A Visit to the Chopard Manufacture
by Edward Hahn
The Chopard Manufacture occupies a building on the
Rue des Moulins in Fleurier, originally built in 1903 and expanded several
times, and tenanted in the past by Fabrique d'Ebauches de Fleurier (FEF),
one of the many companies that in the past supplied movement blanks to the
Swiss watch industry under the auspices of Ebauches SA (now ETA). The
interior, however, has been completely renovated, and has state of the art
ventilation and lighting.
Raw Materials Machining: Raw Materials Become Movement Parts
Checking the Accuracy of Machining (EH Photo)
Steel Parts Cut From Sheet Metal
We began our tour on the ground floor, where
movements come into being in one wing and watches are prepared for
shipping in the other. In a room filled with highly automated CNC milling
and electric discharge machines, raw materials are turned into roughed-out
watch cases and movement plates. The air is filled with the scent of
machining oil used to lubricate and cool the cutting heads of the milling
machines. The temperature is warm from the output of the large machines.
In the other wing of the building, the opposite
environment prevails: it is cool and clean in the quality control and
final casing areas of the manufacture. The Fleurier Manufacture
concentrates on the creation of the in-house movements, as well as the
steel watches in the L.U.C, Mille Miglia, and Happy Sport lines.
Production at Fleurier includes 3,000 movements (all COSC certified) and
25,000 wristwatches per year.
Quality Control. Note the room in the background
on the right beyond the glass - this is the pressurized final assembly
Quality control ensures that every watch conforms to
the specifications for the particular reference number, and that all parts
are blemish free. The final assembly and casing is performed in a
positive-pressure room, so that dust and other possible contaminants are
more likely to be blown away from any joints that aren't air-tight.
Movement Part Polishing
Tourbillon Movement Bridges
Up the stairs to the first floor are the facilities
for movement component decoration (e.g. polishing, anglage, engraving),
case and bracelet polishing, watch testing (e.g. for proper operation
prior to COSC testing), and movement manufacturing including complicated
Applying Anglage to a Tourbillon Bridge
Machine for Applying Côtes de Genève: the spinning disc in the upper left
is drawn across the surface of the part, which is locked in a jig at a
The piece is moved in preset steps to ensure even and parallel striping.
The component decorating and engraving area
contained a mix of traditional and high-tech means of decoration. For
example, one polishing machine is a very traditional set of tapering wood
discs that are set to spinning, to which a watchmaker carefully applies
the movement part. In contrast, the engraving machine is a minature CNC
mill, that literally has a tool path programmed that spells out the
wording to be engraved on the bridges.
Checking a Tourbillon Cage
Quality control of the movement components and parts
is extensive, consisting of checking 50,000 components per year, with 400
points of control, and 4000 individual tests. Sophisticated computer-aided
optical comparison with the CAD designs, for example, indicates the
dedication that Chopard brings to movement manufacturing.
Creating a Breguet Overcoil
One of the parts being checked includes the
hairspring; if they happen to be for one of the movements that calls for a
Breguet hairspring, there is a single watchmaker (a "Regleuse") with over
40 years experience, who has the responsibility to manually shape by hand
the overcoil from a flat hairspring in the traditional way. She was
trained in Fleurier, and has been at Chopard for 7 years.
Another watchmaker's bench was the domain of
Chopard's youngest watchmaker, an apprentice aged 16 who has been with the
company for one month. He is the first apprentice that the Fleurier
Manufacture has brought on-board, and won't be the last, as now that the
Fleurier facility is standing on solid ground, they wish to give back to
the educational system that produces the geniuses that are behind
Chopard's products. As an apprentice, he spends two days each week at the
Fleurier watchmaking school, and three days at the Chopard facility.
Tourbillon Assembly 1
Tourbillon Assembly 2
The L.U.C Strike One: Chiming Works
For Chopard, complicated watches include the L.U.C
Tourbillon introduced in 2003, and the "L.U.C Strike One" - a new (2006)
watch that chimes once on the hour without need for a separate strike
train barrel and spring. Christian, one of the two specialists within the
complications area, was hard at work assembling a tourbillon cage when we
arrived. The son of a watchmaker, he started watchmaking at age 17, and
has since built up 23 years of experience. He has been with Chopard the
last two and a half years.
Finally, on our way out of this wing of the
building, we caught sight of an unfamiliar automatic movement that didn't
bear the trademark L.U.C microrotor. Stephanie informed us that this was a
new in-house chronograph movement, and we would shortly see and hear a lot
more about it!
Movement Design Using CAD
The last stop on our tour was the second floor,
where R&D, prototyping, and the watchmaking laboratory are located.
Chopard again has completely embraced modern techniques in their movement
development process. All designs are done using AutoCAD software - not
only are designs faster to develop than traditional paper drawings, but
the CAD instructions can go directly to the prototyping department for
test manufacturing, the laboratory for design refinement, and eventually
to production (milling and EDM) without need to re-encode the
instructions. In addition to designing and manufacturing movements, this
department also is in charge of making tooling and dies to be used in
production both here and in Geneva. Tolerances of manufacture are
specified to be in the neighborhood of 1/1000 mm.
The New Home of "Chopard Technologies"
The R&D, prototyping, and laboratory departments of
the Fleurier Manufacture will be shortly be moved to a renovated building
down the road in Fleurier at 1 Rue du Temple, across from the Hotel de
Ville. To be organized under a separate subsidiary of Chopard known as "Chopard
Technologies", this space will give the personnel, "the freedom to think,"
according to Karl-Friedrich Scheufele.
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