A SHORT HISTORY OF MARTEL WATCH CO and ZENITH CHRONOGRAPHS
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    A SHORT HISTORY OF MARTEL WATCH CO and ZENITH CHRONOGRAPHS


    Martel watch co
    was founded in 1911 in Les Ponts-de-Martel by
    Georges Pellaton-Steudler.
    (see http://www.antiquewatchworld.com/watch/html/watch_co.html)

    1911 was also the year that Georges Favre retired and changed his company name from "Georges Favre-Jacot" to "Zenith” (see Roessler, p.11-12).

    Note that Zenith and Universal were both in le Locle, at approx. 10 km from Martel.

    Around 1918 Martel is seen supplying Universal with chronograph movements (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Genève#1930s-1949:_The_Chronograph_and_.22Watch_Couturier.22_er a).

    Universal Geneve claims on their website that in 1917 they launched the world’s first wristwatch chronograph (see http://www.universal.ch/newsletter/en/details/didyouknow.htm).

    Combining this information we can conclude that "the world's first wristwatch chronograph, launched by Universal", probably used a movement made by Martel.

    From this advertisement (ca. 1927?) we can see what those early Martel wristwatch chronographs looked like :
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    Next thing we know around 1932 Universal launched the world’s first wristwatch chronograph with two pushers.

    The wristwatch chronograph with two pushers as we still know it today, was born!

    And it will become clear from the watches produced during the 1930's that the movement had been created by Martel.


    The next year in 1933 Universal launched the world’s first two pusher chronograph with three counters. (other sources say it was 1934).

    The chronograph with three subdials, another important and exciting improvement which remains a classic until today!


    Thus the two chronograph movements were born which Martel was going to make for 37 years (1932-1969).

    These two could easily be made in different sizes : of 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 lignes.
    Zenith named them according to their size cal. 122, 136, 146, 156, 166. They are all basically the same, different in size only. Each can be made with two or three counters: cal. 136 D and cal. 136 H, and so on.

    Universal used the same movements and of course their own caliber codes, caliber 281 and so on.

    It should remain clear that Universal had the initiative. Zenith perhaps got in the project thanks to its investment power in those days. Exactly at which date Zenith got in the project, we don't know, but it was probably quite early.

    In 1933 Raoul Perret, the son of Georges Perret (the co-founder of Universal Watches in 1894), came in charge of Universal. The same Raoul Perret can be found in 1935 on the board of administration of Zenith :

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    Through Raoul Perret the Universal and Zenith Watch companies could easily cooperate in the field of the new wristwatch chronographs with two pushers.

    Thanks to this cooperation Zenith from the beginning around 1932 had the same first wristwatch chronographs with two pushers available, as Universal had.

    Take a look at this 1930's advertisement for Zenith chronographs:

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    This probably dates to around 1932-35. It could be the first known advertisement for a two pusher chronograph. The title is : "A new chronograph caliber with two pushers".

    The text mentions that it is one and the same caliber for different sizes, with as a result the ease of interchangeable parts : a characteristic of Martel calibers.
    Zenith praised the extraordinary quality of the movement and the reasonable price.

    The advertisement also mentions that the chronograph dials could easily be exchanged. This is interesting, because it is possible that changing the dial was about the only thing that Zenith had to do in the making of these chronographs. There is a plausible theory that in this period not only the movements were made by Martel, but the chronographs were then also cased by Universal, before they were delivered as complete chronographs to Zenith.

    In any case since Martel was making the movements, all there was left for either Universal or Zenith was adding the dials, hands, and cases to the movements, with the company names and numbers.


    An example of the gold watch in the advertisement, an early 1930's Zenith chronograph with two pushers and Martel movement (Zenith caliber 136), can be seen in this thread :
    https://forums.watchuseek.com/f27/my-grandfathers-zenith-596561.html

    In Roessler's book about Zenith, we can also see several examples of early Zenith chronographs with two pushers, made in the 1930’s (p. 216-218).

    Around 1936 Universal then introduced the “Compur” and “Compax” names for chronographs with two or three subdials. Zenith used these names as well.

    Roessler shows some Zenith chronographs from this period with ‘Compur’ on the dials (p. 219-220).

    From advertisements we also know that there was a direct and open collaboration between Universal and Zenith, both using the Compur and Compax name. This advertisement for the Compur must date to ca. 1936 :

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    Here is another one :
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    And here is an advertisement from the same period (ca. 1936), where we find Zenith (and Universal is mentioned as well) advertising the Zenith Compax :

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    Next we should mention the renaming of Universal as Universal Genève in 1937. (Again I found some uncertainty about the exact date: some sources cite 1934, but 1937 is more likely to be the correct date).

    Due to the succes of the chronographs in 1941 Universal Geneve had to build a new, ultramodern production line for chronographs (see for instance : http://www.montreshorlogerie.com/histoire-montres-universa-geneve.html ).

    From this follows an example of a mistake which originates from one site, and is then copied by others. The opening of a new production line for chronographs in 1941 was misinterpreted by somebody as the founding date of Martel. This mistake has since spread to more sites, who copied the wrong information. As a result, some people have started believing that Martel was only founded in 1941. Please note that Martel was not founded in 1941 by Universal, as it had already been founded in 1911 by Georges Pellaton-Steudler.

    Around 1942 the Martel/Universal Geneve/Zenith collaboration then led to the first wristwatch chronograph with date. (see for instance Page Modèles)

    A Zenith example of the first chronograph with date can be seen in Roessler on p. 217.
    It is estimated by Roessler as "1930"(s), this should probably be "1940"(s). Interestingly the movement is signed with two caliber codes : "287" and "146" (a Universal Geneve and a Zenith caliber code for the same movement).


    But this chronograph with date
    was only the last step before Martel came to make the star product, the first wristwatch chronograph with full calendar and moonphase in 1944.

    And
    Zenith also got it: an example of the Zenith "Tricompax" can be seen in Roessler p. 221.

    Then towards the 1950s it seems that Universal Geneve shifted its attention more and more to that other novelty of those years : the automatic wristwatches. This eventually led to the Universal Geneve Polerouter, which (starting in 1954) became another success for Universal Geneve.

    Zenith in the meantime started using the Excelsior Park chronograph movements as well. During the 1940's, starting ca. 1942, a movement was made by Excelsior Park which was then used by Gallet, Girard-Perregaux and Zenith for their chronographs (see Page Modèles).

    Still at the same time Zenith remained faithful to the Martel chronographs as well.

    Thus for a period of ca. 10 years (1946-1956) Zenith used both Excelsior Park and Martel chronographs.


    We then find Martel ca. 1956 happily, independently and optimistically doing business.

    Martel all the time had continued to supply Zenith and Universal Geneve with chronograph movements during the 1940's and '50's.

    But now they also had watches under their own brand name.

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    An interesting non-chronograph with full calendar and moonphase.

    Around 1956 they can be seen advertising for their own new automatic watch with date.
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    Note how this ad mentions that the watch was made in the best Martel tradition of precision and that Martel already had more than 40 years experience at that time :

    "...precision workmanship and impeccable quality guaranteed by Martel's 40 year reputation for dependability and outstanding service to the watch trade."

    This funny ad dates to ca. 1957 :

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    Shortly afterwards, around 1958, Zenith bought the entire Martel Watch co.
    Usually 1960 is cited as the date of the acquisition (for instance by Roessler). Elsewhere I read 1959. But in Roessler's movements and calibers' list (p. 32) 1958 is indicated as the date when they effectively started with the Martel 25x2 movements.

    Not only was Martel the supplier of excellent chronograph movements for Zenith since (at least) the early 1930’s, by 1956 they also had developed a modern automatic watch (with rotor), with date, and the same Martel precision. Zenith could use a modern automatic movement. Until then Zenith only had bumper automatics.


    The Zenith Martel cal. 25x2 could also be used for handwound watches. It became the main Zenith movement line during the 1960’s and ‘70s (until 1975). It was further developed and updated by Zenith almost every year during the 1960’s, until ca. 1975.


    At the same time the Zenith Martel chronographs could be continued and developed further, now also by bringing all the new technologies together : wristwatch - chronograph ; automatic - with date; with the addition of a very high frequency (a novelty from the 1960's).

    As a result, in 1969 the Zenith El Primero was born.

    Martel had made the worlds’ first automatic wristwatch chronograph movement.

    And not only that : they made it straight away with chronometer precision; with three counters; with date (and quickset); they made it ultra-thin; with a very high frequency (36000 bph); and yet very solid and stable, durable and reliable.

    In 1971 followed the worlds’ first automatic wristwatch chronograph with full calendar and moonphase (Zenith Espada).

    Unfortunately for Zenith and the mechanical watch industry in general, at the same time during the ‘60s other people had been experimenting with electronic and quartz watches.

    As a result Bulova, owner of an electronic watch movement, was able to buy Universal Geneve in 1967.

    And in 1972 a Zenith radio (and television) company was able to buy Zenith watches.


    In 1975 the Zenith radio company ordered Zenith watches in Switzerland to stop the production of mechanical movements altogether, including the chronograph production in Martel and selling the Martel building and destroying all their tools.

    Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
    When I'm sixty-four?

    Martel was 64 years old, when it was not needed any more.


    Fortunately Charles Vermot (who for 40 years was chef of ébauches production at Zenith), at that time went against the foreign orders and saved many tools, machines as well as know-how from the Martel building, which all proved to be very valuable for Zenith ten years later in 1985 when the El Primero was revived. Charles Vermot was a visionary and saved the finest tools and machines from the Martel plant in Ponts-de Martel.

    You can see a moving interview with Charles Vermot on the Zenith site :
    http://www.zenith-watches.com/en/#/manufacture/saga/el-primero/saving-el-primero/movie

    A golden age came to an end, however soon to be revived.

    In the early 1980’s a few business men bought up the old stocks of Zenith’s Martel chronograph movements (both automatic as well as handwound chronograph movements), cased them, and sold them with a profit.

    Soon orders for new movements followed and around 1985 the El Primero was resurrected.

    The rest is history.


    Through the El Primero, which is now more alive than ever, the legacy of the small Martel Watch Company from Les Ponts-de-Martel also lives on.

    But it also lives on in the many fine watches from the past, such as most Zenith chronographs starting from around 1932 and many Zenith watches from the 1960's (until 1975).


    In memory of the Martel watch company, founded a hundred and one years ago (in 1911) in Les Ponts-de-Martel by Georges Pellaton-Steudler. Among its accomplishments are the world’s first wristwatch chronograph with two pushers (1932), with three registers (1934) with date (1942) and with full calendar and moonphase (1944); and the world’s first automatic wristwatch chronograph (with three registers, date, high frequency and ultra-thin) (1969) and with full calendar and moonphase (1971).
    Last edited by sempervivens; March 17th, 2012 at 18:44.
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    Re: A SHORT HISTORY OF MARTEL WATCH CO and ZENITH CHRONOGRAPHS

    Bravissimo !

    Quote Originally Posted by sempervivens View Post

    ...Around 1936 Universal then introduced the “Compur” and “Compax” names for chronographs with two or three subdials. Zenith used them as well.
    ...

    ... But this chronograph with date was only the last step before Martel came to make the star product, the first wristwatch chronograph with full calendar and moonphase in 1944....

    And
    Zenith also got it: an example of the Zenith "Tricompax" can be seen in Roessler p. 221....
    Rassegna di
    Nicola

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    Re: A SHORT HISTORY OF MARTEL WATCH CO and ZENITH CHRONOGRAPHS

    Thank you Nicola ! And credits should go to you for providing some of the most essential information and illustrations which I could find (for instance concerning the role of Raoul Perret and the Universal Geneve/Zenith joint advertisements).


    edit : I've added three more old advertisements, found on the page for which you gave the link (Rassegna di) and I should mention that it also contains many interesting pictures of actual watches, early Zenith chronographs, Compur's and Compax and so on.

    Thank you !
    Last edited by sempervivens; March 10th, 2012 at 17:17.
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    v76
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    Re: A SHORT HISTORY OF MARTEL WATCH CO and ZENITH CHRONOGRAPHS

    Great job summarizing the intertwined histories of Martel, UG and Zenith. Thank you for putting this together, it should definitely be a sticky!
    Collection:
    A few of this and some of the other ...


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    Re: A SHORT HISTORY OF MARTEL WATCH CO and ZENITH CHRONOGRAPHS

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    Re: A SHORT HISTORY OF MARTEL WATCH CO and ZENITH CHRONOGRAPHS

    Wow, what an impressive compendium! Your radically revisionist recitation certainly raises several interesting points, and if it turns out to be accurate, is revolutionary. Many a chronograph collector will be surprised to learn that all of the mechanical achievements of the vaunted UG brand are actually those of Martel, a company that until about the 1950s did not produce a wristwatch with its name on it. It raises several questions as well, and leaves me somewhat confused.For the sake of clarification and a little critical evaluation, let me present a few points and express some reservations
    Quote Originally Posted by sempervivens View Post
    Around 1918 Martel is seen supplying Universal with chronograph movements (see Universal Genève - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia a).
    On further examination, this statement appears to be unsupported. Your source is wikipedia, and their source is no less an horological authority than a reporter for the Singapore Business Times, whose article states only that Martel bought Zenith in 1960 - nothing about Martel supplying UG. Check it yourself: http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/sub/...53681,00.html?You have pointed out elsewhere that statements can become fact by simple repetition on the internet - we see here an example of how. On the italian site, Nicola extracts an apparently supporting statement from inevneitetfecit.com (Rassegna di). However, again tracking back to the source, we see that this is in reference to the Datocompax, known to be manufactured at the UG facility at Ponts-de Martel after 1941. Unfortunately, this unsupported assumption about Martel being the source of UG movements proves rather key in all that follows, as here
    Quote Originally Posted by sempervivens View Post
    we can conclude that the world's first wristwatch chronograph, launched by Universal around 1917-18, probably used a movement made by Martel.
    In Universal Watch Geneve, Pietro Giuliano Sala has written an horological history that more lavishly documented from primary sources than all but a few others. He has stated thatn in 1933, upon his accession to the management of UG with the death of his father, Raoul Perret concentrated all manufacturing operations in Geneva, which would seem to preclude Martel being a source of movements.
    Quote Originally Posted by sempervivens View Post
    "A new chronograph caliber with two pushers".The text mentions that it is one and the same caliber for different sizes, with as a result the ease of interchangeable parts : this is a characteristic of Martel calibers.
    ...and of UG calibers, which the advertisement is in fact talking about.
    Quote Originally Posted by sempervivens View Post
    In any case since Martel was making the movements, all there was left for either Universal or Zenith was adding the dials, hands, and cases to the movements, with the company names and numbers.
    Wouldn't it be odd for UG to have bought ebauches from Martel, and the sold them - as ebauches - to Eberhard, Jaeger LeCoultre and Vacheron & Constantin, all well documented in Sala, as if those firms did not know Martel's telephone number themselves? Now, there is no doubt the Swiss watchmaking industry works in mysterious ways, with all sorts of collective agreements that do not jibe with expectations of competitive corporate culture, but that seems curiously complicated and improbable to me.
    Quote Originally Posted by sempervivens View Post
    Then it is reported by some that due to the succes of the chronographs by 1941 Universal Geneve had to open a new, ultramodern production line for chronographs
    This piece of information is not "reported by some." It is documented. I will quote Sala at length "This latest chain of events (Zenith's demand for UG ebauches - my note) convinced the partners to build a new plant in Pont-de-Martel in record time, where they began manufacturing chronographs and timekeepers for military and industrial purposes...the new factory was opened on 31 January 1941....It was in this facility that, among others, the new chronograph presented on 6 November 1940 was built: the Aerocompax...in the following year, production of a new totalizing chronograph fro aviation commenced, along with other watches and chronographs for purely military purposes which dominated the period." Along with this, Sala offers two pictures of the plant itself with "UNIVERSAL" across the front of the building. This last suggests strongly that you are right that the establishment of this plant is different from the establishment of Martel, the point of confusion being the place name. It also raises the possibility that the identity of Martel watch and UG's Pont de Martel facility have been conflated in other ways, namely that many of the achievements of the UG works have been ascribed to Martel Watch company when in fact the two are different. Here is a good example of that:
    Quote Originally Posted by sempervivens View Post
    Around 1942 the Martel/Universal Geneve/Zenith collaboration then led to the first wristwatch chronograph with date. (see for instance Page Modèles)

    The DatoCompax is plainly a UG product, made at the Pont-de-Martel works. That, as you have showed, is not the same as a Martel product. The author of invenitetfecit (your source) regards the two as synonymous, it now seems to me erroneously. Very confusing...



    Quote Originally Posted by sempervivens View Post
    only the last step before Martel came to make the star product, the first wristwatch chronograph with full calendar and moonphase in 1944.

    That will surprise many people! Again Sala, shortly after discussing the Tri-Compax introduction for UG's 50th anniversary, "All chronographs produced (Unicompax, Compax, Medico-Compax, Dato-Compax, Aero-Compax, and Tri-Compax) along with more simple pieces, were equipped with movements designed and manufactured entirely in-house."

    So, I'm skeptical - to say the least - of your casting Martel as the "little man behind the curtain" to Universal Geneve's Wizard of Oz, and assigning all of UG's accomplishments to little Martel. Nevertheless, there remain many ambiguities. Left to explain is the Martel-UG shared, near-identical triple-calendar moonphase with the cal 291, the cal 146 which entered into Zenith's posession as well as the 'Victorious' product line, similarly in Zenith's portfolio. From where did each originate?

    It seems to me that four elements clearly existed and must be accounted for
    1. Martel watch company established in 1911
    2. a wholly-owned UG facility at Pont de Martel
    3. an independent Martel watch company functioning in the 1950's with self-branded products, some of which are shared with UG
    4. an entity named 'Martel' which Zenith bought 1958-1960, and which brought a new time-only watch movement (never used by UG), and UG-derived chronograph movement, and the 'Victorious' product line into the Zenith portfolio

    To me, the 1911 Martel seems unrelated to anything else. The only statement that relates it to UG is an unsupported Wikipedia item. As a footnote, I should mention that "Martel" does not enter Sala's history until the plant is build there in 1941. The UG facility and the independent 1950s Martel are linked by the cal 291 triple-calendar moonphase watch. The independant Martel and Zenith are linked by teh 25x2 series calibers and the 'Victorious.' The UG facility and Zenith may be linked by the cal 146 - I know of no Martel-branded chronograph at all.

    From this, my hypothesis: 1911 Martel died or was absorbed at some undetermined point in the past. UG built a chronograph works at Pont de Martel in 1941, and spun it off as a separate brand, perhaps wholly independent, perhaps not, in the 1950s, using a name from the past that had fallen into disuse, as many companies have done recently. That company developed the 25x2 series of calibers to support a time-only watch line as a main product. That brand and the physical facility in Pont de Martel was acquired by Zenith, looking for a rotor automatic and an in-house chronograph. UG's accomplishments belong to UG and no one else, and UG was the parent of 1950s Martel, sold to Zenith.



    Last edited by LouS; March 10th, 2012 at 20:15.

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    Re: A SHORT HISTORY OF MARTEL WATCH CO and ZENITH CHRONOGRAPHS

    but dear Lou, Whatever the fans of Universal Geneve or Zenith may think or say about the UG or Zenith chronographs being made wholly "in-house", you should see through all that.

    Tell me, what movements did Universal Geneve use when it started, in the 1930's? Everybody knows that these were identical to the Zenith calibers, they were Martel made movements.

    The Zenith advertisement from ca. 1932-1935 for the two new chronograph caliber with two pushers is not about Universal Geneve calibers, it is about Zenith chronographs with Zenith cal. 122 and 136.

    But whether called Universal cal. 281 or Zenith cal. 122, the movement was the same, and it was designed and made by Martel.

    Take a look also at the advertisement for the Martel single pusher wristwatch chronograph from ca. 1927, another addition thanks to Nicola.

    Nicola has studied the thing more and we seem to agree on this short history being correct!

    Take your time to study the movements.

    Thanks
    Last edited by sempervivens; March 11th, 2012 at 01:35.
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    Re: A SHORT HISTORY OF MARTEL WATCH CO and ZENITH CHRONOGRAPHS

    Quote Originally Posted by v76 View Post
    Great job summarizing the intertwined histories of Martel, UG and Zenith. Thank you for putting this together, it should definitely be a sticky!
    Thanks V!
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    Re: A SHORT HISTORY OF MARTEL WATCH CO and ZENITH CHRONOGRAPHS

    Thanks you, sempervivens, for the write up and LouS for the additional comments. My only contribution at this stage is two corrections:

    1. The Zenith Cal. 126 was not a chronograph movement, not was it made by Martel. It is the in house cousin of the Cal. 106 (HW, sub second but 12''' instead of 10'''). You are thinking of the (Martel chronograph) Cal. 122.

    2. Prior to using the 25xx P(C) series, Zenith had only one automatic movement (Cal. 133) and derivatives (Cals.133.8 and 71) but these were in house. Zenith did not obtain external automatic movements at that stage.

    Hartmut Richter

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    Re: A SHORT HISTORY OF MARTEL WATCH CO and ZENITH CHRONOGRAPHS

    SV, thank you so much for your intrepid and valuable research. This issue has long interested me (ever since I read in a JLC book that UG had subcontracted chronograph manufacture to Martel in order to keep up with demand in the late '40s), and it is all so hard to pin down! Fascinating to learn that UG's Raoul Perret was on the board of Zenith! I have to admit that information I have seen (admittedly not as much as you have seen!) has always indicated that UG developed and manufactured its chronograph movements in-house in the '20s, '30s and '40s, being, with Lemania, one of the only houses to do so outside of the ebauche-makers, Ebauches S.A., Venus and Valjoux. It is so interesting to see the connections in those days between Universal, Zenith and Martel!

    Your conclusion "that the world's first wristwatch chronograph, launched by Universal around 1917-18, probably used a movement made by Martel" seems rather thinly supported to me. Lang and Meis, "Chronograph Wristwatches, To Stop Time" (1993) credit the Moeris firm with the first small (13''') chronograph movements marketed as wristwatche around 1910. Frustratingly, they barely mention Martel except to note a 1937 patent concerning the hour register wheel drive.

    Incidentally, you have repeated what I have read elsewhere that Zenith ceased mechanical manufacture in 1975 on the orders of its parent Zenith Radio Corporation, deviously undermined by the sainted Charles Vermot. It is clear, however, that Zenith Le Locle continued to produce the El Primero 01.0200.415 "Fernseher" (TV set) (and no other) right up to 1978 when the last 50 were produced in black (see how our purchases guide our research; see also Roessler, p. 241). My assumption has been that this continued production was tolerated by ZRC because it used up existing parts and connected in to the TV set image - they were advertised under ZRC's slogan "The quality goes in before the name goes on." But I have never seen an authoritative explanation for this limited continued mechanical production from 1975-1978. Anyone?

    SV, thanks again!

    Chris
    Last edited by John Chris; March 11th, 2012 at 01:05.

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