René Froidevaux : the man, the manager of the Fabrique d’Horlogerie Froidevaux S.A. Neuchâtel – Switzerland

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Here we have Mr. René Froidevaux’s watch, a Cadola, the trade solt in Switzerland and which graphics was made by André Oppel in the 1950s.

The watch. We all know that an object is a mere object, however, knowing that this watch was at Mr. Froidevaux’s wrist at the moment when he was making decisions, when he was making the history of his factory and of the Jura, his region, the same object gains in value. It is as if it was caring a memory that I can touch or at least read.

A date : 18 December 1900. That is the date when Mr. René Froidevaux came into this world, the day of the man who was going to mark the watchmaking of Neuchâtel and participate to the birth of the canton of Jura.

M. Froidevaux was born in Noirmont (canton of Jura) ; that explains his attachment to the region of Jura and his activism to make the Jura to be the 23d Swiss canton. It is not enough to be born on a land to become his standard bearer, it is necessary to have character, to have a sense of organization, of duty, to be a visionary. We already observed these qualities on the article about his watchmaking factory. When I discovered that he had been one of the motors of the birth of the canton Jura, I was half astonished. The other half, if I may say so, was astonished to know that a man, very much busy with his enterprise, a real Swiss – a Swiss as one imagine them : calm, neutral, not desiring to owe anything to anyone, respectful of the rules – is ready to fight for the birthright of the canton of Jura. Once again I say « hats off » !

Mr. Froidevaux was a passionate activist, passionate to the point to bring every Sunday his family to picnic to the Jura. We don’t know if his kids agreed or not, but it was his way of being. His enthusiasm made him feel that a newspaper was necessary for the Jura issue and that there was a need for funds. The banker he had been came to the surface and he kept accounts in this regard. Those who dealt with him knew about it and participated in it.

The newspaper mentioned is the Jura Libre, still in activity.

The Fête des Vignerons of 1977. On that yearly day all the cantons (Swiss departments) make a parade and a person carries the flag of his canton. That year, Mr. Froidevaux was looking at the feast on the television. The last person to parade was a young boy carrying the Jura flag, the flag of « his » Jura. That made him feel a very deep emotion. Three months later, Mr. Froidevaux left for the heaven from where he has a better view of « his » Jura.

What also appeals me in this story, is the overlap, once again of so many parts of my life. I made my classical ballet training and part of my economics studies in Romania, in Bucharest, and here comes Jacques, one of Mr. Froidevaux’s sons, who lets me know that his father had been sent by the branch of the bank settled in Bienne for which he worked, the Bernese Cantonal Bank, to Bucharest in the years 1925 -1930 for organizational matters in the oil sector. It has a funny effect on me, it is as if time didn’t exist, as if we had met there, or as if leaves of time had overlapped, and simultaneously I feel overwhelmed by a certain joy.

M. Froidevaux in Neuchâtel. He moved from Bienne to Neuchâtel in 1942, then he had his house built in the Vaucher alley in 1946, bought the the adjacent state, which goes next to the railway station, and moved his watch factory there into what had been until then a boarding school for girls.

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Building which housed the « Fabrique d’Horlogerie Froideaux S.A.
View from the balcony of the former accountant, Mr. Charles Frésard.
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The same building , seen from below where there was the assembly line workshop..

Watch assembly line. A word about Mr Froidevaux entrepreneurial spirit : before the other watchmaking enterprises from Neuchâtel ordered together the Rexa assembly line, Mr Froidevaux had a mechanical chain built by the Roxer S.A. workshops located in Saignelégier. The constructor had been Jean von Allmen, boss of the company and moreover another activist of the Jura and the father of the artist Zouc, Zouc that I saw at the theater of Neuchâtel ! I cannot but feel curious how all these pieces of my life puzzle meet to give roots to my Neuchâtel landscape.

Zouc, Isabelle von Allmen, humorist. When I saw Zouc at the theatre of Neuchâtel, I asked her an autograph. Years later, the son of one of my friends, François Memminger, told me that he was an unconditional admirer of Zouc. I keep thinking and tell myself that Zouc would have given him an autograph and I hives him mine because his admiration is sincere. There are artists who are lucky to be loved after they are no more on the first page. Zouc is among them. So, I meet François and let him know that I am writing this article. He says that he can give me back the autograph, but I ask only for a photograph. You see, the way François acts shows the kind of soul he is, full of delicacy. For sure, the autograph is very good hands, I was right when I gave it to him !

Jean von Allmen, a faithful friend of Mr. Froidevaux. When the situation became difficult for the enterprise, when it was liquidated, after this difficult period and after Mr. Froidevaux left for the other world, Jean von Allmen was next to the family. Until he himself left this world, he invited Mrs Froidevaux and his son Jacques to the buffet of the station every week.

M. Froidevaux and the old age insurance (AVS in Switzerland). I don’t remember how I came to be interested by this insurance. I learnt that it was Otto von Bismarck who introduced the social insurances in Europe (sickness, accident, old age and retirement) in Germany between the years 1883 and 1889. That is a kind of miracle for me. In Switzerland it came into force i on the 1st of January 1948. That year, Mr. Froidevaux told to other bosses who where moaning the financial burden imposed on them that he was in favor of its application even if he would probably not benefit from it. It is the very portrait of Mr. Froidevaux. I don’t know the figures of that time, but for sure Mr. Froidevaux realized that the sum would not be enough for a comfortable retirement for his collaborators and that is why he created his own scheme of pension from which I write on the other article I wrote.

In the 1950’s, the lawyer Jules Biétry moved with his family to the last floor of the enterprise. Jules Biétry… I can hardly believe it. As I was a child, he was the president of the health insurance « Chrétienne sociale » and the office was at Faubourg the l’Hôpital, in the building I was also living ! I can very well see him with his black hat and always distant… To know that he also participated to the Jura movement makes him sympathetic to me, something I would have never believed.

In 1964, Mr. Froidevaux carried out work in his enterprise and transformed the last two floors into apartments.

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Here is the swimming pool built on Mr. Froidevaux’s domain and made available to his employees.

The swimming pool. Looking at this swimming pool I easily imagine the joy of the workers and their families. It is wonderful to do something for the others, to make their life lighter, easier. I think that this is one of the most important thins in this world.

In the1970s. As I say in the other article, it is a period of crisis and many enterprises closed their doors. As for Mr Froidevaux, members of the family participated in the debacle. When a notary from Neuchâtel looked into the documents that these people had asked Mr Froidevaux to sign, under the pretext to give him a hand in order to straighten up the situation, he told Jacques that it was the end.

In 1974, the company’s chief accountant, Mr Charles Frésard, finds a position in another place. Mr Froidevaux hands him a golden cerficate. Have a look at his signature.

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It is the signature of somebody who knows what he wants. The tone of the character is given !

What is also remarkable on the part of Mr Froidevaux is that he lets go the accountant who had been part of his enterprise for 26 years, that he understands that he has to work elsewhere and that he allows him to keep the apartment where he lives and that is in the building that he had built. Mr Frésard tells me that he and his wife had been the first tenants of this elegant and convenient building, whose design had been made by Mr Froidevaux’s eldest son, Philippe.

When I visit somebody, I don’t pay attention to the accommodation but each time I am on Mr and Mrs Frésard’s balcony, I say : « What a beautiful sight from here, one could think that we are in Monte Carlo ! » I have to add that Mr Frésard offers me a glass of Armagnac from a bottle that would not make blush a lord ; he puts on his sunny glass and smokes a cigar. A real movie scene. I have a thought for Mr Froidevaux.

About Armagnac. At Christmas, Mr Froidevaux used to offer to his male employees, at choice, a bottle of Armagnac or Prunelle from Bourgogne and to women who didn’t want alcohol, a box of chocolates. It was a good time ! That reminds me of my former landlord, Pierre Meyer, who offered to his tenants a nice box of chocolates at Christmas too. Life has changed there too !

The annual company outings. In addition to the visit to the Basel fair for the executives, Mr Froidevaux organized an annual outing for all his employees and the costs were born by him ; they went to the Valais and to the lake of Constance, for example.

Integrity of the Froidevaux’s watchmaking factory. When the Swiss watchmaking situation began to become difficult, it was necessary to reduce staff but according to the rules. However, one of the employees was badly advised (he was treacherously incited to attack the enterprise, because, of course, we know that all bosses take advantage of their employees… tells me the person who gave me the information) and filed a complaint for some 2’600.- francs.

The case was settled in court. The chief accountant and his apprenticeship, for their part, showed their statement which amounted to some 2’900.- francs, a sum which, as we see, is higher than that claimed. The judge asked the plaintiff what he was doing there ! The « advisor » did not know what to say and the employee, quite crestfallen, said that he did not know what he was doing there and that he had always trusted the Froidevaux company.

I think that there is nothing else to add.

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A Cadola watch, Mrs Froidevaux’s watch.

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Here you see Denis’s watch, Denis is another son of Mr. Froidevaux. The watch has no trade but a serial number on the back.

When I showed this picture to Jacques, he told me that he had made the design and plans of the watch and that he had left for Latin America before it was put into production i That was in June 1972 ! Denis explains to me that he had ordered « his » watch without the name of the trade, a kind of fantasy that had gone through his mind. Then the workshop Descombes, at the alley Vaucher, added radium- which was subsequently forbidden- to the hands and a line to the hours in order to bee able to see the time at night.

Suddenly I feel the need to take a picture of the back of Mr. Froidevaux’s watch :

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Series number 85273 No 1 – which means that there is a calendar in the watch
18 K, 0,750, 180
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Suddenly I have the idea of making a picture of Mr Froidevaux’s watch on the cover of my Mac Book Pro. I made three pictures. The hour is always the same, we see that time has passed only because of the shadows on the watch face. You will see why I say so.

A thought came into my mind and I made it real into my world. Some times we do something without knowing why :

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Mr. Froidevaux’swatch at my wrist.

I put Mr Froidevaux’s watch at my wrist. I felt a deep emotion and made a kind of selfie, the kind of thing which is not my real cup of tea ; then, we carried out our conversation, Mr Frésard, Mrs Frésard and me. From time to time I looked at the watch and felt moved having it on me and found that it suited me so well… As I was leaving, I notice that the timepiece marks 9 :39. I am surprised to see it working after so many years. Mr Frésard says that it certainly is an automatic one. I make a connection with the modifications that the other watchmaker of my world, Abraham-Louis Breguet, made to the watches. That means that I wore the watch for almost half an hour. That gives me another feeling, as if three times had come together, making just one !

Another link joins us. The physicist Garnier Malet, speaks about three times : the past, the present and the futur that in some circumstances are just one. I ignore the sort of feeling that such a moment can produce in us, but I feel a deep feeling in my present thinking or feeling Abraham-Louis Breguet and Mr Froidevaux together with me. And all that spread out from the documents that my former friend, André Oppel, had produced while he was workinf for Mr Froidevaux, that I had kept and that the Watch Museum Château des Monts du Locle has been delighted to have.

Telephon No 6. If you had lived in the 1930s and you would have liked to call the former accountant’s grand father, you should have had to make No 6. It was the 6th telephon of the region ! I am moved once again. Hereby we see an advertisement that sits at the home of Mr Frésard, the retired grandson.

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The telephone number appears on the top left : telephone No 6.

Surprise ! The word is very significant and explains my condition. Yesterday, some December 18, I invite Mr and Mrs Frésard to one of my performances. I relate the moment here. But the surprise comes from the fact that at the end of the performance I say that Mr Froidevaux would have liked it and today I hear from Danièle, I’ll write about her a bit further, that the performance had taken place on her father’s birthday !

La The watchmaking and economic crisis of the 1970s. This crisis is due to several factors : inflation, concentration of capital with big fusions, technological changes, the oil choc and the dollar devaluation. If M. Froidevaux had outstripped his Swiss competitors with his production line – once again I salute his entrepreneurial spirit – remains the fact that the Japanese had produced quartz watches en masse, the selling prices had therefore fallen and the economic situation was not on his favor. Added to that was the inelegant attitude of several partners and relatives. What a shame ! People often criticize the spirit of the Swisss having remained faithful to a kind of family production. Criticism is easy once things have passed… But looking at the economic turn of our world, I believe that social life was doing better than ours. I continue to admire Mr Froidevaux.

I was going to stop my article here, but I met André’s Oppel sister, Marie-Claire, who tells me that their mother was a good friend of Mrs Froidevaux. So, another piece on my life picture takes place.

Further nformation about Mr Frésard : He was a supporter of the FC Cantonal football club – he had obligations of Fr. 500.- , that he gave at the moment when the club was merged to FC Xamax – he had his stand at the stadium in front of the reporters’ booth.

He was also the cashier at the Showband Les Armourins for twenty years ; he travelled with them in Europe. These turs were during the weekends.

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Liens :

  1. Fabrique d’Horlogerie Froidevaux, Neuchâtel ;
  2. Documents horlogers, André Oppel et le Musée d’horlogerie du Locle ;
  3. Une montre parmi les affaires d’André ;
  4. Abraham-Louis Breguet
  5. Jean-Pierre Garnier Malet, physicien ;
  6. Freddy Landry.

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