One of the awesome aspects of being a watch journalist is visiting watch manufacturers all over the world. From assembly lines, where manufacturers receive all the finished parts and put them together, to deep inside the manufacture, where they start by processing the brass bars that enter the workshop and eventually turn into movement main plates.
Then there are the assembly lines where the movement are set into the cases, the dials are installed and the hands added – by hand. Turning the crown a couple of times to activate the movement and to see if the hands turn around without bumping into each other. Quality Control is (still) being done by – mainly – visual checks. If a case is damaged or if there is a scratch on the bracelet, the watch (or bracelet) will immediately been taken to the appropriate workshop where they will address that problem with their polishing machines. One of the coolest departments to visit is where they actually do the tests regarding water resistance and shock tests. Impressive tools and equipment is used to expose these watches to 10 years of wearing in just a few minutes.
Only a few brands will take you to the department where the movements are being made. Not assembled, but where the parts of the movements are actually being produced. This is where a lot of doors stay closed. Of course, not all watch brands want to reveal their secrets and manufacturing processes. Those who do have nothing to hide most of the time and except for a closed door or two, will show you every single bit from start till end (final product). Those manufacturers leave the most memorable impressions with you.
These visits give a great insider’s view on the manufacturing of our precious luxury timepieces. From drawing board to the final product, a lot of brands are happy to show this, even when a lot of components are not being produced by these brands. This does not mean that these watches are being regarded as cheap or the watch manufacturer can’t be taken seriously, on the contrary.
Almost without exception, watch brands work with several suppliers. They use suppliers for dials, hands, crystals, cases, bracelets, straps, movements (or parts) and so on. It is about the originality, the craftsmanship at these suppliers and the work that still needs to be done by the brand (like finishing the case or movement components for example) that will make a brand interesting or at least stand out from the crowd.
A lot of brands are willing to take us on that journey, some rather don’t.
For the public, these visits to watch manufacturers are somewhat more difficult to organize. Not all watch manufacturers are able to host certain guided tours. Keep in mind that it does require them to free up capacity and to ‘bother’ watchmakers who are doing their jobs inside.
Some brands do offer something to their connected retailer network once in a while though, who can take a couple of their clients to the manufacturer to have a look inside. It is one of those privileges these retailers can offer to their [best] clients once in a while.
If a brand doesn’t have the capacity or willingness to open their doors for watch enthusiasts, a museum can be a neat alternative. Brands like Patek Philippe, Longines, TAG Heuer, IWC and Omega for example, have wonderful museums that you can visit to learn more about the brand and their watches. The museum curator will gladly show you around and tell you about watchmaking in the past, present and future. Although museums may sound a bit boring to some of you, it will actually teach you a lot on watchmaking and you will see that – except for the machines used and the CAD solutions for designing watches – the craftsmanship and knowledge required didn’t change that much over the years.
If you are interested in paying your favorite brand a visit, go to their website and see what possibilities there are.