Harry Borer, whose family owned the movement manufacturing facility known as Rolex Bienne/Biel, has passed away at the age of 89, his family announced on June 15. Borer was director of the Bienne facility from 1967 to 2001. The Borer family, and prior to them the Aegler family, had through the factory in Bienne been the primary supplier of movements to Rolex Geneva since 1905. Until the 2004 deal that resulted in the Borer family selling Rolex Bienne to Rolex Geneva, Bienne had been a separate company albeit with a long history between the two firms.
In 1905 the firm was not yet called Rolex Bienne; it was then known, after the family name of its owners, as Aegler S.A. and in 1920, Hermann Aegler became a Rolex board member after purchasing a large block of Rolex stock. Aegler’s nephew Emile Borer became technical director in the mid-1920s, and as the commercial ties between the two firms became closer and closer, the decision was made by the Aegler/Borer family to rename the factory Manufacture des Montres Rolex SA, with an agreement that Rolex would purchase movements only from Bienne, and Bienne would only sell movements to Rolex. This arrangement continued without interruption and almost without exception (a notable one being the use by Rolex of modified Zenith El Primero movements, starting with the Daytona ref.16520) until 2004.
I’ve simply done my job. Work is our family tradition.
Harry Borer, 2012
Harry Borer seems to have been an individual who disliked public attention; he held a doctorate in law and economics and was responsible for handling Rolex Bienne during the Quartz Crisis, of which he said, according to an obituary from Swissinfo.ch, “We didn’t experience any crisis for automatic, mechanical watches and never had to make any cuts in our mechanical or watchmaking departments.”
The same article notes that Borer disliked, and almost never gave, interviews and did not attend “society events” despite the 2004 deal having netted him CHF 2 billion. The aversion to ostentation seems to be something he passed on to his kids; son Daniel, a physician, continues to practice, while his daughter Franziska manages a number of the family’s charitable foundations.
A side note: you may have read or heard reference to Rolex Bienne or Rolex Biel they are the same company. The town in which the factories are located is on the border between the German and French speaking parts of Switzerland; Bienne is the French name, while Biel is the German name and the town has been officially known as Biel/Bienne since 2005 (in a characteristically diplomatic Swiss compromise).
See the Swissinfo.ch obituary for Harry Borer here.