tructured as a holding trading under the same name, the Concepto Watch Factory – wholly owned by Valérien Jaquet and his two sisters – controls and houses an ensemble of “profit centres”, companies all lodging under the same roof of an imposing, 7,500m² industrial building. Located on the outskirts of La Chaux-de-Fonds since 2008, it has just completed its latest expansion.
Consequently, inside this watch factory you’ll find Artisia SA, tasked with all the stages of assembly, from T0 to T3; Décoparts SA, which carries out the bar-turning, cutting and rolling operations for screws, gear wheels, pinions and all types of axis; the strategically important Optimo Assortments SA, which supplies the regulating organs, escapements, levers and balance springs; Micro-ACE SA, tasked with prototyping; and Arts Design Manufacture SA, created four years ago, which encompasses all the decorative crafts (five people at the beginning, now 15, engaged in engraving, enamelling, marquetry, micro-painting and jewel-setting).
- Exploded view of the Concepto 8600 movement, a minute repeater tourbillon
This ensemble, capable of manufacturing, decorating and assembling all the components a movement requires, except for the jewels, pallet rubies and pins, and which depends on backup from a network of local suppliers (for special screws, for example), has an impressive fleet of machines (150) producing “30,000 to 40,000 movements” a year, including a large share of chronographs and some 1,000 complicated movements.
A very broad range of products
“We specialise in delivering finished, decorated movements,” explains Valérien Jaquet, “and we can boast a very broad range of products. That’s what enables us to come through the various ups and downs that watchmaking is always experiencing relatively unscathed.”
- The Octo Finissimo Ultra Craft by Bulgari and the Astronomia Revolution by Jacob & Co
Among the forty or so customers that Concepto boasts today, we can cite several which indeed bear witness to this wealth of diversity: Bulgari, for whom Concepto made the movement for the famous 1.8mm-thick Octo Finissimo; Jacob & Co, of whose collections Concepto accounts for a large proportion, including a four-axis, constant-force tourbillon; Hublot, in particular the Chrono Big Bang; Louis Moinet, a longstanding partner for whom Concepto makes most of the movements; Dior, Rebellion, Breitling, Sinn, Porsche Design, to cite a few more, also make up its customer base.
It all began in 2006
A qualified micro-mechanic turned watch designer (“as a child I was already into model-making,” he insists), the young Varélien took the plunge in 2006 and set up a small design bureau. His initial idea was to offer brands design projects for movements in line with their brand profile. “But I realised that we were in the middle of a CGI boom and that many design companies were offering projects all over the place, but solely in drawing form, and that to be convincing you had to do more.” So he distributed his plans to external suppliers and had parts made to produce prototypes. This was how he came up against the concrete problems of deadlines and quality, so much so that very soon, in 2007, he decided to “make [his] own swarf”.
- Valérien Jaquet
His father, Jean-Pierre Jaquet, helped him create his own means of production. Known by the nickname “the Pharoah” by the entire Swiss watchmaking sector, he has huge experience in the field. Originally an antiques dealer, but a micro-mechanic by training, he succeeded in setting up a major watchmaking manufacture which bore his name. In 2003, it was sold to Citizen and is now called LaJoux-Perret.
But his vast experience in such matters was to prove very useful. “We soon found ourselves with 80 employees, then for a long time we remained at a stable 120, before moving up again to 160 employees today,” recounts Valérien.
Complications from the start
The manufacture started not “at the bottom”, but “at the top”, so to speak, with an acclaimed tourbillon movement, the Concepto C8000. “Starting out with a grand complication at the high end of the market forced us to go for absolute top quality from the outset,” says Valérien, with a hint of pride. But parallel to these initial accomplishments in the luxury watch sector, Valérien and his team were working to develop a “basic”, more industrial calibre capable of meeting the brands’ various needs for various kinds of movement, Swiss-made and representing fine watchmaking of high technical and aesthetic quality.
The result was the C2000 calibre and its multiple derivatives,: “my baby,” Valérien says proudly. The first C2000 calibres (self-winding, with hours, minutes and seconds hands), then the C2020, an integrated chronograph available in a monopusher version), were issued as early as 2008. Both calibres were designed to accommodate additional modules.
“At the start it’s true, they were base movements to which further modules could be added. But we gradually integrated the different functions more and more deeply. With the C2000 and its derivatives, Concepto Watch Factory offered something no other high-end watch supplier had offered to date: a genuine manufacture movement capable of responding to the needs of all kinds of dial indicators. Today, nine projects out of ten originate from our teams thanks to our R&D department of around ten people and a technical and engineering bureau which is divided into two sections, movements and casing-up. The idea is to offer great reactivity and flexibility.”
A few examples of the Concepto movement offering
- The first Calibre 2000, self-winding
- Calibre 01053, self-winding with a micro-rotor
- Calibre 03027, hand-wound
- Calibre 08050, self-winding, tourbillon
Vertical integration on an industrial scale
Every visit starts with this Technical Bureau, which is divided into two sections, movements and casing-up. This is the source, where the products are developed and engineered with the aid of 3D design tools, and also where the stamping tools needed to produce them are designed. As for casing-up, Concepto handles projects with extremely precise, unusual specifications, necessitating specific adjustment of the movement’s ultimate space requirement. The internal laboratory with its prototyping specialist watchmakers allows it to guarantee and validate without delay the solutions put forward by the designers.
The Technical Bureau is shouldered by the Methods Bureau which, after validation, creates the production routes and draws up the production documents.
After these areas where the “white overall” operators work, we come to the nitty gritty: materials. Here, brass, steel, gold, platinum and titanium in the form of bars, pellets or shot are washed, annealed, hardened, tempered, thinned to the nearest micron, sandblasted and polished.“The fact that we control the supply and treatment of the raw materials – whether technical or precious – means that we have material of irreproachable quality, ready for processing to the most specific requirements for a given component,” we are told.
When you get to the heart of the production process, you cannot help being struck by the degree of integration of all the operations, involving very diverse technologies, by which complete movements are made, and which include, remember, the famous and strategic regulating organs, including the balance spring.
In all, nearly 150 specialised machining units and tools contribute to ensuring Concepto’s extreme degree of independence. Not to mention the essential traditional precision mechanics workshop, thanks to which the manufacture is able to produce its own tooling, fixtures and forming tools, nor the stamping unit which manufactures entire stamping presses, a process that calls for specific, and therefore rare, know-how.
- Stamping presses
In the machine rooms are lined up five-axis CNC machining centres, CNC lathes, EDM cutting machines, a fleet of milling machines equipped with automatic loaders enabling them to work 24 hours a day, bar-turning machines for pins, tenons, screws and axes, not to mention rolling, cutting and milling…the list goes on. All supervised by the coordinating hand of a central CAPM programming bureau (CPAM being software for managing production activities from design right through to the scheduling of tasks and resources).
- View of the fleet of CNC milling machines
- EDM centre
But the manufacture would not be fully independent if it did not control the production of its own assortments, the beating heart of its in-house movements. On this point, Concepto can rightly boast that it is several lengths ahead of numerous competitors. With alloys developed in-house, highly specialised equipment and expertise garnered since 2012, the manufacture ensures the industrial-scale production of the entire regulating organ, the balance, balance spring, pallets and escapement wheel.
- Back in 2012, Europa Star announced the creation at Concepto of an “alternative source” of assortments.
The added value of decoration
As Valérien Jaquet likes to repeat, “the most complex finishes and the care we take in decoration are a crucial part of our offering. That’s what enables our customers to affirm their identity while respecting their own aesthetic signature”. Concepto is indeed a master of every decorative technique, whether traditional artisanal operations such as chamfering, black polishing, Geneva stripes, circular graining and rounding-off, or state-of-the-art technologies, such as laser-engraving.
- Circular graining, hand decoration
- Laser texturing
Adding to these diverse decorative techniques, Arts Design Manufacture SA encompasses all the crafts – engraving, lacquering, ceramics, micro-sculpting – that allow Concepto to realise the most complex and prestigious high-end horology projects from start to finish.
- Hand-engraving a case
The Horology Workshop
Within the manufacture, the Horology Workshop occupies a broad 500m² deck – where the movements are mounted, assembled and cased up – adjacent to a laboratory and a final control and inspection zone.
The particularity here is that the area devoted to assembling the high-volume products, sectorised by type of operation, rubs shoulders directly with the area reserved for high-end products, where accomplished watchmakers assemble their own watches from A to Z. “We opted for this proximity between movements produced in semi-industrial quantities and individually built, complicated calibres with the objective of achieving identical standards of quality. Know-how is shared quite naturally between the two worlds.”
- The beautiful Concepto 08600 calibre, hand-wound, tourbillon, minute repeater with three gongs. Numerous customisations possible (including a flying tourbillon). Particularity: the strike train is regulated by a pallet system, while an innovation in the distribution of forces supplies a constant speed. The result is regular chimes of identical intensity as long as the repeater strikes.