A handmade watch is an exquisite complex piece of moving jewellery, built with the world's most valuable materials. Hours of skilled labour are invested to create unparalleled luxury.
Swiss watches are world renowned for their unbelievable quality and their accurate movement. Some of the world’s most prestigious watchmakers: Patek Phillipe, Tag Heuer, Audemars Piguet and Breitling are indeed Swiss. Although you might be familiar with external aesthetics of a luxury watch, do you know what is behind the face? Here is a look at how luxury watches are made.
Four Years of Training
Most Swiss watchmakers go through four years of training at one of the many watchmaking institutes around Switzerland in able to work with one of the most prestigious watch brands in the world. The coursework covers both mechanical and aesthetic aspects of the watch. The first two years of the program are instructional; the third and fourth years are dedicated to laboratory work and hands-on training. The program is even federally certified as a vocational diploma.
Astoundingly TAG Heuer creates a completely digital model of the watch to be made, then a bespoke prototype is made, by hand of course and it is tested to make sure that lives up to the companies standards. As the video shows the prototype watches are put through a gauntlet of tests, to ensure even the aesthetic parts of the watch stay intact after impact, submersion and repeated abrasion. Manufacturers like TAG Heuer and Brietling offer various qualities of watches, some of which completely handmade and other which are made in combination with handmade and mass-production processes.
According to the documentary above, about Swiss watchmaker Breitling, their luxurious and expensive flag-ship watch, the Chronomat’s mechanism is composed of a dizzying 346 parts. Taking into consideration the miniscule scale that those parts need to be fitted into, this is an astounding technical and feat of craftsmanship. Patek Phillipe’s website has a very interesting and comprehensive list of their own movement creating process.
In contemporary watchmaking, the casing of the watch is made in parallel with the mechanism, and these two components are married at the end of the process. Some brands are completely handmade while others used industrial technics such as stamping, as the video above shows. An interesting innovation Breitling uses during their case-making process is welding with a atomized metal paste, that when heated in an oven precisely and permanently joins the two pieces of the case.
For Patek Phillipe watches the case making process is much more manual, just the polishing of the case can take one and half hour or an astounding four hours if the case is made from platinum.
One of the world’s most sought-out watches are made by the Patek Phillipe brand. There are many reasons for this, first and foremost is the guarantee of quality that comes with the brand’s pedigree. Patek Phillipe watches are also extraordinarily rare, only a million have been made since 1839. Finally Patek Phillipe watches offer an unparalleled level of quality and refinement, as I mentioned above just the polishing of the case can be a multi-hour process. The company is so dedicated to quality and consistency, that they have a resident chemist that is charged with maintaining the exact colour of the dials, continually adjusting the colour throughout the day, to compensate for humidity, ambient temperature and even oxidization of the colour that occurs during the day.
Most luxury watch manufacturer’s make a point of using the highest quality materials in their watches. Although most would assume that these materials are used in the visible areas of the watch, in actuality even the mechanism or movement uses precious stones. These precious stones, also known as jewel bearings, are used at points of friction because of their ability to sustain and not break down over time and repeated abrasion. The most prestigious and expensive watches generally use rare rubies as their jewel bearing whereas lower level watchmakers will use sapphires as their jewel bearing. Although both jewels have similar friction negating properties, rubies can last for hundreds of years before they break down if they ever do. Of course straps, latches and other parts which will generally see repeated use are made to be resilient, while still maintaining their high level of sophistication.
The Prestige Of The Handcrafted
As I mentioned previously Patek Phillipe watches are highly sought after timepieces because of their exquisite quality and dedication to fine craftsmanship. Not only is there immense amount of labour hours invested in the creation of the movement, which is the heart of the timepiece, they also take pride in their cases that are embellished by in house jewellers. The watch in featured in this video has another interesting element, it happens to be Patek Phillipe’s most complicated watches featuring an absolutely amazing 1366 movement components. As a comparison, the immensely complex Chronomat by Breitling only has 346 movement components.
Why Would You Buy Them
Luxury watches last for centuries, they can be passed down through generations in many cases still in working condition. Many collectors purchase luxury timepieces due to their investment potential, although I am becoming redundant, Patek Phillipe watches’ value increases exponentially with time. For example a $300 1950s Calatrava model will command a price tag of $20,000 or more in auction today. Furthermore Patek Phillipe maintains an archive extracts on every single of watch that the company has made. One of the biggest risk a watch and timepiece collector can take is purchasing an item with irresolute pedigree and history, but this system makes negates this situation for both buyer and sellers of the rare timepieces. Although not extremely valuable to a collector beyond the confirmation of the watches authenticity, these extracts contain a detailed history of the watches’ ownership which just adds to appeal and lore of these amazing pieces of mechanical jewellery.
It takes approximately 3 to 5 years from inception to completion of a Patek Phillipe watch. By the time it sits on the wrist of its proud owner, it would have had 1,035 people closely scrutinize its movement, case, dials and knobs. Speaking subjectively though that’s a short amount of time for a watch that will last for generations.
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