Introduction. Stories don’t always have the same way to start. This one is linked to my late friend, André Oppel, grafic designer and artistic director of the Théâtre du Pommier in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, and who left me some affairs that I kept hoping that once they would go to the right place.
My friend and me always lived in the present. We seldom talked about the past, his or mine, not because we desired to avoid something, in fact it didn’t come in our way. He knew a lot of people and among them there was Jack. He greeted him and I greeted him. The hazard, this famous hazard that doesn’t exist, let me to know that Jack’s family name was « Froidevaux ».
For years I told myself that if I had a website I could insert all the works my friend had left in this world. I scanned his drawings and different works, but there was no unity. A friend told me very kindly that it looked like « widow remembrances ». He was right as I had one piece from here and another from there. But, nevertheless, I kept them.
Once, looking at them again, I saw some collages and a catalog from the « Fabrique d’Horlogerie Froidevaux » and remembered that my fried had told me once that Jack’s father had been a manager. Time passes by and today, as I showed the catalog to Jack, he says that it was the catalog of his father’s company ! He says that my friend André had worked for the company as graphic designer. I ignored that and feel richer of a new element of my friend’s life and has the impression that he waves me from the world where he is now. Jack tells me about the story, absolutely fascinating, of his father’s company, Mr. René Froidevaux.
Mr. Froidevaux developed, after the Second War, the small factory that he had bought. He felt that Italy was going to recover economically and created a lot of watches sold in this country. At that time watches were sold under the name of the traders who had ordered them or under the name of the shops that sold them. That is why his name didn’t appear on the watches. Mr. Froidevaux produced watches of the top of the middle range. Here we have some of his trades : Forte – Pryngeps – Escudia – Soly, etc. Cadola was the trade sold in Switzerland and it is my friend André who designed it and made the graphics !
What i find remarkable :
- Mr. Froidevaux watch factory is the first company to have introduced the English week within the work frame, that means that the workers were free on Saturday mornings !
- Mr. Froidevaux was a manager, a helmsman who cared about the well-being of his workers within and outside his enterprise. He founded a provident found which he endowed of a rental property worth 450’000.- Swiss francs of that time out of his own pocket ! The apartments were rent, in priority, to his workers ;
- another example : when the company received a letter asking for payroll deductions of a worker due to debts, Mr. Froidevaux asked the worker to come to his office and asked him wether he agreed that he, Mr, Froidevaux, would pay the debt and and offered him a reasonable spread of the debt avoiding him any prosecution and that without interests ! in that way the worker continued to work and his family was safe ;
- Mr. Froidevaux also felt that his workers deserved a canteen and for this purpose fitted out premises in a building he had constructed opposite the factory ;
- next to the factory he built a swimming pool which he also made available to his staff ! He makes me think of Mr. Gilbert Facchinetti who also had a similar gesture for people with disabilities ;
- Mr. Froidevaux used to care of his workers and their family. The caretaker had a disabled son who after compulsory school should have gone to a specialized center far from his family and in an unenviable environment. He asked his foreman what the boy could do. The boy took his time but he became an excellent worker ! So much so that he aroused the jealousy of some of his colleagues who commented that he should not be paid like them !
Mr. Froidevaux’s factory was a social model. The Swiss watchmaking federation sent members and visitors so that they could see how the company was operating.
Not so long ago, Mr. Schneeberger, the caretaker we spoke above, left our world. Jack went to the funeral. People went to him and his brother and told them how Mr. Schneeberger had been grateful to Mr. Froidevaux for his attitude and used to tell that he had lived the best time of his life under his leadership This was echoed in the homily. Hats off !
Then came the economic crises of the 1970s. Mr. Froidevaux did not see it coming. The company ceased operations in 1975 as a result of nasty maneuvers of people next to him and to opportunistic competitors. What a pity ! Further information can be found in the last paragraphs on the other article on Mr. Froidevaux. The link is at the bottom of this one.
Even though Mr.Froidevaux is no longer of this world, I am moved to know who he was. He is the kind of example to follow !
The surviving catalog of its long history has no date, we must be at the end of the 1950s. Here are a few pages.
Watch hands have turned many times since the beginning of this article. Jack and I agreed to met so that he ould retrieve the catalog of his father’s business. It is a moving moment for me, it is a piece of Neuchâtel history to which I am now a part. It fills me with joy. I really admire Mr. René Froidevaux. I have just learned that when he decided, in 1942, to buy the factory from his original owner – the company run buy a couple at the end of the line had then six employees and produced small series – the town hall appreciating an entrepreneur who had the courage to start when there was war and the national economy had some difficulties told him that he could benefit from a tax package to let him grow his business. Obviously they didn’t know Mr. Froidevaux, as if he had a character, let’s say, rather difficult, he had undeniable human qualities and principles ; he did not want to owe anything to anybody and paid his taxes 100 % ! In 30 years he grew from 6 to 150 employees and developed a thousand points of sale in Italy, a country, as mentioned earlier in this article, was developing very well after the War. Magnificent !
The article may be getting rather long, but I can’t resist the temptation to add drawings made by André.
Links to :
- Documents horlogers d’André Oppel au « Musée d’horlogerie du Locle – Château des Monts »;
- René Froidevaux, l’homme et le patron de la fabrique d’horlogerie ;
- Une montre parmi les affaires d’André ;
- Rencontres particulières.12 : Abraham-Louis Breguet ;
- Histoires d’entreprises.
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