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Observatoire Chronometrique+ New Alternative To COSC Chronometer Certification?

Observatoire Chronometrique+ New Alternative To COSC Chronometer Certification? Watch Industry News

In an effort to justify the substantial premium in their pricing, as well as prove the performance of their products, luxury watch brands go out of their way to prove that they can live up to consumer expectations in what is an extremely competitive industry. A more tangible way of proving their claimed superiority is by providing certificates which, through a series of tests, ensure that each submitted timepiece complies with strict accuracy and-or aesthetic standards. Timelab’s new watch certificate program is called “Observatoire Chronometrique+” and it offers a certificate claimed to be more thorough and comprehensive than that issued by the established COSC (the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute) and more widely available than the Geneva Seal.

The Observatoire Chronometrique+ is a new initiative in which any and all Swiss-made mechanical watches can be submitted, and they test fully assembled watches, not just for their chronometric performance, but also their power reserve and their resistance to water and magnetism. At first sight, it certainly has the potential to make brands who have not done so in the past consider certifying their watches, contributing to some unexpected changes in the market. Let’s explore the details of this new certificate and how it may influence the industry.

It is a bitter pill: the appearance and subsequent popularization of quartz watches beginning in the 1970s have rendered mechanical watches obsolete and have consequently pushed the Swiss watch industry to the brink of extinction, making for an almost twenty-year-long recovery. Quartz watches were (and are) cheaper to make, often more reliable, and always more accurate than the great majority of their mechanical counterparts. Nevertheless, the Swiss mechanical watch lives, enjoying its renaissance, a most peculiar phenomenon powered by its ability to transform mere everyday instruments into something more special, and often more luxurious.

The mechanical watch premium is justified in part by the craftsmanship that goes into its construction. Providing certificates that guarantee the high quality of different technical and aesthetic aspects of a watch is a part of that justification. But first, we need to understand is how this new program fits among other certificates and the qualifications that make it a worthy authority.

Observatoire Chronometrique+ New Alternative To COSC Chronometer Certification? Watch Industry News

A superb shot from our 10 Things to Know About How Rolex Makes Watches article, showing some of the company’s rate testing machines at work. (click here for the article)

Operating under the authority of the Republic and Canton of Geneva, Timelab is an independent Swiss horology laboratory, mainly responsible for watch certification. They have been known for administering the Poincon de Geneve (the Geneva Seal), a certificate that assesses the quality of decorations, the accuracy, and the the function of a watch submitted to its tests. It is reserved exclusively for watches assembled in the Canton of Geneva. Timelab is also among those few organizations capable of certifying timekeeping equipment for major national and international sporting events–including the Olympic Games. And if that wasn’t a pedigree enough, they also have a role in the research and development linked to timekeeping challenges and work in collaboration with watchmaking schools and universities.

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With the presence of COSC, Poincon de Geneve and a number of other lesser known certificate programs, you may rightfully ask what necessitated the creation of yet another program and how it might affect your future purchasing decisions. While the program is not in operation just yet, what we know is that with the “Chronometric+ Observatory,” Timelab offers a certification program that is open to all mechanical watches made in Switzerland (unlike the Poincon de Geneve which is restricted to watches manufactured in the Canton of Geneva) and it applies to finished watches which are independently checked in every aspect (unlike COSC which tests uncased movements only). With that in mind, what necessitated the creation of this new certificate was the lack of “universality” of the others or, in other words, the industry needed a program that could be applied widely to any and all Swiss made mechanical watches and checked complete watches for not just their accuracy or aesthetics, but also for their claimed water resistance, power reserve, anti-magnetic claims, and quality of assembly.

This is not to say that brands do not perform such tests themselves, it is just that there is no uniform way of undertaking that. Some brands do all the checks in-house while some partially rely on external companies as well. It is when they reach out to independent testing institutions that the watches which met the requirements receive a certificate, assuring the buyer that his or her purchase has been thoroughly tested to comply with the respective quality standards. To give you an example for both in-house and external quality control we need not look further than some of the industry giants: virtually all Rolex movements are subjected to the official (and hence independent) COSC tests, which checks the rate of uncased movements, comparing them to requirements set depending on their size (the most common criteria being that movements with a larger than 20mm diameter have to run within -4 and +6 seconds per day). Once COSC certified movements come back, Rolex cases them and thoroughly tests the assembled watches again.

Observatoire Chronometrique+ New Alternative To COSC Chronometer Certification? Watch Industry News

A beautifully finished movement featuring the Patek Seal on the balance cock.

On the other hand, as a fitting example to tests conducted completely in-house, look at Jaeger-LeCoultre’s 1000 Hours Control test, which is a nearly 6 weeks long trial of completed watches (not just the movements as in the case of COSC); or Patek Philippe’s Patek Seal which sets even stricter requirements for chronometric performance and, of course, also guarantees stellar aesthetics. So how does the Observatoire Chronometrique+ (OC+ from here on) fit into this overly complicated matrix of luxury watch certificates?

Timelab follows the ISO 3159 standard, the relevant standard for chronometers to which COSC adheres as well. It states the aforementioned average rate as acceptable (between -4/+6 seconds per day) and while Timelab claims the OC+ to be stricter and more thorough than others, as far as accuracy is concerned the only difference is that they check cased movements. What truly makes Timelab’s certificate more thorough is that they will also certify other aspects of submitted watches, including water and magnetic resistance, power reserve and on-the-wrist performance. Furthermore, certification of watches will either happen in Timelab’s, well, labs, or at the location of participating brands, depending on production volumes. Once Timelab gets accredited–they claim to be still in the process–they will be the only watchmaking laboratory that can not only certify products but also the equipment used for certification.

This is interesting for us watch lovers because in the mid-to-long term, should the certification system be well-received by consumers and industry leaders alike, we may see more brands implementing this new, more thorough system for assuring equally high quality between brands. As good as that may sound, in recent years we have seen brands pride themselves for their own quality-assurance programs and we wonder how many brands would want to claim that they are as good when it comes to making completed watches as anyone else who gained the certificate.

Observatoire Chronometrique+ New Alternative To COSC Chronometer Certification? Watch Industry News

The Poincon de Geneve (or Geneva Seal) certificate.

You see, what we have had so far are two extremes. On the one hand there is the Geneva Seal, a very exclusive “hallmark of quality” exclusively available for the finest watches made in Geneva, while at the other end of the spectrum remains the more ubiquitous COSC chronometer certification which states that the watch bearing the Certified Chronometer title has been tested to comply with the ISO 3159 standard. Now what the Observatoire Chronometrique+ proposes is something in-between, as it has the potential to replace COSC by covering the same ISO-required tests, as well as some brands’ in-house quality assuring systems by offering more exhaustive tests for assembled watches.

For now, what we can say is that this is certainly an interesting new idea that opens up a range of possibilities, something from which the end consumer can only benefit from. We are looking forward to learning and reporting about the first brands to embrace this opportunity, even though the final test will always be undertaken by the demanding watch enthusiast.

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  • BIGCHRONO

    I see this as another way to inflate prices. The costs involved having these exhaustive tests will be shunted onto consumers who must bear the brunt of financial responsibility. Omegas are grossly over valued now, & if it uses
    OC+, their prices will be even more unreasonable. As stated, mech/auto calibers are more expensive @ the outset,
    so this new “cert” offers a license to further gouge. I expect rebuttals, & have steeled myself for the onslaught.

  • Ulysses31

    COSC is a flawed standard and not particularly difficult to achieve.  Many foreign-built watches could cartwheel through that -4 to +6 permissible deviation window.  As I began to read the article I was hoping that the OC+ standard would finally fix some of the mistakes from COSC, but aside from the logical decision to test the finished watch accuracy rather than the movement alone, there isn’t anything to get excited about.  It seems to be a standard driven by a need to differentiate products and assist with marketing rather than actually improving time-keeping.  Another way to keep the money flowing while covering up the stagnation of useful innovations.

  • I recently read that Richard Mille for all its wonderful but outrageously priced beauties also has its own strict certification. I think it was +- 1 second per day, if I recall correctly. If the cased watch does not meet RM standards then it is disassembled and tested again. If after some number of trials it still fails, then it is discarded. If true that will put RMs on par with Seiko spring drive watches and most of the best quartz watches on the market now, unless syncing with GPS or atomic clock. Of course, that still does not justify RM stratospheric prices… But then again RMs are targeted at the uber-rich market and that excludes 99.9 percent of the rest of us,

  • David Bredan

    Maximilien This is some interesting news, although I am also unsure whether it is actually true or not. I am meeting with RM soon and I will definitely ask them about this.

    Ulysses31 BIGCHRONO I share your concerns, although I still have some hope for it to turn out to be a more substantial / valuable improvement over other certificates. Maybe there should be an “OC++”, that has stricter limitations than that rather obsolete -4/+6…

  • BIGCHRONO

    David Bredan MaximilienUlysses31BIGCHRONO 

    Thank you for liking my diatribe, & responding as well. I debunk these testing routines, limited editions, in house calibers, tourbillons, etc., as price boosters affecting already inflated costs that consumers poor & wealthy must burden. Greed runs rampant with no limits, & no vaccine to eradicate it.

  • rgclausen

    Being open to only Swiss made watches, makes this just Swiss marketing. Many great watches coming out of Germany, Japan and other countries that are excluded.

  • Clueless2

    You know COSC uses an INTERNATIONAL standard right? The way you worded your first two sentences makes it sound like the Swiss came up with the standard. 
    “Foreign” standards aren’t much better either. Basic Grand Seiko specifications are only -3/+5.

  • Clueless2

    Maximilien You mean the “Richard Mille Performance Certificate” which is only available on 10 limited edition watches? It’s not hard to cherry pick a few movements when they’re selling the watches for over a million a piece.

  • Ulysses31

    Clueless2
    Yes, i’m well aware of what “ISO” stands for.  Even so, consider the facts.
    “Founded in its current structure in http://hiro.alliancehorlogere.com/en/1973, the COSC
    (“Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres”) is the Official Swiss
    Chronometer Testing Institute. It is a non-profit organization. The COSC
    was founded by five watchmaking cantons (states) of Switzerland: Bern,
    Geneva, Neuchâtel, Solothurn and Vaud, together with the Federation of
    the Swiss Watch Industry (FHS). It encompasses the
    laboratories/observatories that had been created independently of each
    other from the late 19th century onward.”
    Sounds to me like this is a Swiss-driven standard through and through that was once adhered to by some non-Swiss companies then subsequently abandoned by most for their own more stringent standards.  We all know that Seiko grossly under-estimates the accuracy of their mechanical and quartz watches.  The fact that companies like JLC, Piaget, Breguet, AP etc can’t be bothered with COSC is telling of how worthless a certification it really is.

  • D S Vilhena

    So isn’t there any lab in Asia or US testing watches against ISO standards? If not, could we infer that the market doesn’t really care about these certifications? Or would it be the case of those needs consumers do not know until someone tells them?
    At any rate, certified product is usually the assurance you are buying something safe, and in accordance to a list of minimum requirements. So in one hand, this certification is good for those who buy a Milgauss and will never have the chance to know whether it is really anti-magnetic. In the other hand, if consumers all over the world really do care about certification, I can see someone developing standards for all companies in the world, be it ISO or a private company.

    Of course certifying watches will raise prices, BUT it could help reduce the fake-watches market.

  • Clueless2

    D S Vilhena  Japan had a lab but shut it down. 

    US doesn’t have watchmakers anymore. It has some micro or bouquet brands, and a few independent companies that wouldn’t benefit from a lab.

    Germans have their own lab – Glashutte Observatory.

    I think part of the market does care about certification since some many brands already waste money on it or their own internal standards.

  • DG Cayse

    D S Vilhena I, for one, see this as a positive move from both a consumer and manufacturer POV.
    If gradually the ‘real world’ certification of each model occurs, then the customer has further assurance that they are paying for a quality product.
    As to the manufacturers, this third party testing will establish a better ‘ground level’ of quality for each manufacturer to begin from in their process.
    As to the “fake watch market”…I think it might lead to a further clarification of this term;and an increase inquality all around.
    If a “fake watch” tells the time accurate and reliably – iot is no longer a “fake watch.”
    If a “fake watch” accomplishes the above, but is made to resemble a “famous” marque – then it is a “counterfeit” and not a fake. But it is then a “counterfeit” that achieves a quality level that has passed the 3rd party certification standards…and is sold for a quite significant lesser amount of money.

    What to do…LOL…what to do….?

  • David Bredan

    rgclausen Good point, albeit if I may add a slightly different point of view: I believe that the major German, Japanese and other non-Swiss makers would never admit that they needed the Swiss to validate their products (because they don’t). You see, in a sense that would mean that they accept the idea of the Swiss “looking over” their products and deciding if they met their regulations or not. You never hear a major German brand say “our stuff is as good as the Swiss”, much like (as a weird analogy) Aston Martin will never say they are as good Porsche.
    As far as smaller brands are concerned which do not have a heritage and “image” quite as established as the major brands, I completely agree as it could be an interesting idea to prove their abilities on all grounds.

  • D S Vilhena

    DG Cayse Ok, two points then:

    Counterfeit: even if it’s better than the real one, it won’t have any certification.  This is a given. Third parties do not certify counterfeits. 
    Agree the certification is positive for both sides.

  • D S Vilhena

    Clueless2 Just an analogy: whatever you buy for your kitchen: blender, fridge, lamp bulbs, or even for you and your family like a car, is tested on the producers lab. 
    Nonetheless, there are many national independent agencies in the world (eg FCC or FDA in the US) who set standards for their countries or the likes of ISO whose standards are used worldwide. 

    These national agencies will demand new tests for the products you buy, even if they were exhaustively tested inhouse.  Theses tests will be carried in independent labs.  So, it doesn’t matter if producer A or B claims they have the most accurate product, if it isn’t tested in an independent lab according to the agency’s standards, it doesn’t get the stamp.

    How independent are Timelab and Glasshuttte? Timelab’s testing for Swiss brands only doesn’t help at all seeing them as independent.

  • DG Cayse

    D S Vilhena Well, then there is a bizness opportunity to set-up a credentialed Cert Lab with high standards that will accept any and all watches submitted.
    Do it and they will come…;)

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