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Watches that can cost as much as a house

Watches that can cost as much as a house


Les Eplatures in La-Chaux-de-Fonds,
a workshop like no other. 100 employees whose job it is
to produce very high-end models. This chiming watch costs more than
CHF1 million. One of the two founders –
Stephen Forsey, a Brit who chose to move
to the mountains of canton Neuchâtel. A watchmaker but also an inventor
of complex watches like this one which chimes like a clock
on the hour. We refuse to accept that everything has already been
invented in watchmaking. Watches that chime have
existed since the 18th century. But they were not waterproof. To get the sound out, you
normally need air around it. Mr Greubel and I agreed
that for the 21st century, it would be good to
have a modern chiming watch. For this model, it took
11 years of research. A mechanical workshop
focused on precision. We work with precious metals:
gold, titanium, platinum. But the work is even more
precious. Here, efficiency is
not the priority. Machines like the pointer you see behind me, made 50 years ago
in Geneva, help to guarantee
precision. They can work in microns. They are as efficient
as numerical control machines. But to make unique
pieces you need the expertise of the micromechanics
rather than mastery of computers. After the machine work
comes the finishing. 20 specialists go to work
without machines. The edges are carefully finished by hand. This is the steep bridge of the
Tourbillon. The Steel Tourbillon. It’s called
“hand-made intelligence”. It’s the work of the human, based on the brain controlling
the hand movements to create sharp
edges, inside or out. These are things that can no
longer be done by machine. The machine is no longer
enough. This job doesn’t
really exist any more. There’s hardly any training
for it. We try to recruit
people with the patience, concentration and dexterity
to decorate watches by hand. They’re not easy to find and
need several years of training. There’s a secret weapon,
the gentian stalk. You can sharpen it each time
to create a new surface. It is a superb material for
the final polish, the brilliance – the practically invisible effect
that we seek, a total reflection. The Tourbillon bridges
contain 2 g of steel, one of the 935 pieces
in this model. It takes 10 to 12 hours of work. It’s the last stage, at what
was once a farm. Watchmakers assemble it, then
dismantle the piece and reassemble it. It takes 3 to 4 months
to make the chiming watch. It costs over CHF1 million
for a watch, the price of 15,000
Swatch watches or a house. Is it crazy? Yes and no. It’s men and women,
expertise, savoir faire; the result of a huge
concentration of skills. The challenge is to find 100 collectors
a year who are rich and passionate enough
to buy these watches.

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