Inside The ‘Manufacture’Written by Alvin Wong
It is not the most grammatically accurate of labels: the term ‘manufacture’, in watch-speak, is not a verb but a noun; more ‘maker’ than ‘making of’.
IT’S ABOUT TOTAL CONTROL
In the watch trade, a manufacture connotes a self-sufficient watchmaking universe, a brand with the capacity to produce all its watches in-house, from initial idea to final product.
DON’T ALL WATCH BRANDS MAKE THEIR OWN WATCHES?
Actually no. Much like Samsung, Sony or Skippy peanut butter, a large number of watch brands today (up to 95 per cent or more, by rough estimate) buy their components from third-party sources. These brands may design the watches, put the components together and brand them, but making watches from scratch is a massive competence that only a few companies are capable of.
SO WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
A manufacture brand, by virtue of being in the premier league of watch companies, are way pricier, exclusive and hence, more out of reach. But there are good reasons for being so. To watch collectors, a manufacture represents purity – it is the watchmaking equivalent of farm-to-plate dining for gourmands. For watch companies, the manufacture label is one to be aspired to, as it means having total control over creative ideas, production output, quality of timepieces, and ultimately, profit margins.
NOT ALL MANUFACTURES ARE CREATED EQUAL
Being a manufacture is a birthright for some brands. It was how they started centuries ago, and they have been fighting hard since to maintain the status quo. For others, it is a journey; an evolution of stature and pedigree that requires hefty investment in R&D, raw materials, logistics, machinery, employees, and sometimes even other companies.
THAT '100%' THING
You may come across the description “made completely in-house” in a brand’s marketing material. Truth is, this is near impossible. For manufactures to claim that their watches to be 100 per cent made in-house, it would mean, for instance, that the company would even be tanning and making their own leather straps. So when a manufacture claims that its watches are made in-house, it is usually referring to the movement – its design, construction of individual components, assembly and quality checks. Some manufactures, however, do have the means and capabilities to also make their own dials, cases and bracelets.
Oftentimes when collectors discuss manufactures with in-house watchmaking capabilities, the following brands get mentioned: Rolex, Patek Philippe, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Audemars Piguet, Piaget, Roger Dubuis, A. Lange & Sohne, Zenith and Vacheron Constantin. This list is, of course, not exhaustive. It is also interesting to note that some of the aforementioned brands have been known to famously enlist third-party resources en route to establishing their own production capabilities.
TO BECOME A MANUFACTURE
What is a brand with ambition and resources to do to become a manufacture? Brands like Montblanc, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton and Hermes proved that fast-tracking horological progress is possible with deep enough pockets. These brands have made shrewd investments by acquiring movement making companies, dial and case makers, and even other watch brands in decline, and assimilated their operations in a process known as “verticalisation”. Taking mere years where other brands might have taken decades to do, some of them have, within a short span of time, rolled-out in-house movements and complications. While most wouldn’t boast of being full-fledged manufactures, their motivation to one day be among the horological elite is evident.
Alvin promises not to be a douche when talking about watches. He may have scoured the Basel and Geneva watch fairs for the past 15 years, and played an instrumental role to the growth of Singapore's pioneering horological and men's lifestyle publications, but the intrepid scribe seeks to learn something new with each story he writes.