Georges-Frédéric Roskopf was born in 1813 at Niederweiler in Germany and went to Switzerland in 1829. He started in the horological trade as a watchmaker apprentice and journeyman to F Meiret, Sandoz & J Biber. In 1835 he married a widow with 2 sons and with her financial help, started a small parts manufacturing company.
This company also made cylinder and lever watches for export to the USA and Belgium. Roskopf had to sell the business in 1850 and became manager of the Chaux de Fonds factory of Guttmann Frères, in Warburg. The idea of a cheap watch anybody could afford was first conceived about 1850 when Roskopf was at Guttmanns.
In 1855 Georges-Frédéric with his son Fritz-Edouard and Henri Gindraux set up a new business called 'Roskopf, Gindraux & Co.'. This business only lasted a couple of years though and in 1857, Fritz-Edouard left the company and started his own business and
Henri moved to the Horological school at Neuchatel.
The Roskopf Patent was not finally developed into a working model until he made many experiments with different ideas. The pin pallet design was finally developed after Roskopf heard of a paper published by M J Grossman in the British Horological Institute's Journal, in 1866, that gave details of using a pin pallet escapement in watches.
After discussions with Grossman, Roskopfs final version came about.
Roskopf's patent and design enabled a watch to be made with reduced number of wheels in the movement and greater power to be transmitted from the mainspring. This allowed watches to become cheaper but still reliable and strong. The idea was to use an independent escapement unit that could just be added complete to the watch in an assembly line production environment, along with eliminating the centre wheel in the going train and finally the use of a pin pallet escapement with a very strong mainspring using Adrien Philippe's patent, which he paid 25 centimes per watch royalty. Roskopf was going to use card dials to keep the costs down, but in the end opted for the conventional enamel dial to eliminate any acid problems with the card. Roskopf first patented his watch in France, patent no. 80,611.
In 1867, Roskopf started his 'Montre du Proletaire' (translated as 'Peoples Watch') factory to assemble his new design watches. Roskopf never actually made the parts used in Roskopf patent watches, they were all bought from outside suppliers and just assembled in the Roskopf factory. The Roskopf watch first appeared at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1868, where it won the Bronze Medal. The Roskopf factory lasted for a while, but in the end, the parts were made by the Societe d'horlogerie de Malleray and the assembly was undertaken by M Chetelan, Doubs.
Soon after 1873, Roskopf’s wife died and his health faded and he died in 1889. He transferred his business to Willie Frères and another highly trusted employee to continue the work in 1873. After 1939, Roskopf watches were manufactured by the ‘Roskopf Association’.
Although the Roskopf Patent watches are often thought to be of low quality, this was only due to the later reduction in quality of the parts to achieve lower cost. The original Roskopf patent watches were good quality but were too expensive being made using quality parts, some of these were sold to the Belgian Railways.
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