From Rough Beginnings
In 1882, in the village of Lengnau, Switzerland, a young watchmaker named Fritz Meyers opened a small workshop with ten employees. Shortly after, unfortunately, a financial crisis would sweep the watchmaking industry, forcing Meyers to abandon the venture and take employment as a chief controller at Kottman's Ebauche Factory, a producer of movement parts for other watch companies.
The factory was run by the much-admired Karl Kottman, the company founder's son, who took over the operation in 1880 when it was nearing economic collapse. The workforce, which consisted of around 80 employees, suffered from rampant alcoholism and absenteeism. Under Kottman's leadership, the employees were treated to housing and training, both of which proved effective. And, for the village of Langendorf, where the factory resided, he built schools, a hydrant system, paid to have electric lights installed throughout the village, and organized a society for community work still operating today. Within just a year, by 1881, he expanded the business to 200 employees and would go on to manufacture almost everything in-house.
Growing a Business
Meyers' exposure to Kottman's business style taught him valuable lessons on how to run a successful business. With his newfound knowledge, Meyers was inspired to try again and opened a workshop in 1888 with 6 employees in Solothurn, Switzerland dedicated to making cylinder escapements, focusing mostly on the inexpensive side of the market.
In 1895, just 7 years since Meyers' workshop opened, he expanded to 60 employees and started making complete watches, sold under different brand names, using components from other manufacturers.
By the time Meyers turned 38 years old, in 1897, the workshop had created its very first caliber, named "38" in honor of the founders birthday. An inexpensive yet intelligent movement made for mass production.
Image by The Watch Affair
Eventually, Meyers created his own branded wristwatches. In 1900, he introduced a line for women under the brand "Femina", and in 1903 trademarked the brand "Moles", a line with little evidence it ever made it to production, but researchers think may have been conceived for the men's wristwatch market
Finding a Business Partner
By 1905, Fritz Meyers had registered around a dozen original caliber designs and competed at the World Fair in Liege, winning a bronze medal for his latest entry.
World Fair in Liege 1905 by Chokier Web
The same year, Meyer, with great ambitions to expand, partnered with the skilled Swiss watchmaker Johan Studeli. Together, the two founded the company Meyers and Studeli or MST.
Johan Studeli by Roamer of Switzerland
In just a year, in 1906, Meyer and Studeli had a combined workforce of 120 employees. And, in need of a spacious facility for expansion, they built a new factory in Solothurn spacious enough for 300 people. At the time, the company became very profitable producing low-priced cylinder movements for men and women's watches. The two also designed and registered new calibers, winning silver medals at the Milan Fair, the same year, and the Brussels Fair in 1910.
Image by Mirius.co.uk
In 1909, Meyer and Studeli set their sights on the U.K. market, setting up a British branch there under the name Medana Watch Co. The branch would be managed by Meyer's son, Leo Meyer. And, in 1915, managed by Meyer’s other son, Charles Meyer, until his death in 1945.
How Roamer Was Founded
In 1916 (some sources say 1917), the two partners Meyer & Studeli bought out the company L Tieche-Gammeter (LTG), a reputable business also located in Solothurn, Switzerland, known for producing top quality lever escapements, owning two watch brands, and winning several medals competing in international exhibitions. Among the two watch brands that Meyer & Studeli would acquire was the brand “Roamer’, which L Tieche-Gammeter registered in 1908, a brand which likely never made it to production, as there were no watches found within any time period before the brand’s new ownership. That same year Meyer & Studeli would purchase another movement parts factory, this time in the Weissensteinstrasse in Solothurn.
In 1918, Meyer & Studeli would become Meyer & Studeli SA, the ‘SA’ standing for Société Anonyme, the French word for a public limited company. The company would now be listed on the exchange, opening its shares to the public and creating better opportunity to raise capital. Fritz Meyer would become chairman, and Johann Studeli would be in the board of directors alongside Meyer’s sons: Leo, Charles, Hermann, his son-in-law Heinrich Benisch, and just a year later his youngest son Ernst. The same year the company would finally begin producing its own in-house lever movements.
Ernst Meyer & Leo Meyer by Solothurn Zeitung
During the First World War, the wristwatch was found to be immensely helpful to military personnel in trench warfare, aviation, and artillery operations. So many soldiers would have issued wristwatches that when the war ended, and they came home, the trend caught on with the rest of the population. In 1920, Meyer’s company trademarked brands Roamer and Medana in the United States, and Roamer in the U.K. The Roamer brand would be the company’s premium line, housing the more expensive and higher-quality in-house jeweled Swiss lever movements, while the Medana watches would come with the more standard cylinder and pin lever movements. Also, during this time, the company’s share capital doubled from one to two million Swiss Francs.
Early Roamer Watch Models
Turning Into a Manufacturing Giant
Since the beginning Meyer and Studeli SA have worked to depend less on outside manufacturers, ensuring more control over quality and less financial risk. By 1923, the company would be able to manufacture and assemble their own watch cases and manage 6 branch factories along with their assembly and finishing departments. That same year, the company’s watch production would reach one million units, and the year after that, in 1924, they would have their greatest daily production record of 5,000 watches, a record they would never beat again. MST’s slowing production was due to the effects of the Great Depression from 1929 to the end of the 1930’s, and from the company’s move to more labor-intensive high-quality movements.
In 1926, chairman and founder of the company, Fritz Meyer, died at the age of 67. After his death, his workers donated a memorial in his honor, which today is located in the lobby at the head office of the Meyer and Studeli SA (MST) company headquarters.
By 1932, the company could produce all major components of their watches in-house and now with more components included in the production process, Meyer and Studeli SA would expand their workforce to 1,200 employees to take care of the additional labor. All employees and their families at MST would be offered extensive welfare assistance, and sometime later the company would establish the Romerhaus Welfare Centre.
Romerhaus Welfare Centre by Solothurn Zeitung
The familiar Roamer logo most watch collectors are familiar with would first be registered in the U.K.in 1938. And, it was in 1940 that MST would patent its first automatic bumper movement, similar to an automatic but where the rotor would move back and forth 180 degrees instead of 360. Around the years 1940 to 1945, the company would have patents for a stainless steel, water, and dustproof case and crown system. After the second world war, the company would also open a representative office for their Roamer line in New York City. Finally, MST would become a more well-rounded manufacturer in terms of quality, moving away from their cheaper chrome plated brass cases.
Becoming the Roamer Watch Company
In 1952, MST would change their name to the Roamer Watch Company, wanting to be represented in the world by their most successful watch brand in the U.K and the U.S. Just a few years before, around 1950, the company would create its first in-house automatic rotor movement, the MST 410/411 featuring the decoupling manual winding design and the bi-directional rotor. Around 1952, the alarm watch was produced, made with an MST 417 movement and the patented amplifying back design. It would be around 1955 that Roamer Watch Co would release its most commercially successful line, the Anfibio, which used their patented improved waterproof case. The same year, up until 1959, Roamer would create a few chronographs and chronometers, housing the very technically sophisticated MST 430/436 movements with patented calendar mechanisms, unique for a middle market company. It was the 44 Jewel Automatic MST 436/437 Movement, in 1962, that would be the Roamer Company’s crowning achievement in regards to technical mastership, and be used in their Rotopower 44 line, which became rather successful. This was due to Roamer hiring Bernard Humbert, the Professor of Complications at the Watchmakers School in Bienne, who helped work on many of the company’s movements. In 1966, the movement would be updated to the MST 470/471, being used in their more upper model modern watches like the Stingray, Rockshells, and Mustangs.
In 1967, two members of the Meyer family would die suddenly: 50-year-old Ernst Meyer, who was Deputy Chairman of the Board, and the 70-year-old Max Meyer, who was Managing Director and Vice President of the Board. After the passing of the founding family members, the company would be controlled by three managers, but would still be owned by the Meyer family. During this time, the company had more than 20 calibers spanning from large pocket watches to small ladies watches, a number which would be reduced by the new managers to make way for new ones.
In Biel, the small town in Switzerland, in 1969, Roamer would help form a joint venture with the companies Buren, Certina, Rolex, and the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, to research electronic timepieces. By 1972, Roamer would present the Micro Quartz at the Basel Fair, an undertaking which would only take them just 6 months to design. Since the launch of their quartz watch, most of their production would be focused there.
Micro Quartz from Basel Fair by Swiss Time
For a while, Roamer had a strong existence in Hungary selling mostly ladies watches. To stay relevant, they opened a factory in the country’s capital of Budapest. By 1973, the company would sell 20,000 watches, all of which weren’t marked swiss made and would be distributed by the Hungarian chain store, Orasok. The same year, the last branch of the company run by Meyer family members would reside in Solothurn, Switzerland.
A New Beginning for Roamer
In 1975, the Swiss watchmaking industry suffered its second biggest recession. According to ASUAG, a group of Swiss watch & part companies formed in 1931 to defend the industry from financial disaster, the average purchase receipts had dropped by 40%. At the time, the Roamer company’s creditors would take court action against them, and by January the company would apply for an administration order, stopping their creditors from placing further demands on them. The company would have to close its case production, mechanical movement production, and other manufacturing to focus more on the sales and assembly side of the business. The reorganization forced Roamer to lay off 239 of their 600 staff members, furthermore losing around a hundred more to retirements.
News of Employee Layoffs by Solothurn Zeitung
Eventually, by 1983, the company would be joined with the Swiss ASUAG group, in 1985 purchased by former director marketing Hrr. Leval, then sold to the Chung Nam Company in Hong Kong. In 2009, the Chung Nam Company would make Roamer a joint venture with the Swiss Swatch Group, previously known as the ASUAG group. With their new owners, Roamer would no longer be an independent family business, although the company to this day would still produce in Solothurn, Switzerland, a tradition which has lasted over 125 years.