When a watch is worth several hundred-thousand euros, one might be forgiven for questioning its price. The explanation lies within the workshops where master watchmakers dedicate months, sometimes years, to creating masterpieces of almost priceless value.
Rounding-off, bar turning, beveling, circular graining, shot peening, spring pairing, visitage…are these terms unfamiliar to you? And yet, it is highly possible that these operations were performed when manufacturing the watch on your wrist.
Although the watchmaker remains the emblematic figure of these manufacturing activities, many other specialist skills come into play when bringing to life a piece of fine watchmaking. Just one visit to a workshop is enough to make you realize the number of vital stages involved before a piece of metal can become a watch. It is only then that we understand why, beyond the noble materials used and the prestige of the House, the value of a timepiece lies to a great extent in its components, the number of complications, the finish and, above all, the time dedicated to its manufacture. Some independent watchmakers create only ten or so pieces each year! And it is not unusual for them to spend several years designing a movement.
To be more specific about the challenges faced by watchmakers, let it be noted that some wheels are only 0.12 mm thick. Only slightly thicker than a single hair (0.08 mm).
Does your watch case or dial harbor a clever example of guillochage? This technique employs strange tools that are thought to date from the 19th century, used to make subtle patterns on the metal. Whereas it takes several hours to create this precious embellishment, several years are required to learn the process, before being able to dominate the technique and master the subject. Exactly like the engravers who customize winding rotors by hand, or the specialists who shape watch glasses by flame-heating them without the aid of monitoring instruments. How do they determine the necessary heating time? They “feel” it…
What do you think a watchmaker at some extremely high-end manufacture does once they complete the assembly of a movement destined for a complication watch? They disassemble it piece by piece, and then reassemble it to make absolutely sure of the perfection of the components’ assembly.
Undoubtedly, what determines a “fair price” for a piece of fine watchmaking, is time, and creativity. Not to mention talent…