Hand made- hype or help?

Hand made- hype or help?

Postby koimaster » July 30th 2017, 6:54am

Discussion post for today: "Hand-made": hype or help?
...
We see "hand-made" being used to justify high prices for luxury watch models today. But does "hand-made" really make a better watch?
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This question also applied to vintage Seikos: in the switch from the earlier GS models/movements like 36Kbph 45 & 61 families to the 28.8Kbph 56 family, one of the differences noted by writers is that the 56 family moved to much more automated system of production. However, the 61 models were retained after the introduction of the 56, but they became the 615x GS Special models with a tighter accuracy grade (AAA vs. the normal GS grade of AA for mens' models).
___
Consider this:
When I hear about "hand made" these days I have to think back to the chapter of David S. Landes' book REVOLUTION IN TIME, Clocks and the making of the Modern World which discusses the "American Crisis" of the later 1800s.
Bottom line was that large-scale (factory style) production methods (which were much more automated than the methods employed by the mostly small Swiss shops in those days) were producing much more uniformly high-quality parts (and thus, watches) at a much lower price than what the Swiss "hand-made" small-batch methods were capable of.
He quotes statements from a Swiss watch industry official [Edouard Favre-Perret] who investigated the American method in 1876. The conclusion was the the Americans [like Waltham] were producing "by machine, watches every bit as dependable and precise as the best Swiss instruments." and that American "productivity was higher; their prices lower" than a "comparable Swiss piece..." A quote from a Swiss regulator was included (after he examined an American 5th grade watch in depth for several days) ...
"I am completely overwhelmed; the result is incredible; one would not find one such watch among 50,000 of our manufacture (Swiss)."
======
So today, one has to ask whether the same phenomenon is occuring ... are the small "boutique" brands (and even larger "elite" brands) who are still using mainly by-hand methods falling into the same trap. Can a larger, more well-funded maker using more modern and computer controlled methods actually match or beat the quality of the "hand-made" while cutting costs dramatically?
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Re: Hand made- hype or help?

Postby MKTheVintageBloke » July 30th 2017, 9:11am

Generally, it's all about the appeal. Which is definitely in the realm of hype, if you ask me.

People tend to perceive hand-made as something slightly less common, and therefore more coveted. A bit like with any other work of art- from a technical standpoint, the machine-made thing might be more reliable and consistent in many ways, but then again, "it's been machined, only decorated by hand, and put together by hand" seems somewhat less impressive than "this rattrapante with a perpetual calendar has been made entirely by skilled craftsmen." Appreciation of the effort put into making something often prevails over the technical/functional side of things. While that might not be logical in terms of the strength in numbers, legend has it , that it was ever about logic.

I think Favre-Perret, while he had every right to be truly impressed with American watchmaking, wasn't entirely fair in his assessment of the products of the Swiss industry. At that time, many Swiss manufacturers relied on a rather highly mechanised manufacturing process. At the end of the day, the components had to be finished by hand alright, in American and Swiss watch factories alike.

The Swiss manufacturers, by the 1870s, relied on machinery (the process of the gradual phasing out a lot of old manufacturing methods started in the 1780s-1790s, with Japy Freres and FHF introducing the mass-made "blank" ebauches on a large scale) just as much as the American ones. Could the mass-made high-grade Swiss movements be as good as their American competitors, if not better? Yes. Look at any high-grade ebauche by LeCoultre, with all the good stuff there- the wolf's teeth winding gear, the chatons, the Breguet hairspring, various fancy regulators, top-notch finishing to all the parts and surfaces of the base plate and bridges- yes, the finishing was done by hand, but a fully mechanised process was what's behind the raw components themselves. By the 1870s-1880s, hardly anyone was still making every component by hand, from scratch. Given the abundance of these movements, they weren't exactly "small-batch" ones. "Swiss hand-made" vs. "American machine made" is, that said, a misconception.
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Re: Hand made- hype or help?

Postby eddiea » July 30th 2017, 9:49am

Truly "hand-made" ? ....priceless
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Re: Hand made- hype or help?

Postby MKTheVintageBloke » July 30th 2017, 10:28am

eddiea wrote:Truly "hand-made" ? ....priceless

When it comes to watches like the ones made by Abraham-Louis Breguet himself, or the extraordinary pieces by George Daniels (who indeed made just about every part of his watches from scratch), I couldn't agree more.
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Re: Hand made- hype or help?

Postby AJC » July 30th 2017, 10:29am

There are some parts of a watch where "hand-made" may add intrinsic value and some parts I would like to be produced in a fully automated or at least mechanically assisted manner.

I would not want something as precise as a mainspring, balance wheel, or pallet fork to not be 100% accurate.
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Re: Hand made- hype or help?

Postby MKTheVintageBloke » July 30th 2017, 11:06am

AJC wrote:There are some parts of a watch where "hand-made" may add intrinsic value and some parts I would like to be produced in a fully automated or at least mechanically assisted manner.

I would not want something as precise as a mainspring, balance wheel, or pallet fork to not be 100% accurate.

Nowadays, obviously all the technology allows for making much more precise parts of the entire balance assembly, among them the hairspring, the staff, the pallet fork and the balance wheel alright. Guess that especially matters in watches with a free-sprung balance, where you can't compensate for any flaw by playing around with the regulator, as there is no traditional (Bosley-style, Reed's, or whatnot) regulator there.

However, in the 19th century, that would have been just the parts that you'd actually prefer to be made by hand. For that matter, most ebauches were supplied to manufacturers in a (very) raw condition, without the balance! Of course, how "raw" was the ebauche supposed to be, was a matter of the arrangement made by the supplier and the watch manufacturer, depending on how much did the manufacturer of the watch prefer to interfere (in relation to the highest degree of completion, in which the ebaucherie could supply the movement) with the quality and structure of the components of the movement. Actually, often that's still the case. BTW, I'll likely be doing a write-up on raw ebauches in a few weeks, as I might just have some good reference material and an actual case study (Valjoux 22) to present.
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Re: Hand made- hype or help?

Postby biglove » July 30th 2017, 11:13am

I think that in the modern industrialized era, we do perceive "hand made" to equal "better." Never mind the fact a CNC machine can produce metal work with far greater precision and tighter tolerances than any human can; the allure of hand made brings about images of old world charm and craftsmanship.

I think of Ferrari engines when I hear hand made. What that term often actually means is "hand assembled." That can be good or bad, again depending on the quality of the hardware/software of machines used to assemble.

Whatever produces the best product and the best price is what I want. As far as QC goes, there are things that a human can detect that no machine can as well as defects that a computer with sensors can pick out that no human can.

Humans and machines, gather 'round and let's get a group hug! Well, that's all good until the ATMs of the world rise up and kill us all.
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Re: Hand made- hype or help?

Postby MKTheVintageBloke » July 30th 2017, 11:33am

biglove wrote:I think that in the modern industrialized era, we do perceive "hand made" to equal "better." Never mind the fact a CNC machine can produce metal work with far greater precision and tighter tolerances than any human can; the allure of hand made brings about images of old world charm and craftsmanship.

I think of Ferrari engines when I hear hand made. What that term often actually means is "hand assembled." That can be good or bad, again depending on the quality of the hardware/software of machines used to assemble.

Well said, Mr. Biglove.

Regarding Ferrari, that reminds me of the 250 California Spyder (both the SWB and LWB version)- there, the entire coach was hand-made as well, by Sergio Scaglietti. IIRC, there are no two specimens of that car identical in terms of the exact (down to the nearest millimetre) dimensions of all the components, including both the main ones and the decorative parts. So, every single 250 California is somewhat unique.
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Re: Hand made- hype or help?

Postby eddiea » July 30th 2017, 1:11pm

There is a show called "How is Made" for just about how everything is made, some programs are dedicated to cars. "How is Made/Dream Cars"...the definition of hand made varies but, it doesn't get any closer than seeing a Bugatti or a Rolls (among others) being made from start to finish, a must see.
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Re: Hand made- hype or help?

Postby AJC » July 30th 2017, 3:00pm

MKTheVintageBloke wrote:
AJC wrote:There are some parts of a watch where "hand-made" may add intrinsic value and some parts I would like to be produced in a fully automated or at least mechanically assisted manner.

I would not want something as precise as a mainspring, balance wheel, or pallet fork to not be 100% accurate.

Nowadays, obviously all the technology allows for making much more precise parts of the entire balance assembly....
....BTW, I'll likely be doing a write-up on raw ebauches in a few weeks, as I might just have some good reference material and an actual case study (Valjoux 22) to present.


Thank you for the history lesson, and I really look forward to your write-up!
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Re: Hand made- hype or help?

Postby 3Flushes » July 30th 2017, 3:33pm

x
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Re: Hand made- hype or help?

Postby TemerityB » July 30th 2017, 3:53pm

eddiea wrote:Truly "hand-made" ? ....priceless


Eddie has this uncanny way of being completely succinct, nailing a topic in just a few words.

And with his statement, it revealed a truth: If a wristwatch is truly, unquestionably "hand made" - it's gonna cost the sun and sky and moon above. Nothing wrong with that, either; making anything by hand, even with respective actions and muscle memory making the person doing the work both more competent and faster at it, well, it takes time. A lot of time. And the person making the watch should be duly compensated for his craft.

As someone who remains in utter awe of those who make or even repair watches as their way of life, it all leads me to the question at the end of the initial post: Heck yeah, owning a real handmade watch is every bit the achievement for its eventual owner as it was for the person or company that made it. It's really rarified air; I envy those with the scratch to even consider it. But yes - I have nothing against modern manufacturing, and I'm sure that people and companies who don't even consider making hand-made pieces can make really good ones. The problem is the "beat the quality?" question - since it's all subjective, I can only go with consensus from people who know a boatload more than I do. But look at Seiko - such a model of modern production methods, yet they make a hell of a watch. So does Rolex. That's about as much as I wanna think about things - I want a certain level of quality, and I have to settle for non hand-made pieces to get there.

Oh, and yeah, there's a new Renato thread here today. Didn't Renato have the unmitigated gall to actually use the worlds "Hand Made" on some of their stuff? That's every bit as big a con as IWG's 15-year "Swiss Made" hooey.
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Re: Hand made- hype or help?

Postby 3Flushes » July 30th 2017, 4:55pm

TemerityB wrote:Oh, and yeah, there's a new Renato thread here today. Didn't Renato have the unmitigated gall to actually use the worlds "Hand Made" on some of their stuff? That's every bit as big a con as IWG's 15-year "Swiss Made" hooey.


I just saw that thread --- Hand Made was on all of their stuff- the Vacheron Constatin of the teevee jet-set.
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Re: Hand made- hype or help?

Postby tiktok » July 30th 2017, 5:32pm

Isn't Renato better made than VC at least?
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Re: Hand made- hype or help?

Postby abduksion » July 30th 2017, 6:57pm

My philosophy is as long as it doesn't break I could careless if it were made
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Re: Hand made- hype or help?

Postby TemerityB » July 30th 2017, 8:13pm

tiktok wrote:Isn't Renato better made than VC at least?


:lol:
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