Diving in the heart of Swiss watchmaking

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Diving in the heart of Swiss watchmaking

Postby koimaster » June 24th 2017, 12:54pm

Gathered at Palexpo at EPHJ, watchmaking subcontracting continues to be struck by the crisis. Journey on the ridges of the Jura, at Atokalpa and Vaucher.

Funny place for a meeting with the Sandoz Family Foundation, which will be present through several of its companies, between robots and laser cutting machines, from Tuesday and until Friday at Palexpo, the industrial high mass EPHJ- EPMT-SMT.

The structure managing the assets - estimated at more than 5 billion Swiss francs - of the heirs of the multinational Basel Novartis, number one in the Swiss pharmaceutical industry, is emerging behind subcontractors Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier, Atokalpa, Quadrance Dressing, Artisans Boxes Or Elwin. These firms are located far from the glitter of the SIHH (International Fair of Fine Watchmaking), the universe of Parmigiani Fleurier, the high-end house brand. This subtle alliance of companies summons a world of workshops towards which the lighthouses of employees in the forests of the Jura converge at dawn. These companies can be likened to 100% Swiss made strongholds that have stood the test of time in the storm for two years.

Roller blades of the Ajoie

"We see the end of the tunnel, but, yes, the past year has been terrible," admits Sébastien Jeanneret, Atokalpa's boss. Its factory borders a small road fleeing through fields at the exit of Alle (JU), in the heart of Ajoie. After plunging its orders by 30%, all the temporary workers were thanked, the workforce going from 150 to 115 employees. "We remain profitable and continue to repay our debts", defends the head of a company in which tens of millions have been invested during the last decade.

In 2001, the Sandoz Family Foundation set its sights on this family company of some thirty people. Specialty? Everything that turns in a watch. Polishing like a mirror, a suntan, a diamond flute ... His mastery allows him to charge 15 francs for a single gear train bearing the stamp of Geneva or Fleurier - fifteen times the price of a standard gear. This activity represents only a quarter of the turnover. From the start, the idea was to use this mastery of metal to design oscillators - these "reactors" that count time in mechanical watches. Objective: to escape the influence of the powerful Swatch group and its subsidiary Nivarox. Traversing, rolling, tapping ... Transforming a wire from one tenth of a millimeter to a spiral of 25 microns in cross section requires about fifteen operations. "Only a shareholder such as the foundation could set up such an industrial tool without expecting an immediate return on the invested capital," says Vaucher, who was sent to Alle.

Four years later, when the world number one watchmaker decides to no longer provide competition, the factory, capable of pulling out 200,000 spirals a year, is breaking into the breach. She now runs TAG Heuer Carrera at 6,000 francs as well as Hublot, Zenith, IWC, Girard Perregaux, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Chopard. "In ten years, we have become an alternative supplier," says Atokalpa's boss. "We are competitive on the high ," admits the Swatch . Its factory, however, has a safety net: an alloy manufactory to which leave 15% of its parts.

The Val-de-Travers trail

To follow the course of these wheels, one must take the ridges swept by the winds. To go up to Saint Fleurier then appears, as out of time, with its ultramodern factory under the cliff. An investment of 30 million francs was injected into this site, inaugurated in 2009.

The decision to create an alliance of subcontractors had been taken ten years earlier by the Pully-based foundation. It followed the launch in 1996 - the merger between Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy, the operation that gave rise to Novartis - from Parmigiani, the mark of the former restaurateur of the Sandoz watch collection. "The idea remains to set up a competence center that will master all the parts, ensure a strategic supply in the high end and offer an alternative to large groups," said Jean-Daniel Dubois, CEO of Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier. Today, this SME carries out half of its activity with Parmigiani. The rest of his movements equips watches like Hermes, Richard Mille or Corum.

The revenge of stamping

The one who came to Bulova in 1973 in Biel - he was working on a movement produced at 3000 copies per day - came back instill some industrial culture in Fleurier, a temple of watchmaking craft. A moult imposed by the years of crisis. "As elsewhere, this factory has been enlarged to meet the demands; Since, everything has changed, "admits the person in charge of a site that turns to half its capacity of 30,000 movements per year. The watchmaking division of the Sandoz Family Foundation employs 370 people, 140 of whom work for Vaucher. Three years ago, about 600 employees were employed by all these companies.

The mantra was the small series. The goal is now to reduce costs. Example? By regaining control of the stamping, the small pieces return to 2 francs, whereas the milling one by one cost 18 francs. "The difference can be spent in a finishing by hand," explains Jean-Daniel Dubois. Founder of the Mouvements Horlogers of the Vallée de Joux (MHVJ), he is also considered one of the leading saviors of mechanical watchmaking. This year, its manufacture will show, at the EPHJ show, its mastery of the machining of gold and titanium, antagonistic metals married in an ultra-thin tourbillon.

http://www.tdg.ch/economie/entreprises/ ... y/30523849
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