our company by some merchants, we consider it necessary to recommend that those who wish to purchase a watch from our factory pay special attention to whether the offered watch has upon it the brand and inscriptions in French, and to ensure that the letters “Hy” are placed before the surname “MOSER & Ce”, as only watches with such brands and inscriptions are really the products of our factories”. These cautions are just as useful to today’s watch collectors as they were to potential buyers back then.
Post in the Niva newspaper that contains the warning as quoted above, 1913. Many thanks to Andrey Vorontsov for the photo.
Although the founder, Henry Moser, died in 1875, the success of his company was not over. Taking advantage of the patronage of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, in 1913 Moser’s company became the official Supplier of the Imperial Court. A historical inscription appeared on the advertisements by the company that read: Suppler of Her Majesty Empress Alexandra Feodorovna”.
In 1868, Moser, together with the American Florentino-Ariosto Jones, created a new watch company called the ‘International Watch Company’, or the ‘I. W. C.’ for short. This company, having purchased modern machines, along with the Swiss firms Omega and Longines, became a pioneer of the industrial production of watches in Switzerland. Moser’s personal contribution to the creation of the IWC factory was to construct a power station on the river, which transferred mechanical (not yet electrical!) energy from the river to the factory machines.
The IWC company exists to this day, belongs to the German Mannesmann, and is one of the leaders in the Swiss watch industry.
The Hy Moser & Cie factory was revived in Schaffhausen, Switzerland in 2005. It produces interesting luxury watches with special functions. Remarkably, the designs from the original samples of vintage Moser movements are echoed in the basic style and shape of the movements produced today.
Examples of Original Hy Moser & Cie Watches
Examples of fully genuine watches with original markings in the style of the Henry Moser factory (years are approximate):
1900: ‘Qualite Lepine’ nickel
1900: Black dial
1900: Grade “A”
1910: Qualite Lepine, gold
1910: Ladies Grade “B”
1915: South-West Railway , nickel
1920: Hy Moser & Cie, gold, in original box
1930: Hy Moser & Cie “Prima” (after the 1930s, the brand was put on foreign purchased mechanisms).