It’s no secret that Czapek produces their watches in-house, but not in their own house. Czapek & Cie doesn’t see their suppliers as just companies delivering services or products they pay them for. They truly work together as partners in creative and execution processes.
That seems all pretty awesome and lofty, and so we were happy to accept the invitation for an inside look at how this is brought into practice.
… driven around in a neo-vintage van
First, one has to understand that 95% of Czapek’s partners are in the Canton of Neuchâtel area in Switzerland. Roughly, they’re all within 50 kilometers of distance. So, in two action-packed days, driven around by Czapek’s CEO Xavier de Roquemaurel in his neo-vintage Citroën C8 Eurovan, we were able to visit four of their most important partners.
This part of Switzerland breaths watchmaking. In every village, on every street corner, you’re remembered of watchmaking. Factories and signs of many known and unknown brands related to the industry are seen. And when having lunch in a local restaurant, the chances are good that employees from all kinds of different brands and disciplines sit together. This might as well clear up a bit why the Swiss watch industry is considered as reasonably closed in terms of information. Companies often use code names for their projects, in order not to inform neighbours too much. An example we all know would be Omega’s former Alaska projects, which had nothing to do with the state in the northwest extremity of the United States West Coast at all.
Hands, movement, dial, and casing. With these components, one is pretty much able to assemble a complete watch. We visited the companies which are responsible for each of these components, for some of Czapek’s watch models that is. After lunch on day one, we started at Waeber HMS SA in Fleurier.
Waeber produces hands for Czapek, and Mr. Laurent Waeber himself welcomed us. He started explaining us some company background, which in no time changed to a lively discussion with Xavier de Roquemaurel on a new type of hands. It became quite clear that indeed, the companies producing parts for Czapek do have their input with their know-how and creativity.
…no less than 20 operations by hand
Following was a tour through the Waeber production facilities, which was nothing short of impressive. Although there’s a lot of machinery involved in producing hands, production of high crafted hands, like the ones Czapek designed, requires no less than 20 operations by hand.
Waeber was very generous to us, and we were allowed to take pictures of almost the whole production sequence. Please enjoy some impressions in the gallery below.
Next stop was one of Czapek’s movement producers, Vaucher Manufacture in Fleurier. Vaucher produces the SHX3 Faubourg de Cracovie chronograph movement, while the SHX1 for the Quai des Bergues and SHX2 for the Place Vendôme models are produced by Chronode SA in Le Locle.
Vaucher initially was set up and owned by Parmigiani. Although now a separate company, still a lot of work for them is done here. At Vaucher they’re experts in high-end, traditionally made, Swiss movements. Automatic as well as manual winding, ultra-thin, movements with extended power reserve, and movements with complications.
…it’s all a matter of exclusivity, and cost
Clients, or partners, have the option to choose one of Vaucher’s existing movements and personalise it to their wishes or design a new movement from scratch in cooperation. It’s all a matter of exclusivity, and cost of course. It’s even possible to have a watch entirely produced by Vaucher, and labelled with your brand.
Czapek opted for an exclusive personalisation and modification of an existing Vaucher chronograph movement, caliber 6710. An excellent in-depth review of the Vaucher caliber in its basic form is found at The Naked Watchmaker.
Vaucher is quite a bit more protective when it comes to taking pictures in their production facilities. Under the guidance of Horloger/Chargé de Missions Benoit, we could, however, take some photos where activities concerning Czapek were involved. You’ll find some in the gallery here below.
After a good nights sleep, in cosy Hotel Touring au Lac on the shores of Lake Neuchatel, the next day started early again. A short drive brought us to the little village of Chézard-Saint-Martin, home to the guillochage department of Metalem SA.
Entering the premises at Rue de la Combe 6 is like stepping back in time. This in no way looks like a modern-day production facility, it’s more like entering a mid-19th-century country house. Welcomed in the kitchen of the company where we could make and take our coffee. Excellent. Following some informal discussions on guillochage in general, Xavier, led by several samples, challenged us to choose the next type of guillochage for a new model Czapek watch. Very refreshing to experience and be part of such a process.
Manufacturing of guilloche dials is done in one single room, packed with guilloche equipment, both old (1924) and newer. As, understandably, not only dials for Czapek are produced here. We could take pictures, however, not of dials made for other brands. Anyhow, I want to make clear that even the most prestigious brands, known for their guilloche dials, have their dials made here. Enjoy some pictures of this exceptional manufacture below.
After having tried the guillochage machines ourselves (which failed miserably), next of the external and carefully selected partners in this tour was a visit to one of the most sophisticated casing manufactures we’ve seen, Ab-Concept and Ab-Product in La-Chaux-de-Fonds.
Contrary to our visit here before, this company breaths high-tech and modernism. Welcomed by founders and directors Aurélien Bouchet and Maxime Oudot, we learned about the capabilities of this company. Again, not possible to take many pictures, however, it’s quite clear that here much of the magic for independent watch brands – even the most well-known – happens.
… here much of the magic for independent watch brands happens
As said, Ab-Concept and Ab-Product specialize in the manufacture of elaborate watch casings, specifically in relatively smaller quantities. However, when there’s a challenge in developing other parts, they’re in for it as well. For Czapek, for instance, Ab-Concept produces the extremely complex ‘Fleur de Lys’ hands. They’re even producing parts outside the watch industry as well. One can think of jewellery components and metal components for leather goods and accessories.
(thanks for the last three pictures go out to Lukasz Doskocz of ch24.pl as our camera’s battery died just here)
We’re ending the two-day tour in-house at Czapek in Le Locle, conveniently sharing the building with one of their movement partners, Chronode SA.
And then here is what happens in Czapek’s own house. The assembly of all of their watches. Components arrive from partners like described in this article, and an entry control is carried out. Sébastien Follonier is the man in charge here. He’ll assemble your Czapek watch, and takes care of the final test before it’s shipped out.
…perfection in all creations
It was enlighting to experience the whole process of manufacturing a Czapek watch. And as Xavier kept saying during the visits and underlined through examples: “Most of Czapek’s actual partners were pretty much involved in the project since its very beginning. They keep supporting us, believe in what we do, and help us pursuing perfection in all our creations.”
Additional information on Czapek & Cie can be found on their website czapek.com.
Gerard has been in the watch industry for over two decades now. He owned a watch shop in The Hague, The Netherlands, and besides that he has journalistic and photographic activities in the field of watches. Collecting watches since he... read more