Debate! An In-house Movement is Essential for a 21st-Century Watchmaking HouseBy Revolution
Prenzel: The motion is one that I wholeheartedly support. I will put forward my argument in three points: in-house movements ensure a company’s independence in the watchmaking industry; they demonstrate a watchmaking company’s technical skills; and they enable companies to control the quality of the timepieces they produce.
Wiederrecht: The term “in-house” is not an easy one to fully understand. Of course, the idea of seeing a project through from sketch to a finished working watch seems appealing, but is being fully in-house really beneficial, and if so, at what cost in terms of infrastructure, reaction time, production capacity and, of course, price?
Prenzel: In-house movements ensure a company’s independence. When the Swiss franc and Euro were uncoupled in 2015, many watchmaking companies that sourced parts or entire watch movements from Switzerland were negatively impacted. However, Nomos Glashütte remained relatively unaffected because we produce our own movements and almost all the parts for them without depending on third-party suppliers. The importance of self-reliance for the health and future growth of a watchmaking company was also underscored when in 2012, Nivarox started to reduce deliveries of essential watchmaking parts to companies outside the Swatch Group.
Wiederrecht: One problem today is that the term “in-house movement” is trendy and rather over-used. In fact, it seems to be as unclear and woolly as the phrase “manufacture”. I think it is important to question whether it is simply a marketing gimmick to justify the unaffordable prices of watches. According to Berner’s – the watchmaker’s Bible – the term “manufacture” can be used to describe “a large industrial factory [where watches] are manufactured almost completely”. For me, “in-house” and “verticalization” are new ways of saying the same thing. Therefore, “in-house” cannot be considered as a label of quality in itself, but as the ability to master the complete process of fabrication in what are necessarily large and complex structures. Since “in-house” needs large manufactures, surely we should be asking whether manufactures help solve the main problem facing horology today, which is arguably mass overproduction.
Prenzel: The development and production of our own calibres demonstrates that Nomos Glashütte is capable of the finest mechanical watchmaking and outstanding engineering. Having our own in-house R&D department has allowed us to develop ten in-house movements over the years. Our DUW 3001, is not only an incredibly slender automatic, it also features our proprietary escapement, the Nomos Swing System. Technical innovation requires major investments and years of research and development to achieve, and customers appreciate mechanical timepieces that are genuinely innovative, from a brand with proven expertise.
Wiederrecht: What makes Swiss-made watches so renowned that people are willing to pay anything up to the price of a car to buy a Swiss watch? One reason is that they fulfill criteria like rarity (or at least small productions), perfect execution by qualified watchmakers, technical inventiveness, great artistic value and last, but not least, respect for tradition and patrimony, meaning that they can be serviced and repaired for generations to come. This is all possible thanks to the passionate watchmakers that reside in the small towns and villages of the Swiss watch valleys – their respect for, and deep knowledge of, mechanical watches – and to the incredible density of subcontractors able to produce the numerous very specific, complex and hyper-precise micromechanical components. All of these small and specialised factories are in competition with each other, which leads to a great rivalry resulting in the desire to push boundaries and achieve extraordinary innovation.
Prenzel: Using mechanical movements that are developed, designed, and produced in-house means that a watchmaking company can control the quality of its timepieces from start to finish. This has been one of Nomos Glashütte’s top priorities from the very beginning. Customers demand outstanding quality, especially when it comes to investment purchases such as mechanical timepieces. How better for a watchmaking company to ensure this than with in-house quality assurance down to every individual piece of the movement?
Wiederrecht: Over decades, the Swiss watch industry has worked in harmony thanks to a fabulous and coherent industrial network involving hundreds of interconnected, independent factories – each one of them capable of producing sophisticated parts at short notice for good prices. It saddens me greatly that this desire for verticalization is seriously weakening Switzerland’s network of independent subcontractors and, in so doing, reducing the chances of a dynamic renewal of the watch industry. My own business, Agenhor, is a good illustration of what I would call a traditional “non in-house” producer of movements. The company is a subcontractor specialised in the development and production of new complicated modules and movements. Respecting the functional wishes and designs of the brands, Agenhor has to imagine the movement, develop it, draw the technical plans, order the parts, control and assemble them in order to deliver functional movements. Respecting the highest standards of craftsmanship, the movements pass strict homologation tests.
Prenzel: To conclude, I believe that an in-house movement has become essential for any watchmaking company worth its salt in the 21st century. Ensuring independence, demonstrating technical skills, and underpinning quality, these are the prerequisites that Nomos Glashütte considers essential to create the finest timepieces.
Wiederrecht: Despite its small size, Agenhor is capable of developing and producing a completely new movement every year, as well as some more simple modules. Such achievements are made possible by the use of the know-how and development skills that Agenhor masters better than anyone else. All the other technical achievements are entrusted to a large range of very competent subcontractors. In conclusion, I am convinced that clients of high-end watches want and deserve watches made by qualified watchmakers, in quantities and with finishing related to their abilities and at a correct price. I think that completely “in-house” movements are more suitable to large industrial series watches, while traditional production methods are the best solution for exclusive and high-end watches. In my opinion, automated assembly is something that should be reserved for mass production.