Charles-Emile Matthey

1945–1975: Sainte-Croix became too small and expanded to Vuitebouef, Yverdon and Vaulion
“The development of the small music box market was such that from 1945 onwards, the Sainte-Croix factories could no longer satisfy the demand. Consequently production activity extended beyond communal borders, first of all to Vuitebouef, then to Baulmes, Yverdon and Vaulion. The Matthey company typified this situation. Its development followed the demand of the years between 1945 and 1975, and it was one of the companies which pushed research into the automation of the various production stages the furthest.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

1926: Emile and Ulysse Matthey etablished himself in Vuitebouef
“The company was created by Emile Matthey, who worked for Dubied in Couvet, [Wikipedia: L'entreprise Edouard Dubied & Cie S.A. était une entreprise suisse de mécanique industrielle produisant des machines pour l'industrie textile], then in Sheffield and established himself in Vuiteboeuf in 1926, for want of finding accommodation in Sainte-Croix. [...] in 1929, Emile Matthey and his brother Ulysse bought some machines and opened up a mechanical workshop in Vuiteboeuf. This enabled them to survive the crisis years.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

1949: Emile Matthey & Fils
“In 1949, Charles-Emile Matthey joined his father and became director of the company named Emile Matthey & Fils. From his most tender years he had breathed the air of the mechanical workshop, was familiar with the smell of oil, the noise of the machines and his father´s calculations. After spending four years in the research and development of Tavaro SA in Geneva, he had acquired valuable experience and strong motivation.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

From Corkscrews to small music boxes
“At the time [Charles-Emile] Matthey did business with Reuge SA, who delegated the manufacture of the corkscrew twists to them. In 1947, when Guido Reuge was not in a position to produce all the boxes on order, he passed large orders of assembly work to the Baud brothers in L´Auberson and proposed a similar contract to Matthey. The work consisted of assembling unmarked eighteen-note musical movements on the basis of components supplied by Reuge.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

1,000 pieces a day in 1947
2,200 pieces in 1951

“This activity developed steadily, the Vuiteboeuf company´s production increased from 1,000 pieces a day in 1947 to 1,300 the year after, then 1,500, 2000, up to 2,200 pieces a day in 1951; with a staff which increased from eight in the mechanical workshop in 1946 to forty-six in the factory and at home. People could not help noticing Charles-Emile Matthey when he arrived in Sainte-Croix driving his huge American car, towing a trailer containing the finished products and then driving down again heaped with supplies.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

“He had meanwhile introduced zinc injection moulding and, in the music box field, assembly of certain components and comb tuning. On a financial level he dealt directly with Reuge´s American client, saw that invoices were paid and refunded two thirds to his partner, keeping one third to cover his expenses.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

“But in 1951, the death of Reuge´s exclusive representative in the United States, to whom he supplied the music boxes, created a breach in the market. Reuge put an end to the contract which bound them to Matthey and even tried to prevent the latter from making music boxes. Thas was all Charles-Emile needed to feed his hunger for challenge and revenge. He felt free to manufacture whatever he liked and proceeded to look around for supplies in Sainte-Croix in order to produce movements with his own trademark. After several failures, he found the main components he needed at the workshop of Emile Buhler, an old school mate who assembled music boxes in Sainte-Croix. Matthey wasted no time in setting up in Yverdon.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

In 1952 and 1953 ... Emile-Maurice Bühler-Margot ... had business contacts with Charles-Emile Matthey in Vuiteboeuf [a small village near St. Croix], to whom he supplied materials to allow the latter to put on the market the first movements under his own name, and to carry on this type of business.

New brand name: Matthey SA
“During the course of the year, as his mechanical engineering department was working at full speed, Matthey developed his own eighteen-note movements and at the beginning of the following year, Charles-Emile visited the toy show in New York, looked up the main American manufacturers and took an agent. The first orders weren´t long in coming, and upon his return to Vuiteboeuf, he created Matthey SA with a starting capital of 50,000 francs.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

1953: No minimum sales prices
“Meanwhile, the manufacturers of small music boxes in Sainte-Croix were preoccupied by a certain stagnation of orders and the return of the price war and they were worried about workshops sprouting up here and there outside village territory. They adopted a convention fixing minimum sales prices, which they wanted everybody to sign and respect, including Matthey. However, the latter´s main preoccupation at the time was to introduce his products on the world market and to prove to the people of Sainte-Croix that they were not the only ones capable of making music boxes. So he didn´t sign the convention and made no bones about undercutting prices in order to attract his first customers … except that he wasn´t the only one practicing this policy, although he was fully aware of the fact. Even the letter adressed to him by the SIC on 24th December 1953 ordering him not to quote below prices fixed by convention didn´t really impress him.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

1954: accelerated the mechanization process
“From 1954 onwards, Matthey senior and junior accelerated the mechanization process of their music boxes production. They first of all proceeded to make their own tooth-cutting machines, installed hardening and tempering furnaces, developed an automatic drilling machine, and a prototype making cylinders by die-stamping pins from the inside of a tube to the outside. This process was adapted to several eigtheen- and twelve-note cylinder machines, followed by the installation of a system producing springs by high frequency-annealing and automatic die-stamping.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

1955: twelve-note movement whose bedplate was the bottom of a plastic box
“In 1955, Matthey further developed “a twelve-note movement whose bedplate was the bottom of a plastic box, doing away with the traditional wooden board. It was the first box of reduced dimensions, with a rounded shape. It was very popular with manufacturers of stuffed toys. The Japanese competition wasted no time in imitating this type of movement. They introduced a movement with only nine teeth, at an even lower price. Matthey gave up the idea of making them.” (Ch.-E. Matthey).” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

1957: 350.000 units
“In the course of the years to follow, further impreovements were made to the machines, with the result that the company became practically autonomous, buying in only the gears. Production continued to rise steadily and reached the 350,000 units mark in 1957, occupying about 100 people in the mechanical engineering and music box departement.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

1959: first Fisher Price orders, cooperation with Robert Lador
“In 1959, Charles-Emile Matthey received the first Fisher Price orders. He then met Robert Lador, whose company had about the same type of production, for the same customers, and both had the same firm intention to fight Japanese competition. They were both nearing forty and struck up a friendship, deciding to exchange ideas and experience.

International Toy Fair in New York 1959

See the chapter Lador for more information about a meeting with Robert Lador

music boxes

1961: New factory in Les Charrières procudes 810,000 movements, of which 400,000 were destined for Fisher Price
“The Matthey SA workshops were nestled in the center of the Village of Vuiteboeuf, with no scope for expansion and the 123 people working there in 1960 felt closed in, while production continued to grow. Other production sites therefore had to be found. A plot of land was purchased at Les Charrières, in the direction of Yverdon, and a first building was erected in March 1961 to house three parallel assembly lines thirty-five meters long.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

“When people heard about this in Sainte-Croix, there was a proper uproar. It seemed that the Swiss quality was endangered by the Japanese, so convinced were the people that the system adopted by Sainte-Croix and, until further notice by Vuiteboeuf, was superior. In the past, each worker assembled in four stages, each consisting of three to six operations. Boxes containing fifty pieces each circulated from one place to another. This caused considerable delay and quality control was ineffective. The advent of assembly lines ensured permanent control, resulting in immediate improvement of quality. Profits also rose in a spectacular fashion and planning was simplified”, related Charles-Emile Matthey. At the end of the year, production reached 810,000 movements, of which 400,000 were destined for Fisher Price.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

1962: Matthey and Lador in Japan
“In October 1962, Matthey and Lador travelled to Japan at the invitation oft he Sankyo factory and they subsequently extended a reciprocal invitation. Matthey, probably stimulated by his trip, took on a young electrician-cum-mechanic because he wanted to make a tuning machine which precluded the intervention of the human ear, making it accessible to one and all. Of all the operations, it was still the tuning operation which was largely responsible for slowing down production automaton and it was also the best paid.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

1963: automatization in thr production
“Conclusive results were obtained during the year 1963: grinding wheels replaced files for tooth tuning and a piezoelectric sensor equipped with a digital counter replaced the ear. This proved to be an additional advantage much appreciated by Fisher Price, for the system guaranteed absolutely identical sound for the entire production batch. Matthey immediately launched a series of twenty-five of these tuning machines, leaving tradesmen to tune only movements for stuffed toys.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

1964: 1.12 million units
“In 1964, music box production developed to such an extent, just as Matthey senior was retiring, that the company abandoned its mechanical engineering sector. This was transferred to Bullet and gave the music box sector a little more room. Production at this particular time reached 1.12 million units. The foundry departement was modernized and equipped with new grinding machines, allowing the production of injection-molded cylinders which improved year after year. A perpendicular building was added to the existing one on the Charrière site, offices were installed on the first floor and the capital of the company increased at the end of 1965. As a result, the company had a modern production system and a long list of order.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

1967: Summit meeting
“Charles-Emile Matthey regularly visited his American customers, in particular Fisher Price, and in February 1967, an unforgettable meeting took place. Over to him:
“He also mentioned, and I was flattered, that according to an internal report, my company occupied first place for regular quality and delivery. He expressed the wish that I increase my production so as to meet the future needs of Fisher Price. […]”

“At the table discussions continued, and I expounded on the enourmous progress made during the past decade and pointed out that an important stage had just been reached, which would require a pause in our investments. I mentioned the increase in the capital of Matthey SA to 300,000 francs in 1965, the fact that cash flow was immediately reinvested, and that a certain bank credit had even been necessary to cover rapid expansion. I expressed doubt as to the fact that an increase in the Fisher Price contingent could rapidly intervene. Mr. Fisher seemed upset and abruptly asked me if I wanted to sell my business. I politely declined his proposition, saying that I wanted to keep my independance. Fisher insisted and proposed a minor participation in the capital with a view to an immediate expansion of production. I accepted to initiate discussions on this basis.”

“From there on everything went very fast, in the American way. Fisher Price commissioned a lawyer in Geneva to deal with my own lawyer. An agreement was signed in August, under the terms of which Fisher Price acquired 25% of the capital of Matthey SA, which would be progressively increased to 2,000,000 francs during the next three years.” (Story told by Ch.-E. Matthey).” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

1969: new factory at the Charrières
“The participation of the American toy giant in the capital of Matthey stimulated production still further. Workshop expansion and the acquisition of new machines became necessary. In 1969 the new factory at the Charrières was inaugurated. Machines to grind cylinders in a single operation were put into service, as well as automatic machines for comb manufacture. However, these did not suffice to meet production demands, and cylinders had to be bought from Calame´s fabrique du Nord and combs from Mermod in Grandson. These modernization efforts allowed Matthey to produce 10,000 units a day and 2.4 million movements (sixty percent of which of which went to Fisher Price) during the year 1971. This represented the top of the curve..” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

“At about that time, Matthey developed a very original three-tune musical movement, with manual shift. The cylinder was driven by a catch activating a ratchet gear whose divisions corresponded to the tunes programmed on the cylinder. Regular pressure produced the tune indicated.
However, the child could also manipulate it himself, as he liked, and thus create a different tune. This Mechanism was incorporated in a small piano sold by Fisher Price. (E. Blyelle).” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

“In August, the telex in Vuiteboeuf displayed a laconic message: “Fisher Price sold to Quaker Oats” (Chicago-based giant of the food industry). It was the beginning of the end, even if orders continued to flow in. The same year, the abolition of the Bretton Woods agreement was followed by the flotation and then the fall of the dollar, as well as the profits of Mattheay whose products were paid in dollars. In addition, inflation in Switzerland created havoc in all sectors, and Japanese competition became more and more aggressive. Charles-Emile Matthey made several trips to the United States to try and obtain payments in Swiss francs or at least a price readjustment, but he was given to understand that he was not entitled to any privileges on this score.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

“The novelty of this situation spurred him on to simultaneously explore two avenues of relief: the individual way, which consisted in selling premises and staff – in great demand at the time – to an interested buyer; and the collective approach, which would be to regroup the forces of the three major music box manufacturers, i.e. Lador, Reuge and Matthey. It was the first one, no doubt the easiest to implement, that was chosen. The sale of the Charrières factory to Sprecher & Schuh SA provided some liquid assets and hallowed music box production to be moved to other units set up in Baulmes for the manufacture of combs, in Yverdon for the assembly lines, and then in Yvonand and Bercher in 1973.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

1972: loss
“All this notwhithstanding, the company´s resources shrank at an alarming rate, and the financial year 1972 even resulted in a loss.

1974/1975: dropping orders, bankruptcy
The following year saw the oil crisis, followed by an explosion of interest rates in the United States. From 1974 onwards, orders dropped by fifty percent. Financing stocks in the States became impossible, and jobs cuts were envisaged. On the advice of his bankers Charles-Emile Matthey decided to file for bankruptcy protection, which allowed his enterprise to continue work until 30th June 1975, when it finally closed down.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

Museco company
“The staff was paid until the last day and the buildings, euqipment and stocks were sold to  the Museco company.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

1975 to 1977: no sucess with producing in countries with low salaries
“Charles-Emile Matthey pursued his career as manager of the above company in Baulmes, which took over music box production. During the years 1975 to 1977, he even tried to introduce this production in countries with abundant manpower and low salaries, however without success. Museco subsequently abandoned the sector and Charles-Emile Matthey devoted himself to other activities.” (Piguet, S. 258-262)

(Compare Piguet, Faiseurs, (1996), p. 281, see Piguet, Music Box Makers, 2004, p. 203)