Francois Borgel, a case maker in business since 1880, was undeniably a pioneer in the field of waterproof cases.
Most vintage watch collectors know the initials F.B. with an ideogram of the key, the marquee stamped on Borgel designs. By extension, scores call F.B.-stamped cases „Borgel.”
That is – in most cases – outright wrong.
I can’t tell you more than the excellent research done and published by David Boettcher of vintagewatchstraps.com. I can only condense the story for you so that I can explain the difference to you in a nutshell.
Borgel gives way to Taubert
The Taubert family purchased the Borgel company from the daughter of Francois Borgel, Louisa, in 1924.
Borgel was a highly respected company, so it makes sense that they’d want that branding. However, despite producing cases of Borgel’s design until the late 1930s, the majority of their production from the mid-late 1920s was no longer of Borgel’s design.
What is a Borgel case?
By „Borgel case” we mean cases designed by Francois Borgel and his company, and patented by them.
Borgel cases were – by the standards of their time – very reliable. The design heavily relied on a metal-to-metal fit of the crown, stem tube, and setting pin. Yes, a setting pin. The split stem design of that time was not equipped for a stem wind and set configuration.
Borgel’s cases were well-sealed at the front, due to the screw-down bezel, and the case back being one part with the midcase (main bloc). However, the movement was held in the case by a screw-in carrier ring, which required a split-stem design. In that respect, it’s pretty much the ancestor of unishell/monocoque/front-loader cases.
Technically, a screw-in design wasn’t originally Borgel’s either. Francois Borgel applied and improved upon Aaron Lufkin Dennison’s design in that respect. Dennison’s pocket watch cases with a screw-in bezel and case back weren’t intended as waterproof, but markedly improved upon keeping the dust and dirt out of the case.
Notably, Dimier Freres and Marcks & Co have created pinless variants of the Borgel case, but that had to do with the setting works of the movement, not the case itself. And the cases were produced for them by Borgel.
What is a Taubert case?
What so many people – with persistence worthy of a better cause – call „Borgel cases,” are designs originating from patent CH 112153 , granted to Taubert & Fils in 1925, well after Francois Borgel’s death and Louisa Beauverd-Borgel having sold the company to the Taubert family.
That patent marks the first appearance of what defines the Taubert case.
What truly defines the Taubert case as we know it is patent CH 130942, which introduced a cork seal by the stem.
Patent CH 112153 already is a far cry from Francois Borgel’s top-loader monocoque with a screw-in bezel and no gaskets, which relied solely on the quality of the bezel threading and the fit and finish of the setting pin, crown and stem tube.
By patent 130942, pretty much anything Borgel about these cases was gone.
A screw-in back allowed the use of a stem wind and set configuration movement without any technical compromises, since it allowed access to the stem release screw prior to decasing the movement. No more split stem.
So, the Taubert design left little of Francois Borgel’s.
The 1925 Taubert design did have a threaded carrier ring for the movement, just like Borgel’s design, however that’d be the only Borgel feature left.
The entire case structure was inverted – no more bezel as a separate part, screw-in back instead of screw-in bezel. The stem tube was redesigned, now engineered to fit a gasket in order to no longer rely on the fit of the crown and the stem tube.
The initial case back design of Taubert pieces looked a lot like the fluted or reeded bezels of Borgel’s cases. Later, it was replaced with the polygonal flat back that became the key feature of the Taubert cases.
Long story short – Taubert cases are cases made by Taubert & Fils, later renamed Taubert Freres when Paul-Arthur Taubert’s sons took it over from him.
All in all…
Taubert cases, not Borgel, start with patent no. CH 112153 and on.
Taubert & Fils, later Taubert Freres, in their early marketing did mention them being the successors of Louisa Beauverd-Borgel and Francois Borgel. Well, that stands to reason, they bought the company fair and square from Louisa, and Borgel had an established reputation and position in the market.
By 1929, with their own reputation then, Taubert & Fils dropped the „Taubert & Fils Manufacture Des Boites Borgel” name.
They also bought the rights to the Borgel case design, which they did produce until the late 1930s, even though it was badly outdated by then. It appears they have done so for the British market, which was conservative, to say the least. Until the 1920s-1930s, British stores still offered key wound and set pocket watches.
However, what people so often call Borgel cases have nothing to do with Francois or Louisa Borgel – they were designed by Taubert after the Taubert family bought the company so as to stamp their products with the FB and key marquee.
Does that anyhow detract from what the Taubert case is?
The Taubert case was an absolutely stellar design by the standards of its time, and so it remained for decades, until the company disappeared from registers in the 1970s.
As long as the cork gasket was intact, this case design was properly watertight and offered a substantial level of reliability without having to use a screw-down crown.
Sellers often used and use the FB and key marque to call Taubert cases Borgel. Some presumably do it out of acquired habit. Some, because they only rely on the link between the FB stamp’s origin as that of Francois Borgel. To these, it’s an informal shorthand.
Others count on making a big buck by linking a non-Borgel – Taubert – design to a pioneer of waterproof cases, and that just isn’t right.
Do you have any watches with a Borgel or a Taubert case? Let me know in the comments below.