A Visit to the Christophe Claret Shop

Nov 30, 2014,08:54 AM

A Visit to the Christophe Claret Shop

It has been quite a while since I last visited Christophe Claret in Le Locle.  When I last visited Claret was a supplier of high end movements and other specialities to the industry.  In the mean time Claret has changed his strategy.  They have started selling watches under their own name and are dedicating themselves more and more to their own products although they still supply to the industry especially the repetition movements.

My last visit was 5 years ago, at that time they had just moved into their new factory buildings and installed a large new park of machines.  At this visit I see much that look very new at the time now looking like all the tricks have been discovered and the machines are in full production.  We will take a short walk about and visit many of the shops that make up the Christophe Claret manufactur.  Mr. Claret is very proud of the fact that they assure the manufacturing of over 80% of the parts they use themselves. Claret has a very great manufacturing depth in house with many specialities that one rarely sees such as metal hardening and tempering.

Mr. Christophe Claret and his "daily beater", a Maestoso prototype watch.

We start out our visit seeing the engineers doing the mechanical design.  Clarets mechanical design department develops about 5 new calbers a year.

I didn't take any pictures, but Claret does all the advertising videos in house along with the other marketing supports such as the catalogue.  There is a whole room just for the computing power necessary to make the videos.

After passing through the virtual world of synthetic images let us head down the hall to the world of flying chips and skilled hands.  We start out in the galvanic, electroplating.  Here we see the baths being prepared for the days work.  Some of yesterday afternoons work included rhodium plating of bridges, gear blanks, etc.  Note that there are no teeth yet on the gear blanks.  Plated gears are first plated and then the teeth are cut so there is no plating on the working surfaces of the teeth.  A steel pinion works better with a brass surface on rhodium or gold, for example.

We now head to the part finishers.

After the individual parts are made, finished and controlled they come into stock.  The Claret stock includes several million parts, not just parts of the current production, but also parts from the older movements so that service can be assured.

From the individual parts the logistics department makes up parts kits for each movement and watch made.  Here we see the parts kit of a Margot watch and some of the documentation.

The case parts kit is made separately.  With the advent of their own models Claret has also started making their own cases in order to control the quality of the entire product.

This impressive CNC lathe is used for making turned parts such as we see below.  Claret has a park of many different types of lathes for parts of differing complexities.  Sometimes the older manual lathes are just the best.

Of course Claret makes their own wheels and pinions as well.  Here we see a machine for burnishing and polishing the axles of pinions.  You can almost see the pinion in her tweezers.  The machine burnished both axles to size and then polished the rounded ends.  This is a massive machine to work on the tiniest of parts.  The mass of the machine helps to eliminate and vibrations that could ruin the quality of the work.

After the parts are make they are all controlled to be within tolerances.  Here we see a spring being checked.  The mounting holes are perfectly positioned.  the small deviation from the drawing of the end of the spring we can see is still within tolerances.

Many parts are checked not only for their dimensional tolerances, but also their visual aspect.

With the creation of the brand Christophe Claret came also the questions of how to ensure the product quality for the end user.  As it was apparent that most problems in a watch, if their are any, appear during the first 3 months of use Claret decided to install a procedure to simulate the wearing of the watch for 3 months with accelerated testing.  Here we are in the room where this is done, with a programmable shock tester and a tester to actuate all the buttons, among several others.  Each Claret watch is delivered with a certificate attesting its passing of these tests.

Now let's head off to the watchmakers shops.  Here we see a Margot being assembled.  Note the trays from the parts kit as we have seen before.  The complete assembly of a Margot watch with all the final finishing this requies takes a watchmaker about 3 months.

A typical finshing step done b a watchmaker.  Here we see a tourbillon bridge being given its black polish on a tin polishing block.

This jumble of parts on the table will one day become a Maestoso.

A Maestoso movement partially assembled.

A Maestoso movement assembled with workshop bridges to test the escapement.

The Maestoso with its detent escapement does not create the sounds that a normal watch tester expects to determine the rate.  A special tester using a laser to "read" the movment of the balance is used to do the timing.

We move one to the next shop where the Extrem movements are assembled.  Although not really arched the movement is on 3 different planes making the parts manufacturing and assembly particularly "interesting".

Moving from assembly back to parts manufacturing we get to see some highly advanced milling machines.  This one has merely 16 controllable axis' which allows to work on 2 parts from both the front and the back at the same time.

Some parts examples.

Ultrasonic machining does not cut chips from the material with a knife edge, but grinds, so to speak, the material with an adrasive tool.  It is used most especially for making parts in  very hard materials such as sapphire.

A stop in the case finishng shop showed that to today no case was on the schedule, but Christophe Claret cuff links were being finished.  Mr. Claret told me that it would be much less expensive to have the cuff links made by a specialist, but he wanted his accessories to be coming from the same shop as the watches.

One of the things I find fascinating in metalworking is how the material changes its characteristics when hardened and tempered.  Here we see a special hardening oven heated by a clean and very hot hydrogen flame. Mastering hardening is not something that is very flashy, but is importance to achieving a long product life. Too many manufacturers don't value this highly enough.

Some metal in the stock room.

Mounted tools for the tool changers of the milling machines.

The tool changer of this 3 axis milling machine used for making movement plates.  The machine  has the possibility to test the work it has done and will automatically replace a broken or out of tolerance tool.

As we are nearing the end of our tour we stop by in some of the smaller shops in the old main house.  Here we see a setup for gluing and lacquering to keep the work clean and dust free and to protect the operator fro the potentially noxious fumes.

In the shop where repetition movements for customers are assembled I was allowed to listen but not take pictures from close up.

I would like to thank Mr. Claret for his time and patient responses to all my questions.  I see that Claret has expanded its area of competence since my last visit in keeping with their vision to make as much as possible themselves to be able to control the quality better.  I also see a clean and well kept shop that bodes well for the future.

In the next post we will finally see some finished watches.  Click here to see them!

This message has been edited by DonCorson on 2014-12-01 23:51:08

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Beautiful workshops..

 By: tick tock doctor : November 30th, 2014-19:01
Hello DonCorson Thanks for all the detailed photos Don, awesome post. Amazing, that they are able to produce 5 new calibers every year. Wow.. Kind regards Anthony

You said it ! [nt]

 By: DonCorson : December 1st, 2014-11:04

Fab report Don...

 By: Tim Jackson : December 1st, 2014-13:12
I've had the fortune to see many of these spectacular complications in Basel, this year the Maestoso blew me away with it's detent escapement! Looking at these pics, it is no wonder Claret is able to produce such exquisite examples of micro-mechanical hor...  

Thanks for sharing the visit too Don

 By: Mark in Paris : December 2nd, 2014-14:13


 By: Octogone : December 3rd, 2014-00:30
Am always in awe of Claret's creativity and impressive craftsmanship. Thank you Don for the report!

Superb report, Don. Claret is a magic name, in the fine art of watchmaking.

 By: amanico : December 3rd, 2014-22:36
There were so many projects headed by him... Such as some GP and Ulysse Nardin I love a lot. How is the collaboration between him and some brands, now? Still working, or rather focusing on his own products? Best, Nicolas.

My impression is...

 By: DonCorson : December 5th, 2014-01:52
My impression is that for 3rd parties Claret is mainly offering his core competence, i.e. repeaters. New and crazy stuff he is doing for his own brand. Don

Much appreciated!

 By: kolosstt : March 24th, 2015-22:55
Thank you DonCorson.