Naissance d’une montre – Chapter 1

Naissance d’une montre
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Under the aegis of the Time Æon Foundation, Robert Greubel, Stephen Forsey, Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei have decided to support the project of two talented watchmakers. Under the benevolent gaze of their elders, these two watchmakers will create from scratch, by hand, an exceptional watch. Then, in turn, they will pass on their experience and knowledge – Naissance d’une montre.

Watchmaking engineers Cyrano Devanthey (left) and Dominique Buser, are in charge of the R&D dept of URWERK. In their spare time they also teach at the watchmaking schools of Grenchen and Biel. They are joined in the Naissance d’une montre project by Dominique’s former star pupil, David Friedli.

Chapter 1

The obsolete way of making a watch

It’s masochism!” declares Cyrano Devanthey, explaining why he and two of his colleagues are making a sophisticated 21st-century wristwatch from scratch using the discarded tools and techniques of a bygone age.

The watch Dominique Buser, Cyrano Devanthey and David Friedli are bringing to life is a return to the sources. They are taking back ownership of the ageless techniques that they learned at watchmaking school. Indeed, like any other complete watchmaker, they have spent four years learning how to make, assemble, adjust and case-up a timepiece. This was followed by work experience to consolidate their skills. “After years working as watchmakers, Dominique and I turned towards engineering. We became expert in computers and manufacturing software. We construct our watches in 3D, and the tolerances of a few microns can be magnified to several centimetres with a clic, as if by magic. We felt the need to become manual workers again and get closer to the raw material,” they declare in concert.

Cyrano and Dominique were apprentices together at the Solothurn watchmaking school, graduating in 1994. Dominique went on to gain a masters in physics while Cyrano worked his way up to the head of Omega’s luxury watch division. They came together again in 2009 to set up a watch engineering workshop in Buchs working exclusively for the independent watch brand URWERK.

Devanthey, Buser and Friedli’s small workshop in the sleepy town of Buchs in northern Switzerland’s Canton Aarau, is fit for its purpose.  It is entirely equipped with hand-operated and even hand-powered tools that were rescued from scrap when mechanical watchmaking collapsed in the 1970s.  Although most were made in the early 20th century, their basic design and functions are as old as watchmaking itself.

Dominique Buser and Cyrano Devanthey re-enact 1950s watchmaking in their museum workshop of traditional watchmaking tools. Determined to make watches in the old way, they collected and restored pre-electronic tools, the earliest dating from the 19th century and the latest built in the 1960s. The tools they are using were the very best of their era, wonderfully precise in skilled hands. Yet, if one of Abraham-Louis Breguet’s watchmakers or an 18th-century Geneva cabinotier were to walk into Devanthey and Buser’s workshop they would have no trouble operating its pantographs, lathes and Jacot tools.

The manufacturing revolution sweeping away rare and valuable skills is worrying to some hands-on watchmakers of the old school. Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey, who make a handful of extremely sophisticated watches a year, decided to act. They established the TimeAeon Foundation which aims to preserve the crafts and techniques required to make horological works of art rather than mere products. The members are all trued-in-the-flat watchmakers who actually make watches.  Among them are the master of the exquisite finish, Philippe Dufour, and the expert in complex mechanisms, Felix Baumgartner, the co-founder of URWERK watches.

The steam-punk machinery in the foreground is a rare rose engine that engraves straight-line as well as circular patterns. The fashion for engine-turned dials has put these antique machines in demand and they are increasingly hard to come by.

In 2012, Greubel, Forsey and Dufour taught a French teacher of watchmaking how to make an entire watch using traditional tools, in the expectation he would pass on the skills he had practiced. The resulting tourbillon wristwatch was the first in a project called Naissance d’une montre (Birth of a watch).

In 2019, Time Aeon announced the Naissance d’une montre 2 projet, and the watchmakers chosen to build a watch in the most artisanal way were Cyrano Devanthey, Dominique Buser and David Friedli.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Naissance d’une montre - Chapter 3 - Watch I Love
  2. Naissance d’Une Montre 2 – Chapter 4: The Complete Watchmaker - Watch I Love

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