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Watch companies need someone to lean on too
Economy

Watch companies need someone to lean on too

Thursday, 07 July 2011
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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The automotive, pharmaceutical and aerospace industries all need an occasional leg up from consultancies. Swiss watchmaking is no exception to this rule, as activities developed by Altran in the sector prove.

Given their insistence that everything that comes out of their workshops was designed, developed and produced entirely in-house, watch manufacturers could begin to arouse suspicion among even their most devoted fans. Why would watchmaking be any different to other major industrial and services groups which, for years, have turned to outside consultants to develop solutions to specific problems? This underlying trend has spawned a whole host of consultancies in management, marketing, IT, engineering and more.

From exteriors to movements

University research centres, such as the one at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, are another port of call for industrial companies, particularly for the development of new materials. However, while watchmakers willingly highlight collaborations with these academic centres of expertise, such as Audemars Piguet for its new generation of striking watches, they tend to downplay projects with the private sector, that perhaps reflect less well on their image.

Understandably in these conditions, Altran is reluctant to divulge the companies it has partnered over the years. Indeed, since 2004 this specialist in innovation consulting has acquired a high level of expertise in watchmaking that hasn’t escaped the sector’s leading firms. “Various groups and companies do contact us to develop solutions for both products and processes,” managing director Nicolas Mayer explains. “We started out working on watch exteriors to gradually expand into movements. For example, we were involved with two high-profile concept watches.”

A global group

Altran’s services are equally in demand to help integrate suppliers as they are taken over by major companies as part of their verticalisation strategies. “Many of these small structures aren’t equipped to deal with increased output. They need to toughen up their quality criteria, turnaround times, sometimes even costs,” Altran explains. “In this instance, technical expertise isn’t enough. They need to instate an entirely new culture of industrial performance.”

When it comes to industrial performance, Altran knows what it’s talking about. The Group employs 17,000 people in more than 20 countries, including 200 engineers in Switzerland, and made turnover of €1.43 billion in 2010. Key accounts include some of the world’s biggest names in aerospace, automotive, telecoms, energy and financial services. Alongside these are the anonymous watch companies that also use Altran’s services for training, after-sales service and internet development. Yet with a few rare exceptions – such as the Solar Impulse project for which Altran joined others, including Omega, to provide technology support – these masters in time measurement would rather remain incognito.

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