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The ROLLS Automatic Wristwatch

The ROLLS Automatic Wristwatch

The ROLLS Pioneer Automatic Wristwatch

The ROLLS had a particularly unusual automatic winding system in which the movement itself served as the oscillating weight. It is therefore accurate to say that the watch’s movement literally wound itself. Mechanically, this was accomplished by imparting the motion - caused by shaking the movement - onto a sliding arm guided by balls between two runners inside the case.

Invented in 1929 by Frenchman Leon Hatot (1883-1953), the ROLLS’ original Patented No. is 704.910 of 11 January 1930, with first amendment No. 38.984, second amendment No. 39.523 and completed on the 30th November 1931 by a third amendment No. 39.581.

Hatot was a graduate of the Besancon of Watch Making School, as well as subsequently of the Besancon School of Fine Art (Beaux Arts). Following his studies, in 1905, he began his own business engraving watch cases. This prospered and grew, until in short order his workshop employed a dozen craftsmen and also began producing exquisite gold clocks set with precious jewels.

In 1911, Hatot further established operations in Paris, succeeding to the firm Bredillard. Taking the reins of this illustrious company also served to firmly entrench the young jeweler cum watchmaker within the elite circle of top Paris design and production workshops. Thus, overnight, he attained the rank of privileged supplier to the main watch and jewelry stores on Paris’ fabled streets. “la Rue de la Paix” and “Place Vendome”, in the company of names like Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.

With the outbreak of World War I, Hatot was mobilized, and his workshops turned their attention to producing artillery mechanisms as well as altimeters, But, in the Armistice that followed, Hatot from 1919 on turned much of his attention to manufacturing top end luxury wristwatches in response to this new fashion sparked by the recent war.

Ever a “renaissance man” in both spirit and occupation, Hatot particularly interested himself in horological innovation, including the new Zeitgeist for electric clocks and also automatic wristwatches. Consequently in 1920, consolidating his Besancon Company with that of Paris to form the firm Société des Etablissements Léon Hatot, he also created a separate entity for research and development of battery powered clocks and watches.

Even more than for the ROLLS, Hatot has gone down in history for his electric clocks. Indeed, at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs in 1925 – from which the style “Art Deco” takes its name - he won Grand Prize for an entire range of clocks cased in marble, chrome, exquisite inlay, fine wood cases and art glass by Lalique. Another groundbreaking invention was the ATO-RADIOLA electric clock which automatically reset to the correct time upon receiving radio waves transmitted from an antenna on the Eifel Tower or coded into the concert transmissions from Radio Paris… a system similar to the one recreated by Junghans some 60 years later, albeit with an effective range almost 10 times greater than for Hatot, based on appropriate transmitter power.

Thus, it was Hatot’s friend and associate in the electric clock enterprise, Marius Lavet, who announced Hatot’s invention of the ROLLS in the Bulletin of the “Société d'Encouragement pour l'Industrie Nationale” (The National Industry Promotion Society). Lavet characterized the mechanism as offering the advantage of minimal friction, as well as allowing production of extremely small sized movements perfectly adapted to the fashion for rectangular watches - particularly ladies wristwatches.

There followed, in a contract dated 23rd September 1930, that the Hatot Company gave to a certain “Monsieur Blancpain” exclusive manufacturing rights and sole distribution within France as well as Belgium for the autowinding ROLLS watches. However despite winning a Medal of Honor from the Société d'Encouragement pour l'Industrie Nationale, the ROLLS did not enjoy great commercial success, notably due to the competition it faced from the Harwood, as well as the economic crisis in which context it was launched.

The signature trademark on ROLLS watches most often was Blancpain. However, examples bearing the ATO name, which corresponds to the phonetic pronunciation of “Hatot” in French, also can be found in collections today. In passing, it also is interesting to note that a certain number of ROLLS wristwatches were produced by Walter Vogt and his Fortis Watch Company – manufacturers notably of the Harwood and the Autowrist - for distribution outside those markets reserved exclusively for Blancpain.

For his great accomplishments, in due course, Léon Hatot deservedly was decorated with the French Legion of Honor, as well as receiving further titles and distinctions. Additionally, there remains a rather remarkable sequel to the story of this great craftsman, industrialist and inventor. During the late 1930s, in expectation of the outbreak of World War II, a treasure trove of Hatot’s inventory of watches and jewelry was secreted into a bank vault for safe keeping. And there it remained intact – as in a time capsule – until 1989, when in bulk it was trusted to Christie’s Geneva for auction.

Your writer recalls with great pleasure being called in by the then director of that venerable auction house, to examine the watches in particular, and to provide expertise. Their fear was that, considering Hatot had never benefitted from the notoriety which would have resulted from having his own retail point of sales as did his peers like e.g. Cartier or Van Cleef & Arpels, potential bidders might not recognize these marvelous pieces for their justified worth. My conviction was that they definitely would, and this was confirmed by what on May 1st 1989 turned out to be the “jewelry sale of a lifetime” for Christie’s.

Hatot’s extraordinary company archives, comprising almost 5,000 full color drawings of watch and jewelry designs, what has been characterized as “the inestimable contribution made by Léon Hatot to the flowering of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles1910-1930, are today in the possession of the new Hatot Company, a part of the Swatch Group.


  • Chronométrophilia No 56 (summer 2004).
  • Worldtempus,
  • Christie’s May 1st 1989
  • Horomatic : Montres à remontage automatique de 1770 à 1978, Histoire de l’Horlogie, Fasicule IVEdition du Château du Monts, Le Locle, Musée d’Horlogerie
  • Horlogerie électrique ", by R.P. Guye and M. Bossart, 1957
  • Les horloges électriques Ato ", by Jean Mirault, bulletin ANCAHA No 74, 1995
  • The ATO Clock ", by Mel Kaye, NAWCC Bulletin No 344, 2003
  • ATO Battery Clocks ", by John Locke, 2003
  • Conférence, by Marc Meyskens, Rotary Clubs of France DOUR-QUIEVRAIN-HAUT PAYS , September 2000
  • Personal interviews and further documents

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Added by:  Chronogeek

Date:  5th Mar 09

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Category:   Wristwatches

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1 month ago

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I found the information on Rolls branded watches. I have a ladies Rolls watch. It circular rather than oblong and is not automatic. The case and strap are in 9ct gold. The face has Arab numerals and a second hand and is branded ROLLS. The movement is marked Swiss made and the Rolls branding is in script italics. The inside of the back plate is hallmarked 9 375 U D (the D mark is filled)The back plate is marked LA 163922. Any information would be much appreciated. Thank you