Plan-Les-Watches: The Watchmaking Prowess Behind Patek Philippe


Patek Philippe
The lobby of the PP6 constructing, with refined visible cues to the watchmaking actions inside

If something in regards to the sensible facet of constructing watches, that manufacturing is a delicate subject. You may, for instance, see information about some huge new construction that watchmaker A is constructing, and naturally surprise what number of extra watches can be made beneath that roof. Now, if just a little extra about watchmaking, it is not going to shock you to study that extra watches usually are not on the playing cards – no less than not instantly, however definitely by no means to the extent that manufacturing will instantly double.

Whereas visiting the brand new Patek Philippe facility in Geneva’s Plan-les-Ouates neighbourhood (affectionately referred to as Plan-les-Watches or Plan-les-Watch), we’re proven a staggering variety of CNC (laptop numerical management) machines. It was actually a show-stopping second for the press tour, organised for Southeast Asia media, particularly for these of us who understood that CNC machines can run 24/7. For a second, this author thought of simply what number of brass motion blanks could possibly be produced on the new PP6 facility with the multi-axis CNC machines. That silly second handed shortly although as a result of Patek Phlippe helpfully knowledgeable us that gears, pinions and arbours (additionally produced right here, with completely different CNC machines in a course of referred to as bar-turning, the place the uncooked materials bars flip however the instruments are mounted) wanted to be completed by hand. Something with enamel, actually. To be blunt right here, this actually signifies that each spoke of each wheel will get some particular person consideration, nonetheless miniscule it may be.

Pulling again just a little from this particular close-up, the truth of watch manufactures is commonly shocking as a result of these websites are sometimes large – the brand new facility we visited stands 34m excessive, with 10 storeys (4 are underground, which Patek Philippe actually describes as subterranean, in good outdated secret lair type) for a complete of 133,650sqm. Clearly, the location is very large but Patek Philippe’s manufacturing quantity of 70,000 watches (that’s the top-end estimate; Patek Philippe doesn’t disclose particular manufacturing numbers). What’s required right here is an establishing scene, so allow us to take you again to 2019, within the Earlier than-Instances – allow us to return even additional than this, for a little bit of context.

Patek Philippe
One in every of many motion clean or platine producing machines

In The Starting…

Patek Philippe has been on mission to increase and improve its capabilities for the reason that agency got here to life in 1839, and definitely for the reason that Stern household took over within the Thirties. In all this time, wealth has turn out to be extra democratised, and timepieces discovered themselves on the wrists of extra folks than ever earlier than. Bear this in thoughts whenever you go to the Patek Philippe Salons in Geneva – one among three owned and operated by the model itself – as a result of this house used to accommodate the watchmakers. When the arrival of quartz know-how put paid to many a storied identify, and even despatched the watchmaking commerce into decline, these corporations that soldiered on – Patek Philippe amongst them – discovered that they needed to take steps to guard the whole trade. As a matter of truth, the Patek Philippe Museum occupies an area previously utilized by one among its suppliers, now turned in-house division – the famed bracelet-maker Ateliers Reunis. Whereas each Salons and Museum are spectacular, they can’t examine with the newest addition to Patek Philippe’s manufacturing amenities.

By the point Thierry Stern succeeded as President of Patek Philippe, he was constructing on the work of his predecessor, his father Philippe. The elder Stern had introduced the constructing of a producing website at Plan-les-Ouates in 1996, and that was prepared by the point the youthful Stern took over in 2009. To make an extended story considerably shorter, Patek Philippe determined that much more workspace was wanted, however had to slot in the prevailing footprint of website; the prevailing amenities had been modern however merely not retaining tempo with future wants. The answer unfolded in a number of phases, and work on the constructing referred to as PP6 (the topic of this story) started in earnest in 2015. Clearly, Thierry Stern needed one thing huge, and PP6 suits the invoice. Whereas this itself is a superb story, we’re extra all for what may enlighten collectors and people nonetheless ready for his or her shot at a Patek Philippe watch.

Patek Philippe
Sq. plate with platine rising from the aforementioned CNC machine; bevelling a stability bridge

Returning to the CNC machines and the shaping of elements with enamel, that is really the place one can study one thing fascinating and probably particular to Patek Philippe. Not singularly distinctive as a result of the manufacture is the best and greatest or no matter however only a rational methodology of working that the Geneva model has adopted. The gist of it’s this: the bottom plates made right here usually are not meant for sophisticated actions, however the elements with enamel are shared between all kinds of calibres. Completely different machines produce plates and bridges for sophisticated watches. Why ought to this be so? The reason given, and what we all know ourselves, is that difficult actions elements, together with plates and bridges, are thicker than regular. These are filed right down to the suitable dimensions (nonetheless thicker than normal actions) as a result of the expert arms of a craftsperson can deal with extra advanced and delicate actions than even CNC machines can.

Labored By Hand

The tourbillon bridge is a superb and generally used instance, as a result of the tough half is labored over by hand fairly intensely. Further materials additionally helps ameliorate minor errors, that are inevitable. Gears and pinions, then again, might be made to 1 normal specification. Not that any model discusses issues like errors however they do occur as a result of if you happen to take off an excessive amount of whereas bevelling, for instance, there isn’t any going again; this author is aware of that from expertise, on condition that tolerances listed below are past what the bare eye can apprehend. Suffice to say right here that those that are searching for the reason why Patek Philippe may be production-limited – even with automated processes within the combine – can discover one essential level within the hobbing course of, and what follows after. Hobbing is the technical time period for the manufacturing of enamel on elements.

Patek Philippe
Round graining being utilized to the bottom plate of the Grand Grasp Chime calibre.

Sadly, space-constraints restrict us as a lot as they do a watchmaker corresponding to Patek Philippe, so we should transfer on for just a little bit to bracelets and metiers d’artwork. We might have cherished to let you know extra about motion meeting however that was not on the playing cards on this event, and this operation really takes place in one other constructing right here on the Plan-les-Ouates manufacture. On that observe, we might be remiss to not point out the Superior Analysis division at Patek Philippe, which is on the third flooring of PP6. Sadly, this was not a part of the tour this time, though we maintain out some hope that it is going to be in future. Having a cause to return to the Patek Philippe manufacture isn’t any cause to complain.

And so, on to bracelets we go, and this one can be well-liked with the broader watch fanatic world. In fact, the bracelets we noticed in manufacturing had been for the. Nautilus, which may be tied for many unique and most well-known watch bracelet on this planet – the GOATs of bracelets, one may say. It’s all the time wonderful to see bracelets taking form, hyperlink by hyperlink, though it have to be mentioned that the uncooked materials right here arrives within the type of a bar that’s within the tough dimensions required (full with a groove within the center). Famously, there are 55 steps concerned in making the Nautilus bracelet, and Patek Philippe did put aside fairly a little bit of time to get into this. Now, you may surprise why all of the fuss over bracelets however of all of the manufactures we visited this 12 months, Patek Philippe is alone in exhibiting the world the way it makes its bracelets in its personal manufacture. Certainly, most watch manufacturers outsource the manufacturing of bracelets to a specialist, however Patek Philippe acquired its personal provider a few years in the past (as famous briefly above).

Case Research

Patek Philippe

To proceed with the making of bracelets, the formed bars are despatched into the bar-fed machining centre to type particular person hyperlinks. This can be a milling course of, to maintain issues succinct, and includes many quality-control steps in addition to hand-correction, however these usually are not a part of the 55 steps. As , there are two most important elements to the bracelet hyperlinks – the H-shaped bit and the centre hyperlink – and these are individually labored earlier than being assembled (with pins). Even after being assembled, there may be nonetheless buffing and chamfering to be finished, and the centre hyperlinks are literally polished additional to attain the signature mirror sprucing. That is finished by defending the H-links with perforated masking tape and sprucing the size of the assembled bracelet.

Transferring on to case-making, now we have nearly sufficient house to get into one other well-known Patek Philippe signature, the hobnail case- center ornament (which additionally seems on bezels generally). This can be a Clous de Paris guilloche method finished with a hand operated comb and aircraft lathe. You’ll have to think about the method required to take care of the correct amount of stress right here (the half strikes whereas the lathe stays nonetheless). On the making of the instances themselves, that is fairly straight-forward, with bar-turning (simply as motion elements are made), milling, stamping and sprucing within the combine. We observe for the file that Patek Philippe can be amongst the few watchmaking corporations that produce their very own instances, and have invested closely to convey this know-how in-house.

Patek Philippe

Lastly, we are going to spare the final phrase for Uncommon Handcrafts, although it means we should depart issues prematurely right here and have only a phrase or two left for gem-setting in captions. Our tour included an indication of champleve enamelling, which is just one of 12 methods that each one enamellers at Patek Philippe are proficient with. The champleve method includes portray contained in the traces, that are mainly cavities carved right into a dial, and this method is especially suited to letting fanatics have a go, as you possibly can see right here.

An indication of all methods would both be cursory or take days (if you happen to visited the Grand Exhibition [in Tokyo or in Singapore in 2019], this a part of the tour is a bit like that phase), and one should keep in mind that Patek Philippe additionally has different artisans engaged on dials at specialist dialmaker Cadrans Fluckiger in St. Imier. It additionally engages exterior specialists corresponding to Anita Porchet, whom a few of you should have met or seen in motion in Singapore, whereas additionally permitting different artisans to work at home on their very own machines.

On that observe, the Patek Philippe manufacture is a type of dwelling for watches, the place they’re lovingly ready to be despatched out into the world. Spare a thought for this the subsequent time you have a look at your personal Patek Philippe as a result of somebody at dwelling in Geneva is making an attempt to think about you discovering immense pleasure in mentioned watch. If a Patek Philippe continues to be in your horizon, we hope this story performs its half in convincing you that it’s price inching in the direction of that imaginary line.

This text first appeared on WOW’s Legacy 2024 problem

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