The Swiss watch planet in movement – Part 2

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September 2010


Besides the creation of movements that may be substituted for ETA calibres, watchmakers have also massively responded to the threat by accelerating the vertical integration of their production. We must, however, qualify the various announcements made regarding investments in this domain, and differentiate between a veritable industrial effort and the semi-industrial or artisanal creation of movements in small quantities. Nearly everyone has the regrettable habit of calling themselves a ‘manufacture’ but real ‘manufactures’—those producing all or nearly all of the components necessary for the fabrication of their own calibres—are extremely rare.
Leaving aside the great historic manufactures, such as Jaeger-LeCoultre, Patek Philippe, and Vacheron Constantin—which have all strengthened their vertical integration during the last decade, sometimes in a spectacular manner—let’s take a closer look at the more recent industrializations in the sector.

Cartier’s flagship
The most impressive rise in production strength is unquestionably that of Cartier. In 2000, Cartier decided to create its own manufacture and to bring together—under one roof on a central site located between La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle—the dozen or so units that had previously been dispersed throughout the region. Today, some 1,000 people, working in 185 different metiers, are employed at this facility. (This number may seem rather high but it includes all the operations in the sectors of design, construction, methodology, general assembly, laboratory materials, homologation, prototyping, mechanics, total production of cases and bracelets—except dials—mineral glass and crystals, hands, stone setting, enamelling, bevelling, decoration, assembly of quartz and mechanical movements, the haute horlogerie atelier, restoration, after-sales service and logistics.).
While the extent of the investment for this fabulous flagship facility is not public knowledge—surely in the hundreds of millions—nor is the exact number of pieces that are produced here—surely in the hundreds of thousands—what immediately strikes the visitor is the excellence in the organizational and industrial structure. The approach has been modelled on other sectors outside the world of watches, most notably that of the automobile industry.

The Swiss watch planet in movement – Part 2 Olivier Ziegler © Cartier 2009

As-needed watchmaking strategy
This industrial organization has been structured essentially so that it is capable of working on an as-needed basis. The major advantage of this highly integrated facility is its exceptional reactivity to the fluctuations in demand. “To move from one model to another is, for us, comparable to an F1 car at a pit stop,” proudly stated Jean-Kley Tulli, Director of the manufacture. He went on to explain more of the ins and outs of this particular production structure, “For a long time, the diversity of our products, their volume and the variation in demand remained relatively stable. Then we moved into many variations, and the volume increased. We therefore organized ourselves to synchronize all the production lines. We thus succeeded in reducing the time needed to move from one product lot to another from 250 days earlier to 50 days today, and, we hope, to 20 days tomorrow. The transport times have been decreased to nearly zero and the production lines have been entirely rethought out to provide greater flexibility. Before, one line produced one product. Today, each line, organized in modules, can produce several products. We have thus been able to accelerate the frequencies and been able to decouple the metiers and the men from the machines. In this way, we have lowered our stocks and the outstanding debts.”
The relevance of his words is easily understood as you walk into the central hall—as large as a soccer field—where the production and polishing of the bracelets and cases is carried out. The product fabrication lines are aligned vertically along a network system that is organized by metiers. These same metiers are thus juxtaposed side by side along the network that expands into the vertical production lines. This spatial organization allows for the passage from one machine to another by metier, thus offering great flexibility and hence greater reactivity.

The Swiss watch planet in movement – Part 2 Laziz Hamani © Cartier 2009

The new Cartier calibre
If we expend a lot of ink on this organizational structure, it is to emphasize that the ensemble of this impressive manufacture responds to the brand’s policy of having a high level of reactivity. And, what interests us primarily in this case is the assembly of mechanical movements.
There has been a lot said about the new ‘Cartier Calibre’, which is now being heavily promoted by the brand. The motor of this new line answers to the name of Calibre 1904 MC. This is the first automatic calibre designed, constructed and produced in-house by Cartier (in this case, its component parts are made in Buttes, by Val Fleurier, a company belonging to the Richemont group, where Cartier opened an atelier dedicated exclusively to the brand).
The 1904 MC is an 11’’’ calibre (25.6 mm in diameter and 4 mm in thickness) that beats at 28,800 vibrations per hour (4Hz). It features a double barrel, a choice of either a central seconds hand or small seconds at 6 o’clock, stop seconds, semi-instantaneous date mechanism and pawl rotor mounted on ceramic ball bearings that can be wound in both directions. Its 48-hour power reserve can therefore be wound very rapidly.
It was developed under the direction of Carole Forestier (formerly head of the technical bureau of Renaud & Papi that belongs to Audemars Piguet), who wanted to create, above all, a precise, reliable and robust movement. The 1904 MC is classic in its styling and architecture while being modern in its technical design. The double barrel provides good chronometric stability by providing the best possible constancy to the spring motor.
It is a veritable and basic tractor for Cartier and its size allows it to progressively equip all the cases of the various collections, including the rectangular American Tank.
This movement is thus part of Cartier’s long-term strategy to ensure the highest possible degree of independence in terms of its supply. This independence is capital and guarantees the flexibility in production that is so coveted in the world of watches where reactivity to the marketplace has become, whether we like it or not, a cardinal virtue.

These articles can be found in Europa Star 5/10, due out in October 2010.