Watches: What makes them tick?

A handful of luxury houses offer workshops that provide a hands-on understanding of what makes a timepiece tick.

SEVERAL times a month, Objectif Horlogerie, a watchmaking workshop in Paris, teaches six adult students some of the mysteries of mechanical timepieces.

The students, dressed in white coats, sit behind high workbenches. With tiny tweezers and screwdrivers, they take a four-and-a-half-hour plunge into the microscopic depths of a watch movement.

“Our students are typically men between 25 and 60 years of age, from all walks of life,” said Samir Khemici, who founded Objectif Horlogerie in 2011. “Demand is highest during Christmas or Father’s Day.”

Four years ago, Khemici, a watch lover and sometimes collector, left a career in finance to explore the entrepreneurial opportunities available in the watch world, beyond selling or manufacturing.

“I have been passionate about watches for a long time and was devoting a lot of time to that passion,” Khemici said. “I took a chance by opening this business, but I had sensed the demand.”

Objectif Horlogerie is not a professional school for watchmakers, only a workshop for adults interested in understanding the basics.

Watchmakers at the Jaeger-LeCoultre Manufacture spend a lot of time on each timepiece, painstakingly perfecting details.
Watchmakers at the Jaeger-LeCoultre Manufacture spend a lot of time on each timepiece, painstakingly perfecting details.

“I wanted the school to be open to the public and not be associated with a watch brand,” Khemici said.

After a brief introduction to the history of time measurement, starting with ancient sundials, students test their skills under the guidance of a watchmaker in taking apart and re-assembling a mechanical movement.

The challenge is both simple and daunting. If properly re-assembled, the movement will start ticking again.

“We work on a Swiss ETA movement reference 6498, of the type used in certain models by IWC, Panerai or Zenith,” Khemici said.

The process of re-assembling requires precision, dexterity and just the right amount of pressure applied to the 60 minuscule parts that must be reinserted in the right place and the right order, for the balance wheel to start moving again.

“The point is to show our students how energy is transferred in the mechanism of a watch,” Khemici said. “Some of our students know little about watches, others don’t even wear one, but all are curious about how a mechanical watch functions.”

At the end of the class, the students are rewarded with a certificate of completion and the satisfaction that comes with having overcome a formidable challenge, for a fee of €290, or about US$315 (RM1,166).

“When you see the complexity of a movement, you understand why watch repairs are so costly,” he said.

Khemici has since opened workshops in five other French cities as well as in Brussels, Geneva and Luxembourg. Objectif Horlogerie is also adding a programme of visits within the industry. Last January, the company organised a two-day trip to Geneva during the SIHH trade show for 20 clients, including meetings with watchmakers at AHublot, lunch with the independent watchmaker Ludovic Ballouard and a visit to MB&F’s M.A.D. Gallery, and a tour of the Patek Philippe museum outside business hours.

He is not alone in having sensed an opportunity on the pedagogical side of watchmaking.

In recent years, a number of watchmaking workshops have been set up, though most are affiliated with a brand or offered as an added service to clients.

The best known is perhaps the Masterclass in Fine Watchmaking offered by the Swiss watch and clock company Jaeger-LeCoultre, to select clients under the eye of a watchmaker from Jaeger’s own manufacturing site in the Vallée de Joux in Switzerland. Students are invited to explore “the living heart” of a Jaeger caliber 986. Classes are also organised at the Jaeger boutique on the Place Vendôme in Paris, or in other boutiques on client request, and online.

From far left: Van Cleef & Arpels, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Cartier and Panerai timepieces. Photos: From brands

Cartier offers workshops to clients invited on visits to the brand’s watchmaking ateliers.

The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva also offers a monthly workshop, called “Change places with a watchmaker.” The three-and-a-half-hour course costs 350 Swiss francs, or about US$355 (RM1,314).

Van Cleef & Arpels has taken a further step to capitalise on curiosity about watch and jewellery manufacturing. In 2012, L’École Van Cleef & Arpels, on the Place Vendôme, started offering courses to the public on the history of time, and workshops around mechanical movements and jewellery setting.

“The programme was born out of a desire to educate the public and provide a greater understanding of the art of watch and jewellery making and the savoir-faire involved in these crafts,” said Marie Vallanet-Delhom, president of the school.

The four-hour courses are offered in French and English, one day a month, at a cost of €300 (RM1,177) for the history of watchmaking, and €600 (RM2,354) for the mechanical movement.

The programme was so well received that a year later the company decided to take its courses on the road, travelling to Tokyo in 2013 and to Hong Kong last summer.

Next June, the school will set up its first workshop at the Cooper Hewitt museum in New York, where for three weeks it will offer half-day mechanical watch workshops for adults along with a “Create your Clock” workshop for children.

“We want to be present wherever interested students are located,” Vallanet-Delhom said. “There is a palpable fascination everywhere for the mechanical watch.”— INYT

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Lifestyle , watch , luxury , workshop


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