TESTS

24-7 (Singapore) - - Contents - By Su Jia Xian

Only the elite of the horo­log­i­cal world can bear th­ese marks of dis­tinc­tion

LUX­URY WATCH BRANDS SUB­JECT THEIR TIME­PIECES TO THE MOST STRIN­GENT TESTS TO AF­FIRM THEIR DED­I­CA­TION TO QUAL­ITY.

Be­ing ob­jects of pre­ci­sion, high-end watches need to be rig­or­ously tested for time­keep­ing ac­cu­racy and ex­am­ined to en­sure that their fit and fin­ish will meet the high ex­pec­ta­tions of their fu­ture own­ers. Most brands con­duct such qual­i­ty­con­trol checks in­ter­nally, but some turn to in­de­pen­dent bod­ies which run their own tests. Th­ese range from the ba­sic – like the Con­t­role Of­fi­ciel Suisse des Chronome­tres (As­so­ci­a­tion for the Of­fi­cial Swiss Chronome­ter Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion), bet­ter known as COSC – to the com­pre­hen­sive, such as Qualite Fleurier.

COSC

Test­ing well over a mil­lion move­ments a year is COSC, the big­gest and most prom­i­nent test­ing body in Switzer­land. The bulk of its cer­tifi­cates go to three brands: Rolex, Omega and Bre­itling. In 2011, it cer­ti­fied over 1.4 mil­lion move­ments for the three brands alone. Be­cause it cer­ti­fies such enor­mous quan­ti­ties, COSC cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is a largely au­to­mated process.

Set up in 1973 by the Fed­er­a­tion of the Swiss Watch In­dus­try and five can­tons where watch­mak­ing is a ma­jor in­dus­try – Bern, Geneva, Neucha­tel, Solothurn, and Vaud – COSC tests watch move­ments to en­sure that they meet the ISO 3159 stan­dard for chronome­ters.

Me­chan­i­cal move­ments un­dergo a 16-day test in five po­si­tions and at three tem­per­a­tures, dur­ing which they must meet cer­tain stan­dards. For ex­am­ple, the aver­age daily time­keep­ing variation for a me­chan­i­cal move­ment of over 20mm in di­am­e­ter must be be­tween -4 and +6 sec­onds. Com­pared with other cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­cesses, COSC is not ex­cep­tion­ally strin­gent. The pass rate for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is ap­prox­i­mately 95 per cent.

Once a move­ment passes the test, it’s is­sued with a cer­tifi­cate. Some, but not all, brands in­clude a COSC cer­tifi­cate with the watch.

Move­ments are tested with­out their cases – af­ter the test, they are sent back to the man­u­fac­turer for assem­bly. This gives rise to one of the big­gest crit­i­cisms lev­elled at this cer­ti­fi­ca­tion: What is tested is not ex­actly what ends up on the cus­tomer’s wrist.

Chronofi­able

On the other hand, the Chronofi­able test con­sid­ers the re­li­a­bil­ity of a move­ment by sim­u­lat­ing ac­tual wear. Con­ducted by Lab­o­ra­toire Dubois, an in­de­pen­dent test­ing agency in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the Chronofi­able test uses a spe­cially de­vel­oped ma­chine to test a watch over 21 days, equiv­a­lent to six months of wear.

Amongst other things, Chronofi­able en­sures that the watch is shock­proof by sub­ject­ing it to 20,000 im­pacts of vary­ing mag­ni­tude. It also tests bracelets and straps by sub­ject­ing them to me­chan­i­cal trac­tion.

How­ever, it only tests sam­ples from each pro­duc­tion run, rang­ing from five to 40 watches, de­pend­ing on the pro­duc­tion size, be­cause its pri­mary goal is to iden­tify po­ten­tial de­fects in each pro­duc­tion batch.

Fon­da­tion Qualite Fleurier

An in­de­pen­dent body which tests and cer­ti­fies in­di­vid­ual watches with its own seal, the Fon­da­tion Qualite Fleurier (FQF) has a com­pre­hen­sive test­ing pro­ce­dure: It com­bines COSC cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, Chronofi­able, the pro­pri­etary Fleu­ritest, and sev­eral pro­duc­tion and fin­ish­ing cri­te­ria.

The ba­sic cri­te­ria for the seal is that the timepiece be Swiss-made, in the strictest sense pos­si­ble. The en­tire watch, ex­cept the strap and clasp, must be made in Switzer­land. This means that while raw ma­te­ri­als can come from abroad, pro­cess­ing of all ma­te­ri­als – into a semifin­ished or fin­ished state – must take place within Switzer­land. Sub­se­quent dec­o­ra­tion and assem­bly must also be done within the coun­try’s bor­ders. This is far more strin­gent than the rules gov­ern­ing the “Swiss Made” label on watches, which es­sen­tially spec­ify that over 60 per cent of the value of a move­ment, as well as its assem­bly, must be Swiss in ori­gin.

In ad­di­tion to the ori­gin, the FQF seal de­mands cer­tain man­u­fac­tur­ing and fin­ish­ing stan­dards, such as the rule that screw heads must be flat and pol­ished, with the slot and rim bev­elled.

Af­ter COSC and Chronofi­able test­ing, the fi­nal stage of FQF cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is the Fleu­ritest. Here, the watch spends 24 hours strapped to the Fleu­ritest ma­chine, which sim­u­lates the wear­ing cy­cle of a watch on a per­son’s wrist over 24 hours. Through­out all of this, the watch must keep time to an ac­cu­racy of 0 to +5 sec­onds.

While the FQF seal is prob­a­bly the most com­plete test­ing pro­ce­dure avail­able, it is only used by four brands, the same ones which set up the foun­da­tion in 2001 – Chopard, Bovet, Parmi­giani and Vaucher, a move­ment maker that is the sis­ter com­pany of Parmi­giani. This lim­its the ap­peal and pres­tige of the seal.

Poin­con de Gen­eve

Passed into law in 1886, the Poin­con de Gen­eve, or Geneva Seal, is the old­est watch cer­ti­fi­ca­tion stan­dard in ex­is­tence. Con­ceived to pro­tect Genevan watch­mak­ers from un­scrupu­lous copy­cats mak­ing low-qual­ity time­pieces, the Poin­con de Gen­eve has since evolved into a mark of qual­ity used only by high-end, Geneva-based watch­mak­ers, so much so that it is widely re­garded as the most pres­ti­gious mark of qual­ity.

For many decades, the Geneva Seal was solely con­cerned with dec­o­ra­tive as­pects of the move­ment. This meant that if the com­po­nents were fin­ished to the right stan­dards, the re­sult­ing move­ment would have the Geneva Seal, whether it was re­li­able or not. And to ob­tain the seal, a sam­ple move­ment had to be sub­mit­ted for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, af­ter which all move­ments in the se­ries would re­ceive the seal, with­out any sub­se­quent in­spec­tions to en­sure that the qual­ity was con­sis­tent.

A big blow to the Geneva Seal came in 2009, when Patek Philippe, ar­guably the grand­est of all Genevan watch­mak­ing houses, dropped the seal af­ter more than a cen­tury of us­ing it on its time­pieces. The brand re­placed it with an in-house Patek Philippe Seal which was more strin­gent than the Geneva Seal at the time.

In re­sponse to crit­i­cism, Time­lab, a non-profit body backed by the Geneva Can­tonal govern­ment, which ad­min­is­ters the Geneva Seal, an­nounced sweep­ing changes in the shape of a new set of more rig­or­ous stan­dards in 2011 that fi­nally helped put its cri­te­ria on a par with the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion’s pub­lic per­cep­tion.

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