With more brands re­ly­ing on in-house qual­ity la­bels, El­iz­a­beth Do­err ex­plains how they dif­fer from the tra­di­tional ones

Adore Gems & Timepieces - - CONTENTS -

The dif­fer­ence be­tween tra­di­tional cer­ti­fi­ca­tions and in-house qual­ity la­bels

While re­garded as a mark of qual­ity in watch­mak­ing, even the term “Swiss made” is to­day, a di­luted rep­re­sen­ta­tion of what it used to mean, as only a por­tion of a watch needs to be pro­duced within Switzer­land in or­der to qual­ify for the hall­mark. Aside from this la­bel, the world of haute hor­logerie is dot­ted with many more cer­ti­fi­ca­tions that are much more spe­cific. These la­bels were en­gi­neered as a sign of as­sur­ance to con­sumers and served as an ad­di­tional point of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion among the brands — pre­sum­ably, a watch is deemed as bet­ter or more ac­cu­rate, when they are ac­com­pa­nied by these qual­ity stamps.

The old­est and prob­a­bly most fa­mous of these la­bels is the Seal of Geneva (Poinçon de Genève), which was cre­ated in 1886.

This his­toric mea­sure was es­tab­lished as a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that can only be awarded to Geneva-based watch com­pa­nies with move­ments that are as­sem­bled and reg­u­lated within the can­ton of Geneva. It was a qual­ity seal that was orig­i­nally de­vised to pro­tect the name “Geneva” from abuse by brands out­side of the can­ton that were, more of­ten than not, pro­duc­ing less su­pe­rior time­pieces. The Seal of Geneva — awarded by a com­mis­sion com­pris­ing seven mem­bers who are Swiss cit­i­zens ap­pointed for four-year terms — has been mod­i­fied over the years to re­main cur­rent and rel­e­vant. Watch brands that reg­u­larly re­ceive the Seal of Geneva in­clude Vacheron Con­stantin (since 1909), Roger Dubuis, Chopard and most re­cently, Cartier.

The Seal of Geneva is now part of an or­gan­i­sa­tion known as Time­lab, whose range of ac­tiv­i­ties is ac­cred­ited by four in­ter­na­tional ISO/IEC stan­dards. In ad­di­tion to the Poinçon de Genève, this also in­cludes the Ob­ser­va­toire Chronométrique cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. The self-pre­scribed aim of the in­de­pen­dent and neu­tral Time­lab is to pro­vide po­ten­tial cus­tomers with an ad­di­tional guar­an­tee of qual­ity.

The other qual­ity la­bel widely adopted by watch brands is Switzer­land’s Con­trôle Of­fi­cial Suisse de Chronomètres (COSC), a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion es­tab­lished in

1973 in Switzer­land. The COSC’s stan­dards have been set by in­ter­na­tional agree­ment, which makes them the same whether they are ISO (In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Stan­dard­iza­tion) or DIN (Deutsche

In­dus­trienorm) stan­dards. The or­gan­i­sa­tion was founded by five can­tons in Switzer­land where watch­mak­ing is preva­lent (Bern, Geneva, Neuchâ­tel, Solothurn and Vaud) to­gether with the Fed­er­a­tion of the Swiss Watch In­dus­try (FH).

Rolex has long been a pro­po­nent of ex­ter­nal test­ing, even though its in­ter­nal qual­ity con­trol fa­cil­i­ties prob­a­bly outdo COSC’s im­pres­sive equip­ment. Sources re­port that COSC’s lab­o­ra­to­ries in Geneva and Biel are al­most en­tirely de­voted to test­ing Rolex’s prod­ucts, as the brand is the world’s largest pro­ducer of of­fi­cial chronome­ters, with num­bers pur­port­edly reach­ing some­where in the neigh­bour­hood of 800,000 pieces an­nu­ally. Per­haps Rolex un­der­stands that like stu­dents in school, stan­dard­ised test­ing and re­sults is­sued by an ex­ter­nal and bias-free en­tity of­fers more cred­i­bil­ity than hav­ing a Rolex watch­maker rate the com­pany’s watches as out­stand­ing. In the same man­ner, Bre­itling’s long in­sis­tence on mea­sur­ing its chrono­met­ric per­for­mance ex­ter­nally is akin to an air­plane man­u­fac­turer hav­ing its cir­cuitry checked by ex­ter­nal engi­neers. When it comes to pre­ci­sion in­stru­ments, ver­i­fi­ca­tion is im­por­tant.

An of­fi­cially cer­ti­fied COSC chronome­ter can be iden­ti­fied by a se­rial num­ber en­graved on its move­ment, as well as a cer­tifi­cate pro­vided by the in­sti­tute. Test­ing cri­te­ria is based on ISO 3159, which de­fines a me­chan­i­cal chronome­ter for the wrist. There is no ISO stan­dard for a quartz move­ment, but the COSC has its own stan­dard for test­ing quartz chronome­ters. The av­er­age daily rate of a me­chan­i­cal chronome­ter may not ex­ceed -4/+6 sec­onds per day; for quartz, this value is, of course, stricter at ± 0.07 sec­onds per day.

Not ev­ery chronome­ter is sup­plied to the con­sumer with its COSC re­port, since this is an op­tion that may or may not be ex­er­cised by the brand or maker. Each man­u­fac­ture de­cides whether to re­veal the ex­act re­sults gath­ered dur­ing the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process of the move­ment. Rolex and Omega, for ex­am­ple, do not au­to­mat­i­cally sup­ply their chronome­ter-cer­ti­fied watches with COSC cer­tifi­cates, but may do so upon re­quest of the owner.


The Qual­ité Fleurier is a foun­da­tion in Fleurier, Switzer­land that was founded in 2001 by Swiss watch com­pa­nies lo­cated in the re­gion: Bovet, Chopard, Parmi­giani and Vaucher. Its am­bi­tious task is to unite sev­eral tests within one sin­gle cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. The Fleurier Qual­ity Foun­da­tion is sup­ported by the Swiss fed­eral gov­ern­ment, the can­ton of Neuchâ­tel, the Val-de-Travers Re­gional As­so­ci­a­tion and the Philippe

Jéquier Foun­da­tion. Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is open to any Swiss or Euro­pean Union brand that meets its cri­te­ria and its test­ing is con­ducted ob­jec­tively un­der the su­per­vi­sion of a tech­ni­cal com­mit­tee.

FQF cer­ti­fi­ca­tion may only be is­sued if the move­ment has also at­tained the fol­low­ing: COSC cer­ti­fi­ca­tion; the Chronofi­able test (another Swiss cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that ba­si­cally tests that a watch will age grace­fully); fin­ish­ing ac­cord­ing to the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion’s cri­te­ria, which en­sure the aes­thet­ics of haute hor­logerie; and the fin­ished watch must pass the Fleu­ritest, a lo­cal pro­ce­dure that en­sures that the watch’s rate is be­tween 0 and +5 sec­onds de­vi­a­tion per day.

To­gether with the of­fices of weights and mea­sures in Thuringia (LMET) and Sax­ony (SLME), Wempe of­fered the first in­de­pen­dent chronome­ter-test­ing fa­cil­ity in Ger­many in 38 years. As of 2006, its chronome­ter test­ings in Ger­many have been per­formed in an ob­ser­va­tory — the Glashütte ob­ser­va­tory to be ex­act. Thanks to of­fi­cial ac­cred­i­ta­tion from the Ger­man Cal­i­bra­tion Ser­vice (DKD), Wempe’s own two lines (Zeit­meis­ter and Chronome­ter­w­erke) were Ger­many’s first of­fi­cial chronome­ters to have ever been tested ac­cord­ing to the coun­try’s in­dus­trial norm.

Wempe’s ob­ser­va­tory fa­cil­ity is op­er­ated by LMET, ac­cred­ited by the Thuringian State Of­fice’s test­ing fa­cil­ity as an off-site sub­sidiary of LMET’s cal­i­brat­ing lab­o­ra­tory. It works on the ba­sis of the in­ter­na­tional norm ISO/IEC 17025, which en­sures global ac­cep­tance of the fa­cil­ity’s cer­tifi­cates, one of which is is­sued with ev­ery watch pass­ing the test pro­ce­dure and mak­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. Be­cause LMET is an in­de­pen­dent, state-run or­gan­i­sa­tion, it also en­sures im­par­tial­ity. The Ger­man Cal­i­brat­ing Ser­vice also watches over the con­tin­ued com­pe­tence and in­tegrity of this fa­cil­ity.

The Ger­man DIN stan­dard is sim­i­lar to the in­ter­na­tional ISO norm utilised in Switzer­land, but dif­fers in one rather im­por­tant point: In Glashütte, the move­ment un­der­goes its test­ing un­der real con­di­tions in­side its very own case, rather than in the tem­po­rary ones used for COSC test­ing.


In De­cem­ber of 2014, Omega — one of the largest providers of tested chronome­ters af­ter Rolex — an­nounced a new chronome­ter cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in con­junc­tion with the

Swiss Fed­eral Of­fice of Metrol­ogy and Ac­cred­i­ta­tion (Me­tas). At press time, the only watch to have been in­tro­duced with Omega’s new so-called Mas­ter Chronome­ter Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is 2015’s Globe­mas­ter.

Even if the pri­vately held COSC is ac­cred­ited as a Swiss Cal­i­bra­tion Ser­vice lab­o­ra­tory by the state-owned Me­tas, Omega ob­vi­ously feels that of­fer­ing Me­tas-cer­ti­fied chronome­ters in­stead of COSC-cer­ti­fied ones dif­fer­en­ti­ates it­self — per­haps from its num­ber-one com­peti­tor, Rolex.

Qual­ity has also been a sig­na­ture el­e­ment of a Patek Philippe time­piece since the very be­gin­ning. Thus, the brand has al­ways sub­scribed to the dis­ci­plined el­e­ments con­tained in the Seal of Geneva, which guar­an­teed a cer­tain level of qual­ity. In fact, 100 per­cent of the watches leav­ing the Patek Philippe fac­tory were stamped with this highly cov­eted hall­mark sig­ni­fy­ing qual­ity in no uncertain terms un­til 2009.

When it in­tro­duced its own qual­ity la­bel in 2009, it wanted to in­clude func­tional el­e­ments such as ac­cu­racy, cases, di­als and other as­pects of a fin­ished watch. Af­ter 120 years of be­ing stamped with the Poinçon de Genève, both CEO Thierry Stern and his fa­ther Philippe Stern de­cided to have their com­pany’s watches in­dented with a new sign of qual­ity, which they felt in­cluded more stan­dards — par­tic­u­larly where they can­not be im­me­di­ately seen — thereby guar­an­tee­ing a higher level of ex­cel­lence to the brand’s tra­di­tional clients. In­side the watch, it in­cludes meet­ing a pre­scribed tim­ing rate of -3/+2 sec­onds per day for time­pieces with me­chan­i­cal move­ments more than 20mm in di­am­e­ter. The com­plete, en­cased watch

em­barks upon the tim­ing test so as to more ac­cu­rately re­sem­ble true wear­ing con­di­tions. As a com­par­i­son, all cur­rent Swiss qual­ity seals only test un­cased move­ments.

Jaeger-LeCoul­tre like­wise writes its own rule­book when it comes to the ben­e­fit of its clients, and the qual­ity and ac­cu­racy it feels its own watches de­serve. Be­fore a Jaeger-LeCoul­tre watch leaves the Le Sen­tier fac­tory, it must pass the com­pany’s strict 1000 Hours Con­trol. Here, the brand tests and cer­ti­fies its own fin­ished watches, re­pro­duc­ing the con­di­tions of real-life wear. For close to six weeks, these watches un­dergo a se­ries of tough tri­als.

The watch­mak­ers in Mont­blanc’s fac­tory also do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to up­hold the qual­ity of the brand’s man­u­fac­ture move­ments (not its pur­chased move­ments) through a la­bel it calls the Mont­blanc 500 Hours. This stamp in­cludes a com­pre­hen­sive test­ing pro­gramme con­ceived to val­i­date the brand’s qual­ity by sim­u­lat­ing the first year of a time­piece’s life as it is worn. In a ded­i­cated lab­o­ra­tory, ev­ery Mont­blanc watch pow­ered by an in-house mech­a­nism is tested un­der con­di­tions that em­u­late what a watch might en­counter when it is worn for 500 hours, or al­most three weeks.

It may not come as much of a sur­prise to learn that both of these brands were at one time presided over by the same CEO: Jérôme Lam­bert, a very clever brand leader and en­thu­si­as­tic per­pet­u­a­tor of qual­ity.


Not ev­ery watch­maker be­lieves in cer­ti­fi­ca­tions, par­tic­u­larly ex­ter­nal ones, but Jean-Claude Biver, the cur­rent CEO of TAG Heuer and head of lux­ury con­glom­er­ate LVMH’s watch di­vi­sion strongly ac­knowl­edges their im­por­tance: “I think cer­ti­fi­ca­tions are good. Would Rolex be Rolex with­out the COSC? And the Patek Philippe Seal is just ge­nius.” CEO of Zenith Aldo Ma­gado sim­i­larly ac­knowl­edges their im­por­tance to the chrono­graph-maker known for its high-speed move­ments. “Zenith has a


long his­tory of win­ning chrono­met­ric awards and cer­ti­fi­ca­tions are im­por­tant to the brand to demon­strate its qual­ity in per­for­mance,” he ex­pressed. “We will prob­a­bly send more time­pieces in the fu­ture for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

Al­though the rigour of these tests are well-demon­strated, whether they are ac­tu­ally needed to­day is another ques­tion al­to­gether. Edouard Mey­lan, CEO of H. Moser & Cie, con­sid­ers it a mar­ket­ing tool that’s not es­sen­tial. “We don’t have ex­ter­nal cer­ti­fi­ca­tions on our watches,” he ex­plains. “We try to com­mu­ni­cate our qual­ity our­selves.” The brand, for ex­am­ple, of­fers a dou­ble bal­ance spring es­cape­ment with a large bal­ance wheel to en­sure that its time­pieces are pre­cise. Each watch is also care­fully cal­i­brated by hand to en­sure that time­keep­ing is con­sis­tent.

To be fair, Moser also pro­duces only a small quan­tity of watches a year, com­pared to TAG Heuer or Bre­itling, which en­ables them to main­tain such in­ter­nal stan­dards of qual­ity. In a way, ex­ter­nal cer­ti­fi­ca­tions are a brand au­dit. If some move­ments are con­sis­tently re­jected due to a par­tic­u­lar as­pect of test­ing, it could well be an is­sue within the fac­tory the brand needs to im­prove on. That’s not to sug­gest that qual­ity con­trol isn’t as strin­gent in a larger firm, sim­ply that there are more op­por­tu­ni­ties for gaps in the sys­tem that need to be fixed.

To­day, many Swiss watch la­bels do not sub­scribe to test­ing be­cause stan­dards of pre­ci­sion to­day are rel­a­tively high in watch­mak­ing — most well-reg­u­lated stan­dard move­ments will pass chronome­ter test­ing whether they pos­sess a cer­tifi­cate or not. Even the most in­ex­pen­sive ETA cal­i­bres gives an av­er­age of ±12 sec­onds a day, with a max­i­mum of 30 sec­onds over the same pe­riod. Yet, as Mey­lan rightly points out, there are those who use cer­ti­fi­ca­tions to dis­tin­guish them­selves from the com­pe­ti­tion.

In this year’s Con­cours In­ter­na­tional de Chronométrie, none of the afore­men­tioned watch­mak­ing brands took part in the event. The record holder of this com­pe­ti­tion and 2011 win­ner was Greubel Forsey with the Dou­ble Tourbillon 30° Tech­nique, which still holds the high­est score (915) since the com­pe­ti­tion was re­vived in 2009. In­ter­est­ingly, Greubel Forsey doesn’t par­tic­i­pate in ex­ter­nal test­ing.

The re­sults of this year’s com­pe­ti­tion re­vealed some sur­pris­ing sta­tis­tics. Of the 28 watch brands sub­mit­ted, only six passed all the tests. The win­ner in the clas­sic com­pe­ti­tion was Tis­sot, with a score of 908 out of 1,000. The com­pe­ti­tion also re­vealed that one anony­mous submission scored 931 points, the high­est ever ob­tained. How­ever, since it was an anony­mous submission, they could not award the time­piece. Philippe Fis­cher, chair­man of the com­pe­ti­tion, com­mented: “I am dis­ap­pointed at the small num­ber of par­tic­i­pants and I hope the causes can be found in the uncertain state of the watch­mak­ing busi­ness since the be­gin­ning of the year. I dare not con­tem­plate that the pre­ci­sion and re­li­a­bil­ity of the prod­ucts might be merely brand ad­ver­tis­ing slo­gans, not based on ac­tual mea­sur­able per­for­mances.”

As for the fu­ture of these qual­ity la­bels, the ques­tion then has to be put to you: Is a five-sec­ond de­vi­a­tion from your sched­ule so pre­cious?

All of Roger Dubuis’s time­pieces bear the Seal of Geneva

A close up of Vacheron Con­stantin’s cal­i­bre 3200. More than 70 per­cent of Vacheron Con­stantin’s man­ual move­ments are stamped with the Hall­mark of Geneva

From top: All Jaeger-LeCoul­tre watches are tested in ac­cor­dance to the “1000 Hours Con­trol”; The Jaeger-LeCoul­tre Mas­ter Grande Tra­di­tion Tourbillon à Quan­tième Per­pétuel; Omega’s Mas­ter Chronome­ter Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion

Patek Philippe’s 5370P

Mont­blanc’s cal­i­bre R230 has been rig­or­ously tested in the Mont­blanc Lab­o­ra­tory Test 500

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