A family business through and through
The brothers Charles and Hyppolite Robert founded in 1858 the company “H. & C. Robert” in Villeret in the Bernese Jura, later becoming just “C. Robert” when only Charles remained. At first the firm worked as etablisseur of pocket watches, preferring movements of Fontainmelon (FHF). In 1878 the sons Charles and Georges took over the leadership of the company. From 1885 also Yvan Robert participated in the company's management. The company's name was changed to “Robert Frères Villeret” and the new logo “RFV” (with an arrow) was introduced. At the same year “Robert Frères Villeret” took part in the “Expositions universelles” in Antwerp and 1889 at the Paris World Exhibition. At both exhibitions the company won medals for their watches.
The company began registering brands in 1886, starting with “Mercure” or “Merkur”, adding “Minerva” in 1887, and “Ariana”, “Tropic”, and “Tropic” in 1898. Each had its own logo and products, and branded everything with either an “RFV” or an arrowhead logo. The arrow and Minerva brands remain to this day, though the rest have been discarded.
From 1895 “Robert Frères Villeret” began with the production of its own watch movements and pocket watch cases in nickel and silver version. The housing production was finished in 1931. Until the turn of the century the firm of Robert's sons was continuously restructured into a real watch manufacture.
The first Minerva calibre was a pocket watch movement with cylinder escapement. The company named each major movement sequentially, starting with Calibre number 1 and continuing through number 55 in the classic era. Today, the company produces numbers 15, 21, 22, 62, and 65.
In 1908 “Robert Frères Villeret” began with the production of chronographs and stopwatches. From 1920 the ebauche movements were gilded in the own workshop. On June 23, 1923 the company name was changed to Fabrique d'horlogerie Minerva, Robert Frères, SA as the brand became more important, and in 1929 the company became simply Minerva SA, Villeret. But the depression was difficult and in 1934 Minerva SA was bankrupt. It was purchased out of bankruptcy by Charles Haussener and Jacques Pelot in 1935.
In 1955 the shares of Minerva went over to the nephew and heir of Jacques Pelot, Andre Frey, and in 1960 the son in law of Charles Haussener, Maurice Favre, inherited his shares. Frey and Favre led the company until 1989, then Jean-Jacques Frey took over the management of the company together with his father Andre Frey.
Under new management
In the year 2000 the Frey family sold the company to an Italian investor. This was developing a new collection of watches, to continue the company's tradition of high quality manufacture products. The new manager Beppe Menaldo, who had been active in the watch area for 38 years (eg at Breguet and Blancpain) tried to maintain the authenticity of the watches and not to distort the spirit of the brand.
In October 2006 the Swiss luxury goods group Richemont bought the Fabrique d'Horlogerie Minerva SA and secured the existing manufacture know-how. One result of this acquisition is the partnership between Minerva and Montblanc for the production of the collection Villeret 1858. Since then, Minerva is a department of Montblanc and is led under the name Institut Minerva de Recherche en Haute Horlogerie (Minerva Institute for top watchmaking art research).