LAB - The Art of Casemaking
By Peter Chong for Parmigiani Fleurier
Now we come to the more glamorous parts of Parmigiani Fleurier's manufacture. The LAB: Les Artisans Boîtiers
Acquired by Parmigiani Fleurier in 2000, LAB specializes in manufacturing high end cases for the watchmaking industry. Many of the very high end manufactures have their cases built here at the factory in La Chaux du Fonds. As these are typically protected by confidentiality agreements between LAB and the brands, you will need to visit LAB to see the photographs of the cases made by LAB for the major and high end independent brands. And is typical of the Parmigiani family of manufactures, the highest level of quality is also used in Parmigiani Fleurier watches.
Is casemaking so special?
Well, casemaking requires creativity in design and ability to artistically articulate sensuous and the lines and curves as intended by the case designer, and translate that to a precise, engineering product. LAB provides know-how to conceptualize, design, prototype, and series production of cases. They can undertake to do these for either unique pieces, or series production.
While the base work is typically done by computer controlled machines – the typical drilling, milling, wire erosion, much of the work still remains to be done by hand by skilled artisans.
Complicated cases like those used in the Parmigiani Bugatti series require many man hours of painstakingly skilled work to bring out the beauty and subtle details which make the watch special.
As a case in point, we use the example of the case development of the Bugatti. The designs from the designers are provided to LAB. These come in the form of CAD drawings done by the aesthetic designers who are in Fleurier. The team at LAB then translate these designs into engineering specifications. Prototypes are built, designs adjusted and tuned. And the design then goes into production.
Each piece is built to the exacting standards as specified. The case begins to take shape from a billet of gold, machined into a rough shape. Then refined.
As the case design is complex and requires many pieces to complete, each piece is cut, polished, and prepared. High precision is needed at every stage as well as skilled work done with passion and care. Each piece finished to exacting standards.
Until, finally, like a symphony, the pieces come together to be assembled to form a beautiful, coherent watch case, as the designers had intended.
Casemaking may not be as important as movement design and manufacture, but it is certainly one of the most important components of a watch which defines the look and feel of a watch. And as such, a critical and important piece of the in-house production puzzle. Most other manufactures are happy to just design cases and have others (like LAB) manufacture them. Some even just buy standard cases and have them modified to suit their needs. But when one needs the best watch case, one of the few manufactures one can count on, is LAB.
Next article, we explore the face of the watch, and the manufacture of dials at Quadrance.