HEINRICH MOSER THE WATCHMAKER
Heinrich Moser was born on 12 December 1805 into the large family of the town watchmaker of Schaffhausen, Erhard Moser. He grew up in 19th-century Schaffhausen surrounded by the tradition and experience of a watchmaking dynasty consolidated over several generations. He worked in the family business from 1820 to 1824, where he learned the traditional watchmaker’s craft from his father, and subsequently broadened his knowledge in the watchmaking town of Le Locle in western Switzerland. In 1826, Heinrich Moser started work on his own account and built clocks into cases and pieces of furniture for a German merchant. His plans to succeed to the position of town watchmaker after the death of his father, a vocation which had been performed by the family for two generations, were thwarted by the town council in Schaffhausen. He would hold this against the authorities for the rest of his life.
As an ambitious and visionary watchmaker, Heinrich Moser decided to set up in business in distant Russia. Imperial Russia at that time was regarded as an excellent labour and sales market and as a sound trading base for watches. In order to prepare for this challenge, Heinrich Moser used his free time to build watches and tools that would facilitate his start-up in business. He had the equivalent of around 2,000 Swiss francs in cash at the time of his departure in November 1827.
His journey to St. Petersburg in 1827 was anything but comfortable. Heinrich Moser travelled by coach via Karlsruhe and Weimar to Stettin, and onwards by passenger ship to St. Petersburg.
After working for a number of employers as a watchmaker, he founded his own company in St. Petersburg at the end of 1828. This marked the inception of the highly successful H. Moser & Cie brand. Alongside expensive precision watches and watches designed as pieces of jewellery, Heinrich Moser also offered a range of simple watches.
In the course of developing his trading network, he realized that a successful wholesaler would also benefit from being a manufacturer at the same time. Heinrich Moser accordingly established a watch factory in Le Locle in 1829, which manufactured watches exclusively for his own businesses. This enabled him to guarantee the high quality of the products bearing his name. He was later made an honorary citizen of Le Locle in recognition of his services to the town in the Swiss Jura. One of the company buildings exists there to this day and is listed as a historic monument. In addition to the movements produced in his own factory in Le Locle, he also purchased movement blanks from such prestigious companies as Urban Jürgensen or Jaeger-LeCoultre. Their records list him as a regular customer from 1860.
Heinrich Moser’s constant quest for quality was crowned by success. He supplied the Imperial Court, various princes and the armed forces in Russia. Within just a few years, he was selling watches to Persia, China and Japan, as well as New York and Paris, where his brother Georg Moser was also working as a watchmaker. Only 15 years after founding his company, Heinrich Moser was the undisputed market leader in the Russian watch trade. He returned to his home town of Schaffhausen as a prosperous watch manufacturer and merchant at the end of 1848.
In addition to watchmaking, Heinrich Moser’s life following his return to Switzerland was also characterized by other projects combined with restless creativity. With his pioneering spirit, he initiated the transformation of the previously sleepy town of Schaffhausen into a dynamic industrial location. In 1851, Heinrich Moser completed the construction of a channel on the River Rhine, which provided the water power to drive a turbine with an output of around 80 hp. This was followed in 1853 by a joint venture with other Schaffhausen personalities for the establishment of Schweizerische Waggonfabrik bei Schaffhausen (Swiss Wagonworks at Schaffhausen), which changed its name to Schweizerische Industriegesellschaft (SIG) Neuhausen (Swiss Industrial Company Neuhausen) in 1863. He was also a co-founder of the Schaffhausen–Winterthur railway line in 1853. In the winter of 1863/64, Heinrich Moser embarked on the construction of the largest Swiss dam at that time on the River Rhine at Schaffhausen, which enabled him to supply neighbouring industrial companies with inexpensive energy via a power transmission system. The subsequent establishment of Wasserwerk Gesellschaft Schaffhausen (Schaffhausen Waterworks Company) in 1865 marked the dawn of the industrial age in Schaffhausen.
His professional success and the acceptance of Heinrich Moser in social circles contrasted sharply with his private life, which was at times overshadowed by considerable disappointments. The premature death of his first wife Charlotte, née Mayu, in 1850 thus curtailed Moser’s otherwise seemingly inexhaustible creative power for a while. She would not live to see the completion of the Charlottenfels country estate near Schaffhausen, which had been named after her. Heinrich Moser was similarly never able to reconcile himself to the fact that his only son, Henri Moser (1844–1923), never took up the reins of his father’s watch business.
Heinrich Moser died on 23 October 1874. Present-day visitors to Schaffhausen continue to experience the spirit of Heinrich Moser. The house where he was born, known as the «Haus zum Blauen Himmel», and the Charlottenfels country manor still exist. A modern power station now stands on the dam on the River Rhine. The majority of the companies founded by or with the support of Heinrich Moser are operating successfully to this day. The residents of Schaffhausen have honoured their fellow citizen by naming Moserstrasse after him, with his bronze bust in the Mosergarten park and, not least, with the Charlottenfels country estate, which is open to the public. The top floor of this building now houses the Moser Family Museum, with a watch room full of testimonies to his tireless creativity.