Established in 1886, the inception of the West End Watch Company drew inspiration from the vibrant district located at the heart of London, known as the West End. The name was conceived by M. Arnold Charpié, the representative of Alcide Droz & Sons, a renowned watch company based in Saint-Imier, Switzerland, while he served in Bombay. The rich heritage and allure of London’s West End played a pivotal role in shaping the identity of this distinguished watchmaker.
The journey leading up to 1886 traces back to the year 1864 when Alcide Constant Droz and Henry Perret founded the watchmaking company known as Droz and Perret in St. Imier. In 1883, the company officially changed its registered name to Alcide Droz & Fils. Their specialization lay in the production of waterproof watches, as reflected by their 1885 trademark featuring a flying eagle carrying a timepiece in its beak, encircled by the words “Imperméable Brevete Dans Tous Pays” (Waterproof Patented in All Countries), accompanied by the name “West End Watch.”
In 1884, Alcide Droz & Fils, in collaboration with Arnold Charpie, initiated a watch business in Bombay, India, with Charpie serving as the Indian representative of Droz. This enterprise primarily focused on importing watches from the St. Imier factory to India. In 1886, Alcide Droz & Fils underwent yet another name change, becoming Droz & Cie (Droz and Co.). Simultaneously, Arnold Charpie retired from the Bombay firm, resulting in its complete ownership by Droz & Cie. It was during the same transformative year of 1886 that the Bombay firm was rebranded as the West End Watch Co. Furthermore, Alcide Droz & Fils obtained a trademark patent for a bear and flag emblem featuring the word “Berna,” and the name “West End Watch Co.” was registered on a watch movement. Seizing the opportunity presented by Charpie’s retirement and their complete acquisition of the Bombay firm, Droz & Cie rebranded the company as The West End Watch Company, adopting the already registered trademark name from 1885.
To start, the West End Watch Co. did not engage in the direct manufacturing of watches; instead, it procured watches bearing the West End name, as well as its own model names and logos, from various Swiss watch manufacturers. Among the notable and widely recognized models associated with the brand were the Sowar, Sowar Prima, Secundus, Matchless, and Queen Anne. The business model was simple, export Swiss watches to India.
Until 1891, The West End Watch Co. maintained its status as a fully owned subsidiary of Droz & Cie. However, in that year, Jacques-Arnold Amstutz entered the scene as a partner, ushering in a new era. By 1893, West End was recognized as a brand under Droz & Amstutz, St. Imier, serving as an extension of the Bombay firm bearing the same name. It was in 1895 that the Indian branch was officially designated as West End Watch Co., Droz & Amstutz, and three years later, in 1898, the name evolved once more to become West End Watch Co., Droz, Amstutz & Cie.
The West End Watch Company were pioneers; notably, the creation of the world’s first waterproof pocket watch, aptly named “L’Impermeable,” which is presently showcased at the International Watchmaking Museum in La Chaux-de-Fonds. This milestone achievement stands as a testament to their ingenuity and innovation in horology.
Around 1900 or shortly thereafter, the West End Watch Company introduced a distinguished timepiece called the Sowar, named after the esteemed cavalrymen of the Indian army. This homage was bestowed in recognition of Sir Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia – a British archaeologist, military officer, and diplomat, as it is said that he and his soldiers wore West End Watch Company timepieces during the 1st World War. Remarkably, the Sowar model continues to be manufactured to this day.
In 1904, Droz & Cie, who held exclusive ownership of the St. Imier Factory, faced financial challenges. To navigate this situation, they transformed their manufacturing enterprise into a Joint Stock Company known as the Fabrique d’Horlogerie, Berna. The West End Watch Co. played a crucial role in supporting this transition by acquiring a significant number of shares in the newly formed company. Concurrently, Droz & Cie relinquished their stake in the West End Watch Co., which was subsequently acquired by Jacques-Arnold Amstutz and Constant Droz.
Constant Droz and Jacques-Arnold Amstutz leveraged their significant shareholding to establish a monopoly over all products sent by Berna to India. This arrangement granted them considerable control over the market. However, by December of 1907, Berna itself encountered financial difficulties, leading to its liquidation. One contributing factor to this downfall was the diminishing orders from The West End Watch Co. However, the company expressed dissatisfaction with the watches supplied by Berna, which prompted them to shift their focus towards importing timepieces primarily from other manufacturers. Consequently, they ceased placing orders with the St. Imier factory, further exacerbating the challenges faced by Berna.
Moving forward, amidst the backdrop of the First World War, a sizable contingent of British and Indian soldiers were deployed from Bombay to the Persian Gulf, with the objective of reaching Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq. These soldiers were furnished with West End timepieces.
In 1917, the West End Watch Company underwent a transformation and adopted the name Société des Montres West End SA. This change coincided with the company’s official registration in Geneva, Switzerland.
The West End brand infused Swiss-made watches with an unmistakable British imperial charm – elegance and regality – skillfully combining Swiss precision engineering with a brand name evoking the grandeur of an empire. This clever fusion resonated with the public, resulting in widespread popularity. By the mid-1930s, the company proudly reported that a staggering number of 100,000 Queen Anne models alone were adorning wrists across India, highlighting the significant impact and widespread adoption of their timepieces in the region.
Fast forward to 1934, West End achieved another milestone by becoming the first brand to introduce the revolutionary Incabloc anti-shock system. This ingenious invention was credited to Swiss Engineer, Georges Braunschweig. The purpose of the Incabloc system is to safeguard delicate components, such as the balance staff and pivots, by minimizing the risk of damage or dislodgement when the watch is subjected to impact. The system consists of a few key components: a spring-loaded setting, a cap jewel, and a shock-absorbing spring. The spring-loaded setting, typically shaped like a small horseshoe, is fixed to the watch movement. It holds the balance staff in position while allowing a certain degree of movement. A cap jewel, fitted on top of the balance staff, prevents lateral displacement and acts as a bearing surface. Finally, a shock-absorbing spring surrounds the cap jewel and provides flexibility to absorb and distribute energy generated by a shock or sudden movement. When a watch experiences an impact or vibration, the Incabloc system allows the balance staff to move slightly within the spring-loaded setting. This movement helps absorb and disperse the energy, protecting the delicate components of the watch mechanism from potential damage.
In 1973, due to a lack of heirs, the company underwent a significant transition as it was eventually sold to its primary supplier, Aubry Brothers Ltd. This transaction ensured the continuation of operations and maintained the presence of the Bombay West End Watch Company’s office in Noirmont, Jura.
Starting from the year 2000, the company made significant changes by relocating its workshops and headquarters to Leytron, situated in the beautiful region of Wallis. Simultaneously, new shareholders took ownership, resulting in a shift in management. The quality remained though, all the watches are carefully assembled and thoroughly tested in their factory of Leytron, in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Severe entry controls of components as well as strict assembly procedures performed by highly skillful and motivated technicians ensure that only watches of irreproachable quality leave the West End factory.
Presently, the West End Watch Company operates actively in various regions, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Himalaya Range (particularly in Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan), as well as the western half of China.
Having achieved a remarkable milestone of selling 15 million watches over a span of more than 130 years of uninterrupted operation, West End stands as an esteemed and revered name among Swiss watch brands on a global scale. Its enduring legacy and widespread acclaim solidify its position as one of the most prestigious and esteemed names in the realm of horology.