The Swiss watch planet in movement – Part 5

Pусский 中文
November 2010


With his usual fiery enthusiasm, Jean-Claude Biver details his strategy in terms of the movement, reminding us first that “to sell the irrational—since watchmaking today is something irrational because time is all around us—you need the rational, the substance. It is this substance that we are developing to create the dream. Without the rational, there is no irrational.”
By the “rational,” the “substance,” it is clear that he means the movement. In this domain, Biver wants to make advances, rapidly of course, but in a rational manner. “Our own movement, Unico, was designed and constructed to be totally interchangeable with the Valjoux 7750 chronograph, which since 2005 equips our Big Bang chronographs. The compatibility is total. The movement, dial, case, and hands are 100 per cent interchangeable. It makes absolutely no difference if we place a Valjoux or a Unico into our pieces, whether for our own stock, that does not need to be adapted, or for our after-sales service. This standardization—which is also valid for our gauged tourbillons—offers many advantages in terms of internal profitability, and it allows us immediate reactivity.”

Chronograph at the top
Having said that, the Unico, even though it is interchangeable with the Valjoux calibres, is nonetheless quite different in its conception (Valjoux’s design dates back to 1974), and is certainly not a clone. In fact, contrary to Valjoux, the Unico includes a column wheel.
Its main architectural characteristic, however, resides in the fact that the chronographic part of the movement, including the column wheel, has been placed on the top of the movement, and not under the oscillating weight that would conceal part of it. There is a reason for this, which is fundamental in Biver’s opinion. “In the future, one of the impediments to counterfeiting could very well be the absence of a dial or a skeletonized dial since the movement will be visible,” he explains, adding, “If you can see the movement, then the counterfeiters will have to have the ability to copy it, which is not a small thing.”

The Swiss watch planet in movement – Part 5

Technically, Unico—which includes less component parts than the Valjoux 7750—has been designed for industrial production at a sustained rate of 10,000 to 15,000 pieces per year. As its constructor, Christophe Lyner, explains to Europa Star, they sought simplicity and solidity in view of optimal reliability in addition to facilitating, as far as possible, the assembly of the calibre’s 150 parts, of which some elements are pre-assembled (giving a total of 445 components, including pins, screws, etc.). In the same vein, the absence of a jumper-spring means the watch assemblers do not have to carry out an indexation.
Among the various particularities of the Unico—4Hz, 30-mm diameter, 8.05-mm thickness, with more than 70 hours of power reserve—we note its double coupling (to reduce possible sources of failure), automation on ceramic ball bearings with the Pellaton system (providing better winding efficiency in both directions), and a totally interchangeable and movable escapement bridge (such as is found at Moser & Cie to facilitate global after-sales service), with a traditional assortment that equips the first 1,000 pieces or an assortment with silicon palettes and palettes wheel (a silicon balance spring is also under study).
Other notable characteristics include: a variable inertia balance in nickel phosphorus LIGA that is flat and easy to produce and adjust; a semi-instantaneous date on a Mimotec disc whose numbers, in relief, seem to float around the dial (a sapphire date is also under study); a dragging display; flyback function; double horizontal coupling and a stop seconds device.
Totally integrated, Unico nonetheless offers a modularity that, according to its constructor, will allow other future functions to be integrated in the place of, or “above”, the chronographic function. As Jean-Claude Biver says, “We have tried to do better than what existed earlier, to be more reliable and precise since what’s the point in doing something less good?” What does its constructor think? “It is simpler than the 7750 and I think that it will be more solid and more reliable… at least in 30 years—that is for certain,” he adds with a smile, knowing full well that the quality of a movement will become clear over time.

The Swiss watch planet in movement – Part 5 HUBLOT’S KING POWER with UNICO movement

First deliveries at the end of 2011
Announced for the end of the year, the Unico, which we must admit is quite attractive under its black ruthenium treatment, is in the ‘pre-industrial’ phase and its production will gradually increase. An assembly atelier with some thirty posts is currently being installed. Ultra-modern, it has lubrication robots—oiling is done with doses of compressed air—and precise quality control instruments. It is divided into separate stations, each carrying out several operations in lots of 20 to 50 pieces.
Most of the fabrication and treatment of the components—cutting, machining, electrolysis—is done in-house in a facility with brand new equipment. In all, the investments made for Unico are estimated to be around CHF 3 million.

The Confrérie Horlogère Hublot
Without going into detail about the collapse of BNB, let’s remember that Hublot, which was its principal client, purchased before its demise was announced the movements, stocks, several patents and hired 30 of its watchmakers. Then, after the failure, Hublot purchased the equipment leasing agreements and moved the machines to its own site. Mathias Buttet, the boss of the ex-BNB, packed up and arrived at Hublot along with the company’s machines and tools as well as 28 watchmakers who were masters in ten metiers: chemistry, cutting, constructor, etc.—in other words a true manufacture within a manufacture.
Since then, Hublot has been divided into two parts to produce two different types of movements: the Unico, on one hand, and pieces for Hublot’s haute horlogerie products on the other, comprising mainly tourbillons, minute repeaters, perpetual calendars, and exceptional pieces that were named the Confrérie Horlogère Hublot. These latter pieces “do not come directly from the DNA of Hublot,” as Biver himself admits, but they confer upon the brand an undeniable watchmaking legitimacy that benefits Hublot overall, without mentioning the many interactions and synergies that are developing between the two different units. It is a little like Hublot having a super research and development department that does not produce ‘theoretical’ works but that realizes innovative watchmaking concepts.
Among these concepts, Europa Star was able to see truly exceptional pieces that are planned for presention at BaselWorld next year: the already famous Clé du Temps, a really amazing variable speed movement whose case and design have been totally revisited, and another outstanding piece—on which we will return as soon as we can—that was inspired by the mysterious and fascinating Anticythère. This ‘astronomical machine’, dating back to more than 2,000 years ago, is the oldest geared machine in the world and represents an unprecedented savoir-faire. It was found in 1900 at the bottom of the seas near a small Greek island, which gives the machine its name.

Source: Europa Star October - November 2010 Magazine Issue