The world of watchmaking at Montblanc illustrated by two HD-videos

Montblanc manufacture Le Locle

After yesterdays posting Manuel sent me an email wondering that Montblanc is able to manufacture such watches. So I thought these two HD-videos might open his and your eyes…

First of all thank you Manuel for your email! Your email confirms what I personally often experience when I talk about and/or present the watchmaking competence of Montblanc. Manuel you are not alone to have doubts, it seems that people are just not aware! Many consider Montblanc still being the fountain pen specialist – what´s by the way absolutely true – but not a real watchmaker.

Things have changed; meanwhile wrist watches generate almost half of the turnover of Montblanc.

On the one hand side Montblanc manufactures a broad range of wristwatches with third party and in-house movements and on the other hand side Montblanc sells high-end wristwatches that are manufactured at the venerable Minerva manufacture. Minerva was bought by Richemont some years ago and now belongs to the world of Montblanc.

The Montblanc production facilities are located in Le Locle. Here watchmakers and skilled personnel assemble either timepieces equipped with ETA/Sellita-movements, that are combined with in-house developed and manufactured modules, or with the two in-house chronograph movements, Rieussec and LL-100. The chronographs are manufactured by the Richemont-own manufacture ValFleurier in Buttes in the Swiss Jura. ValFleurier is the proper movement manufacturer for Montblanc, Panerai and Piaget. But ValFleurier also does work for all the other Richemont brands if necessary and/or requested. By the way: many of the chronographs produced share the same platform and ValFleurier individualizes them for the brands.

If you wish you could say ValFleurier is for Richemont what ETA is for the Swatch Group. Of course ETA offers a much bigger variety of movements, but one has to know that ValFleurier is not as old and still growing. So we can expect in the future other movements to be developed there.

The logo of ValFleurier Manufacture Horlogère located in Buttes
The logo of ValFleurier Manufacture Horlogère located in Buttes

 

 

Back to Montblanc: In Le Locle all parts of a watch are assembled and the watches equipped with in-house are undertaken a tough 500-hour test in the Montblanc-own laboratory.

Montblanc manufacture Le Locle
Montblanc manufacture in Le Locle

 

Enjoy the video that gives you some insights in the production in Le Locle…

 

 

The world of Montblanc at Minerva in Villeret in the Swiss Jura is something totally different. You for sure know Minerva being one of the finest manufactures in Switzerland. Richemont was lucky to be able to buy the watchmaking pearl. It was decided that Montblanc should be the one to reap the fruit of Minerva´s work. The exclusive chronographs being produced 100 % by hand at Montblanc/Minerva belong to very, very best Swiss wristwatches. The Minerva manufacture produces its movements in a very traditional ways. Time stood still, the manufacture acts and looks like a movement producing watch museum. For real watch aficionados this is like paradise.

Montblanc-Minerva manufacture Villeret
Montblanc-Minerva manufacture in Villeret

 

Enjoy the video that gives you some insights in the production in Villeret…

 

 

Just in case you speak/read German, then I do recommend you to have a look at my huge Montblanc-reportage I posted last year in June in the today German section of the blog. At that time there was no English section. Just to let you know: It´s already planed to redo the entire reportage in English.

Please click  HERE  and  HERE to access my reportages…

 

If you are interested getting more information about the internal 500 hors test at Montblanc then I invite you to read this official Montblanc document:

Montblanc Le Locle Manufacture Watches – Thoroughly tested for 500 hours

The “500-Hour Test” for all manufacture watches from Montblanc Le Locle is an iron-clad guarantee for reliability, an accurate rate and longevity, i.e. the three principal criteria by which fine mechanical wristwatches are judged. Reliability is crucial so that one should always be able to rely on the proper functioning of one’s timepiece. Precision timekeeping is essential lest a faultily running wristwatch cause its owner to miss a connecting flight. And a long lifespan is important because exclusive watches are often purchased as investments with the character of collector’s items.

Upholding such high standards is anything but easy. Superlative mechanical wristwatches concatenate more than one hundred and sometimes several hundred individual components, many of which are microscopically tiny. Each of them decisively influences the watch’s reliability, timekeeping accuracy and longevity.

Furthermore, unlike automobiles, wristwatches don’t spend the greater part of each day parked motionlessly. Timepieces run tirelessly, night and day, seven days each week and 52 weeks per year. The balance of a four-hertz watch completes 28,800 semi-oscillations each hour, which is equivalent to 691,200 A/h per day or 252,288,000 A/h per year. Assuming that a mechanical watch undergoes routine servicing every three to five years, than one expects one’s watch – including such fragile parts as the hairspring, the balance’s bearings and the pallets – to blithely withstand approximately one billion semi-oscillations. If one were to make similar demands of an automobile, the vehicle would visit a workshop for routine servicing only once each century! Montblanc has accordingly devised a very thorough test to assure that its clientele will be offered nothing but timepieces endowed with the best possible quality.

The “500-Hour test” for All Montblanc manufacture watches from Le Locle

Starting with the first phase and throughout all other steps in the production process, the watchmakers at the Montblanc manufacture exercise the greatest meticulousness to uphold the outstanding quality of all individual parts and manufacturing methods, thus assuring that the finished products satisfy the highest standards of quality. But as is also valid elsewhere in life, here too the old adage holds true: “Trust is good, verification is better.”

To ensure the top quality of all manufacture watches, the quality-assurance team at Montblanc Montre S.A. in Le Locle developed a strict and comprehensive testing program which is integrated into the production sequence so that every watch is thoroughly examined before it’s allowed to leave the premises. This “500-Hour Test” simulates the first years of life which these watches will afterwards actually experience. By subjecting each manufacture watch to a three-week-long test, Montblanc does its best to guarantee that no repairs or other maintenance tasks will be necessary throughout the interval from the moment when the watch is purchased until its first routine servicing. Few manufactures subject their watches to similarly comprehensive testing.

The test checks the completed watch after its movement has been encased

Montblanc’s “500-Hour Test” is performed on all Montblanc manufacture watches, i.e. all watches encasing movements that have been produced by Montblanc. The COSC’s chronometer test scrutinizes only the movements prior to encasing, but Montblanc’s 500-hour ordeal examines the finished watches with encased movements. Montblanc decided to test the watches with their movements already encased because a watch’s individual functions and its rate behavior can be adversely affected by the mechanical forces that are exerted on the movement during the process of encasing the movement, inserting the dial and installing the hands.  Accordingly, each Montblanc manufacture watch is tested in exactly the same state as it will be in when it is ultimately purchased and used by its future owner.

The test consists of several stages, each of which is performed according to methods and monitored by devices that are recognized and approved throughout the watchmaking industry. Montblanc’s examination is unique because it combines individual testing methods and the extreme length of the 500-hour testing interval.

The “500-Hour Test” for all Montblanc manufacture watches is performed as follows:

Test No. 1 – Winding Performance (duration: four hours) Winding the movement and checking the final assembly of the watch

A so-called “Chappuis” machine, which is named after its manufacturer, is used to fully wind mainsprings of self-winding watches which are first inserted into the device and then kept there in constant rotation for four hours. The strong rotary motions, which are much less gentle than that a wristwatch would ordinarily experience on its wearer’s wrist, subject the watches to powerful but not damaging shaking. The vibrations dislodge any dust or other particles which may have found their way into the case. The shocks also further loosen any insufficiently tightened screws, which can then be readily detected and firmly screwed in.

Test No. 2 – Accuracy Test (duration: 80 hours) Continuous checking of the accuracy in all positions

This part of the test occurs inside so-called “FEMTO machines,” which rely on highly sensitive microphones (i.e. an acoustic method) to measure various parameters relevant to a timepiece’s accuracy, e.g. rate, amplitude, etc. The individual mechanical functions of the impulse-pallet, escape-wheel and pallets generate characteristic and unambiguously identifiable sounds; the temporal sequence of these sounds can be acoustically recorded with the utmost precision. Monitoring is undertaken in all positions: i.e. the watch is held vertically and its crown is alternately positioned toward the left, downward, toward the right, and finally upward, as well as with the watch held horizontally and its dial alternately positioned upward and downward.

The monitoring of the watch’s rate and the recording of any deviations in the rate continues for more than eighty hours. The acoustically detected parameters are then calculated and graphically depicted in the form of diagrams. In order to pass Montblanc’s “500-Hour Test,” a watch’s daily rate must never lose more than six or gain more than four seconds. This range corresponds to the tolerances permitted by the COSC for watches which earn the official chronometer certificate.

Test No. 3 – Cyclotest (duration: 336 hours) Checking the overall function of the movement

During the cyclotest, the watches are smoothly rotated according to a program developed by the Montblanc manufacture. This smooth rotary motion simulates the motions a wristwatch undergoes in real life.

The program simulates phases in which the watch is affixed to its wearer’s wrist, followed by phases when the watch has been taken off and left lying motionlessly.

The test consists of two cycles: the chronograph function is switched on during the first cycle and then switched off during the second phase. The power reserve is tested during each of the two cycles.

Test No. 4 – General Performance Test (duration: 80 hours) Checking the instantaneous rate and the functions in all positions

This test scrutinizes the watch’s overall performance, i.e. its power reserve, the switching of its date display, the accuracy of its rate, and any additional functions. For this purpose, the fully wound watch is placed in a drying oven. The watch remains motionless throughout the entire test, thus assuring the exact monitoring of the power reserve. In accord with a predefined program, the temperature inside the oven varies from +6° to +45° Celsius. This wide spectrum simulates the extreme temperature changes that a watch might experience in ordinary daily use. The test of the timepiece’s resistance to temperature changes exposes the watch to very extreme conditions, similar to those which it might encounter when its wearer travels to different countries and climatic zones. This ordeal is considerably more demanding than the tests administered by the COSC. In addition to the continuous accuracy check performed in test no. 3, a standard PC10 device examines the instantaneous rate at zero hours (i.e. the beginning of the test), 24 hours later, and after 48 hours have elapsed. A special “functiontest” scrutinizes the push-pieces by measuring the amount of force required, and the distance which must be traversed, in order to trigger them. The precision of the chronograph, which measures short intervals, is also measured. The watch is tested in all positions: i.e. the watch is held vertical and its crown is alternately positioned toward the left, down, toward the right and up, as well as with the watch held horizontal and its dial alternately positioned up and down.

Test No. 5 – Watertightness (duration: 2 hours)

To guarantee the case’s ability to resist penetration by water, this test begins with an air-resistance measurement. The next phase is a humidity check: the watch is first warmed on a hotplate heated to 45° Celsius and then droplets of cold water are allowed to fall onto its dial. If fogging appears on the lower surface of the sapphire crystal, the watch is not watertight.

In the final step, the watch is immersed in water to a depth of ten centimeters and the pressure is gradually increased to three bar during a fifteen-minute interval. This simulates immersion to a depth of 30 meters. This test is carried out in accord with the new water-resistance standard (NIHS 92-20, version 2010). The quality-assurance team does not release a Montblanc manufacture watch for delivery until after it has successfully passed every phase of the “500-Hour Test,” which guarantees that the timepiece will continue to function properly throughout the coming three to five years, i.e. until the time comes for it to receive its first routine servicing.

 

By the way… You can find pictures and several videos of this test in the old, German section of my blog. I just posted the two links just above these lines …

 

 

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5 Comments

  • Thank you so much for the 2 videos. They are wonderfully done and very informative. I learned much from them. Best wishes, Alexander!

    • These were for sure not the last interesting videos I will put online, so please stay tuned and do not, as radio stations always say, touch that dial 🙂

  • I don’t know about others, but I don’t know German at all, so please be kind enough to translate your report in English as soon s possible.

    • I will not translate this report, but I will produce a completely new one for the blog. Some things have changed meanwhile and so you even get an update…

      When I did the old one there was no English blog yet… We stopped the German blog, as you might know, since day by day people asked me to switch to English …

      • OK fine, no problem. As long as the Reports and the HD Movies are in English, I would be able to enjoy immensely.

        Thanks Alexander!

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