Watchmaking: machines and men

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Watchmaking: machines and men

Post by koimaster » November 29th 2018, 10:06am

Luxury watchmaking praises the work of the hand. But behind each model, there are highly sophisticated machine tools. A well oiled mechanics

When it reveals its behind the scenes, watchmaking likes to show its workshops, so clean that one could eat on the floor. They are peopled with watchmakers with a magnifying glass screwed to the eye, in a white coat, looking calm and concentrated. This iconography is logical for this universe that promotes tradition first and foremost, and that makes "manufacturing" an omnipresent term. What it exhibits less is these other workshops filled with aligned machine tools, whirring in a sweet smell of cutting oil. Some have the appearance of an electron gun, equipped with chargers reminiscent of Gatling machine guns, in westerns. But in fact of lead, these numerical machines spit brass, a favorite material of this sector.

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In this small world, robots have a soul. You have to wake them up, start them up, make them warm up.

Managed by a handful of operators in blue work, they shape the components that make up the watch. Far from a Manicheism that the image of Epinal Swiss watch might suggest, the sector fully assumes the complementarity between the two modes of operation. "Our watches are made in a tradition and innovation way, and at the same time by people and modern machines," explains Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, co-president of Chopard and head of watch collections. This arbitration is dictated by considerations of cost and quality. "In hand, we can not do two equal parts. Each component may be a prototype, so each final watch may be a prototype, which would cost a fortune, " confirms the independent watchmaker Romain Gauthier, specialist in high-end finishes and subcontractor for many major brands.



To be reliable, durable, accurate, the modern watch is based on machine tools of increasing sophistication. They start from plates or bars of metal that they pierce, tap, cut, mill, bend and twist. This is how the tiny components of the movement of the watch are born, sometimes at the limit of the microscopic. We speak of screws one millimeter long for a quarter of a diameter. They hold in place springs finer than hair, which themselves retain gears a tenth of a millimeter thick. All manufactured in thousands of copies, always the same dimensions, with a margin of error of about 2 microns. Some of these numerically controlled machines look like lunar modules that deliver hundreds of components per hour. The fineness and precision of this machining can make the difference between a watch that works and another that will seize and return to the after-sales service.

The nobility is in the finishes

But contrary to popular belief, the machine does not depopulate the workshops, nor creates an environment without human added value, quite the contrary. The finest brands in Haute Horlogerie rely on machine tooling experts who are as coveted as the best watchmakers. Romain Gauthier, a mechanic by training, adds: "A CNC machine, what is it doing? Displacements: move forward, backward. But she is blind. It takes knowledge, know-how and years of experience to make the most of it. " In this small world, robots have souls. You have to wake them up, start them up, make them warm up.
So much for the machine. Downstream from these automated manufacturing phases, comes the hand, in charge of the essential operations that are the quality control, the assembly and the casing. "The control, the finishing done by the hand and the eye can never be replaced by the only work of the best machines" , explains Thierry Stern, president of Patek Philippe. As soon as they are a bit sophisticated, the finishes are executed by the hand of man.



The assembly is also done by hand. Most operations resist automation because of the size of the parts, but also because the hand works under the constant supervision of the eye. The inspection is thus permanent. At Patek Philippe, inspections follow each other - every time a component is seized, it is controlled, scrutinized, checked - and accumulated throughout the life of the smallest screw, every dial, needle and gear, so small they are. But where manual labor finds all its meaning, all its nobility is in the finishes.

The decoration of metal surfaces, the embellishment of metal, its edges, its holes and screw slots is a consubstantial component of fine watchmaking. And at a certain level of requirement, necessarily manual. "The decoration is much more focused on perception, sensitivity and touch," says Romain Gauthier. The polishing, the satin, innumerable techniques come to indicate the inner beauty of the mechanics. At Vacheron Constantin, a craftsman will spend three to four days only components of a tourbillon, tiny device 8 mm in diameter. For finishing Patek Philippe caliber 29-535 PS, 270 components in a volume of 4.5 cm 3 , the hours of work can be counted in hundreds. Same thing for polishing or setting diamonds of a fully paved Rolex Pearlmaster. Logic, therefore, that luxury watchmaking continues to glorify the work of the hand.


David Chokron

https://www.lemonde.fr/m-horlogerie-joa ... 97497.html
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