The Swiss watch planet in movement – Part 16

February 2011


“We are a virus, a free electron,” delightfully declares Philippe Thivolet, General Manager, and Cédric Grandperret, Executive Director of Magma Concept, located in Plan-les-Ouates near Geneva. In 2001, along with prototype expert, Manuel Garcia, and digital imaging specialist, Cédric Vaucher, they founded this rather particular hybrid organization. It is active in both imaging synthesis and in the construction of movements.
In the beginning, Magma Concept began to work with 3D modelling as a marketing support. Then, quite naturally, the company turned towards the offer of products. Everything seemed to start in 2003 with the demand for tourbillons by Jörg Hysek, based on a Jaquet calibre. This was followed by collaboration with Chanel for its first J12 Tourbillon equipped with a sapphire upper cage.
In 2006, Cédric Granperret, the mechanical soul of the group and former member of the technical department at Chopard, was lured away by Jean-Claude Biver who wanted him to create the new technical base for Hublot, to create pilot lines, and to set up the assembly and production unit for Mag Bang. The experience lasted two years and, in 2008, Cédric Grandperret returned to Magma.
In the meantime, the Magma team had totally designed and developed its own tourbillon calibre as well as a series of functions and displays using the 7750 base, but in specific materials such as titanium, aluminium and gold, all “in perfect accord with ETA”. These developments allow Magma Concept today to propose four different 13 ¼’’’ 28,800 vibrations/hour calibres: the MAG-007 with three hands including centre seconds, large date, in automatic or manual versions, with stop seconds; the MAG-005 GMT3, automatic with complication, three hands in the centre, two different GMT indications at 6 o’clock and 12 o’clock, both with their own day/night display, as well as a retrograde date with a 120° hand at 9 o’clock; the MAG-004, flyback chronograph with column wheel integrated into a 7750, featuring hours, minutes, and small seconds at 9 o’clock, 60-second chronograph counter at the centre, 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock, and 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock, as well as a date window at 5 o’clock; and the MAG-003, an automatic chronograph with cams integrated into the movement, configured like the MAG-004.
As for the MAG-002, it is a tourbillon featuring 3Hz (21,600 vibrations/hour), hours and minutes at the centre, power reserve hand indicator at 12 o’clock, and, optionally, a small seconds on the cage at 6 o’clock.
“It is an intentionally simple tourbillon in its design and its architecture,” explains Cédric Grandperret, “held between two bar bridges, equipped with 60 hours of power reserve and excellent torque that allows for additional new complications to be added without making major changes. This is why it was designed this way.”
This tourbillon equips all the new models for Cécil Purnell, which only offers tourbillons in its collections, and which is currently Magma’s largest client. Among the other customers that we can mention are Artya, Aquanautic and new mandates coming up for deLaCour.

The Swiss watch planet in movement – Part 16

To break old habits
As the management at Magma likes to say, “We are constructors of both engines and bodywork. In this sense, Magma operates as a micro-manufacture that masters the design and construction as well as the production of a large part of its component parts, whether used for movements or cases. Also providing a design service directed by an industrial designer trained in the automobile industry (PSA), Magma Concept is able to offer advanced personalization of its products, including the form of the movements gears, the lines of the case and details in the casing. Magma’s second site, located in Gland, regroups the production unit and creates plates, bridges, all the steel and brass components, dials, crowns and pushpieces as well as all small series, while also carrying out traditional tooling and laser engraving.
All of the cutting operations, screws and gears are done outside. As to the assortment—in other words, the balance spring, escapement wheel, palettes and balance—it is made by MHVJ (Manufacture Horlogère de la Vallée de Joux, today part of the Festina group). The finishing, polishing of cases and the decoration of the various pieces is also sub-contracted out to a closely knit network of suppliers. One of Cédric Grandperret’s favourite domains is that of materials. “I love all that is material,” he likes to say, “and I am particularly fascinated by the realms of steel, because this is a veritable world of super alloys, and of aluminium, which offers very interesting perspectives.” Although he happily considers himself more a micro-mechanic specializing in watchmaking than a watch constructor, Grandperret has been strongly criticized for having promoted machining using water instead of oil, including the case of grade 5 titanium and magnesium, which are especially hard metals. “I like to break old habits and to look elsewhere on condition that new materials, like new techniques, bring a real plus”.
Like some others, Grandperret is not a big fan of silicon or its future. “It certainly has great precision in the fabrication, but it is easily broken and, from the point of view of the spring, it wears out over time. No, on a functional level, I prefer the steels.”
Still modest, Magma Concept, with its ten or so employees, is nonetheless totally representative of the new breed of companies specializing in the creation and production of complicated movements that are well adapted to the brands that desire them. Often these types of companies are made up of a mixture of various competencies coming from both watchmaking and micro-mechanics, using tools such as digital imaging. This modernity does not however preclude a traditional vision of timekeeping. In this vein, Magma has announced that in the future, it wants to have its movements certified with the Poinçon de Genève.

The Swiss watch planet in movement – Part 16 CALIBRE CP3888, CLASSIQUE 43 by Cécil Purnell

And the rest? See it during the whole year at Europa Star
In three long articles, we have tried to paint the most complete picture possible of the Swiss offer in the realm of mechanical movements. There are, however, many ateliers, watch companies, and research and development units that we were not able to cover. Starting in 2011, we will have a regular new column, issue after issue, which will take into account the latest developments in this eminently strategic sector. Join us, then in our next issue, Europa Star 1/11.

Source: Europa Star December - January 2011 Magazine Issue