What Does it Take to Make an In-House Mechanical Watch Movement?
What does it really take to make your own in-house mechanical watch movement? The Watch Pages went to the source to find out with Michel Pauli, the mastermind behind Titoni’s first-ever self-developed manufacture movement, the T10.
Over the past decade, almost the entire Swiss watch industry has been under a cloud of uncertainty: Since 2010, ETA, the leading supplier of mechanical movements in Switzerland and part of the Swatch Group, has been gradually reducing sales of movements to third parties. For several independent watch brands, this has meant that only Sellita in La Chaux-de-Fonds remains as a prominent and reliable partner for affordable, good quality movements. This situation has had a far-reaching impact on Titoni Ltd., one of the very few remaining family watch manufacturers in Switzerland. Although the Grenchen-based brand has, for decades, cultivated the art of traditional watchmaking, with a focus on mechanical watches, the company — like most watch brands in the mid-price segment – did not have its own culture of watch movements until very recently. To minimize the risk of complete dependence on outside sources, Titoni Ltd. decided to develop and produce its own in-house movement.
My first day at Titoni Ltd
From the first day that I started work at Titoni Ltd, one of my most important tasks was to design and produce Titoni’s first-ever self-developed and manufactured movement. The following years involved several sleepless nights and corresponding nightshifts, but our hard work paid off and resulted in success.
In this article, I would like to share some insights our company has gained through this centennial milestone project.
“What does it take to make your own watch movement?” would appear to be a simple enough question, but in fact, reveals the fundamental challenges of such an ambitious project. There are three things you need before you can even think of engineering your own watch movement, namely money, know-how, and reliable partners. With the experience in different disciplines that I gained from almost twenty years of professional activities at ETA, I decided not to hire an external project leader but to keep the project leadership in my own hands.
Firstly we had to define what kind of mechanical movement our company needed. In other words, the crucial question was: what is essential and what isn’t? There are simply too many different possibilities in the world of mechanical movements.
Think of a car engine; a Ferrari engine is not the same as a Volvo engine – even though both are engines. A Ferrari motor is not necessarily better than one built by Volvo, but it serves different purposes. The critical point was to find out what kind of motor the Titoni brand needed and wanted.
COSTS, QUALITY & MOVEMENT HEIGHT
To answer this question, I had to get Titoni’s CEO and Titoni’s Sales & Marketing Director on board. Confronted with dozens of potential features that could be important for a movement, I asked them to choose only three. Their choices were “Costs,” “Quality,” and “Movement height.” These set the clear priorities of the T10-project, the name Titoni gave to its first-ever self-developed movement. The architecture of the T10 manufacture movement should be cost-effective, of excellent quality from the very outset, and as thin as possible.
We launched the project around these criteria – and they accompanied it over the entire six-year development period. The biggest challenge was that of the costs. For Titoni’s management, watches with the new T10 movement needed to fit into the current Titoni price bracket. What Titoni needed first and foremost was a dependable and reliable caliber without fancy features – the choice fell on the Volvo motor.
COPYING AN EXISTING ETA MOVEMENT WAS NOT AN OPTION
With its clearly defined priorities, our mission might sound simple and easy, but in fact, it was quite the opposite. To bring watches with a mechanical in-house movement onto international markets for less than CHF 2,000 was an extremely ambitious goal, a bit like Mission Impossible. There are very few if at all any, brands that can do this.
Nonetheless, the project took shape step by step. We knew from the very beginning that copying an existing ETA movement was not an option for us. Not only should the new movement’s size and look differ from those of existing standard movements, but it should also fit into the dimensions of the current Titoni references such as the Master Series, Airmaster, or Cosmo King – with some minor adaptations of the inner case dimension, of course. We finally chose a 13’’’ (Ø 29.30mm) dimension, whose diameter is 15% bigger than current ETA and Sellita movements.
An In-House movement with a power reserve of 75 hours
After these complex decisions had been taken, our small team of designers and watchmakers set to develop and build the T10 manufacture movement. After three years of construction and collaboration with specialized suppliers from the Jura Arc and Titoni’s hometown of Grenchen, the first prototypes finally saw the light of the day. However, the journey from the first functional prototypes to reliable and robust industrial movements was long and arduous.
In addition, our vision included an increased power reserve, longer-lasting than existing standard movements (38 or 42 hours). This posed another major problem, one we tackled through many experiments. But the many hours of work ultimately paid off: the T10 now runs for up to 75 hours, with a minimum guaranteed power reserve of 68 hours when fully wound. And because Titoni is well-known for its classic “3-hand with date” movements, the T10 followed this design in its basic execution.
TIPTOEING THROUGH A MINEFIELD
To sum up, the process of developing and producing your own mechanical watch-movement is like tiptoeing through a minefield. There are numerous pitfalls, and there are plenty of things that can go wrong. Errors or bad choices made in the initial phase of such a project could cost a lot of time and money to adjust later.
It was clear from the very outset that this movement would not be a “one-off project” for Titoni, but the start of a new, long-life internal product. Titoni invested in expensive tools at an early stage – a decision that reflected our belief in the sustainable, long-term production of our own mechanical movements. A significant advantage was that the T10 was industrialized at an early stage and was therefore ready for production scaling.
We produced 800 watches with the T10 caliber in the new LINE 1919, from the first production batch right on time for Titoni’s 100th-anniversary celebrations in 2019. Titoni’s CEO Daniel Schluep happily presented the company’s first manufacture movement to a large group of clients. The T10 will almost certainly be found in many more Titoni-watches in the future. We are currently working on a new COSC chronometer model with the T10.
We are also considering adding some complications such as a moon phase or a power reserve to this solid and reliable caliber. Let us see what the future brings. I am confident that our T10 will write its own history.
Today, the T10 manufacture movement ticks in all models in the new LINE 1919. And there is a good chance that there will soon be further references available with Titoni’s first manufacture movement.
About the Author
Michel Pauli has been fascinated by the complexity and the beauty of mechanical movements since he joined ETA at the age of 16 as an apprentice toolmaker.
Learning and working to µm (0,001 mm) accuracy has sharpened his ability to reach the set goals with precision and endurance.
After studying Production Technologies and passing through several departments such as Construction, Development, Purchasing, Quality Assurance or After Sales Service, he quit ETA in 2010 and was hired as a Production Director at a company specializing in the production of watch movement components in the Jura Mountains. After gaining an executive MBA degree in Innovation Management during that period, he has continued his professional career as Technical Director at Titoni Ltd. since 2013.