How Switzerland Came to Dominate Watchmaking

ST.-IMIER, Switzerland — In some respects, little or no has modified at Cadrans Flückiger S.A., a dial maker based here, in the French-speakme part of the Jura Mountains, in 1860.

The River Suze nevertheless trickles thru the encircling Swiss made chronograph  St.-Imier Valley, the smallest and least acknowledged of Switzerland’s three predominant watchmaking facilities, in the back of Geneva and the mythical Vallée de Joux. The manufacturing unit still makes use of unique gadget, which include an antiquated rose engine, to carry out age-antique strategies inclusive of guillochage, a process that creates unique decorative patterns. And the employees nevertheless labor by hand to provide dials for a coterie of Switzerland’s main watch manufacturers, such as Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Chopard.

Since being received by using Patek Philippe in 2006, Cadrans Flückiger has grown from 54 personnel to around one hundred. But it stays a throwback to the nineteenth century, whilst a gadget of production called établissage — a French time period regarding the assembly of an eye from components made by outside experts — flourished in the course of the watchmaking villages of the Jura.

Today, Swiss watches — especially the hand made mechanical range, lauded for their precision and pedigree — are synonymous with luxurious. A Swiss airways advertisement at Zurich Airport says it all: “Like purchasing for a Swiss watch. Hard to screw up.”

“The Swiss have that photo of producing quality at the very best stage, as Germans have the image of manufacturing the quality motors in the world,” stated Georges Kern, chief executive of the Swiss watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen. “And you cannot simply reproduction this.”

Yet whilst the Flückiger dial manufacturing unit opened, the Swiss have been simply contenders jockeying for a main role amongst Europe’s horologists. The story of how they got here to dominate the excessive-stop watch change offers a lens directly to the economic age, and the competing interests that have fashioned the luxury business.

The Germans are generally seemed as the first people to make clocks small enough to be transportable. Most historians credit score Peter Henlein, a locksmith and clockmaker who lived in Nuremberg in the early 16th century, with making the primary watch. His uniqueness become miniaturizing clocks in order that they can be worn as pendants or affixed to clothing.

Around the identical time, Huguenots fleeing persecution in France added their inventive savoir-faire to endure at the local watch alternate in Geneva, gradually reworking the metropolis right into a cradle of excessive watchmaking.

But it would be nearly 300 years before the Swiss might undertaking the supremacy in their European pals. The Germans and Dutch led the manner in horological advances inside the 17th century with inventions which include the fusee chain and balance spring, respectively. And no one disputes the 18th-century reign of the English, whose technical innovation — with the aid of men consisting of James Cox, George Graham and John Harrison — laid the basis for nowadays’s mechanical moves.

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By the time the Swiss-born master watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet — inventor of, amongst other things, the tourbillon, a rotating device to counteract the consequences of gravity on a pocket watch; the pare-chute, a surprise-soaking up mechanism; and the flat stability-spring with one or terminal coils, known as the Breguet overcoil — arrived in Paris as a fifteen-yr-old apprentice in 1762, the watch international was on the brink of every other strength shift.

The French watchmaker Jean-Antoine Lépine’s 1770 invention of a simplified flat caliber with bridges, called the Lépine caliber, made it possible to produce a thinner pocket watch — and augured the stop of England’s watchmaking ascendancy. “At that time, men’s fashion — skinny trousers, waistcoats — demanded a nonbulky watch case,” stated the horological historian David Christianson, writer of “Timepieces: Masterpieces of Chronometry.” “And the Brits weren’t willing to thin their watches.”

More important, Frédérick Japy, a watchmaker at the French facet of the Jura Mountains, tailored the Lépine caliber to manufacturing facility production in 1800, setting the degree for a new era of mass manufacturing. The improvement desired watchmakers in Switzerland, in which peasants and farmers occupied their winter months with the aid of making watch additives for corporations based totally in Geneva. Their industriousness and autonomy helped their usa outproduce rival facilities.

“As a rustic, Switzerland could be very decentralized,” said Jérôme Lambert, leader government of Montblanc. “Every valley has an owner or company that has a dynamic, small metropolis center. That created a completely natural extension of the conventional watchmaking manner. It was no longer the identical case in England, Germany or France, wherein it was very an awful lot centralized in large towns.”

Using the établissage system, the Swiss became out a ways greater timepieces than their European counterparts, who had but to grow past a cottage industry. According to Mr. Christianson, England and Switzerland every produced 2 hundred,000 timepieces in 1800; through 1850, the Swiss were churning out 2,two hundred,000 watches even as the Brits noticed definitely no increase. Quantity, however, did now not mean great.

The MB&F Legacy Machine one zero one.
The MB&F Legacy Machine a hundred and one.
Credit…Maarten van der Ende/MB&F
“The Swiss had been able to produce ‘faux watches’ that appeared like English or French watches however have been of lower best,” he stated.

As national manufacturing ramped up, a few key makers with a recognition for making high-quality timepieces emerged. Longines, founded in St.-Imier in 1832 — whilst it was called Agassiz & Co., after its founder, Auguste Agassiz — turned into some of the first to buck the établissage fashion. In 1866, the enterprise brought all of its watchmaking sports beneath one roof, and within 45 years, employed 1,a hundred people who shipped its timepieces round the sector.

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