At the dawn of mechanical watchmaking - in the 15th and 16th centuries - watches that we now call pocket watches were exotic, inaccessible and expensive goods. Therefore, in order to justify the status, the watchmakers made every possible effort to turn each piece into a masterpiece of decorative art. At first, the mechanisms were unprepossessing, since the work was done by blacksmiths and locksmiths, but by the beginning of the 17th century, when watchmaking took shape as a separate craft and watchmakers guilds were formed in the most important centers of watchmaking, the same serious attention was paid to the beauty of the watch mechanism as to the external decor … Engraving, carving, bluing of steel and gilding of brass parts - such finishing of the movement became standard by the end of the 16th century.
Aquanaut Travel Time, Patek Philippe © Press Office
The real flowering of the art of finishing mechanisms came later - around the middle of the 19th century, when effective industrial technologies for mass production of watches began to spread. Even then, the Swiss were ahead of all in the art of finishing mechanisms. For example, Fayette Stratton Giles, representative of the United States Watch Company of MarionIn 1866, in search of the secrets of fine finishing of watch movements, which turns them into treasures, he headed from his native New Jersey to Switzerland. There he signed a contract with the watchmaker F. Vilmo from Saint-Imier, who contracted to train craftsmen and prepare equipment for the factory in Marion, and at the same time found a wife for himself. Wilmo did a good job for the Americans - after adjusting the finishing technology for a contract with Giles and the Marion factory, he pulled off a similar deal with the Waltham and Elgin factories. Since then, American brands could seriously compete with Swiss brands even in the segment of high-end models, and they took full advantage of this opportunity.
Fleurier Grandes Complications Virtuoso VIII, Bovet © press service
The availability and mediocre quality of mass-produced watches forced watchmakers of prestigious positioning to turn the technical finishing of movements into a real art, it is this aspect that still distinguishes excellent mechanical watches from mediocre ones. Of course, the rules of the game were dictated by technical needs, but the execution of standard techniques was brought to a virtuoso level.
Patrimony Moon Phase Retrograde Date, Vacheron Constantin © Press Office
Giulio Papi, head of the complex movements factory Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi, suggests the logic of the process: “When you close the watch case, you isolate a certain amount of air in it, along with dust particles present there”. The dust settles on the parts and over time begins to travel through the mechanism, collecting in the most sensitive places to its presence - where friction should be reduced and therefore there is a lubricant to which dust particles easily adhere. To counteract this, watchmakers have learned to create a fine relief texture on the surface of parts, most often by grinding.
Royal Oak Extra-Thin, Audemars Piguet © press service
The outer surfaces of the bridges are most often treated with strip grinding (Geneva stripes) (we see them through the window in the case back cover - in those watches where it is available). Some factories invent their own variations of this finish, for example, in A. Lange & Söhne they practice striped grinding of the Glashütt style, in De Bethune - their own, Debuteunian, textured stripes on the bridges of Grand Seiko watches are not ground, but milled, this is closer to guilloche. After assembling the mechanism, the stripes must be strictly parallel, ledges and jumps are unacceptable.
Traditionally, the remaining flat surfaces of the platinum and bridges, even those hidden inside the movement, are treated with spotted "pearl" grinding. In the finishing of the best samples, nozzles of various diameters are used - up to seven; the surface areas of larger parts are covered with large “pearls”, small ones - with smaller ones. As a rule, "pearls" are neatly arranged in even concentric circles.
1 of 6 Circular Grinding, Bovet © Press Office Damascus Finish, A. Lange & Söhne © Press Office Geneva Stripes, Blancpain © Press Office Pearl Grinding, Vacheron Constantin © Press Office Radial Grinding, Audemars Piguet © press office Longitudinal grinding, Patek Philippe © press office
Fine longitudinal grinding is used to treat the side surfaces of plates and bridges, as well as steel arms and flat springs. The decoration of the parts installed in different places on the mechanism should look the same. Radial and spiral grinding is applied to large wheels, most often steel. The wheels of the main gear are processed with circular grinding.
The "Damascus" textured finish, so beloved by the American magnates of the watch industry of the second half of the 19th century, is extremely rare today, only watches from the memorable series 165 Years - Homage to FA Lange by A. Lange & Söhne are remembered. The Americans nicknamed this finish "Damask" (English Damaskeening) for a certain similarity of the resulting texture with the texture of the etched surface of Damascus steel, although from the point of view of technology, there is nothing in common.
Villeret, Blancpain © press office
In ancient times, the final finishing of the movement parts was done by hand using simple tools. This was the problem - it took a lot of time to finish all the details of even the simplest mechanism, and labor costs should also be taken into account. Nowadays, fine finishing is more and more automated, although only highly qualified craftsmen can still show real chic on equipment similar to that used in the past.>