The “Successor” Companies following the 1885 Bankruptcy
To avoid otherwise inevitable confusion I refer in this section to the original Louis Audemars business (“Ls. Audemars & Cie” ) as the “Ancienne Maison” (as did/does the family)
It operated from 1811 until 1885 when it was bankrupt and liquidated.
There were three “successor” companies founded in 1885 (or a bit later) by four of Louis-Benjamin’s grandsons (a fourth was established in London by my Grandfather in the early 20th Century – Link):
Audemars Frères – founded by Hector and Charles-Henri Audemars. Watches by this company are prized by collectors and are of very good quality. This enterprise achieved some success and appeared to have a bright future until a Russian distributor “forgot” to pay a bill of Frs 150,000 and they were forced to close in 1909.
François Audemars Fils – founded by their elder brother, François. His watches are rare and are said to be good quality. I have never seen one. Nevertheless his business collapsed before the end of the nineteenth century.
Louis Audemars & Cie – founded by their cousin Louis Audemars-Valette (my great-grandfather). His watches were good quality to begin with but declined in quality until he closed his company in about 1900.
He gave his successor company the same name as the “Ancienne Maison” – which has caused huge confusion for over a century and continues to do so. You may be a victim of that confusion – so please read on.
During the decline of the “Ancienne Maison” François and Louis bought quantities of movements and unfinished watches with a view to finishing them at their own expense so they could be sold on behalf of the failing business.
(We have no record of purchases by Hector and Charles-Henri but it is reasonable to suppose that they bought stuff too. We also know they worked closely with their elder brother François and may very well have used some of his movements).
But the financial problems were too great and despite their efforts the “Ancienne Maison” was liquidated in 1885. Louis and François were left in possession of (Ancienne Maison) stock which they used to start their own successor business.
Typical serial numbers of the “Ancienne Maison” have three-, four- or – the great majority – five-digit numbers. When the “inherited” stocks of “original” product ran out Louis started to give his pieces six-digit serial numbers.
Thus a watch with a six-digit number signed “Ls. Audemars & Cie, Genève” is extremely unlikely to be an original Ls Audemars product from the “Ancienne Maison” and is nearly always a later product of Louis’ successor company which had the same name.
An additional clue is that he usually signed them with “Genève”, whereas the original company usually wrote “Brassus” or “Brassus & Genève” on their products – but this is not a hard and fast rule. The punch mark inside his cases is often LOUIS AUDEMARS in an oblong “box” border.
His later products were of medium to low quality and in many cases were based on movements and ébauches bought in from other suppliers
We have no archive material for Louis Audemars-Valette’s successor company Ls Audemars & Cie which failed in about 1900. Archive material for Audemars Frères and François Audemars Fils, may exist in the hands of their descendants, but if so I have never heard of it.
Audemars Frères and François Audemars Fils gave their products both five- and six-digit numbers and it is reasonable to suspect that those with five-digit numbers might well also be “inherited” materiel.
Louis bought far more than François. He had married very well and I am sure he was using his wife’s money.