September 5, 2013
by David Bredan
At this final point, the indexes are applied one by one. On dials of this quality these tiny pieces of precious metals are installed by hand. To the left, on the image above, two microscopic holes can be seen inside each recessed area on the periphery of the dial. These are created for the ‘feet’ of the indexes that will hold them still. Once the tiny parts are fixed, the dial is turned to this side so that the barely visible parts of the feet extendind beyond the pane of the dial can be removed. This is also done by hand, of course. Needless to say, installing these extremely small and fragile particles of gold require incredible patience and dexterity, otherwise either they will break or the almost complete dial will suffer damage. In the middle, also above, the removal of the index feet is in process, while to the right is a tray of indexes ready to be set.
Since I saw the incredible expertise and dedication required for making such fine dials, I appreciate the beauty of this part even more. It is perhaps because they are always so clean and so perfect that they appear to be very easy to do – but that couldn’t be further from the truth! Dial makers work in their own special dimension, with a mindset dedicated exclusively to their trade and the issues at hand – otherwise they could never be able to achieve such levels in refinement.
Our second stop was at LAB (Les Artisans Boitiers), the case making facility – an obvious decision as it shares the same building with the dial manufacture. In the first room several CNC machines are racing constantly against each another, carving cases from round blocks of any given material. The machines are programmed based on the exact measurements available from computer designs and prototypes. Once data has been loaded, they get to work and create a very impressive, though undoubtedly rough case. It is something that still has a very long way to go until it is finished. The middle section of the case, the lugs, the back panel and all other elements are cut separately, of course, and are to be assembled later on.
After the rough pieces have been cut, they are taken to another – much calmer – department. This is a room with a couple of workbenches where master craftsmen and -women work on the cases and turn them into something worthy of the fine movements they will house. At this stage lugs and other major parts are installed permanently. They file the inside of the case so that it is able to accommodate the movement and no sharp edges or other undesirable particles remain that could harm it during final assembly. This is also where they set the diamonds for bejeweled models – a reason for having those leather ‘bags’ under the workbenches, as they prevent the tiny and very expensive components from falling to the ground and getting lost permanently.
Once cases have taken their final shape, they are transferred to the polishing workshop where the still raw surfaces are polished to give them a desirable shine. This will only need to be perfected later on, as a few steps are still left until they are completed. The last stages of production are in the ‘Montage’ department where all remaining parts of the case are installed, including the pushers, the gaskets and other components depending on the model. They also do pressure checks here: first, all watches are tested to the slightly different pressure experienced on-board airplanes at about 33 thousand feet above sea level, and then for water resistance to whatever depth required. Once this is done cases receive their fine polish and are finally finished!