Time To Transfer, the Swatch Group press occasion held Might 14 to 16 in Switzerland, was one thing of an experiment. When the group determined to drag out of this yr’s Baselworld, it needed to make different preparations for 17 of its manufacturers to point out their new watches to shoppers and the press.
Administration determined that the group’s six costliest manufacturers would meet business shoppers throughout Baselworld on the headquarters of the Hayek Group in downtown Zürich. (The Hayek Group is a personal consulting firm owned by the Hayek household, the Swatch Group’s largest shareholder.) The opposite manufacturers would meet with shoppers in native markets.
As for the press, the six status manufacturers determined to ask 200 journalists to Switzerland in Might for conferences on the model’s manufacturing services. “We are attempting to vary the idea,” Blancpain CEO Marc Hayek, mentioned. “We wish to current the novelties within the place the place they’re created and born.” The purpose was to point out not simply watches the manufacturers make, however the place and the way they make them.
So it was that for 3 days, 200 reporters from 21 international locations, separated into small teams by language, traveled round Switzerland’s watchmaking area in vans, visiting six manufacturers in six cities.
Amongst them have been our personal Stephen Pulvirent and myself. Stephen reported on the brand new merchandise; I centered on the manufacturing facility visits. There we obtained a crash course on the Swiss system of mechanical watchmaking, primarily a T Tour (T for Terminaison, French for “ending”). That is commerce terminology for the 5 levels of watch manufacturing, from T0 (the making of motion components) to T4 (packing and transport).
What follows are one reporter’s notes on the Swatch Group’s whirlwind watch manufacture tour.
On Day 1, vivid and early, our group of 14 reporters from the U.S. and Australia piled right into a van for the journey from our resort in Lausanne as much as Switzerland’s legendary Vallée de Joux. The valley is nestled within the Jura Mountains that kind the western border of Switzerland and France. The hour-long trip takes us up steep winding roads to the Col du Mollendruz, three,871 feet above sea stage, certainly one of two mountain passes that result in the Vallée under. First cease is the village of Le Sentier, residence to the Blancpain manufacture.
Greater than 700 folks work right here, in each part of watchmaking, from watch and caliber design to motion manufacturing, casing, testing, and after-sales service. (Blancpain sells 30,000 watches a yr, we’re instructed.)
At present we’ll get a glimpse of motion manufacturing. Our hosts situation us white lab coats, embossed with our names, and off we go. Within the basement is the primary stage of watch manufacturing, T0: the manufacturing of motion elements, first by machine, then by hand. We’re led right into a storage room holding the uncooked supplies – brass sheets and metal bars. From the following room comes a loud, rhythmic pounding sound. That is the Atelier Decoupage. We enter and see Essa machines pounding out brass mainplates, 100 items per minute.
We transfer to the toolmaking workshop. There’s a separate instrument to chop every part in a watch motion, we’re instructed. “If there are 300 elements in a motion, you want 300 instruments,” our information says. Blancpain makes nearly all its chopping instruments itself.
We transfer to the Usinage (Machining) part, containing a collection of MTR 312 chopping machines that resemble NASA lunar modules. Within the machines are 18 to 36 spindles programmed to mill, faucet and drill brass elements with a precision of 1 to 2 microns.
Then to Tournage (Turning), a workshop that fabricates gold oscillating weights for self-winding actions. All Blancpain rotors are product of gold, besides one: Ladybird watches have platinum rotors, additionally made right here. Subsequent is the Ebauches part, the place machines make plates, bridges, springs, levers and different metal elements.
We wish to current the novelties within the place
the place they’re created and born.
Blancpain CEO Marc Hayek
Within the subsequent workshop, Lavage (Washing), each part is cleaned ultrasonically in sizzling baths containing pure detergents. Lastly, every part goes to a ornament workshop, elsewhere within the Vallée de Joux, the place it’s embellished and washed once more. That completes T0.
The elements then go upstairs to T1, and so will we. T1 is the stage the place the elements are assembled by watchmakers into full actions. For these workshops, we should put blue plastic booties over our sneakers in order that we do not monitor dust or mud into the ateliers.
Right here women and men carrying white lab coats, with loupes fastened by a wire round their heads, do pre-assembly of the mainplate, bridges and crown. They use digital screwdrivers that exert actual stress on the screws, and eight totally different oils for lubrication. Then, by hand, they assemble barrels, repair pallets and silicon hairsprings to escapements, and carry out all of the operations to create full calibers.
Each full motion is examined and adjusted right here after which despatched to T2, watch meeting, finished elsewhere on this constructing. We, nevertheless, head to Blancpain’s excessive complication workshops within the close by village of Le Brassus. There to greet us, carrying a white lab coat, is Blancpain CEO Marc Hayek.
“The Farm,” as Blancpain calls the manufacturing facility, is a collection of small ateliers in what was initially a mill positioned subsequent to a stream on a hill above Le Brassus. Right here grasp watchmakers make Blancpain’s highest problems: minute repeaters, split-second chronographs, tourbillons, carrousels, and complicated calendars. Outdoors one atelier is an incredible show that dramatizes what goes on right here: it exhibits every one of many 740 components in Blancpain’s 1735 Grande Complication watch of 1991, on the time probably the most difficult automatic wristwatch ever made.
Right here, too, are ateliers dedicated to adorning and engraving motion elements and dials. We transfer from atelier to atelier, for the brand new product shows by Blancpain executives, together with Hayek himself, who presents the brand new Fifty Fathom watches.
Within the afternoon, we trip down the street to Manufacture Breguet, in L’Orient, the village subsequent to Le Brassus. We’re welcomed by Thierry Esslinger, CEO of Montres Breguet, and Emmanuel Breguet, vp/head of patrimony & advertising and marketing. They pay tribute to 2 extraordinary watch entrepreneurs.
This primary is Emmanuel Breguet’s ancestor, Neuchâtel-born Abraham-Louis Breguet, the genius Swiss watchmaker (and inventor of the tourbillon, patented in 1801) who opened a watch store in Paris in 1775. The opposite is Nicolas G. Hayek, Sr., the Swatch Group chairman whose acquisition of the Breguet agency in 1999 revived the corporate, and who served as its CEO till his dying in 2010.
As we quickly see, the spirit of each males inhabits this place. Our first cease is the Restoration Division. “That is the place Abraham-Louis’s DNA lies,” our information says. On this atelier, grasp watchmakers restore Breguet watches going again to the founder’s time. We see one watchmaker engaged on a motion from 1810. Annually, about 20 classic Breguets are restored right here.
We’re additionally proven the Breguet No. 1160 watch, a precise duplicate of Breguet’s celebrated No. 160, the “Marie Antoinette” watch, which stood for a century because the world’s most intricate watch. It was stolen from a Jerusalem museum in 1983 and later recovered. Whereas it was nonetheless lacking, Hayek Sr. determined to recreate it. “It was a problem that Nicolas Hayek wished his home, his child, to tackle,” our information inform us. It was unveiled in 2008.
Buried beneath a cornerstone at Breguet is a time capsule containing a VHS video cassette with a message from Hayek Sr. to the long run.
The restoration division is in a landmark constructing that was for a century the Lemania manufacturing facility. Nouvelle Lemania, because it grew to become recognized, was a part of the Breguet Group when the Swatch Group acquired it. It made actions for Breguet and third-party shoppers, most famously for Omega’s Speedmaster. Hayek Sr. restored the Nouvelle Lemania constructing. Then, in 2001, he expanded and upgraded the power within the first of three main expansions, altering the identify to Manufacture Breguet in 2004.
We go away the unique Lemania constructing alongside a hall resulting in the trendy three-story extension. On the best way, we encounter a marker set into the ground, engraved as follows: LA 1ere PIERRE A ETE POSSE / LE 28 09 2001 / PAR Monsieur NICOLAS G. HAYEK & SON FILS NICK (“The primary cornerstone was laid on Sept. 28, 2001 by Mr. Nicolas G. Hayek and his son Nick.”) Buried beneath the cornerstone is a time capsule containing a VHS video cassette with a message from Hayek to the long run. And a video cassette participant to play it on, within the occasion there are not any round sooner or later! There are additionally newspapers from that time, with articles about Hayek’s revival of the Breguet firm.
Breguet employs 800 folks within the Vallée de Joux, most of them right here. We shortly cross by the T0 machine-manufacturing operations on the bottom flooring. T0 continues on the highest flooring, with elements hand-finished by artisans.
To me, probably the most putting part was Guillochage, the place actually dozens of artisans sit working engine-turning machines. Additionally known as rose engines, the machines engrave dials with intricate patterns of intersecting strains. Abraham-Louis cherished the look of guilloché, and employed it extensively on his thin-cased pocket watches that revolutionized watch design. He was the primary to make use of guilloché on dials, we be taught, and preferred the best way diamond-shaped patterns mirrored mild. At Manufacture Breguet, there are 35 rose engine machines.
T2, meeting of the watch (becoming of the dial and hands; casing; problems meeting) takes place on stage 1, the center flooring. Since Breguet was the inventor of the tourbillon, we get a brief class on tourbillons, and be taught that the corporate has six several types of tourbillon cages.
The following morning, we head north from Lausanne, previous massive Lake Neuchatel and smaller Lake Bienne, into the city of Biel/Bienne (the German and French variations of the city’s identify; it has been formally recognized by each since 2005) to Omega’s brand-new manufacturing facility, which opened in 2017. There, CEO Reynald Aeschlimann, in his opening remarks, says that that is “an amazing time for Omega.”
The brand new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, opened in 2017, is an emblem of a resurgent Omega. It’s Switzerland’s clear quantity two watch firm, when it comes to annual income (after Rolex), with gross sales estimated by Ventobel Fairness Analysis at $2.26 billion wholesale for 2018. Two massive anniversaries this yr are certain to spice up these gross sales: the 125th anniversary of the creation of the Omega model and the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission, when Omega grew to become the primary watch worn on the moon.
There was an Omega manufacturing facility on this spot for 137 years, and Aeschlimann is proud to point out off the gee-whiz wonders of the brand new plant. The five-story constructing was designed by Pritzker-prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban, constructed with concrete, glass and Swiss spruce.
Right here we see industrial, not artisanal, manufacturing. Omega produces three,000 watches every week, Aeschlimann tells us. Which suggests Omega produces in 10 weeks what Blancpain does in a yr. All of Omega’s manufacturing is now beneath one roof: T2 (assembling the watch head and casing), T3 (bracelet meeting), and T4 (packaging and transport). (Motion making, T1, is completed elsewhere at ETA factories.) Additionally right here is Omega’s METAS testing middle for Grasp Chronometer certification.
At Omega, 4 robotic arms transfer at 4 meters per second to fetch containers of elements and ship them alongside 500 meters of conveyors.
A spotlight of the manufacturing facility is its absolutely automated storage system, which delivers elements to the workshops with out human intervention. Situated in a three-story, fireproof, three,660 cubic foot area within the middle of the constructing, the storage space holds greater than 30,000 containers containing all of the components mandatory for T2 and T3.
A system of 4 robotic arms — our information, Mariano Samudio, calls them John, Paul, George, and Ringo – and two vertical lifts, shifting at breath-taking velocity (four meters per second) fetch the containers and ship them alongside 500 meters of conveyors. They carry out 1,400 operations per hour, which guests can observe via home windows on the bottom flooring, or from above, via a window within the flooring on stage four.
As soon as the elements get to the workshops, nevertheless, the watch head is created the old style method, by hand. Ninety p.c of the work of casing the motion, putting the dial, setting the hands, adjusting the stem, and so forth, is completed by hand.
In contrast to within the Vallée de Joux ateliers, we do not go into Omega’s workshop, however view what goes on via glass dividers. To maintain mud out, Omega doesn’t permit any paper – or guests – within the workshops. All communication there may be finished through touch-screen tablets.
After lunch, we trip again up into the Jura Mountains, to La Chaux-de-Fonds, the self-described “metropole horlogère” (watchmaking metropolis), inhabitants 40,000, that has been a watchmaking city for 300 years. We drive alongside Rue Louis-Joseph Chevrolet. (Yep, that Chevrolet: the automobile pioneer was born right here. So was famend architect Le Corbusier.) We flip onto Allée du Tourbillon and arrive at Montres Jaquet Droz.
Jaquet Droz, which the Swatch Group acquired the yr after Montres Breguet, is called for an area watchmaking wizard. Pierre Jaquet-Droz was born La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1721. His genius was to create not solely watches and clocks, however automata that helped promote his timepieces.
His automata have been thought of wonders of the world. Three androids – the Author, the Draughtsman, and the Musician – introduced him worldwide fame. Completed in 1774, and offered for the primary time in La Chaux-de-Fonds, they prompted a sensation. They “carried out” for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in Paris in 1775, adopted by a tour of varied Royal Courts round Europe. At present, they’re within the everlasting assortment of the Musée d’Artwork et d’Histoire in Neuchâtel, and are nonetheless working (the Museum demonstrates them to the general public frequently).
Montres Jaquet Droz continues Pierre Jaquet-Droz’s legacy, CEO Christian Lattmann tells us. In its workshops, 60 watchmakers and craftsmen create watches which can be objets d’artwork. They vary from off-centered Grande Seconde wristwatches, impressed by a Jaquet-Droz pocket watch with two intersecting dials forming a determine eight, to limited-edition items that includes unique dials and wrist automatons.
Final yr, Jaquet Droz bought all eight of its CHF 650,000 Tropic Chook Repeater watches in eight months, one to an American.
We start within the showroom, the place we meet “Charlie,” an android in-built 2012 based mostly on the Johnny Depp character Willy Wonka within the film “Charlie and the Chocolate Manufacturing unit.” Charlie’s hands maintain two bells, which he raises to disclose present Jaquet Droz fashions. He’s made of two,693 mechanical components and is animated by a system of 12 cams and seven electrical motors.
Subsequent, we see why Pierre Jaquet-Droz was thought of a wizard. A technician exhibits us the grasp’s “Singing Chook Cage,” made in 1780. It is a big, ornate, hanging cage, with a clock on the underside, containing two birds. Within the middle of the cage, working high to backside, is a crystal column. The technician winds the clock, and for 40 seconds a melody performs whereas the mechanical birds, with actual fowl feathers, chirp, shifting their wings, beaks and tails, whereas 12 turning “streams” within the column create the phantasm of a waterfall. The clock has six melodies, which may play on demand or on the hour. For our 21st century viewers, it’s superb. For an 18th century viewers, it should have been pure magic.
Understanding that we’ve got simply come from big Omega, whose budgets for world-renowned “ambassadors” Lattmann can solely dream of, he laughs as he tells me, “The automata are our Cindy Crawford.”
Jaquet Droz’s latest automaton wristwatch is the Magic Lotus Automaton. The dial encompasses a small spherical watch face surrounded by a flowing steam. The watch dial is onyx and has two gold hands. The remainder of the dial is brimming with ornamental artwork creations which can be Jaquet Droz’s specialty.
It depicts the 4 levels of a lotus flower: seed pods, bud, spring flower and fall flower. Two blue disks characterize the stream. Additionally on the dial is a koi fish, a blue dragonfly, lotus leaves, water lilies, diamonds, sapphires, a ruby, and extra.
Push the button on the crown and the stream involves life. The massive disk rotates and the koi strikes across the dial, flapping its tail and diving beneath the green lotus leaves. The water lilies bob up and down because the water flows. Your entire animation runs for a full 4 minutes, with eight rotations of 30 seconds every.
All the weather on the dial are made in workshops right here. The koi and dragonfly are hand-carved in gold and painted; the lotus leaves and reed stems are made in Grand Feu enamel on a gold base; the lotus petals are carved from mother-of-pearl with a skinny coat of translucent paint.
Within the Atelier de Haute Horlogèrie (T2), every watch is assembled by hand by one watchmaker. Blancpain provides Jaquet Droz with actions, which JD then modifies. Automata are manufactured within the Atelier Automaton, full with a small sound studio to create chirping birds and different sounds. The motion within the new Magic Lotus watch, which took three years to develop, has 616 elements; 500 of them are for the automaton.
Portray, enameling, engraving, and sculpting are all finished by hand in sunlit, monastery-quiet ateliers devoted to every craft.
The Magic Lotus watch prices 200,000 Swiss francs earlier than tax. JD will produce 28 items in pink gold and 28 in white gold.
The primary marketplace for these items is Asia, Lattmann tells me. However demand is international. Final yr, it bought all eight items of its outstanding Tropic Chook Repeater watch (worth: CHF 650,000) in eight months, one to an American.
On Day three, we head to Plan-les-Ouates on the outskirts of Geneva to go to the Harry Winston Manufacture. The Swatch Group acquired the well-known New York diamond jewellery home in 2013 for $1 billion. Ready to greet us is Nayla Hayek, CEO of Harry Winston, who can also be chairwoman of the Swatch Group board of administrators. “You’re very fortunate,” she tells us, underlining one of many causes for the “Time To Transfer” press occasion. “In Basel, you see just a few novelties. Right here you will notice all the novelties.”
In reality, we’re fortunate to be allowed inside this ultra-secure fortress in any respect, the place thousands and thousands of dollars price of diamonds and gem stones are saved. We quickly be taught that the Time To Transfer press company are the primary outsiders ever proven the manufacturing ateliers.
Whereas diamond jewellery is Winston’s signature product, 180 staff right here work on watches, Ms. Hayek tells us. A lot of the watches are women’ jewellery items.
Contained in the gem-setting atelier, jewelers peer into Olympus SZ51 microscopes as they set instances, bracelets and dials with treasured stones. We see jewelers setting the diamond-encrusted rectangular case of Harry Winston’s Avenue Basic 20th Anniversary watches. The highest-grade stones, set in Winston’s well-known “invisible settings,” are dazzling. It takes a jeweler 4 to 5 days to finish one case.
Harry Winston watches use ETA actions primarily, largely quartz within the women’ items. The corporate will get its moon-phase problems for each women’ and males’s watches from Blancpain.
The final Harry Winston Histoire de Tourbillon watch is the primary wristwatch ever to have 4 separate tourbillons.
Winston, after all, is not solely about ladies’s watches. It has made high-profile forays into the high-mechanical world with its collection of Opus and Histoire de Tourbillon watches and its use of unique metals like zalium, a zirconium-aluminum alloy; the platinum-group steel ruthenium; and Winstonium, its unique platinum alloy.
This yr’s males’s headliner is the 10th and last piece within the Histoire de Tourbillon collection. It is the primary watch ever to incorporate 4 separate tourbillons. The 4 tourbillons are positioned on the corners of the large case, which extends horizontally alongside the wrist (45 mm x 32 mm x 12.85 m). They rotate as soon as each 36 seconds, unified by three differentials. Histoire de Tourbillon 10 is a limited-edition of 21 items: 10 in rose gold, 10 in white gold (CHF750,000 every); and one in Winstonium (CHF770,000).
HW’s latest zalium watch is Mission Z13, also called the Ocean Retrograde Automatic 42MM watch, with a zalium case and buckle. It is the primary watch within the Zalium assortment with a moon-phase show. This one, unique to HW, is exclusive: its form will not be spherical, however 12-sided, and it’s suspended above the cut-out dial by transverse arms. Its automatic motion is made solely for Harry Winston.
As for the Opus, we don’t see the long-awaited Opus 15 (it has been practically 4 years because the final one – the Opus 14 “Jukebox For The Wrist”). Nevertheless, the corporate says it expects to unveil it by the top of the yr.
We spend the afternoon with Glashütte Authentic in a resort close to the Geneva airport. GO’s manufacture is sort of 500 miles away because the crow flies, within the well-known watchmaking village of Glashütte in northeastern Germany. Because the firm cannot carry the press to the manufacture, CEO Roland van Keith tells us (it is a good distance from Geneva to Saxony), it introduced the manufacture to the press. It arrange a couple of manufacturing operations within the resort ballroom. We’re issued the compulsory white lab coats and head into the fake manufacturing facility for a last spherical of novelties and technical shows.
In a brief lab within the middle of the room, two technicians carry out among the quality-control torture checks GO runs for shock-resistance and water-resistance. Elsewhere, across the room, watchmakers and technicians are performing demonstrations at benches.
At one, a watchmaker is blueing screws. First, he mirror-polishes the tiny metal screw by hand, rubbing it on a sharpening plate till it’s shiny. This course of protects it from corrosion. Then he locations the screw, which is grey, on a small heating system on the workbench. The screw quickly modifications shade, turning yellow, adopted shortly by brown, pink, violet, after which, at a temperature of 290° C, the colour he wishes: a deep blue, at which time he lifts it off the grill.
At Glashütte Authentic, we see a heated screw go from grey to yellow, brown, pink, violet, and, at 290° C, deep blue.
On the dial printing station, a technician from GO’s dial manufacturing facility in Pforzheim, Germany, demonstrates the “pad printing” strategy of manually making use of logos on dials, one at a time. The pad-printing methodology makes use of a silicone or rubber “balloon” to select up ink from a destructive engraving, known as a “cliche.” Pulling the arm of the machine, the technician lowers the pad onto the destructive. Then she slides the pad alongside a monitor to place it over a clean dial, and lowers the pad onto it. Voilà: the brand seems on the dial.
At one other station, a watchmaker utilizing a microscope is screwing 18 infinitesimal screws right into a gold screw stability. The screw thread measures a ridiculous zero.35 mm – therefore, the microscope. The watchmaker asks for a volunteer to carry out the operation. Adam Craniotes, the irrepressible founding father of the RedBar group, presents to be the guinea pig. Craniotes, like the remainder of us, is sleep-deprived, which can hamper his dexterity. There’s additionally a superb likelihood he is sipped among the effective Swiss wine served at lunch at Harry Winston, which will not assist both. Amazingly, after a couple of tries, he manages to select up a screw with the tweezers. However, alas, he drops it. Our gang groans when he lets us know. One of many group factors to the screw, which landed on the counter high. It seems to be like a single speck of desk salt. Craniotes doubles down. After repeated makes an attempt, he manages to select up one other screw, and, mirabile dictu, screws it right into a gap. He will get a hero’s applause from his admiring friends. Now, solely 17 extra to go. He leaves these for the professional.
The episode drives residence a significant theme of the journey. We knew effective watchmaking was difficult. However we come away with a brand new understanding of simply how devilishly troublesome it’s. And a deeper appreciation for these particular souls who grasp its crafts.