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Article: What is a watch manufacture?

What is a watch manufacture?

Among the different watch brands, some can present themselves as "manufacture", which is a guarantee of know-how and prestige. However, this term "manufacture" is often misused, so the Charlie Paris team sheds light on this specific term of the watchmaking sector.

Criteria to be considered as a watch manufacture

In the watch industry, the term "manufacture" is often used but remains a vague term because there is no official definition. However, a watch manufacturer can be defined as a watch company that manufactures and masters the production of a watch or clock from A to Z, without using an external company. This means that it does not have to use subcontractors or external suppliers for certain parts of its timepieces. A manufacture is thus independent and differs from other watch brands that generally call upon other companies to integrate movements inside their watch model. A manufacture must then control 100% of its production chain. In theory, a manufacture must control the manufacturing process of a watch, from the design of the parts to the assembly, but in reality, few companies are able to internalize this entire process.

Producing all of its products in-house is very complicated and since true manufacture hardly exists, there is nowadays a distortion of this term. In practice, the most common form of a watch manufacture is a company that designs and manufactures its own movements, but not necessarily all of them. It must also ensure the complete assembly of the watch in the case and its operation, whether it is an automatic watch or a men's quartz watch. The watch manufacturer does not necessarily need to handcraft the components, as most "manufactures" today have industrialized some of the manufacturing processes. However, some watch parts are very difficult to manufacture. For example, the balance spring in the balance wheel is a part that few manufactures make themselves.  The real question then is how far does the brand have to manufacture its watch parts to be considered a manufacture?

On the other hand, many brands have manufacture movements but these movements are not created by them. They are actually orders that these brands place with specialized companies in order to obtain a "manufacture movement" that they alone use. These companies can then add their signature to these movements but they are not movements created by the company's workshops. In this case, the term "manufacture" is used as a guarantee of exclusivity of the mechanism. In the long term, some major watch brands go so far as to buy the company that manufactures their movement in order to draw in their external service providers and get as close as possible to a true manufacture. To illustrate this idea, we can draw a parallel with the automobile industry, by comparing a watch with a car. A car engine is very rarely designed, machined and manufactured by them.

Why the will to be a manufacturer at all costs?

The term manufacture brings to a brand a notion of prestige. In the eyes of customers, the fact that a watch comes from a manufacture guarantees that it is indeed a luxury watch. An "exclusive" watch with which one cannot find the same movement on less high-end brand watches. This term allows a company to differentiate itself from non-manufacturers and to influence its selling price upwards. This term with its marketing and commercial stakes has led many houses to obtain this title, to affix it under their brand name.

This trend appeared especially in the 2000s and pushed many brands to transform themselves from watch assemblers (as is the case for our brand) to prestigious manufactures. To do this, most brands have developed the design and manufacture of their own movement. Most have facilitated this work of research & development and production by buying out former suppliers and subcontractors. This is for example the case of Breitling, Rolex, Breguet, Omega, etc. Some watch brands start from scratch. Other companies call upon a subcontractor who will manufacture a movement for their brand alone, the latter will then say that it is a manufacture movement.

Famous watch manufacturers

If we take the strict definition of a manufacture, we can only call Seiko in Japan a complete manufacture, which has a fully integrated model, as well as the Swatch Group as a whole which produces all the parts present in its watches. Not far behind, we find Rolex, which still gets some of its products from other suppliers for very specific parts. Finally, if we take the broadest definition, there are many more manufacturers such as Cartier, Breguet, Frederic Constant, Chopard, Omega, Maurice Lacroix, Patek Philippe, Pequignet, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, Zenith, etc.

Team Charlie Paris has decided to introduce you to one of them, the watch manufacturer Cartier. Cartier is one of the largest watch manufacturers. Located in Switzerland, it brings together since 2003 all the watchmaking trades that allow the realization of Cartier watches in a creative process that starts from the design of the movement to the finished object. The Cartier factory has been located in La Chaux-de-Fonds since 1972 and is at the center of a region with a long tradition of watchmaking. La Chaux-de-Fonds is a Swiss town that has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2009 for its watchmaking urbanism. Cartier watches were previously manufactured in France with Swiss movements, and were moved to La Chaux-de-Fonds to meet the company's new ambitions. The Cartier factory was completed in 2001 and has a total surface area of more than 33,000 m², of which 13,000 m² is dedicated to production. It brings together the 7 production sites previously scattered throughout the region. All watchmaking know-how is represented here, with 175 professions, organized into three major areas: development, production and customer service. Everything is brought together in the same place and allows all the stages necessary for the complete realization of their watches to be carried out.

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