Paul Buhré in Russia and Le Locle
Montres Paul Buhré traces its roots to 1815, when Paul Léopold Robert opened a watch and clock store in St. Petersburg, Russia. His son, Paul Buhré, was a skilled watchmaker and gained renown for the watches supplied to the Imperial Court of Russia. It is for this reason that the Paul Buhré company would use the two-headed eagle as their symbol. Paul Buhré maintained retail outlets in St. Petersburg and Moscow, supplying the railways and Russian government.
In 1880, Paul Girard-Gabus, an established watchmaker in Le Locle, Switzerland, opened a dedicated workshop there for Paul Buhré. It is likely that Girard-Gabus had already been involved in producing watches for Buhré in Le Locle even before this date, but his workshop at Rue Progrès 47 took on the name of the famous watchmaker exclusively by 1883. Girard-Gabus eventually took over the firm along with his partner, Georges Pfund. In 1896, Paul Buhré was awarded a gold medal at the international exhibition in Geneva. The firm continued to grow in Switzerland, entering and winning 500 chronometry prizes (including 209 first prizes) at Neuchâtel and other competitions.
Buhré continued to grow in Le Locle, even as the St. Petersburg and Moscow locations were overcome by the Russian Revolution. Girard Frères moved the company to Rue Progrès 25 and 27 by 1902, and the office was briefly located at Plateau du Stand by 1908. As Buhré became more successful, the firm needed a dedicated factory. This, by 1913, Buhrè moved into a large building on the same street as Tissot and competitor Robert Cart, Rue Beau-Site 17. By 1916, Girard Frères gave way to Alexandre Girard, and the company was incorporated as Paul Buhrè S.A. by 1920.
Between 1928 and 1930, Paul Buhré and H. Barbezat-Bôle had merged. This smaller company was a specialist in complicated watches, including repeaters, and represented a consolidation of high-end watchmakers in Le Locle. The company would remain known officially as Paul Buhré et H. Barbezat-Bôle S.A. through 1945. By 1947, the firm was reorganized as Manufacture des Montres Paul Buhré S.A. and relocated briefly to Rue des Envers 46 in 1949 before moving into a modern building at Avenue College 11 the following year.
In the 1950s, Paul Buhré produced fine wristwatches and deck chronometers in Le Locle. The company introduced a mystery dial watch in 1958 known as the Fantôme which used a disk behind 12 triangular apertures to show the time. By the end of the decade, Paul Buhré was represented by the same company as prestigious brands, Nicolet and Piaget. The brand followed the ultra-thin watch trend of the 1950s and 1960s with the Rotodator models, first shown in 1960.
Paul Buhré and Dixi
In 1963, Paul Buhré was purchased by watch tooling supplier Dixi of Le Locle along with the brand Erguel. By 1969, Erguel would be considered a brand of Paul Buhré rather than a separate company. Paul Buhré introduced a new range of luxury watches and jewelry that year, and was also known for traditional clocks.
Paul Buhré absorbed Robert Cart in 1970, including a large number of ultra-thin movements from F. Piguet. After acquiring Henry Moser & Co. in 1974, many of these were used in luxury dress watches under the Paul Buhré and Moser brands. Their thinnest movement measured just 1.7 mm, enabling the company to compete with Audemars Piguet and Piaget in this market.
Paul Castella, head of Dixi, took close control of Paul Buhré in the 1970s, naming himself Managing Director by 1975. The company had purchased the tooling and plans of historic cast bronze decorative clocks from Passerat of France in 1968 and now focused on manufacturing reproductions of these. This included re-creating the historic Neuchâtel movement, a chiming clock movement from the 18th century. The company set up a modern production building above Le Locle in the 1970s at 38 Rue Georges-Perrenoud, complete with a funicular from the street. Paul Buhré acquired Luxor, a 1935 maker of clocks and alarms, in 1978.
In 1976, the company acquired Geneva-based luxury fashion watch brand Jean Perret, which had been established in 1956. This would become a major brand for Paul Buhré for the next decade, focusing on high-grade quartz watches. The brand was sold in 1985 to John Buser and moved back to Geneva.
Dixi Focuses on Zenith
Dixi acquired Movado-Zenith-Mondia from the the American Zenith Radio Corporation in 1978. Although separate from Paul Buhré, Zenith dramatically expanded the footprint of Dixi in Le Locle. Paul Buhré acquired the historic Zodiac brand in 1978, continuing production of sports watches under this brand.
In the 1980s, Paul Buhré represented the top of the pyramid, producing luxury jewelry watches under the theme of “prestige and tradition.” Zenith continued production of sports watches under the Zodiac brand. One of the last novel products of the company was a triple-dial luxury watch using three quartz movements.
As Zenith rose, Paul Buhré and Zodiac were de-emphasized. Paul Buhré S.A. and Montres Erguel S.A. disappeared from the local business directory after 1987. Zodiac integrated with Zenith in 1982 but failed to gain new traction. On October 29, 1988, Paul Buhré (along with H. Moser & Cie., Jean Perret, Luxor, Terrasse, and Zodiac) was officially dissolved and integrated into Zenith. These brands were officially abandoned in 1989. Zodiac would be re-launched in 1990, Moser in 2002, and the rest would be mostly forgotten.