Friday, 18 July 2014

Timeless lessons from Basel World

Perfect timing: When one delves into the behind-the-scenes of watch-making, he or she will better appreciate the craftsmanship and precision involved.

Perfect timing: When one delves into the behind-the-scenes of watch-making, he or she will better appreciate the craftsmanship and precision involved.

A sleepy village in Switzerland provided a crash course on watch-making.

When I first heard I was going to Switzerland to attend Basel World, I thought I was going to some sort of organic herb fair. You might say I was a little ignorant of the world of watches.

Basel World is the premier event in the watch world. Every year, top watchmakers – Tag Heuer, Citizen, Tissot, even high-end fashion brands like Bulgari, and independents like Speake Marin and Bell & Ross – all flock to Basel, Switzerland, to set the tone of the watch-making industry.

Of course, I knew none of this though I did know of Switzerland’s watch-making reputation. But why is this country so renown for making timepieces?

Before heading to Basel World, I headed to La Chaud de Fonds to give my uneducated self a crash course on watch-making, Swiss style.

La Chaud de Fonds is a town populated by 30,000. Surrounded by mountains, this sleepy village is a heavyweight in the watch world. This hamlet started as a farming village.

During the winter months, the farmers – looking for something to do while they couldn’t actually farm – decided they would try their hand at making timepieces. Talk about industrious farmers.

Over time, La Chaud de Fonds became known for its timepieces. Eventually, even the layout of the town reflected this passion for making watches. Buildings are facing the sun and spaced such that the workshops receive sunlight all day long, which is necessary for putting together the small parts of delicate watches.

Given La Chaud de Fonds is so well-known for timepieces, it has a watch museum where you can take a look at how watches have changed over the years. There are also opportunities to tbuild your very own timepiece, and this is what I headed out to do next.

The first thing I noticed about making watches is that you need a steady hand, and mine were decidedly shaky.

Maybe I was drinking too much coffee.

My task was simple, to put the face of a watch on a completed gear set, put the hands on the face, close it all up, sit back and admire my work.

Easier said than done.

Placing the hands has to be done so precisely that even putting them at a slight angle means you need to reset and go again. Leaning over the watch, trying to keep my hand from shaking, and sweating bullets, I felt like I was trying to disarm a bomb.

After multiple tries and countless resets, I finally got the hands on the watch and closed it all off. I was finished.

I had completed the final touches on making a watch in about 30 minutes. The pros breezed through this process in five minutes. I probably wasn’t going to get into watch-making anytime soon.

La Chaud de Fonds punctuated just how difficult watch-making by hand is, and why it really is an art.

These aren’t digital watches. These are timepieces that are being made with incredible precision, using knowledge gained and perfected more than a century ago.

It boggles the mind.

Digital watches are here to stay, but the art of watch-making is still apparent in handcrafted pieces like the ones made in La Chaud de Fonds.

To buy a watch of this calibre is to appreciate the engineering and craftsmanship, and to honour the tradition of handcrafted timepieces.

It made me realise that those were the qualities sought by people when they buy a luxury watch. These pieces are art.

I had not understood the engineering and tradition involved in making these pieces. After visiting La Chaud de Fonds, it was impossible not to have this appreciation for modern timepieces.

Armed with this knowledge, I was more than looking forward to Basel World.

> Catch Jason in It’s About Time: Basel World on Life Inspired (Astro B.yond Ch 728). The first and second episodes will be shown at 9.30pm on July 20 and 27 respectively.

Tags / Keywords: Basel , Watch


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