Mechanical wonders – Alternative solutions

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August 2012

Almost two years ago, Europa Star published a long three-part investigation entitled, “The Swiss watch planet in movement”. In this article, we detailed the various independent alternatives that had been developing—and that continue to develop today—following the announcement by the Swatch Group that it would gradually discontinue selling mechanical movements and assortments.

In the same article, we also quoted Henry-John Belmont, consultant and former head of Jaeger-LeCoultre, who explained that “It is certainly not the individual brands that will succeed alone in providing the investments necessary for the production of 1 or 1.5 million movements. The fabrication of 250,000 basic ETA 7750-type calibres requires an outlay of the order of 100 million francs and 200 to 250 employees.” Since then, things have been moving even faster, and what is most critical today is the area of assortments—balance spring, balance, paletts, and escape wheel.

For a long time, Nivarox-FAR, a company of the Swatch Group, reigned as the absolute master in this strategic sector. Then, other players, still marginal, joined the dance, namely Precision Engineering (which is part of the same group as Moser & Cie.) and Atokalpa (Vaucher Manufacture). Yet, the quantities of assortments available at these two suppliers are confidential and their prices fairly high. They are, therefore, de facto only available to the high-end watch segment. Then, in fairly quick succession, several announcements were made that would change things. New sources of supply gradually came online that offered alternatives that were of interest to all mechanical watchmakers, not just the high-end. Thus, Concepto, which had been secretly working to get its own production of balance springs up and running, publicly announced that it would sell 50,000 kits this year, then increase that number to 200,000 in 2013, arriving at 400,000 within two to three years. Another new, yet more modest, player, Technotime, declared that, as of now, it could produce between 30,000 and 40,000 complete assortments per year.

It is not only, however, in this domain that alternatives are rapidly gaining ground. Europa Star also visited La Joux-Perret, which produces 50,000 movements and modules per year. We also discuss the company’s recent purchase by the Japanese group, Citizen, an acquisition that provoked a certain amount of concern in the Swiss watch community.

Alternative solutions are also flourishing on other levels, such as the process of industrialisation, where several new types of company are working, among them “coach” Centagora, which is presented in this issue. In terms of innovation, too, we talk about the universal additional plate made by AJS, a novel idea that opens new perspectives for mechanical watchmaking in the mid-range sector. Nicolas Hayek was probably right when he said that the Swatch Group’s decision to stop selling products to third parties would eventually open a new phase in watchmaking industrialisation. We are already there!

Source: Europa Star August - September 2012 Magazine Issue

Here are the links to all the articles in our “alternative solutions” dossier:

Optimo, a new alternative source for assortments
Technotime: double barrels, tourbillons and balance springs
Citizen acquires Manufacture La Joux-Perret
Centagora, a new type of watchmaking coach
The universal additional plate from AJS