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ATO - Leon Hatot - Biography

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Born on the 22nd April 1883 at Châtillon Sur Seine, Léon Hatot is a pupil at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and, then, the Ecole d'Horlogerie de Besancon from 1895 till 1898. In 1905, he specializes his activity in the artistic engraving of clocks, jewellery, cases and mechanisms made from precious metals. He emploies twelve people in his workshop. In 1911, he moves to Paris and becomes a member of the "Circle of Master Engravers" . He works with the leading jewelers of Paris, such as Boucheron, Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.

After the war, in 1919, he comes back to the production of luxury clocks and jewellery. He cooperates with Marius Lavet, a talented engineer who had already been a leading participator in the development of the Bulle clock. He acquires Bredillard, a leading manufacturer and supplier of watches, clocks, jewelry and other stylish accessories to the leading firms of Place Vendome. It is the start of the manufacture of the electric clock. In 1920, he founds a separate division for research and development of clocks and watches powered by electric cells. In the same year, his businesses both in Paris and in Besançon is amalgamated as a single company: "Société des Etablissements Léon Hatot".
 
The same year, the trademark ATO appears. A patent application is filed in 1923. Electric clocks are produced in Besançon in a partially rebuilt factory in the rue de la Rotonde. ATO provides its movements to the renown glassmaker René Lalique. In return, Lalique designs and makes clocks that are proposed under the ATO mark. Throughout this time, Léon Hatot maintains also a workshop for jewellery and highly decorated watch cases in Paris.
Leon Hatot does also sculptures and is rewarded with Grand Prize for this part of his artistic carreer in 1925 in the "Exposition des Arts Decoratifs de Paris" where Ruhlmann, Printz, Janniot, Legrain, Lalique, Brandt, Chareau, Follot, Groult, Dufrêne, Dunand, etc.. are amongst exhibitors. Since then, he has been so famous for his clocks that people forgot what a great art deco figure he was.
 
In 1928, the Hatot company's premises at 23 rue de la Michodière are transferred to a far more salubrious location at 12 Faubourg Saint Honoré which is soon frequented by a very particular clientele, rich and exacting, attracted by the range of high q.uality, highly decorated watches. This new prosperity is, however, short-lived. In common with all luxury industries, they are direct casualties of the economic crisis which follows the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
This sad year, Léon Hatot makes a significant invention with the automatic winding watch "ROLLS". In this device, the movement is wound by the motion of an arm sliding inside the case, guided by balls between two runners. This invention is described by his friend Marius Lavet in the Bulletin of the Société d'Encouragement pour l'Industrie Nationale. This mechanism has the advantage of working with the minimum of friction and permits the manufacture of movements of extremely small size, perfectly adapted to rectangular watches which are in fashion at the time - particularly for ladies watches. A contract dated 23rd September 1930 is drawn up between the Hatot company and a Monsieur Blancpain giving exclusive manufacturing rights and sole distribution right within France and Belgium for the autowinding "ROLLS" watches. Despite this invention, crowned by a Medal of Honour by the Société d'Encouragement pour l'Industrie Nationale, it does not yield the success it deserves as its commercial exploitation is affected by the world economic crisis of 1929.
 
At the Colonial Exhibition of 1931, Léon Hatot displays electric clocks of very small proportions which are the origin of a new generation of decorative clocks. In particular, he creates a new model, the concept and presentation of which are revolutionary, in which he dispenses with traditional decorated cases and makes the movement itself the sole decorative element.
This paves the way for a whole new fashion which sweep along most makers who adopt this "avant garde" using glass and chrome which blend perfectly with the furniture of the day. The ATO clocks are based on the same electromagnetic principle as the Bulle clock except that the solenoid is stationary and the simple permanent magnet serves as part of the pendulum mass.
Léon Hatot dies on the 11th September 1953 at the age of 70, following a long illness after a life overflowing with activities in art, where he distinguished himself in the field of horology as one of the Masters of the Art-Deco period, and in science where his creative and visionary spirit gave birth to several inventions which heralded the development of horology in the third quarter of the 20th Century.
 

In 1967, the electrical horology branch of Lepaute took over the ATO production. A new type of seven segment digital clock was developed in 1978 and was immediately taken up by the French railways "SNCF". These clocks achieved such rapid success that they were copied on a grand scale. Although the Hatot Company adopted new production techniques and used miniature quartz crystals as time standards, the costs of research and development could not be recovered in small to medium series production. Competition from South East Asia forced the Hatot Company to abandon its industrial branch and concentrate on the sale of quality watches and domestic battery electric clocks marketed under the names "ATO-LEPAUTE" and "ATO - PAUL GARNIER".

The entire stock of watches and jewellery, conserved intact in a bank vault after the declaration of WWII, was put up for public auction by Christie's in Geneva on the 1st of May 1989.

The precious Hatot company archives and in particular almost 5,000 magnificent coloured designs for watches and fine jewellery, the inestimable contribution made by Léon Hatot to the flowering of the Art Dec style of the period 1910-1930, are today in the possession of the new Hatot compay, now a member of the Swatch Group who have kindly made available to us the following two designs, which illustrate this chapter in history.

 
 
1919 Léon Hatot acquires Bredillard, a leading manufacturer and supplier of watches, clocks, jewelry and other stylish accessories to the leading firms of Place Vendome. It is the start of the manufacture of the electric clock. Co-operation with Marius Lavet, a talented engineer who had already been a leading participator in the development of the Bulle clock.
1920 Start of the production of the electric clock with the name ATO. Because of his earlier artistic activities, Hatot was able to further develop the ATO clock and research the subject of electric clocks. Edouard Dietsch became the director of his firm.
The production of the "ATO Radiola" together with Marius Lavet. The principle of the radio-controlled clock was taken over by the firm of Junghans for their production of the DCF77 in 1980.1922 Marius Lavet became the director of des Etablissments Léon Hatot.
1923 On 26.09.1923, the Patent number 583331 was applied for in France for the ATO principle. There were 2 basic sizes of the ATO clocks produced. The ½ and ¼ second pendulum.
1924 ATO produced 4 different models
1925 In a special research department, a vast variety of the ATO clock were designed following plans from Leon Hatot.
1926 13 different models of the Ato clock were on offer.
1929 Now over 50 models of the Ato clock were on the market. Delivery to the French railway SNCF of the Ato ½ second pendulum clock, they were highly accepted because of their excellent performance. During the world wide economic slump, Hatot was forced to cooperate with Junghans in Schramberg. The Production and introduction of the first automatic clock called
“Rolls”. This patent was sold to Blancpainp
1928 - 1930 Built under the licence from ATO clocks by the Hamburg American Clock Company HAU.  Junghans worked closely with HAU and other clock manufacturers in a so called interest group.
1930 Takeover of HAU by Junghans , leading to worldwide sales of the ATO clocks until about 1962.
1938 Takeover of the firm Paul Garnier.
1939 Closing of the jewellery branch of the firm. During the war the existing jewellery was stored in a Swiss bank. Not until 1989 were these pieces auctioned in a very remarkable auction and reached extremely high prices. Today these pieces are sought after and are only secretly handled by a few jewellers.
1940 Closureof the clock production due to the German occupation. Take over of the maintenance of SNCF clock systems.
1949 Lavet experiments with the deployment of transistor as replacement for the mechanical contact of the ATO clock.
1953 Lavet and Dietsch get the patent for the transistor controlled pendulum
clock with the name ATO.
1967 Takeover of the electrical clock branch of the firm of Lepaute. Decline in the production of the electrical pendulum clock because of the development of the quarz clock. (source Lothar Frerking)