After screws are hand-polished one at a time, they can then be blued, but they have already been handled by a trained person for almost an hour. Similar processes occur at places like A. Lange & Söhne, but there, more efficient techniques exist because their volumes are higher – which means the cost per screw is less. Also, many times, the larger brands only polish the screw head on screws whereas the arguably obsessive watchmakers at Lang & Heyne polish more angles, leading to a more refined outcome (that no one other than future generations of watchmakers will be able to appreciate).
Marco nervously opens the lid of a small plastic container of blued-steel screws in several small rows. He asks me not to breathe on them and later explains that freshly blued steel screws are highly sensitive to humidity because they are prone to rusting. In a properly sealed case they are much more protected, but such an experience leaves you with the notion of how truly precious and delicate these parts are.
About 50% or so of all blued steel screws must go back for a further bluing process since the color and finishing are often inconsistent. A screw can’t just go to the flaming oven again, but must rather have the blue polished off, which is done on yet another special polishing machine that uses a brush made of goat hair. The bluing process isn’t done to all Lang & Heyne screws, but most do get this iconic treatment that helps typify the look of so many of the best high-end watches. I am compelled to speak about other important elements you’ll find in Lang & Heyne movements, but I must remind myself that I am here to speak only about screws today.
The most basic Lang & Heyne watch movement requires around 30 screws, while more complicated movements such as the Augustus (currently their most expensive and complicated watch, the movement of which you see above) has about three to four times as many screws inside.
The one to two hours it takes to simply polish and color screws after they are initially produced got me thinking that too few people even stop to consider screws. I don’t even think most watch lovers know where they are made and that a range of specific watchmaking skills are required to simply insert and remove watch screws – not to mention make them.
So the logical question is “how much does it cost to make each Lang & Heyne watch screw?” Again, we established that the cost of simple materials and industrial production result in an average price of one Euro per screw. Adding in the materials and human efforts of the finishing process, you have to account for as low as one hour of work by a seasoned and trained watchmaker. Together, it comes to an average cost of 100 Euros per polished and finished blued-steel screw in each Lang & Heyne watch.
With an average of 30-50 screws in a watch, that is 3,000 to 5,000 Euros worth of pre-profit expense in each Lang & Heyne timepiece for the screws alone – in watches that themselves average in price from 40,000 – 50,000 Euros. If you consider the immense effort in producing the rest of the movement and dial (the hands are produced and finished in-house as well) you start to see that there is real value here if your idea of a beautiful watch is something utterly classic (in a German way) that is all about emphasizing the very best of particular traditional techniques. Marco Lang and his watchmaker cohorts are for sure all watch nerds – and I would for sure have it no other way. I prefer the trained and highly motivated as well as dedicated do all the screwing when it comes to my watches. lang-und-heyne.de