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Clearing the "Manufacture" Air

Parmigiani Fleurier as a manufacture

The words “in-house” and “manufacture” are often used interchangeably today, but I want to clear something up: they do not mean the same thing.

By Keith W. Strandberg, contributor

“In-house” and “manufacture” have several distinct differences: the term “manufacture” is used to categorize a company in the watch industry that has the ability to make everything needed to manufacture a watch. “In-house” means that certain aspects of the manufacture of a watch are done within the company, while many other steps and processes are outsourced.

The traditional, time-honored Swiss way of manufacturing timepieces is for a brand to source pieces and parts from companies scattered throughout Switzerland and other areas of the world, and then these are assembled into a watch on which the brand puts its name.

This is the way Swiss watch production has been done for centuries, it certainly works and has been successful. These specialist companies are the best of the best, so there is no shame in buying from the best dial maker, for example, or from the leading hand supplier. In fact, the majority of watch companies today make their watches exactly this way.

Then, there are the manufactures, the companies, like Parmigiani Fleurier, who can, if they choose to, manufacture just about everything in the companies they own. In fact, Parmigiani Fleurier makes every single piece and part of the watches they produce, except for the sapphire crystal and the strap, a claim that very few companies can make. Even the most complicated parts to manufacture, like the watch’s hairspring, Parmigiani Fleurier does itself.

The problem comes when “in-house” is confused with “manufacture.” While a company might do the design of the movement “in-house,” but the movement itself is made by a specialist movement company, this cannot be considered a “manufacture” movement. As companies often don’t go out of their way to explain how this movement belongs to them, there is confusion.

Parmigiani Fleurier, early on, decided that they wanted to go the way of the manufacture, to be able to produce nearly everything they need, so they could be independent.

So, the brand began to create competencies within their own company, either by purchasing specialist companies or by developing their own workshops. These production units, which today come under the umbrella of the “Manufactures Horlogères de la Fondation” (the Watchmaking Manufactures of the Sandoz Foundation), were put together in less than four years.

One great example of the way Parmigiani Fleurier achieved its goal of complete independence is Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier, the movement manufacturer for the brand (and it supplies other brands as well). This company was not merely acquired but built from scratch to produce luxury and high watchmaking movements. Within Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier everything movement-related is produced, including R&D, sub-assembly, assembling, case and the hand-chamfering of all components.

When you see all the investment, time and effort that goes into becoming a manufacture like Parmigiani Fleurier, it pains me to see other companies take advantage of some misconceptions to be perceived as more than they are.
Hopefully now you see the important distinction between what a manufacture is and how the rest of the watch industry makes watches.

A manufacture is a manufacture, and Parmigiani Fleurier certainly qualifies.
 

Craftsmen at work
Working on a case
The art of polishing at Parmigiani Fleurier
Printing a dial
The art of polishing at Parmigiani Fleurier