When one of many world’s most essential watch manufactures introduced the completion of its expansive new facility in Plan-les-Ouates, the information naturally sparked immense curiosity and anticipation. The magnitude of this achievement left many questioning concerning the potential it held for Patek Philippe’s future, significantly by way of manufacturing quantity. A number of months in the past, Patek Philippe opened the doorways of its new PP6 manufacture to members of the press, granting us the chance to witness the interior workings of a uniquely vertically built-in manufacturing that almost all different industrial luxurious watch manufacturers would give their proper arm to have.
Throughout the facility’s partitions lies the embodiment of Patek Philippe’s two distinct but evenly matched strengths — an unceasing spirit of innovation and a exceptional consistency in high quality at scale and throughout worth factors. This accomplishment is a results of successfully managing and optimizing the synergy between superior equipment and human experience. As emphasised by the model, the first intention of the brand new PP6 facility is to not increase manufacturing quantity considerably, however reasonably to optimize manufacturing processes below one roof whereas additionally enhancing manufacturing capabilities for his or her sophisticated and Uncommon Handcrafts watches. Final 12 months, Patek Philippe produced a complete of roughly 66,000 watches, which is round 6% greater than the final reported annual manufacturing.
An industrial park on the periphery of Plan-Les-Ouates has been the house of Patek Philippe since 1996. Patek Philippe was the primary to start the method of consolidatingall its disparate workshops beforehand scattered throughout Geneva right into a single website. Its relentless pursuit of in-house data and experience has prompted vital enlargement plans since their early institution in Plan-Les-Ouates, previous the presence of Rolex and Vacheron Constantin.
Patek Philippe, nonetheless, continues to keep up its presence in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the cradle of positive watchmaking, the place it united three workshops — case making and sharpening, together with some bracelet parts (Calame), in addition to gem setting (SHG) — below one roof in 2008. Its horological empire additionally features a dial-making workshop (Cadran Flückiger) in Saint-Imier, a motion casing workshop (Allaine) in Alle, a ending workshop (Betakron) within the Jura, in addition to a manufacturing centre encompassing haute horlogerie and repairs (Patek Philippe La Vallée SA) in Le Brassus.
When stepping foot inside PP6, its sheer dominance is resounding. Inaugurated in 2020, it sits a stone’s throw from Patek Philippe’s headquarters, its development spanning 5 lengthy years, adopted by a number of further months to finish its outfitting. It was so named because it represents the sixth wing throughout the total premises. The headquarters, located in the principle constructing, consists of 4 wings. The fifth wing, PP5, was inbuilt 2009 to accommodate the manufacturing of motion components. Nonetheless, PP6 has now taken over from PP5 as the corporate has totally utilized the utmost permissible plot of land in Plan-les-Ouates. In different phrases, the features as soon as accommodated within the single-floor PP5 have now been shifted to PP6. At the moment, Patek Philippe’s Plan-les-Ouates manufacture accommodates roughly 2,000 staff.
The constructing idea was envisioned by Frisk de Marignac Pidoux, whereas the inside structure was designed by Frei & Stefani. PP6’s magnitude is definitely grasped by a couple of figures. Stretching 189 meters in size and reaching 34 meters in peak above floor, its complete flooring space spans a staggering 133,650m². Bringing this mission to life required an funding of CHF 600 million — CHF 500 million for the development of the edifice, whereas the remaining funds had been channeled into its interiors, equipment and tools.
The constructing contains of 10 tales, 4 of that are underground — two for plant areas and two for parking. There are 4 manufacturing flooring in all, adopted by a coaching flooring, in addition to a big restaurant on the highest flooring.
The bottom flooring (stage 0) is devoted to the manufacturing and ending of mainplates and bridges. Wheels and pinions, however, are constructed from scratch and completed on the primary flooring. The second flooring is the place the manufacturing, guide sharpening, and meeting of instances, bracelets and different exterior parts are carried out. Patek Philippe’s case and bracelet making division that was beforehand positioned in Perly has now been moved right here. This flooring additionally homes the manufacturing of spare components in addition to gem setting.
The third flooring is dwelling to the analysis and design division, together with the Patek Philippe Superior Analysis division. Sadly, it was out of bounds throughout our day of go to. The fourth flooring, however, is devoted to uncommon handcrafts, the place expert artisans perform crafts equivalent to engraving, enameling, and guilloché work.
Mainplate and Bridge Manufacturing
PP6 homes a fleet of over 400 state-of-the-art manufacturing machines designed in accordance with the model’s necessities for small-series manufacturing. CNC (Laptop Numerical Management) machines are automated techniques used to regulate the motion of slicing instruments with excessive precision and effectivity. It strikes the slicing software alongside the X,Y and Z axes in accordance with the CAD design. The CNC software program generates G-codes, that are a sequence of numerical directions that dictate the velocity, course and distance of the actions, guaranteeing exact and repeatable machining operations.
CNC machining is a subject that many watch fanatics would reasonably keep away from, however it’s important in producing massive batches of complicated and exact components across the clock. Whereas there’s rising curiosity in artisanal unbiased watchmakers as we speak, a few of whom proceed to supply watches completely by hand, albeit at a charge of below three watches a 12 months, the flexibility to scale up manufacturing whereas sustaining a constantly excessive diploma of refinement is a difficult artwork and the rationale why Patek Philippe is the envy of the remainder of the trade.
On the entrance of every manufacturing flooring is a schematic diagram that exhibits the quite a few processes concerned at every step of the manufacturing journey. On the primary manufacturing flooring the place mainplates and bridges are made, CNC lathes are used to course of sq. plates made from brass. The underside of every plate undergoes milling and drilling utilizing a big CNC milling machine with an enormous feeding wheel. The ensuing brass disc options holes and recesses to accommodate varied components.
Subsequently, the underside of the plate is machine completed across the recesses earlier than the thickness is checked. Solely then will the highest facet of the plate be machined. Then, its contour is milled and rounded, forming a mainplate or a bridge. Afterward, the bridge is mechanically engraved with the Patek Philippe branding after which washed to take away any residue of oil or different potential contaminants. The bridge is then gilded. At this section, pink varnish can also be utilized within the hollows of gilded numbers and logos to make sure that they are going to stay gold even after rhodium plating.
Subsequent, any minute burrs or tiny scraps of fabric remaining on the bridges from machining are eliminated utilizing a scraper with a slim spearlike head and manually checked for high quality management. As soon as accomplished, they’re then able to bear hand ending.
The mainplates or bridges are first embellished with perlage, also called round graining. It includes making a sample of small, overlapping round shapes on the floor utilizing a rotating abrasive software. The operator should rigorously push a lever downward to embellish the floor with a circle, and repeat the method with uniform strain whereas guaranteeing that the rotating software touches the plate on the proper location.
This ornamental method serves to remove machining marks, giving the floor a sexy luster whereas bettering its resistance to corrosion. There are plans at every station that point out the scale of the round graining to be executed. Based on our information, these plans had been offered by a significant division referred to as “the tactic”, liable for translating development plans into manufacturing schemes.
The perimeters of the bridges are then beveled utilizing a handheld rotary software, adopted by straight graining on the squared-off sides of the bridge utilizing an abrasive pencil-like software. The craftsman gently strokes alongside the floor, creating parallel traces that give the steel a velvety, matte texture.
The bridges are then embellished with Geneva stripes also called Côtes de Genève. This ornamental sample consists of positive scratches that kind parallel traces, making a distinctively visible phantasm of waves. The specialist operates a lathe outfitted with a rotating abrasive software head set at a slight angle, skillfully guiding the software head alongside the mainplate or bridge’s size in a steady and seamless movement. It’s essential to keep up a constant velocity and angle throughout this course of to keep away from creating an uneven and irregular end.
Lastly, the bridges and mainplates are protected against oxidizing with a positive layer of rhodium, which additionally imparts a particular white look. The plate and jewels are then loaded right into a press fixture and assembled. After which, pins and studs are put in. Based on our information, staff within the ending and meeting departments obtain intensive coaching targeted on a single operation for a number of months and even years. This requirement underscores the significance of qualities like stability and composure to uphold a constant stage of high quality, given the rigorous ultimate assessments that embody each visible and mechanical inspections.
The tour was remarkably thorough, encompassing each side of watch manufacturing, together with the crafting of wheels, pinions and arbors. Whereas most manufacturers that manufacture their very own actions do produce these parts internally, observing the method of making these seemingly peculiar components from the very starting was remarkably enlightening as we’re so hardly ever reminded of the complexity concerned. A lot focus has been positioned on the aesthetic ending of motion components, however the purposeful ending these parts is one thing most of us don’t assume that a lot about. The smallest pinions and pivots have to be reduce and completed to perfection to realize most effectivity in vitality transmission.
Pinions and pivots are made utilizing an automatic profile turning machine. This machine accommodates lengthy bars of brass or metal inside a hopper. A bar is fed right into a collet, and a mixture of slicing instruments from the facet and a milling software from the entrance work to exactly carve the fabric into the specified form.
Essentially the most eye-opening side is the multitude of steps required to complete these components. A pinion shaft, as an illustration, have to be polished at its tooth utilizing a sharpening wheel, burnished at its pivots, chamfered on the edges of its shaft, and polished on the face of the leaves in addition to pivot ends. Because of its nano scale, it have to be assembled with a brass wheel clean to be labored on and inserted right into a pivot sharpening machine, after which disassembled on the finish.
Spoked wheels, however, start life as a brass strip that’s stamped in batches utilizing a press and pushed out of the strip. Afterward, the middle gap is drilled individually, and the extent of issue can range considerably relying on the scale of the wheel. Subsequently, the spokes of the wheels are then chamfered and angled utilizing a press software. They’re then completed with round graining earlier than their hubs are sunk. Subsequent, batches of wheel blanks are gathered on an arbor to bear tooth machining.
Following the tooth slicing course of, the middle gap is recut to a barely bigger measurement and chamfered. Subsequently, all of them are individually checked for high quality. We had been instructed that every specialist is allowed to pursue a distinct operation inside their division, however usually don’t swap over to a distinct division. As an illustration, a pinion finisseur can’t be moved to the spoked wheel division, highlighting the excessive diploma of specialization required and fostered.
Many of the wheels and pinions for grand problems are additionally manufactured on this flooring. There are as many as 400 completely different tooth profiles and a complete of 17 particular wheels, together with star wheels, wheel nuts and the distinctive “octopus” wheel with serpentine spokes.
The case and bracelet-making division, beforehand positioned in Perly, in addition to the gem-setting division are actually housed on the second flooring of PP6. We had the chance to look at a number of manufacturing processes of the Nautilus bracelet.
Bracelet making begins off with lengthy steel bars, which arrive on the manufacture pre-shaped with a lengthwise recess down the middle. That is to restrict the time spent on machining the hyperlinks into the form of an “H”. These bars are loaded right into a bar-fed machining heart and milled to kind particular person hyperlinks. These hyperlinks then bear a number of phases of measurement and high quality inspection, together with guide management, gauge-based management, video measurement management, and at last, three- dimensional management, to make sure geometric accuracy.
There’s maybe no space of ending extra synonymous with Patek Philippe than the ending of its bracelets. Few can match their devotion to the craft of the superbly completed bracelet. Following the machining course of, it takes a minimum of 55 steps to carry out the ending operations on a Nautilus case and bracelet. The outside H-shaped hyperlinks and heart hyperlinks are individually ready, every present process lapping on the underside and satin-brushing or mirror-polishing on prime. The bracelet is then assembled by becoming the hyperlinks collectively and putting in the pins.
The underside and prime floor are then buffed to create a satin-brushed end, adopted by the chamfering of the perimeters. Afterward, the H-shaped hyperlinks are protected with a masking tape, exposing solely the middle hyperlinks that should bear sharpening and buffing as soon as once more. Following that, the clasp is assembled with its rigidity adjusted, and it’s fitted onto the bracelet with the quilt being riveted. As any mishap at this stage might end in components having to be refinished, a protecting movie is used to cowl the surfaces of the bracelet.
Case making, however, begins off by having the type of the case stamped from a strip of steel utilizing a press. Then, a punch is used to pressure the piece into the cavities or impressions on the die block. This repeated urgent permits for gradual refinement of the case’s dimensions till the ultimate form is achieved. After forging, the case undergoes thermal remedy to homogenize the steel’s composition and construction, guaranteeing constant mechanical properties to keep up the integrity and high quality of the case. It then undergoes additional machining in a CNC lathe earlier than it is able to obtain floor therapies equivalent to diamond sharpening.
One of many adorning strategies we received to witness was the creation of the Clous de Paris hobnail sample on the caseband of watches such because the Calatrava Ref. 5531 in addition to the Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300. The guillocheur makes use of a hand-operated comb and aircraft lathe, the place a comb software with a sequence of positive parallel tooth is wielded with utmost management and precision to engrave the floor of the case whereas turning it. The issue lies within the delicate stability between making use of simply the correct amount of strain and guaranteeing constant motion to realize the specified outcomes.
In a very dim nook of the room, there’s the gem-setting division, which consists of expert gem- setters devoted to engaged on particular Haute Joaillerie items. Certainly one of them was engaged on the dial of an Aquanaut the place its checkerboard sample had been changed by baguette-cut diamonds and emeralds utilizing the invisible setting method. This system offers a seamless and easy look by hiding the steel framework that holds the stones. The result’s a hanging and visually interesting design the place the gems seemingly mix into the encompassing treasured steel.
A steel framework or setting is specifically designed to carry the stones. The steel bars or channels have notches on their sides to securely maintain the gems in place. Tiny grooves, referred to as girdle grooves, are current on the edges of the baguette-cut stones that interlock with the notches within the steel framework, guaranteeing a safe and exact match. The gem-setter makes use of strain to safe the stones gently and exactly into the steel setting. The gems are fitted intently collectively, with no seen gaps or steel prongs between them, giving the phantasm that they’re floating or magically held in place.
After the stones are set, the piece undergoes cautious inspection to make sure that every stone is completely aligned and secured in place. The endurance, regular hand and gimlet eye that we take without any consideration in watchmaking, are simply as essential for the maestros of the gem-setter’s craft. As a testomony to its complexity, watches that includes the invisible setting method typically command a premium.
PP6 additionally homes the manufacturing and meeting of grand problems, which is by far essentially the most labor-intensive side of their manufacture. The CNC machines used on this division cater to small serial manufacturing. Our information defined that within the Grandmaster Chime, the mainplate begins as a really thick plate of steel that requires 4 hours of milling and drilling on the entrance and 6 hours of milling on the again.
Skeletonized plates and different intricate small parts, equivalent to levers, are manufactured with excessive precision utilizing an electro or wire erosion. On this course of, the machine submerges a sequence of steel plates in deionized water and directs a skinny, electrically charged wire downward to chop the plates with distinctive accuracy. The wire erosion method permits for the creation of complicated and delicate shapes with very tight tolerances, guaranteeing the exact and complex development of components.
In contrast to motion components for the basic collections, components for grand problems may be extraordinarily troublesome to complete by hand as a consequence of their complicated sizes and shapes. Whereas a bench-style picket grinding wheel or a handheld rotary software is used on the common manufacturing flooring, we noticed extra steel and picket recordsdata getting used on this division. A guide file is extra time-consuming, however it gives most management on extra delicate and hard-to-reach areas, as seen on parts like a tourbillon bridge or a centrifugal governor. These varied strategies of anglage allow Patek Philippe to keep up a top quality of end.
Persevering with our journey to the fourth flooring, we had been handled to an illustration of champlevé enameling within the Uncommon Handcrafts division. In champlevé enameling, a thick dial plate is rigorously hollowed out to create outlines of cavities the place enamel is painted into, earlier than firing to affix the colours. This technique permits completely different colours of enamels to be combined freely inside one compartment to create gradients and shading with out affecting the others. It’s usually easier and faster to execute in comparison with cloisonné, which requires exact shaping and positioning of skinny steel wires, making it extra appropriate for serial manufacturing.
The demonstration was ultimately hijacked by our group and the paintings started deteriorating quickly. We had been instructed that Patek Philippe fires the enamel after the applying of every layer, whereas some manufacturers decide to fireside on the finish for faster manufacturing, limiting coloration and shading changes if points had been to be found solely on the finish. Alas, the paintings didn’t advance to the stage of firing; by the point we had been executed, it was prepared for the bin.
The crew of enamelers primarily based in PP6 are expert in as many as 12 kinds of enameling. There are additionally enamelers primarily based in Patek Philippe’s dial manufacturing unit, Cadrans Flückiger in St Imier. For sure particular items, unbiased enamelers, together with Anita Porchet, are subcontracted.
By the top of the tour, it was unattainable to not come away with a profound respect and admiration for the completeness and consistency that permeate each side of Patek Philippe, be it by way of watchmaking or manufacturing. These qualities are emblematic of the truth that the manufacture is nothing if not superlatively astute about its future, because it has been because the daybreak of the Stern period. The choice to strengthen its sophisticated and Uncommon Handcrafts collections is a transfer that may solely reaffirm its place because the foremost complication specialist and a steadfast guardian of Genevan craftsmanship. In an period consumed by hype-y metal watches, that is the sunshine on the finish of the tunnel.