Desco von Schulthess (sometimes spelled Schultess or Desco de Schulthess & Co.) is a holding company best known today for establishing the Maurice Lacroix brand but formerly owning Girard-Perregaux and distributing brands such as Eterna and Audemars Piguet in Asia.
Desco von Schulthess was established in Zurich in 1889 as a distributor of silk and other goods from Asia. In 1933 the company established Desco von Schulthess Holding AG as a holding company for investments in other areas. After World War II, Desco became the agent for luxury brands Jaeger-LeCoultre and Audemars Piguet in certain Asian markets, along with mass-market brands Angelis, Eterna, Heuer, and Certina. Other brands included Coral, Credos, Eska, Fricha, Moni, Royce, Sarwa, Tugaris, and Looping alarm clocks.
In 1975, Desco von Schulthess launched its own brand of watches, Maurice Lacroix. Named for the French Director of Silks in Lyon, the name was chosen for the romantic sound. Initially launched in Austria, Maurice Lacroix soon spread to Spain, Germany, and other parts of Europe. By 1995 Maurice Lacroix watches were available in most international brands, including the United States.
The Saignelégier operation focused entirely on the successful Maurice Lacroix brand in the 1980s, and the brand's success lead to the purchase of nearby casemaker Queloz in 1989.
As the quartz crisis raged in the 1980s, Desco purchased shares in many of the brands it distributed. This includes ownership of Girard-Perregaux from 1979 through 1985. Desco also acquired the Consul brand with Girard-Perregaux Holding, and this would remain with the company until 1996.
Desco sold their Asian Jaeger-LeCoultre operation back to the Le Sentier company in 2001 amid that consolidation. Desco long held a minority share in Audemars Piguet lasting to the present day. Demonstrating the closeness of these companies, in 2008, Desco head Philippe Merk replaced Georges-Henri Meylan as CEO of Audemars Piguet. Merk had joined Desco in 2001 and shook up the brands, moving Maurice Lacroix back up-market.
The company aimed in 2005 to be a vertically-integrated manufacture, including setting up an in-house manufacturer of movement components, Manufacture des Franches-Montagnes (MFM). This did not last. After Merk's departure, the decision was made to focus primarily on the entry-luxury segment, leaving the high end manufacture watches in place.
Desco sold the distribution rights for Maurice Lacroix to DKSH in 2008 and purchased the brand entirely in 2011, including its manufacturing operations. But the world financial crisis pushed DKSH to offer Maurice Lacroix and Queloz for sale in 2015 and announced plans to shut down MFM. Queloz was sold In 2018 but as of 2021, Maurice Lacroix is owned by DKSH.