Our history

Period 1852 – 1918:
Early years

Metalor’s history begins in 1852 with the establishment, in Le Locle, Switzerland, of Martin de Pury & Cie. The company smelts and rolls gold which is then used to manufacture watch cases.

The company, which employs five people, is bought by Banque du Locle in 1864. At the time of the transaction, it owns an inventory of 40 kg of gold and 200 kg of silver.

The business is well-established within the region and serves many local watchmakers. In 1896 a new apprentice, Charles Pfister, begins his career in the banking field. Before moving, in 1899, into metal assaying to become a sworn assayer in 1909 and, ultimately, director of the company.

 

Banque du Locle, built in 1864.

The smelt shop was on the second basement level. The rolling factory was in the building on the right (picture from the late 19th century, Musée d’Histoire du Locle, 03.030.007)

 

Account book

Gold scraps, Account book from 1909 (Metalor archives)

 

Account book

Platinum internal stock, Account book from 1909 (Metalor archives)

 

Early 20th century

Inside the rolling factory (early 20th century, Metalor archives)

 

Early 20th century

Inside the rolling factory (early 20th century, Metalor archives)

Period 1918 – 1960 :
Banking development & Innovation

In 1918, after Banque du Locle is taken over by Société de Banque Suisse (SBS), the factory (whose workforce increased to 30 employees) becomes a subsidiary of SBS and expands into the production of bullion for the banking sector.

Three years later a chemist, René Sahli, is hired to set up Switzerland’s first precious metal refinery. It opens in 1924, two kilometers from the main factory, and employs a chemist and four workers. The refinery initially produces 999.9‰ gold, then also 999‰ silver and 995‰ platinum.

The company invests in innovation: in 1926 it develops an alloy of white gold and nickel as an alternative to platinum for luxury watches.

In 1934 the company becomes the first Swiss refinery to be included on the London Good Delivery List (later managed by the London Bullion Market Association LBMA). Henceforth, ingots can be freely traded on international markets, and Le Locle becomes the center of the Swiss gold industry until the beginning of the Second World War. This subsidiary of SBS is renamed Métaux Précieux SA in 1936.

A scientific research division is set up in 1938. Other notable events include the purchase of a first electronic microscope and advanced metallographic control instruments, as well as the first vacuum furnace.

In 1939 the company enters a new market for precious metal dental alloys. Sold under the ‘MP’ brand, they are an immediate success. As business expands, subsidiaries open in Geneva and Zurich.

With the closing of the borders due to the war, the silver business develops significantly, first with silver nitrate, obtained with a higher purity, and in 1943 with the construction of a production line for the manufacturing of fine silver rivets.

 

Early 20th century

First fume hood, installed in the refinery at Col-des-Roches (early 20th century, Metalor archives)

 

1938

First scientific research service (Metalor archives)

 

1938

First scientific research service (Metalor archives)

 

1941

Sales Book (Metalor archives)

 

1943

Presentation of the company's products, including new dental alloys, at a fair in Zurich (Metalor archives)

 

1947

Headquarters and factory in Neuchâtel (Metalor archives)

 

1947

Factory employees rules (Metalor archives)

 

1960

Metallurgical factory in Neuchâtel (Metalor archives)

 

1960

Metallurgical factory in Neuchâtel (Metalor archives)

 

1960

Electrolysis at the Refining factory in Neuchâtel (Metalor archives)

 

1960

Gold bar manufacturing in Neuchâtel (Metalor archives)

The company needs room to expand, and in 1947 opens new headquarters and a new factory in Neuchâtel. This also brings it closer to the main watchmaking centers and the city’s university.

Six years later, in 1953, another new building complex is added, increasing the total site to 8,000 square meters. Henceforth, all pre-refining and refining operations for gold, silver, platinum and palladium are carried out in Neuchâtel. The old factory in the mountains is closed, having refined several thousand tons of gold over three decades. The current Metalor hallmark, an ‘MP’ in an inverted triangle, dates from this period (1952).

Period 1960 – 2016 :
International Expansion

The company begins its international expansion in France, first in 1960 when it obtains a stake in CMP Paris, then in 1963 with the opening of a production site for silver electrical contacts in Courville. At the same time, it continues to develop its activity in Neuchâtel, with the addition of a Research & Development center (1962) and extension of the metallurgical plant (1965).

In 1987 a brand-new factory is built in Marin (five kilometers from Neuchâtel), in the archaeologically rich area of La Tène. Artefacts uncovered during construction work show that gold was processed on the same site already during the Iron Age, more than 2,000 years ago. A laboratory building is added to the Neuchâtel site in 1992. All activities – including the headquarters – are moved to Marin in 2016, to a site whose name, Latenor, illustrates this important historic heritage.

Worldwide expansion continues through acquisitions in the United States of refining (1989) and silver powder (1997) companies.

 

1975

1 kg gold bar manufactured in Neuchâtel, bearing the “MP” hallmark (Metalor archives)

 

1963

Inauguration of the Courville (France) production site, used for silver electrical contact fabrication

 

1981

The 1981 Watch and Jewellery plant in Neuchâtel, with the newly build group headquarters in the background

 

2003

First plant opened in China

 

Metalor Singapore

The first and only LBMA accredited gold refinery in Singapore

The most significant expansion takes place in Asia: opening of a first plant in China (Suzhou) in 2003, acquisition of a refinery in Hong Kong (2007), acquisition of coatings businesses in Japan and Korea (2011), inauguration of a new refinery in Singapore (2013) and another plant in Suzhou for electrotechnical production (2014).

During this international expansion period, the company passes through two major changes of ownership. After 134 years as a bank subsidiary, Metalor becomes an independent company in 1998, majority-owned by a group of private investors led by Ernst Thomke. The group changes its name to Metalor Technologies in 2001, and is then sold to a French private equity company, Astorg Partners, in 2009.

Metalor Technologies also refocuses on its core businesses and separates from its dental and watch & jewellery components.

Post-2016: a new era

The latest phase in Metalor’s history is a recent one. In 2016 the group is acquired by Tanaka Kikinzoku, a family-owned Japanese company. Established in 1885, Tanaka employs 3,500 people and is also a world leader in precious metals refining and manufacturing. Like Metalor, Tanaka Kikinzoku is one of the five Referees at the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) and the London Platinum and Palladium Market (LPPM).

Also in 2016, Metalor transfers its headquarters to Marin, next to the group’s main refinery in Switzerland.

 

The new headquarters and the Swiss factory in the background.

1934 first Swiss refiner to be listed at the LBMA