Going Deep into the Essentials of Watchmaking
If you follow our articles, product news or social media you might have noticed that we put quite some emphasis on our production partner, Manufacture Schwarz Etienne. There are two main reasons for this: firstly, we rely on their watchmaking expertise and infrastructure to translate Ming Thein's design ideas into real world watches, and secondly, Schwarz Etienne is a fully integrated manufacture with capabilities that exceed most others. Since, at MING, we strongly believe that our collaboration works best if we treat each other as true partners, it follows automatically that we acknowledge their excellence.
Manufacture Schwarz Etienne, located in a rather utilitarian building in La Chaux-de-Fonds, was founded in 1902 by Paul Henri Schwarz and Olga Etienne. The family business started as a producer of movements and a contract manufacturer for renowned brands, before deciding to offer watches bearing their own name. A push, in terms of Schwarz Etienne’s capabilities, came when a local entrepreneur, Raffaello Radicchi, took over the company and eventually designated Mauro Egermini as CEO of Radicchi Horlogerie group.
‘Group’ here has an important implication as Schwarz Etienne has a number of sister companies: the first is E2O Innovations, experts in production of the escapement and the oscillating organ (including the hairspring). There are a few specialist firms belonging to DracoGroup Holding, such as BC Technologies, which is responsible for developing CNC, wire eroding or laser machines for medical, aerospace and watchmaking industries, or 3dPCI, a 3D printing company. While we cannot disclose their clients, rest assured, it includes some easily recognizable Genevan watchmaking names ;-). In addition to these i-house capabilities, the manufacture draws upon a group of long-term ‘friends’ who provide specialist services, such as artisan painters, case makers, laboratories and so on. Together, they form a horological micro-cluster with eminent expertise.
Thanks to our partnership with Schwarz Etienne, we at MING have access to a unique range of important competences which opens up interesting opportunities. This is not restrained to a manufacture movement or its components but starts much earlier and extends further beyond. This post shall shed some additional light into the rationale behind our decision to partner with Schwarz Etienne.
(in-house)^3: An adaptable in-house movement assembled from in-house parts created on in-house machines
So a movement made by Schwarz Etienne is the product of an in-house capacity which goes much deeper than normally found elsewhere (’in-house’, of course, refers to Schwarz Etienne, not MING).
By being able to control the design of the machines which will later be used to produce and modify watch parts, Schwarz Etienne is in a unique capacity to customize the entire production chain towards their desired watchmaking endpoint and combine this with a far-reaching independence. The company is fully equipped to produce the movement mainplates, bridges, cocks and levers - all on machines made to measure within the group, and installed just a floor below the watchmaking atelier.
The escapement is a critical component which is needed in every mechanical movement and yet there are only a few specialists able to produce them - one being, you guessed it, Schwarz Etienne! Also machines used to roll, de-stress, cut and precision coil mainsprings, for example, are made by the group. This allows for precise control and also for technical advantages (some of which are currently being implemented and will be revealed in due course).
The depth of technical capabilities at Schwarz Etienne is complemented by a very forward looking approach to movement design, with a base construction so flexible in terms of layout, adaptability and power delivery, that one single construction can be converted into many variations. The base movement MSE 100.00 is a case in point: as a manual winding movement with two barrels it provides about 100h of power reserve and is used in an exclusive-for-MING execution in our 19.01. The barrels are arranged in parallel configuration, thereby offering not just a constant high torque over its entire power reserve, but also the opportunity to take out one barrel and replace it with a micro rotor - thus creating an automatic version with about 70h of autonomy. The dial side of the movement has built in modularity as well, with the option for a power reserve display or, in the case of the 19.02, a world time mechanism. Schwarz Etienne themselves go further and modify the movement for flying tourbillons and similar complications - all on the same MSE 100.00 platform.
Another area which the company has a unique position is that of advanced laser technology to mill, cut and/or decorate small parts by means of a precision laser. Having such technology available is not only helpful to quickly produce smaller quantities of precision parts, but also to apply various decorations. One key advantage of a laser is that it is largely independent of the material to be worked on.
3D printing is also immensely useful for quick visualization and functional testing. For us, having a watch design printed and test-driven on the wrist has become an integral step to see if a design really ‘works’ in the metal (or 3D printed plastic).
Going the extra mile
There is more to this partnership than just technical capabilities, and this is of tremendous importance to us at MING: it is the mindset of the people at Schwarz Etienne. As I noted at the very beginning, we consider them not as suppliers, but as partners. As partners we have a relationship which is more than just about fulfilling orders. It is a 360 degree relationship, with mutual learning, as well as sharing of risk and success. And this essentially boils down to the human factor a.k.a the people: from the CEO to the project managers, watchmaking engineers and the watchmakers themselves, we not only feel welcome but a sense of mutual respect, freedom to voice constructive criticism, a deep passion for the watches we (want to) make, and a human bond which is ever so important in a volatile and many times difficult to predict industry.
In the following installment we will see the birth of a MING 19-series watch.
- Dr. B.