Ferdinand Berthoud was a Swiss watch and clockmaker, born in 1727 in Val-de-Travers in the Canton of Neuchâtel. In 1745, he moved to Paris to begin practicing his watchmaking skills. He wrote many of his own works and contributed numerous articles in the Encyclopédie. He worked tirelessly on developing marine chronometers: ocean-going voyages stayed on course by calculating the difference between local solar time and a given meridian. The east-west position of ships, their course, and their arrival point depended on these ‘on board’ and ‘departure’ times being accurate. Both France and England were offering substantial awards to the first person to find the solution.
Ferdinand Berthoud devoted his life to seeking the ultimate precision on which marine expeditions depended. In 1765 he produced two marine clocks known as No2 and No3.
In 1766, he sent a letter to France’s Navy Minister, Choiseul, Duke of Pralin, spelling out his plans for Marine Clocks No6 and No8. Later that year, King Louis XV agreed to finance the undertaking. Upon completion, Ferdinand entrusted the two clocks to the Count of Fleurier, explorer, hydrographer, and the King’s ship-of-the-line ensign, escorted by naval astronomer and geographer Canon Pingré. They tested the clocks on a voyage between Rochefort and Santo Domingo, proving their efficiency and precision. The ship’s actual position could be determined on a chart using astronomical observations resulting in the longitude calculated to within half a degree.
On the strength of this success, Ferdinand Berthoud received the title of ‘Watchmaker-Mechanic by appointment to the French King and the Navy” in 1770.
The Second Generation
In 1775, he brought his nephew, Henry Berthoud, onboard to run his Paris workshop producing high-quality decorative clocks and watches for the public. Following Henry’s death in 1783, Ferdinand passed the torch to his other nephew, Pierre-Louis, who demonstrated exceptional talent.
Ferdinand Berthoud died in 1807 at the age of 80, having born no children. He is buried at Groslay, in the Montmorency Valley in France, where a monument stands in his memory. Upon his death, his business passed to his nephew Louis who died six short years after that. His sons Jean-Louis and Charles-Auguste took over, changing the name to “Ferdinand Frères” – Ferdinand Brothers in English. The company continued until 1876 when Charles-Auguste, the technical one of the two brothers, passed away. Chopard bought the brand name in 2006, and the first new pieces were presented in 2013.
Who owns Ferdinand Berthoud?
Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, the Co-President of Chopard, bought the Ferdinand Berthoud brand name in 2006. The first timepiece, the Ferdinand Berthoud FB 1, featuring an octagonal case with an hour and minute hands subdial at 12 o’clock, driven by a minute tourbillon, was unveiled in 2013.
Ferdinand Berthoud’s work earned him a unique place in the history books, particularly in the Art of Marine Chronometers. He is the only horologist to have published the complete results of his research allowing his pieces to be reproduced precisely.