Baume & Mercier is a watch brand that prides itself in its pursuit of classical watchmaking mixed with timelessly elegant style and in offering its timepieces at a price point that defines "affordable luxury." If you're new to Baume & Mercier watches, there's likely a lot about this nearly two-century-old watchmaker that you don't know. Here we explore the history and watchmaking milestones of Baume & Mercier, from its origins in 1830 to today.
1830: The Brothers Baume
Baume & Mercier is the sixth-oldest watchmaker* currently in operation, having begun its existence in 1830, founded by Louis-Victor Baume and his brother Pierre-Joseph Celestine Baume. In the beginning, the company, at the time known as “Frères Baume" (“Baume Brothers”), sold its pocket watches out of a shop in the Swiss Jura village of Les Bois. By the 1850s, Frères Baume had built its business, and its reputation for quality watchmaking, enough to set up a branch in London, a major market and an important center for international expansion — first throughout the United Kingdom, then into India, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and other nations that at the time were part of the British Empire.
The watches the Baume brothers produced toward the end of the 19th Century included high complications like chronographs, calendars, tourbillons, and minute repeaters. They were also renowned for their precision and accuracy, winning 10 Grand Prix awards and seven gold medals for time measurement at international exhibitions, including at London’s Kew Observatory in 1892 for a tourbillon-equipped chronometer pocket watch. That watch’s chronometry results were unmatched for more than 10 years.
*For those curious, the five ahead of it, in descending order of age, are Blancpain (1735), Favre-Leuba (1737), Vacheron Constantin (1755), Breguet (1775), and Girard-Perregaux (1791).
1918 - 1950: Paul Mercier and the Dawn of Deco
As wristwatches became dominant, for men and women, in the wake of World War I, the third generation of the founding Baume family led the company into its next chapter with the aid of a Russian immigrant to Switzerland whose birth name was Paul Tchereditchenko. Paul’s Swiss mother was widowed after her husband, a Russian army officer, died in a hunting accident, after which she and her son moved from Russia to Paris, where Paul took his mother’s surname of Mercier. William Baume, Louis-Victor’s grandson, entered into a partnership with Paul Mercier, at the time working as a jeweler in London, to form the new Baume & Mercier firm in 1918. Headquartered in the Swiss watch capital of Geneva, the new company, which was awarded the prestigious Poinçon de Genève in 1919 for its watchmaking, embraced both the new era of wristwatches and the design ethos of the Art Deco movement that was sweeping Europe and the Americas in the 1920s. Baume & Mercier was a pioneer in the area of shaped watch cases as well as high-accuracy movements, and expanded its distribution worldwide.
The Roaring Twenties, of course, were about more than art and architecture: the era also gave rise to more liberated notions of female roles and freedoms. At the heart of this evolution were two amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the 18th, passed in 1919, which ushered in Prohibition and the rise of the freewheeling Flappers, and the 19th, passed in 1920, granting women the right to vote. Baume & Mercier took up the task early on of providing timepieces that would be specifically aimed at this new generation of empowered women, utilizing Paul Mercier’s expertise in jewelry to produce a number of baignoire (bathtub-shaped) ladies’ watches throughout the 1920s and ‘30s.
It was in the 1940s — long after Prohibition had been repealed by the 21st Amendment — that Baume & Mercier created its most successful ladies’ watch, the Marquise; designed as a small watch nestling inside a bangle-style bracelet, it was not only eminently practical but also one of the first notable marriages between timekeeping and high jewelry. Also debuting in the World War II era was the original Hampton watch, notable for its rectangular Art Deco-inspired case, a model that would be resurrected in the 21st century to appeal to the modern era’s vintage nostalgia.
1950s-1980s: Stardust, Galaxie, Riviera, Avant-Garde
From the middle to the end of the 20th Century, Baume & Mercier strove for a harmonious balance and equilibrium in its design ethos — hence the shift toward classical round watch cases in many of its models, particularly those aimed at gents, as well as its eventual adoption of the Greek letter Phi as the brand logo in the 1960s. The so-called “Golden Fifties” watches that Baume & Mercier put out in the ‘50s and ‘60s — which included complications like moon-phases, triple calendars, and chronographs, as well as combinations of these and other functions — were the direct ancestors and inspirations for today’s Clifton series of elegant round watches for men. Many of the movements from this era of Baume & Mercier were ultra-thin mechanical calibers made by watchmaker-jeweler Piaget, which had acquired the company in 1964.
Baume & Mercier also continued to dabble in creative and innovative shapes for its ladies’ watches in the 1970s, producing the fondly remembered Stardust and Galaxie models, both of which won the prestigious Golden Rose of Baden-Baden award. For its most memorable men’s watch of the era, the Riviera, launched in 1973, Baume & Mercier combined a traditional round dial with a dodecahedral (i.e., 12-sided) steel case and bezel that integrated into a sporty three-link steel bracelet. Launched just one year after the genre-defining Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the Riviera was one of the early vanguard of aggressively designed — and ultimately very influential — sport-luxury steel watches that also included the Patek Philippe Nautilus and Girard-Perregaux Laureato. In the 1980s, Baume & Mercier again captured the luxury-watch zeitgeist with the Avant Garde, a thin, integrated gold watch with lateral lines that ran through the case, bracelet, and dial, in a configuration similar to popular contemporaries like the Concord Delirium and the original Piaget Polo.
1988 - 2018: New Ownership, New Era
Baume & Mercier’s roller-coaster ride of ownership that had begun in the 1960s stabilized toward the end of the 20th century. In 1998, “King of Jewelers” Cartier purchased controlling shares in Piaget and Baume & Mercier to form the Cartier Group, which became known as the Vendôme Luxury Group in 1993. Vendôme was absorbed into the larger Richemont Group in 1998, making Baume & Mercier part of a powerhouse lineup of watch and jewelry maisons that included not only Cartier and Piaget but horological icons like Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Panerai, and IWC. For much of its tenure under the Richemont corporate umbrella, despite having a long and prestigious history of high watchmaking in its own right, Baume & Mercier was positioned as the most “entry level” luxury watch brand among its more haut-de-gamme peers, with mostly outsourced movements and accessible-to-midrange price points. In 2017, the company took a step toward modern manufacture status with the launch of its first proprietary movement, the manually wound Caliber BM12-1975M, designed in collaboration with Richemont-owned movement specialist Manufacture Horlogerie Valfleurier. The movement incorporated a new technology called TwinSpir, which used a composite-structure hairspring with a thermo-compensating layer of silicon dioxide over two layers of silicon to limit the escapement’s sensitivity to magnetism and improve its resistance to shocks. In concert with a new inertia-type balance wheel, the TwinSpir system allowed for a lengthy 90-hour power reserve. The movement made its debut in a special rose-gold-cased version of the Clifton (above), called the Clifton Manual 1830.
Just one year later, Baume & Mercier followed up the manually wound movement with its first self-winding one, the Baumatic BM12-1975A (above), which added not only the ease of automatic winding via a rotor but also an anchor and escape wheel made of silicon to complement the TwinSpir construction of the hairspring, resulting in an improved power reserve of 120 hours — that’s five days — and also yielding a daily rate accuracy of -4/+6 seconds per day — good enough for a COSC chronometer certification. Baume & Mercier now installs the Baumatic throughout the Clifton collection and has begun building on its base to add complications.
Here is a snapshot of each collection within Baume & Mercier's contemporary collection, with an emphasis on men's models and mechanical movements.
Price: $600 - $1,700, Case size: 35mm/41mm/42mm, Thickness: 7.56mm/7.56mm/10.2mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Quartz Ronda 708/Quartz Ronda 708/Automatic Sellita SW200
The Baume collection, taking its name from the founding family of the parent brand, originally intended to be independent of Baume & Mercier when it was introduced in 2018 as the Richemont Group’s entrée into the lower-priced fashion- watch arena. Baume has since been folded into the Baume & Mercier portfolio but still stands apart from its more classically oriented peers with a more avant-garde design language and still represents the most attainable average price point among the company’s product families. Baume’s focus is on sustainable materials and practices in its watchmaking, using upcycled and natural materials in its interchangeable watch straps like cork, cotton, linen, and PET plastics. Recycled aluminum is among the materials used for the cases. Behind the avant-garde minimalist dials, the watches use either Swiss quartz or automatic Sellita movements.
Price: $1,050 - $4,700, Case size: 31mm/34mm/39mm/40mm/42mm, Thickness: 8.25mm/10.4mm/7.7mm/8.95mm/13.25mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Automatic ETA 2892-A2/Automatic Sellita SW 280-1/Automatic Sellita SW200/Automatic ETA Valjoux 7750
Embodying “simple timeless design” and “discreet elegance,” in the words of the brand itself, Classima is Baume & Mercier’s most extensive and diverse collection in terms of sizes, colorways, and movement options. Offering numerous choices for both gents and ladies, Classima watches are defined by their Roman hour numerals at the cardinal points (with 3 o’clock occupied by a date window on many models), leaf-shaped hands, and either sunray-finished or guilloche-textured dial centers, as on the model above. The collection includes ultra-feminine models with mother-of-pearl dials and diamond markers between the Roman numerals, as well as complications for men and ladies, like moon-phases and chronographs, all of which fall within that affordable threshold under MSRP $5,000.
Price: $3,250 - $7,750, Case size: 39mm/40mm, Thickness: 10.74mm/11.3mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Automatic BM13-1975A (COSC certified)
Baume & Mercier launched the Clifton collection in 2013, but the line’s aesthetic roots run much deeper, with its design elements springing from a 1950s model in the brand’s archives. Clifton watches all have classically round cases with a double-beveled architecture, dials with high-end finishing, thin “Alpha” hands, and simple, thin applied hour indexes (though the earliest models also featured applied Arabic numerals). The standard, three-handed Clifton models were the first Baume & Mercier watches to be equipped with the in-house, chronometer-certified Baumatic movement, which can still be found in them today. Clifton Baumatic models are distinguished from their non-Baumatic predecessors by the crosshairs motif in the center of the dial that represents their COSC chronometer certification.
Price: $4,450 - $26,800, Case size: 42mm, Thickness: 13.2mm/13.2mm/12.1mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Automatic BM14-1975A C1/BM14-1975A C2/BM13-1975A C2
The Clifton’s more complicated denizens, from chronographs to complete calendars, had been equipped with outsourced ETA movements up until relatively recently, when Baume & Mercier began using the aforementioned Baumatic caliber as a base for adding complications via modules. The simplest complication in the current collection is a moon-phase with an analog date integrated in a single subdial at 6 o’clock. Occupying the middle ground of complexity are the Day-Date/Moon-Phase models that combine a double moon-phase and analog date at 6 o’clock with an analog day indicator at 12 o’clock; the model is powered by an evolution of the Baumatic called Caliber BM14. At the highest echelon of both complexity and price is the Baumatic Perpetual Calendar (pictured), whose well-balanced dial features subdial-type displays for the month and leap year at 12 o’clock, day of the week at 9 o’clock, date at 3 o’clock, and moon-phase at 6 o’clock. The modular version of the Baumatic caliber developed for this high complication is called Caliber BM13. While it is by leaps and bounds the most expensive timepiece in Baume & Mercier’s collection, it is one of the most attainable Swiss-made perpetual calendar watches out there.
Price: $1,600 - $5,850, Case size: 43mm x 27mm/48.1mm x 31mm/48mm x 31mm, Thickness: 9.95mm/9.8mm/11.1mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Automatic ETA 2671/ETA 2895/Soprod TT651
Channeling the Art Deco-era heyday of its 1940s rectangular ladies’ pieces, the Baume & Mercier Hampton collection was reborn in 2012 and positioned as a timepiece with both retro cachet and unisex appeal. Hampton watches are available in several case sizes, with many of the larger models offering automatic movements inside their curvilinear, multifaceted cases. The dials are characterized by sword-style hands and a radiating ring of applied indexes with an applied Arabic numeral at 12 o’clock and either a numeral or a date window at 6 o’clock. The most complicated iteration of the Hampton (pictured) has a big date window directly under the 12 and a combined day-night/small seconds indicator at 6 o’clock.
Price: $1,800 - $4,400, Case size: 33mm/36mm/42mm, Thickness: 9.57mm/9.57mm, 13.2mm/12.1mm, Lug Width: 11mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters/50 meters/100 meters, Movement: Automatic Sellita SW 200/Sellita SW 200/Baumatic BM13-1975A
There’s no hotter category in watch fandom today than the sport-luxury steel timepiece on an integrated bracelet. Trailblazing stalwarts like the Royal Oak, the Nautilus, and Vacheron Constantin's Overseas continue to be in high demand; brands like Chopard, Bell & Ross, A. Lange & Söhne, and others have made their own latter-day entries into the field, while the lesser-known but still fondly recalled watches from that first 1970s wave have begun to re-emerge to target new price segments, like Tissot’s popular and affordable PRX. All this considered, the revival of the Baume & Mercier Riviera was probably a foregone conclusion. The modern versions of the 1973 classic stand apart from the more classical elegance of the rest of the line, with their 12-sided bezels with four visible (and functional) screws at the corners, while also projecting a sense of historical luxury with their applied Roman numeral hour indexes. The dials also host partially openworked Dauphine hands and eye-catching textured motifs. Inside the satin-brushed case, Baume & Mercier has installed either a dependable Sellita SW 200 or, in the models with smoked, semi-transparent dials, the Baumatic BM13-1975A.
Price: $600 - $1,700, Case size: 43mm, Thickness: 14.14mm, Lug Width: 11mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 100 meters, Movement: Automatic ETA Valjoux 7750
Joining the revived Riviera collection in 2022 are new chronograph models, all outfitted with the tried-and-true, automatic ETA Valjoux 7750 movement. The textured dials, in either black or blue, host three subdials at 12, 6, and 9 o’clock for elapsed hours, elapsed minutes, and running seconds, respectively, and balance them out with a double window at 3 o’clock for the day and date. Like the non-chronograph Rivieras, these models’ 12-sided cases, with rectangular pushers surrounding the screw-down crown, integrate smoothly into either a bracelet or a sporty, color-coordinated rubber strap.