When Harry Winston unveiled its new Opus 12 at last spring’s BaselWorld, the spotlight was on the name Centagora. This time, it was not, as usual, an already famous master watchmaker who was credited with the brand’s amazing “Copernican” creation, but rather a team hitherto unknown outside the circle of watch industry insiders.
Centagora was born in 2008, but took its current form in 2010. In the beginning, it was composed of four associates: Christophe Lüthi, micro-technical engineer; Emmanuel Bouchet, master watchmaker originally from France and in charge of complications, watchmaking methodology, and the laboratory for large Swiss brands; Nicolas Dürrenberger, mechanical engineer and watch repairer; and Thierry Jacques, computer scientist, management consultant and director of finance at Centagora.
Today, the team, having expanded with the addition of a senior design engineer and a project manager, is like a watchmaking “coach”. While this type of entity is rather common in other industries, it remains fairly unusual in the world of watches. What Centagora proposes is a palette of services that makes it a new type of multi-disciplinary agency, one that can provide design and development, consulting and coaching, technical analysis, training, outsourcing, and co-innovation, as well as assembly and encasing for small special series or particularly complex timepieces. As you can see, Centagora covers a wide range of skills, so let’s take a little closer look.
An “ideas box”
Centagora is an “ideas box”. Because of its range of skills that include watchmaking, engineering, methodology and industrialisation, this “box” brings forth innovative ideas and solutions, such as the Opus 12 and its new type of orbital dial. The solutions may be generated spontaneously and proposed to various brands, or they may result from a given brand’s particular request. In both cases, a designer is closely tied to the creative process, a process that does not stop there, but continues in-house with feasibility studies, construction—carried out step by step or side by side, we should say, with the support of the watchmakers—and finally to the supervision of the fabrication of the component parts for the prototypes that are assembled, modified, and then validated.
Up to this point, the service is relatively classic, but then Centagora goes even further—the validation of the equipment that will be used for mass production. In passing from the prototype stage to the production in series, the technologies necessarily change, and this has a direct effect on the product. Thus, following the validation of the zero series, continuous studies are carried out on the entire production process and quality control for all the pieces and their components, as well as for the assembly process that follows. “We are always thinking about the process of industrialisation,” explains Christophe Lüthi, the director of Centagora, “our product philosophy is all about that. Today, a good product is a product that can be easily assembled.”
Industrial support, outsourcing, training
At this stage of the industrialisation process, for medium-sized or large production runs, the Centagora team provides essential consulting and coaching services. In this area, the core of its activity is to advise the brands and manufactures on their industrial development. Two recent examples come to mind: assistance to TAG Heuer in the development of its 1881 chronograph movement and its production process; and helping Châtelain optimise its organisational processes, management flow, production lines, and organisation of the workshops, as well as improving in-house communication for these processes. In addition, we should mention the employee training and management coaching.
Centagora also conducts technological audits in order to precisely understand the true level of know-how in an enterprise, and especially how this knowledge is shared to make sure that it is, in fact, transmitted throughout the enterprise. Often, it is this transmission of knowledge that leads to innovation.
In a complementary manner, Centagora provides outsourcing services to watch companies for individual projects that involve design, technical analysis, project management, and the temporary management of departments or workshops. For the brands, this outsourcing provides strategic assistance, allowing them to “rent” specific skills and to thus “benefit from an outside view which can sometimes facilitate innovation or the re-engineering of their processes,” explains Lüthi.
These outsourcing services often go hand in hand with training programs, which are generally of two types. Strictly watchmaking training deals with specific products, assembly, and encasing, while other training involves quality management, production methodologies, and the resolution of problems.
Another of Centagora’s multidisciplinary ap-proaches is technical analysis. As an example, “a brand arrives with a calibre that on paper should work perfectly well, but there is a problem. Either the efficiency is not high enough or it does not work at all,” says Emmanuel Bouchet, manager of “watchmaking expertise”.
Equipped to be able to handle traditional timekeeping measurements such as operation, amplitude, chronometry, or more specific ones such as torque, force, lift angles, etc., Centagora can also validate the component parts and assortments, and conduct specific tests for wear and tear, shock resistance, and water resistance, among others. The company also produces a written audit of the product, together with recommendations for improvements or modifications—and this at any point from the initial design of the piece to the final assembly in series. “We have also acquired a very good level of expertise in the development of the regulating organ,” adds Emmanuel Bouchet with a smile.
Assembly and encasing
Another sector of activity is the assembly, adjustment and encasing of a timepiece. “We are specialists in the assembly of small special series, whether they are made up of complicated or very complicated products or they pose a particular challenge. Our strength is our great flexibility,” we are told. In full development, this activity will expand by the end of 2012 with the addition of five more people.
While the competencies of Centagora are many and varied, they still do not cover the entire range of horological problems. The young enterprise is thus setting up a specific network that will allow it to share skills and even to share certain resources. All of these activities involve watchmaking, of course, but they also touch on the realm of industrial equipment and the analysis of production flow, which may be of interest to non-watch domains, as well. Thus, expertise gained in watchmaking may end up helping innovate in other areas.
Here are the links to the other articles in our “mechanical alternatives” dossier:
Introduction - alternative solutions
Optimo, a new alternative source for assortments
Technotime: double barrels, tourbillons and balance springs
Citizen acquires Manufacture La Joux-Perret
The universal additional plate from AJS
Source: Europa Star August - September 2012 Magazine Issue