Watchmaking today is an industrialized process no different from automobile manufacturing. It is a complex enterprise that involves specialized manufacturers who operate at tolerance levels as thin as human hair. Interestingly, this industry has been democratized over the past decade. We don't live in times when the know-how and was limited to specific brands or countries. Rather an entire industry of watch component manufacturers thrive and compete for businesses in different parts of the world. Most likely, making components for that cherished luxury watch, you sport right now.
The advantage of an industrial manufacturing setup for small brand owners like us, is that we can be as detached, or as involved, as we want in the manufacturing and design process. If you've followed us so far, you'd know how we like to operate. So, in continuation of our story two weeks ago, let's take a look at the Design and Prototyping process for our watches.
Sketching and Modelling:
All designs start with sketches. Sketching is abstract, exaggerates the design details, and allows us to bring free-flowing ideas to the drawing board. There is generally no adherence to dimensions in the sketching process.
Once the sketches are complete, our modelers take over. Modeling is where we use CAD software to turn our sketches to 3D models. Contrary to sketching, modeling is 100% based on dimensions. Height, thickness, depth, play an essential role in the modeling process. Measures like the case diameter, lug dimensions, case height, dial height are decided at the start of the modeling process. When modeling is complete, the watch begins to take shape.
Engineering and Construction:
Sketching and Modelling is a process we do in-house. As we explained how the manufacturing process works, there are specialist manufacturers in the watch component business. Experts in cases don't generally deal with dials or watch-hands. Similarly, manufacturers of dials and hands don't deal with high-quality watch cases.
After multiple trips factory visits and meetings, we've now identified manufacturers that are experts in specific components. What this means is that after the Modelling process, we are coordinating with 6-8 manufacturers at any given point to start the Engineering and Construction process of the components.
Every single component in our watches - the case, the crystals, the bezel, the dials, the hands, the buckles are custom manufactured based on our Sketches and Models. Each of these components requires Engineering to the nearest third of a millimeter. Engineering of all the components has to be continuously checked and cross-checked with that of the other components. For example, the engineering drawings for our hands have to be made in sync with the engineering drawings of the case and dial, making adjustments in real-time.
There is a high risk of something going off by a 0.5mm, and that mistake throws the entire project off rails if not detected early on. Naturally, spend countless hours in this process, pouring over the minutiae and project managing everything to make sure it all comes together.
Prototyping, Manufacturing Samples:
Once we approve the engineering and construction drawings, the manufacturers start putting together samples. Sampling process varies by component - while a simple dial sample can be created in 3-4 weeks, watch case samples take 8-10 weeks to produce. We spend countless hours project managing the sampling process. Once samples are ready, we check them against the engineering and construction plans to see if they're a match and to check for any deviations. At this stage, we'd have samples of cases, dials, hands, sapphire crystals, strap, and buckles. After a general "OK" is issued, we move to the production process.
The making of a BWC watch takes about a year. The majority of that time is spent in the design, engineering, and prototyping of the watches. A small error in the dimensions of the plans can cause delays of several months, and sunk production costs if we have to change something in the plan. We'll come back in a few days and walk you through the production and QC process.