Time To Tell Chronographs for collectors

The true story of Glycine

19 May 2024

By Joël Pynson

Fabrique d’Horlogerie La Glycine was one of the first Swiss factories to market automatic watches in the early 1930s, and some of its models, such as the Airman and Vacuum, are sought-after by collectors today.

As is often the case, the company’s history is difficult to reconstruct, and the information available on the Internet is rather fanciful. It is therefore historical archives and old magazines that will enable us to paint a more realistic picture of this fine factory.

  1. Company history

1.1 Founded in Biel

FOSC 1914

La Glycine was founded in Biel in 1914 by Charles Perret, Georges Flury and Fernand Engel[1].

Several trademarks, such as Glycine and Piccola, were registered by the company in 1914, and in 1916 the factory was renamed Fabrique d’horlogerie La Glycine, Piccola et Joffrette[2].

The company manufactures its own movements, making it a Manufacture in the watchmaking sense of the word. These are movements with anchor escapements for ladies’ and men’s wristwatches, ranging in size from 8 to 13 lines. At the time, Biel was a specialist in small calibers, and wristwatches had been produced here since the late 19th century.


Between 1917 and 1923, the range of calibers produced by La Glycine expanded to include “shaped” movements, i.e. rectangular or tonneau-shaped. The wristwatches produced were mainly intended for ladies.

In 1923 the company was once again renamed Fabrique d'horlogerie La Glycine[3]. Curiously, in the same year, the creators of Glycine set up another factory in Biel: Manufacture d’horlogerie Pretty SA. The objectives behind the creation of this entity are rather obscure. It was renamed Pretto SA in 1927.

Watches, always for ladies, became more luxurious and decorated. Some are in gold or platinum.

In 1925, Glycine opened a branch in Plainpalais in Genèva[4], which enables it to produce movements bearing the prestigious hallmark of the city of Geneva.


The quality of Glycine calibers is attested by numerous chronometer certificates. As early as 1923, the Manufacture claimed first-class bulletins issued by the Bureau Officiel de contrôle de la marche des montres de Bienne, and a first prize at the Observatoire chronométrique de Neuchâtel in 1928.

The company was to bear the full brunt of the serious watchmaking crisis in Switzerland at the end of the 1920s, which led to the creation of watchmaking trusts such as Ébauches SA and ASUAG. Fernand Engel sold movements abroad and openly attempted to oppose the creation of the trusts[5].

In 1931 La Glycine was the first company to produce the automatic movements developed and patented by Eugène Meylan, who created the Automatic EMSA company to sell them[6]. In the same year, Glycine introduces a tiny baguette caliber measuring just 6.5 x 20 mm. Launch also of watches without hands, with jumping hours.


Eugène Meylan, EMSA and Autorem

As early as 1930, Eugène Meylan in La Chaux-de-Fonds was working on a particularly ingenious automatic winding system[7]. This is a system with a Harwood-type oscillating weight, but here the entire mechanism and oscillating weight are enclosed in a circular cage that simply needs to be fixed to the movement with 3 screws. The watch could be set with its usual winding stem. The device was marketed by Automatic E.M.S.A (Eugène Meylan SA) and was first used in 1931 by the company La Glycine[8] in Bienne, which the following year produced versions with square cases, probably the first self-winding square watches.


But in 1933, the Automatic E.M.S.A. patents were taken over by Georges Henry, director of Fabrique Ilosa in Geneva, who claimed the rights, and authorized Glycine to sell automatic movements to other manufacturers. This probably explains why other companies, such as F. Suter & Co. (Hafis watches), or Ogival, marketed E.M.S.A. automatic watches.


Georges Henry also took over Swiss patents CH 159 711 and 712 from Invicta, which are actually improvements on the EMSA system[9]. Together with Adolphe Neumann, he set up the Autorem company to market his automatic movements[10], for example to Perret & Berthoud (Universal). Adolphe Neumann was also a director of Etna and Empire Watch, and had also registered a patent[11] on improving the EMSA system, and also marketed Autorem automatic watches[12].

In 1935, all rights to the Meylan patents were transferred to La Glycine, which manufactured automatic watches on this principle until 1942, when Glycine sold its movement factory and EMSA patents to Ébauches SA.


In 1933 Charles Perret and Georges Flury resigned and were replaced by Fernand Engel’s sons, Fernand Engel junior, Vital and Louis-Paul[13]. Glycine produced some twenty different calibers and offered water-resistant watches, style watches, jewelry watches and clips. Glycine’s presence at the Basel Watch Fair is attested as early as 1933[14].

Around 1940, Glycine produced its first chronographs.


In 1942 Fernand Engel junior dies, and the company’s ébauches rights are transferred to Ébauches SA. The company thus ceased to be a manufacture, and from then on turned to Ébauches SA for its movements. Hence the arrival of calendar watches and watches with regulator dials, but the specialty remains the water-resistant automatic watch.

Fernand Engel senior died in 1945.


In 1948, La Glycine became a limited company with Vital Engel, Otto Straub and Werner Bögli as directors. The company produces chronometers tested at the official testing office in Biel.

1.2 The Charles Hertig period

In 1951, Glycine was taken over by the Kurth brothers, owners of Fabrique Kurth Frères (Grana and Certina watches), and by Charles Hertig, a member of the Kurth Frères Board of Directors. Glycine’s Board of Directors then comprised Hans Kurth, Charles Hertig, Erwin and Adolf Kurth. In 1953, however, the Kurth brothers withdrew from the company, leaving Charles Hertig as sole Chairman of Glycine.


Charles Hertig was a very active entrepreneur. Trained at Omega and Certina, in 1950 he took over the Altus watchmaking factory founded by Hans Troesch in Geneva in 1920[15]. His father ran a printing works in Biel and was also Chairman of the Board[16]. It’s thanks to him that Glycine gets a second wind.

In 1953, the Airman trademark was registered. The watch was presented at the Basel Fair in 1955.

In 1960, Glycine innovates with the Vacuum watch, a watch whose movement is placed in a vacuum to avoid dust and humidity.



In 1962 Glycine and Altus merged to become Fabriques d’horlogerie Glycine & Altus S.A. Charles Hertig was appointed Chairman[17].

Charles Hertig dies in 1966. The management of Glycine remained in the hands of the Hertig family with Charles-Théodore and Andréas Hertig.

Around 1969, launch of the Elapsograph chronograph, sometimes called the SST. There is also a GMT version of this chronograph.

1972 Glycine & Altus joins the Ditronic SA group with Buttes Watch, Delvina, Milus and Wyler. This enabled the member companies to launch a Ditronic quartz watch with LCD display.


1.3 From 1984 to the present day

In 1984 Hans Brechbühler took over the company from Charles Hertig Jr. Hans Brechbühler’s daughter Katerina joins her father in 1992.

A new Airman model is relaunched in 1998.


In 2011 the company was taken over by Altus Uhren Holding. Stefan Lack manages the company[18].

In 2014 the Zurich-based DKSH Group acquired a majority stake.

DKSH sold Glycine to the Invicta Group in 2016[19].

  1. Main Glycine watch models

2.1 Airman

Airman models presented in 1955

Airman Special, c. 1960

Developed from 1953 onwards, the Airman model was presented at the Basel Fair in 1955. It is a remarkable watch, designed with the help of airline pilots. It features a 24-hour dial and a 24-hour mobile bezel for setting a second time zone. It is automatic and has a date window at 3 o’clock. Pulling out the time-setting crown stops the second hand at 60, enabling split-second time-setting. This model has undergone many variations, and is still in production today.

A quartz version of the Airman model was launched in 1978.

From 1998 onwards, Glycine launched several new Airman models with automatic calibers.

2.2 Vacuum

This watch has a monobloc case, mineral glass and a vacuum created inside the case. The advantages are numerous: no humidity in the case, no dust and therefore no oxidation of parts and oils, greater regularity of running, and water-resistance equivalent to a depth of 250 meters. Because of the vacuum, the watch adjustment had to be adapted, as the balance wheel turned faster. In fact, this was a telltale sign of the loss of vacuum in the case: the watch began to lag by around 15 seconds a day.

The patent[20]for vacuum cases, registered in 1959, was not Glycine’s, but Hans-Ulrich Klingenberg’s. This may explain why other companies were able to produce watches using this principle, such as Jaquet-Girard (Airvac 400 and Airvac 800 models), or Marvin.


[1] FOSC 1914

[2] FOSC 1916

[3] FOSC 1923

[4] FOSC, 1925

[5] Johan Boillat, La liberté n'a pas de prix ! Les dissidents du cartel horloger suisse, Chronométrophilia, 2003, 77, p. 65

[6] Revue Internationale d'Horlogerie, 1931, 24, p. 288

[7] Patents CH 149 137 filed on October 15, 1930, and CH 149 138 filed on October 24 of the same year.

[8] Eugène Meylan was not the founder of Glycine. (FOSC)

[9] FOSC 1933

[10] FOSC 1933

[11] Patent CH 170 501

[12] As Universal has used the Autorem system, some authors have claimed that the famous Geneva company was behind these movements, which does not appear to be the case. This error is repeated on the brand’s official website: https://universal.ch/histoire-et-chronologie/

[13] FOSC 1933

[14] Revue Internationale d'Horlogerie, 1933, 6, p. 66. The official history of the brand mentions that Glycine was one of 29 exhibitors at the 1938 Fair. However, there were 44 watch manufacturers exhibiting that year. See Revue Internationale d'Horlogerie, 1938, 6, p. 95

[15] FOSC 1920

[16] Journal Suisse d'Horlogerie, 1966, 1, p. 153

[17] FOSC 1962

[18] FOSC 2011

[19] https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSFWN1AR13Y/

[20] CH 355742 

©Time To Tell, 2024

Reproduction forbidden without authorization. Any use of this article by an artificial intelligence is strictly forbidden and will be considered as copyright infringement.


Most of the watchmaking archives were consulted at the Musée International d’Horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds, and I’d like to thank the museum’s curator, Régis Huguenin, and his team for their warm welcome.

The archives of the Fédération Horlogère, Le Davoine and L’Impartial are available online at www.doc.rero.ch

About Time To Tell: Time To Tell has one of the largest private digitized databases on the history of Swiss watchmaking, with over 2.3 TB of data on more than 1,000 Swiss watch manufacturers. This database has been built up over a period of some thirty years, and continues to be fed with around 50 to 100 GB of data every year. The database is made up of old documents, mostly Swiss trade magazines, dating from the late 19th to the late 20th century. Most of these documents are not available on the Internet. Historical articles published on time2tell.com always cite the sources used.

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