A visit to Manufacture Cartier in La Chaux-de-Fonds

Jul 08, 2010,07:40 AM

Cartier has five facilities in Switzerland, but the Cartier manufacture is in La Chaux-de-Fonds; everything from the Cartier Fine Watchmaking tourbillon to the Santos 100 is made there in one way or other. This provides an overview of the Cartier manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds and the processes in creating a watch; each department will be explored in more detail in later posts. This report also provides exclusive peeks into certain areas of the manufacture never seen before anywhere else. 


Manufacture Cartier possesses a high degree of vertical integration and in it one can see almost every single process in creating a watch. At many firms the various steps are done in various places, but at Cartier it is all under one roof at La Chaux-de-Fonds. The benefits of vertical integration are primarily speedier time to market, greater flexibility in production and a higher level of quality control. On average, a third of any one component used in production, be it hands, dial or even screws, is made in-house by Cartier and mostly at La Chaux-de-Fonds.  


Manufacture Cartier


A notable benefit to the consumer of this manufacturing capability is the nearly unlimited availability of parts. If the spare part is out of stock, even if it is a case, crown or bracelet, which is more difficult to replace than movement components, it can be manufactured. Parts for vintage timepieces are also made here, including hard-to-find bits like the balance wheel and accompanying timing screws.



Completed in 2000, the La Chaux-de-Fonds manufacture consolidates what was previously a disparate number of production sites into one 33,000 m2 manufacture. It currently houses more than 1000 employees, engaged in every aspect of watch production. It is a very large building – in all it took over more than eight hours over two days to cover practically every area of the manufacture. I was fortunate enough to be shown around by Pierre Piffeteau, Customer Service Manager, and Sebastien Mathey, head of the restoration workshop.


Cartier's immediate neighbour to the right happens to be the revered Geneva house of Patek Philippe




The view of the staff canteen on the ground level from the rear of the building


Of course, size in itself means nothing and could even be a weakness as the spirit of craftsmanship could be lost. But Cartier has managed to preserve artisan skills – the manufacture has its own enamelling workshop with three full time enamellers as well as a high jewellery workshop where spectacular, sculptural jewellery watches are made by hand. Movement component finishing also has its own atelier, where anglage and other top-end decorative finishing is hand-applied.


These skills are evident in the high-end Cartier watches, ranging from the high watchmaking complications to the enamelled watches. These are of course separate from the entry to mid-range watches, which are excellent products at their price point, but accessibly priced, honest products, not high horology. It is Cartier’s wide range of products, from the affordable to the Astrotourbillon, that make this vastly impressive manufacture possible, where economies of scale exists alongside skilful, artisanal work.


Each of the areas of the manufacture will be explored in the follow-up posts below.


click here  for Part I. 




This message has been edited by SJX on 2010-08-21 23:31:13

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Part I: Development

 By: SJX : July 4th, 2010-10:02
The entire development department, comprising technical development, R&D and the others mentioned below, are collectively known as the Think Tank (yes, it’s a pun on the that Cartier watch), and is situated in one wing of the manufacture across four...  

Part II: Construction, prototyping and testing

 By: SJX : July 4th, 2010-10:14
After development and R&D is construction. Put simply, technical development creates the movement and construction puts it in a case; the folks here design the case, dial and hands around the movement. One of the most challenging creations was the Astroto...  

Part III: Case and bracelet manufacturing

 By: SJX : July 4th, 2010-11:06
Cartier’s production is most impressive, both for its scale and range. For instance there are 18 turning machines (specifically bar-fed, turning machines) in La Chaux-de-Fonds making only bracelet and clasp parts. Some of these Bumotec S-1000 machin...  

Part IV: Movement manufacturing

 By: SJX : July 4th, 2010-20:53
Movement components are of course manufactured in La Chaux-de-Fonds, ranging from the basic 1904 MC automatic to the Astrotourbillon. These are made on a variety of milling and drilling machines. Raw components from the milling machines are beadblasted to...  

Part V: Production of hands and crystal

 By: SJX : July 4th, 2010-20:54
Cartier even manufactures hands in-house. The department producing hands is fully integrated, from stamping, polishing, bluing or plating and application of Luminova. In fact, it even has a machine that cuts and punches the small paper cards that hold the...  

Part VI: Mechanical movement assembly

 By: SJX : July 4th, 2010-20:54
Movement assembly is split into three areas: mechanical and quartz. Assembly for mechanical and quartz movements are done assembly line style, with one watchmaker assembling one portion of the movement. Movements are slid from one watchmaker to another vi...  

Part VII: Quartz movement assembly

 By: SJX : July 4th, 2010-20:54
Cartier makes all the mechanical and non-moving components of the quartz movements in-house, save for the quartz, battery and integrated circuit. The quartz movements are designed by Cartier and the ICs made to specification by an external contractor. The...  

Great post!

 By: MartinGreen : July 19th, 2010-03:21
Great to get such an inside in the Cartier-facilities! I think it is also very good people see how high end a Cartier-quartz movement is. Martin

Thank You!

 By: Hagen : June 23rd, 2012-21:58
This is excellent information. I am the proud owner of a Cartier Tank Solo. Although I knew that the movement is made inhouse, this extra information has added to my confidence in the Cartier inhouse quartz movements. Since getting my first Cartier with a... 

Part VIII: High complications

 By: SJX : July 4th, 2010-20:55
High complications are completed in a separate area. Each complicated watch, the Tortue perpetual calendar or Astrotourbillon for example, is completed by one watchmaker. All the parts that comprise the watch, case, dial, hands and movement components, ar...  

Part IX: Casing

 By: SJX : July 4th, 2010-20:55
Once the movements are assembled, they are sent to the adjacent casing area. Here, dials and hands are mounted on the movement, after which it is cased and the strap or bracelet is installed. The completed watches then undergo quality control checks for t...  

Part X: Finishing and decoration

 By: SJX : July 4th, 2010-20:55
Decoration and fine finishing of movement components is done in an atelier adjacent to the workshops for high jewellery and enamel. The atelier is quiet and the work careful. The watchmakers in this atelier do bevelling, striping and other decorative poli...  

Part XI: Enamelling

 By: SJX : July 4th, 2010-20:56
One of the highlights of the manufacture is its enamelling atelier. This is a rare and impressive skill that few manufactures possess. Enamel is created by melting powdered glass onto a substrate, usually metal in watchmaking, with colour coming from meta...  

Part XII: High Jewellery

 By: SJX : July 4th, 2010-20:56
Needless to say, Cartier has its own high jewellery department in the manufacture to work on high jewellery watches. Only the very highest end jewellery watches are created here, including the unique pieces with dozens or hundreds of carats of gems unveil...  

Part XIII: Restoration and ultra-complications

 By: SJX : July 4th, 2010-20:56
Restoration of vintage watches and assembly of ultra-complications are done in a small atelier. Practically any vintage timepiece can be restored here, including clocks, pocket watches and pendant watches. And by restoration I mean the entire object, not ...  

Thank you ..........

 By: jfsuperior : July 9th, 2010-12:11
for bringing us one of the most extensive and impressive pictorial reports I can remember reading about any watch company. The incredible amount of time and effort you put in, culminating in a comprehensive report, wiill leave readers - including myself -... 

Coming from an insider like you

 By: SJX : July 9th, 2010-21:09
the comments are meaningful. Thanks Jack. - SJX

superb report - kudos

 By: Hororgasm : July 9th, 2010-15:17
very comprehensive...giving us better appreciation of Cartier's horological skills and capabilities.

Another slam dunk review my globe trotting friend...

 By: ArthurSG : July 9th, 2010-20:47
I love those brightly colored croco hides and those little rubber thingies for the fingers... does durex make them as well LOL.. Seriously though.. Cartier's setup looks impressive and that is mirrored by some of their creatiosn of late.


 By: docsnov : July 9th, 2010-20:50
Excellent report! It certainly gives one understanding why the watches cost what they do. Quite an amazing amount of manpower and machine work. Thank you

I was speechless when I saw this coming up

 By: Geo : July 9th, 2010-23:54
I cannot imagine a better overview report of the La Chaud-de-Fonds ateliers, then this one. Thanks so much for this huge and excellent report, It's like, if I had been there myself. Superb & great work SJX! GEO

Today I had a chance to read it all

 By: Geo : July 11th, 2010-05:15
and I have to go thru it a few more times; really a lot of very interesting information SJX. It may sound silly, but I was also very impressed and surprised to seeing how the polishing is being done. Especially since some watch bracelets are pretty compli... 

Cartier case and bracelet work is very good

 By: SJX : July 11th, 2010-10:32
and now you know why. Thanks for the kind comments Geo. - SJX

Reference report. Thanks for sharing... the

 By: Rob : July 11th, 2010-03:57
bar just keeps getting higher and higher. GREAT job JX!!

very nice report...

 By: Stefan : July 11th, 2010-08:49
... and many thanks for taking us to see such impressive watch manufacture! stefan

Well JX

 By: damien : July 12th, 2010-09:29
This is just a fantastic report for the archives. Very comprehensive and eye-opening. Good to know which spa our watches end up at when they're sent to La Chaux-de-Fonds! People who see Cartier as just jewelers should be directed to this post. Thanks very... 

There is no formal visit programme for the public but

 By: SJX : July 12th, 2010-19:06
Currently tours have only been conducted for press, but if you are keen, drop me a line. - SJX

Thank you very much for this galore of info

 By: Ares501 : July 13th, 2010-00:20
about Cartier ... chapeau for you kind effort to bring us atmosphere of big manufacture All the best Damian

Incredible manufacturing capacities

 By: Dje : July 13th, 2010-02:23
Hi SJX, Thank you for your superb report. Your report shows incredible creation and manufacturing capacities for this great brand that is one of the pillars of the wristwatch history and industry. I hope it will help people better understand the value of ... 


 By: nufan : July 18th, 2010-02:10
Thank you so much for this extraordinary report!

Great series of posts, SJX!

 By: dxboon : July 18th, 2010-22:44
I'm wowed by your pictures and coverage. I love seeing all the behind-the-scenes shots of artisans at their craft and humongous machines doing their thing. Cartier's integrated method of production is quite impressive! Cheers, Daos

Yikes - what a report!! Great report SJX and brilliantly

 By: 219 : July 21st, 2010-03:15
in depth. Love the way Cartier are pushing forward, while also taking care of the past and heritage pieces. If ever there was a lesson on how to enhance your capabilities and push towards the future, Cartier provides the ideal case study. Very very impres... 

Identification of backwind caliber in picture......

 By: GregB : July 22nd, 2010-21:31
Loved the article and pictures! Truly a remarkable documentary! Just a small question about the backwind caliber shown in the pictures for this installment (Chapter XIII: Restoration). I believe that you may have mis-identified the small backwind movement...  

Thanks Greg. You're right...

 By: SJX : July 23rd, 2010-11:45
It appears you are right, it is indeed the 403. The 101 and 104 were also used for the Duoplan and are similar in some respects, but different calibres all together as you point out. - SJX

Awesome pics SJX!

 By: DRMW : July 9th, 2010-10:48
Hello SJX, Thanks for taking us along for the manufacturer tour at Cartier! Nice Ballon Bleu wrist shot! -MW

Thanks for taking us along on this visit to Cartier

 By: ED209 : July 9th, 2010-23:47
Thanks SJX. In particular I enjoyed the post on the finishing and decorating. It's such intricate work and you can see the concentration on the watchmakers. Regards, ED-209

Congrats SJX for this superb and comprehensive report.

 By: foversta : July 10th, 2010-12:34
We clearly understand that the Cartier strategy is based upon strong know-how. Fr.Xavier

great one, JX

 By: pchong : July 10th, 2010-18:19
Fantastic report...this should be compiled itno a book.

Very informative report, SJX.

 By: ling5hk : July 10th, 2010-20:00
BTW, any info on the number of employees in that manufacturing plant? Regards Ling

Thanks for a virtual tour of the Cartier manufacture

 By: AnthonyTsai : July 11th, 2010-08:14
Very thorough report that many will enjoy to read over and over. Great work SJX! Cheers, Anthony

Very impressive series, JX, and frankly, the more I see and learn about Cartier

 By: ThomasM : July 15th, 2010-07:34
the more I am finding it impossible to resist the temptation. I had a chance to visit the NYC flagship boutique - wow! Now that is the classic definition of luxury Salon! I agree with you about the dial and casework, Cartier has always been tops in these ... 

Excellent information

 By: rishad771 : September 2nd, 2010-06:21
What a fantastic and insightful article. Thank you for putting in so much effort to allow all of us access to such good information.