Esteemed historian, Professor Pierre-Yves Donzé, was born in Switzerland, but has since made Kyoto, Japan his home. A man of many interests, he has a particular affinity for research on global business history, the global history of industries, and the history of the watch industry. In addition to that, the professor is also known for his roles as the co-editor of Business History and the associate editor of the Journal of Evolutionary Studies in Business. We are greatly honoured that he chose to undertake a research project on Mugnier, giving us an insight into this age old brand and the family that created it.


A family of Parisian clock- and watchmakers: the Mugniers

Paris was as a major center for horology in the eighteenth century. It was the largest city in Europe and was close to the royal court of Versailles. It therefore attracted the best clock- and watchmakers who could find wealthy customers for their creations. Abraham Louis Breguet and Ferdinand Bethoud, both born in Neuchâtel (today in Switzerland), moved to Paris to pursue their career. There was a vibrant community of watchmakers in Paris and the Mugniers were part of it.Their origin is not identified, but they may have emigrated from the Geneva area, where this family name is very common. Two of them became known as clock- and watchmakers in Paris.

Etienne Mugnier l’Aîné (the Elder) was a craftsman working at the Palais Royal, a major center of the city’s artistic life, in the 1780’s. He had extensive mechanical skills, making not only clocks and watches, but also automatons, and collaborated with bronze-makers to develop special clocks. He was well inserted in the watchmaking world in Paris and close to the Le Roy family who dominated French chronometry at that time. His daughter Jeanne-Emilie Mugnier married Louis Charles Le Roy at the beginning of the 19th century.

The second was Charles Mugnier le Jeune (the Young), most likely a younger relation of Mugnier l’Aîné. In 1799, Charles began his career working for Breguet and remains known as one of his best watchmakers. He then established himself as an independent clock- and watchmaker, having his own company in Rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs, Paris, between 1807 and 1823. The company took the named Mugnier & Fils in the early 1830’s. His style was deeply inspired by Breguet’s and he was one of the few, along with Charles Oudin, to have been able to make watches of similar quality to Breguet’s. This is probably one of the main reasons why Mugnier signed his own watches, although similar to those of Breguet. He used the title “Breguet’s pupil” (Elève de Breguet) and signed some of his watches as “Horloger de l’Empereur et du Roi” (Watchmaker to the Emperor and the King). He received indeed an order for a watch from Napoléon I in 1812 (which he completed in 1815 but could not deliver to the emperor who had been deposed in the meantime) and became the official watchmaker of Monsieur, Frère du Roi (the future King Charles X).

A directory published in Paris in 1812 mentions him among the ten most important clock- and watchmakers of the city, specifying that “he manufactures haute horlogerie himself”. Charles Mugnier took part in the Exhibition of Products of the French Industry in 1823 and received an “honorable” mention. His company is mentioned in directories until 1840. Since that date, the fate of Mugnier’s clock- and watchmakers has been unknown.


Pierre-Yves Donzé
Professor at Osaka University, Japan

Abraham Louis Breguet, 1747-1823 : l’art de mesurer le temps, La Chaux-de-Fonds : IHT, 1997.
Chapiro Adolphe, La montre française du XVIe siècle jusqu’à 1900, Paris : Les Editions de l’Amateur, 1991, pp. 241-243.
Dictionnaire topographique des environs de Paris, Paris : Imprimerie de J. G. Dentu, 1812.
Réverchon Léopold, « Les autorités corporatives », La Fédération horlogère suisse, 7 janvier 1931.
Richard Jean-Jacques, « Le Roy ou Leroy : la vraie ou la fausse maison Leroy », Horlogerie ancienne, no. 77, 2014, pp. 64-81.
Sabier Jean-Claude, La montre à remontage automatique, Paris : Cercle d’Art, pp. 110-115.