Watch suppliers

LTM: good things come in small packages

October 2023

LTM: good things come in small packages

From its base in Fleurier in Val-de-Travers – a region whose reputation for excellence could soon rival that of Vallée de Joux – Le Temps Manufactures addresses an underserved segment. Rather than manufacture workhorse movements, the company specialises in small mechanical calibres for ladies’ watches and movements whose dimensions align with classic masculine elegance.


trictly off the record. The names of the thirty-some brands that source movements from LTM (Le Temps Manufactures) – from niche independents to major group-owned names – won’t be repeated outside the four walls of Christophe Lüthi’s office. He is CEO of the manufacture based in Fleurier and Couvet, both part of the Swiss municipality of Val-de-Travers.

LTM was founded by current chairman Sylvain Jacques – then a “frontalier” as the Swiss call the thousands of French who commute across the border for work, many in the watch industry. He founded the business in 2008 as a component manufacturer then gradually expanded, taking over a design office in 2013 , and then Centagora, a machining centre manufacturer and specialist in industrial robotics.

In the space of 15 years, the company became the LTM group which, in addition to the parent company (122 staff) and Centagora (11 staff), comprises Décotech (35 staff), a movement decoration company in La Chaux-de-Fonds, and Relhdis SA (3 staff), a specialist in electroplating and surface treatments. The end result is a “90 per cent integrated” manufacture that employs some 170 people.

Christophe Lüthi describes the group’s three business areas as component manufacturing (including decoration and mounting), the design, development and production of LTM movements, and private label services for high-end brands, from the movement to the complete watch.

“Industrial processes, artisanal expertise”

The company is built on this alliance of traditional craftsmanship, with its focus on quality workmanship and specialist skills, with state-of-the-art industrial processes (mainly through Centagora) and products that serve the top end of the watch market.

Founder Sylvain Jacques describes the company as “driven by independence, which means we are free to choose where we invest. We function along similar lines to a foundation, constantly reinvesting in the market’s most advanced tools. Because a movement leaves no room for error.”

By way of example, Christophe Lüthi cites the LTM 1000, a manual-winding baguette movement that is “difficult to produce, assemble and adjust” and which “demonstrates the production resources at our disposal and the level of expertise within our company.” This delightful calibre has a casing dimension of 21 x 9mm, measures 3.5mm high and provides 38 hours of power reserve. Even in such small confines, its 84 components, showing hours and minutes, form an elegant architecture.

Left to right, top to bottom: LTM 5050 skeleton version; LTM 1000, mechanical, manual-winding; LTM 5150, automatic; LTM 2000, mechanical, manual-winding; LTM 5050, mechanical, manual-winding.
Left to right, top to bottom: LTM 5050 skeleton version; LTM 1000, mechanical, manual-winding; LTM 5150, automatic; LTM 2000, mechanical, manual-winding; LTM 5050, mechanical, manual-winding.

It’s also something of a rarity. Only a few hundred can be made each year, hence its relatively high price: “somewhere between CHF 2,000 and CHF 3,000” is all we are told.

On a more traditional note, LTM also offers a broad palette of round movements, and plans to extend its range further. Produced with care and proficiency, they position the company in a category of superior price and quality, comparable to Vaucher Manufacture (the two are neighbours in Fleurier; in fact LTM occupies Vaucher’s former premises.) An underserved segment

“Our priority is small dimension movements, an underserved segment for multiple reasons: lower volumes, complex assembly that requires highly qualified staff, difficulties obtaining supplies of certain very specific parts and the inherent fragility of tiny components,” declared Christophe Lüthi in a keynote given to the Société Suisse de Chronométrie (SSC) in 2022. These challenges are also a driver of excellence.

LTM has recently introduced a larger 13 1/4’’’ base movement, suited to the dimensions and proportions of a classically elegant men’s watch (including models with a narrow bezel). It is designed from the outset to accommodate numerous complications, such as GMT, week number or a large date. Offered as additional modules that are already in the final testing stages, they are a prelude to a large family of complications that is “already well under way. The idea being to propose a full package to our prestigious private-label partners.”

“Never forget the emotional element”

With engineering and management studies under his belt, Christophe Lüthi’s background is a perfect match for LTM’s mindset and its ambitions. Having started out at Schaublin, one of the best-known manufacturers of machine tools, he then spent eight years “in academic circles” as a lecturer at HES (Hautes Écoles Spécialisées). The move to watches came in 2006 when he joined Vaucher Manufacture, leaving in 2008 to participate in the creation of Centagora before joining LTM in 2014.

For a man whose background is primarily technical, industrial and academic, he demonstrates genuine enthusiasm for the less quantifiable aspects of watches; the emotions they inspire. “When you work on a project, it’s important that you identify with it, that you feel the care that goes into it. You must never forget the emotional element. There must be something in that product that makes your heart sing. Motivation is important too, for the whole team. We’re all putting our pride into that product.”

Strengths and competencies

Who are those teams? LTM has strengths across the board, from the blank page (and screen) to the most meticulous finishing techniques, and every stage of production in between.

The Research & Development division employs four movement constructors, two designers and two project managers whose skillset extends from sourcing ideas to feasibility studies, as well as 3D design, drafting plans, risk analysis, even filing patents and making presentation films.

The laboratory is tasked with analysing, fine-tuning and testing prestigious pieces. In addition to the latest testing equipment, it also benefits from machines developed by Centagora, LTM’s subsidiary, to measure friction, torque and ageing.

Thanks to its seven digitally controlled turning centres and a CNC lathe, LTM can machine virtually every material used for watchmaking and carry out every stage in production: bar-turning, cutting, burnishing, quenching, polishing and assembly. Only jewels and regulating organs are outsourced, from Precision Engineering (Moser) and Atokalpa (Vaucher).

The Ébauches division boasts 41 5-, 6- and 7-axis robotic strip machining centres, five electrical discharge machines, three flat lapping machines and a 60-tonne press. Such a range of equipment facilitates “a high level of flexibility and rapid execution.”

The only “problem”…

For third-party clients, LTM has developed a wide range of competencies, from fitting jewels to precision micro-assembly to finishing. A long list of skills – pre-assembly, mounting, jewelling, diamond-polishing, perlage, snailing, Côtes de Genève, circular graining, straight-graining, hand-chamfering, satin-brushing and varnishing – qualifies LTM to seek long-term partnerships with the most prestigious brands.

Christophe Lüthi admits to having “a problem a lot of people would like to have” – order books are full until 2024. Wherever you look, production times are getting longer: bar-turning can take up to 10 months, and jewelling as much as 8 months. And these are just two examples of bottlenecks that are affecting the entire branch. It’s a “problem” that isn’t without cause. LTM has a production target of 10,000 movements a year with an average batch of 100 units. Price on application.

If you’d like to learn more about LTM, we devoted an entire article to their work on the ingenious Dual Time Differential Calibre LTM 5021 for Pecqueur Motorists. The Atelier d’Etablissage Pecqueur Motorists has been integrated into the LTM manufacture.

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