Manufacture movements

For a respected watchmaking brand, nothing is more prestigious than being able to flaunt its own Manufacture movements—movements that are imagined, designed, developed and produced directly on site.

By Elena Introna

Yet, for the biggest brands, this sense of pride has been somewhat tarnished by recent technological advances. In the 19th century, Omega was still manufacturing the 50,000 screws necessary for the fabrication of its movements in-house. Today, specialized companies like Dubois Dépraz and Technotime, to name just a couple, supply the components or complications. Likewise, certain artisanal companies or master watchmakers, who are often members of the AHCI (Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants), sell their ideas and creations to the major brands during a fixed period, before re-claiming ownership. This enables them to finance their own companies, which can then go on to produce genuine matchmaking masterpieces in small quantities.

Today, Swiss Manufactures as we once knew them can be counted on two hands. To produce a new movement, a company must generally be equipped with at least ten different machines and, given that production costs for a single movement range from 250,000 to 300,000 euros, it’s a short road to a multi-million-euro investment. Added to that are the salaries of the watchmakers, engineers and technicians, the various costs linked to the project, quality checks and patents, as well as inherent costs linked to customer service, including the spare parts that must be kept in stock for at least twenty years. Putting aside establishments that belong to the major groups (Richemont, Swatch, Kering, LVMH), which produce complex movements primarily destined for their own use, other companies have managed to make a name for themselves, such as F.P. Journe, Vaucher Manufacture (for Parmigiani and Hermès), Chopard and Christophe Claret (which supplies the major brands while producing complication watches featuring its own logo on the dial). Some companies, which once boasted great technical achievements, have been unable to survive global economic downturns and have thus been absorbed by other brands, a prime example being Hublot.

Today, Manufacture movements represent a wide range of values. And while they may have a less romantic image than they once did, they are still a useful trump card for the marketing departments of major brands, who continue to spotlight them in their advertising campaigns.