Contrary to popular belief, and as Chopard has demonstrated, it is harder to set up a unit to manufacture large quantities of simple movements, destined to become the brand’s workhorses, than to produce small series of complicated movements at the workbench. When the microscopic components that determine a watch’s precision must be made using automated processes, the conundrum facing watchmakers becomes only too clear. Chopard, in the person of co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, knows exactly what it is talking about, having set up Chopard Manufacture, which produces the company’s high-end L.U.C movements, before laying the foundations for Fleurier Ebauches which should ultimately cover most of Chopard’s requirements for solid, reliable base calibres.
Complex industrial processes are one side of the coin; investments are the other. TAG Heuer is one brand to have recently set the machines rolling at a new factory, in Chevenez in the Swiss Jura in 2013. It took five years and CHF 40 million before the first fully in-house calibre, the CH80, saw daylight. That it has since been withdrawn, making way for the CH1887, a movement developed in 2010 on a Seiko base, takes nothing away from the sum of effort TAG Heuer had to make. As far as supplying movements en masse to third parties is concerned, Sellita is currently the only credible alternative to ETA, Swatch Group’s war machine which has kept the Swiss watch industry well-fed. Does the end of this golden era leave Sellita to go it alone?
Texas-based Fossil Group has already invested tens of millions in its manufacturing facilities in Switzerland, primarily in Ticino, home since 2012 to the group’s production arm, Swiss Technology Production, which this year will make 130,000 mechanical movements, a figure that will rise to 200,000 in 2015. In March this year, Fossil announced it will continue to invest in its Swiss production capacity. Current volume, slated to double in a not too distant future, already positions the brand as the third-largest movement manufacturer on Swiss soil. Fossil, of course, supplies its own brands. There is a gap which someone will have to fill, even if this means putting together a pool of watchmakers to limit risks and investments, although not a single name springs to mind as to who this someone might be. The one sure fact is that current capacity won’t be enough.