Hong Kong Tatler - - Style -

The trend for mak­ing parts in-house has de­vel­oped in re­cent years for two main rea­sons. First, tra­di­tional sup­pli­ers were un­able to keep up with de­mand amid rapid ex­pan­sion of the watch mar­ket, lead­ing to many brands de­vel­op­ing in-house pro­duc­tion. Se­cond, the abil­ity to pro­duce parts in-house, which re­quires sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in tech­nol­ogy and skilled ar­ti­sans, el­e­vates the brand into an ex­clu­sive club.

His­tor­i­cally, though, even the most il­lus­tri­ous brands have of­ten used ex­ter­nal sup­pli­ers, pri­mar­ily for the ébauche—the base move­ment in an un­fin­ished state, al­most like a kit. It’s what the brand does with the ébauche, with hand-fin­ish­ing or the ad­di­tion of func­tional mod­ules, that sep­a­rates the wheat from the chaff. The level of handfin­ish­ing is also a key fac­tor in de­ter­min­ing haute hor­logerie sta­tus. Mod­ern tech­nol­ogy and pro­duc­tion tech­niques have en­abled tremen­dous ad­vances in even the most tra­di­tional watches, with watch­mak­ers hav­ing ac­cess to bet­ter, more con­sis­tent and more pre­cise parts with which to build ever more com­plex mech­a­nisms and com­pli­ca­tions. But there are cer­tain aspects of the fin­ish­ing where the hu­man touch is cru­cial—for ex­am­ple, the level of pol­ish or the par­tic­u­lar an­gles on a com­po­nent that even the most elab­o­rate ma­chine is not ca­pa­ble of repli­cat­ing. Ma­chines can’t re­place the dex­ter­ity of the hu­man hand or years of ex­pe­ri­ence at the work­bench.

The qual­ity of hand-fin­ish­ing is one of the aspects of watches that I per­son­ally find fas­ci­nat­ing. You only need to at­tend the most ba­sic watch­mak­ing work­shop to un­der­stand how chal­leng­ing it is to put a

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