in the Movement


in the Movement
The Calibre B01 represents the
crowning achievement of the company’s
125th anniversary, ushering in a new
era for its chronograph movements and
validating it as a true manufacture.
The Calibre 1887 – TAG Heuer’s first
movement built in-house, based
on the design of the Seiko 6S37
chronograph movement.
All in the
The growing pressure to produce movements in-house affects even
relative giants such as TAG Heuer and Breitling. Both companies consume
ETA/Valjoux movements in six figure volumes on an annual basis and
are hyper-sensitive to changes in costs, conditions and supply. No-one,
therefore, is more keenly aware of the Swatch Group’s intentions regarding
the future supply of movements and ébauches – the late Nicholas Hayek’s
public utterances on this leave little room for doubt.
Ken Kessler and Peter Roberts FBHI
TAG Heuer and Breitling have responded to the Swatch
to graduate from the Swiss watchmaking school,
Group’s impending withdrawal of supplies with the
WOSTEP, ex- lecturer at Hackney Technical College
development of new in-house calibres – both automatic
where former students included Peter Speake-Marin
chronograph movements as befit two brands known for
and Stephen Forsey and currently the technical
such timepieces. The two companies have, however,
director of Bremont – to analyse the two. With decades
chosen different paths that reveal much about their
of experience at Rolex and other brands behind him,
future ambitions and strategies. QP arranged for Master
Roberts is one of the pre-eminent authorities on
Watchmaker Peter Roberts FBHI – the first Englishman
movement design.
©2010 QP Magazine, all rights reserved
In-house | 53
director, told us, ‘There is only one
movement is named for the year in which
piece in the entire watch that is not re-
Edouard Heuer invented the oscillating
manufactured.’ He wouldn’t tell us what
pinion system – was born into a morass of
it was, but apparently it’s very small!”
The 1887’s column wheel.
web-sourced controversy. The company’s
initial announcement suggested that
What you might call the interface
the design was created completely in-
house, sparking immediate negative
the chronograph works. Effective, if
reactions from aficionados who quickly
not elegant in engineering terms, the
spotted the resemblance to Seiko’s
oscillating pinion connects sets of gears
classic TC78. Instead of developing the
by moving the pinion horizontally into
movement from a clean sheet, TAG Heuer
contact. Though as Roberts pointed out:
acquired the IP rights to the TC78. As
“The latest fad, and we’ll come to that
Roberts learned from a meeting with TAG
on the Breitling, is what they call the
engineers, the Swiss house has made
vertical clutch, which works more like the
interesting changes to the movement
clutch in a car, allowing you to engage
since starting work on it in 2007.
and disengage the chronograph. A third,
‘classic’ system is to use spur gears,
“Seiko employed this movement in a
which can be engaged or disengaged
rather interesting chronograph. It’s a
using a coupling device.
column-wheel design, with oscillating
pinion, which, coincidentally, was invented
Reverse engineering
by Heuer in 1887. It’s a nice chronograph
“If you want to compare them, you
made in very much the Japanese way.
could say the TAG Heuer system is
If you look at the automatic winding
very good, very effective, and to give it
system, it’s classic Seiko: twin-arm, twin-
its full credit, it has been used in more
click cam drive. Any watchmaker [or
chronographs than probably all of the
aficionado] would look at this movement
other methods put together – including
and immediately recognise it as a Seiko,
its use in the 7750. And it is a ‘Heuer
even if it had no other markings on it.
thing’, so it’s interesting for them that
The 1887’s oscillating pinion.
Seiko just happened to use it quite
“Obviously, it uses a Japanese balance/
independently. It’s a nice coincidence
spring, shock absorber – a nice piece,
that brings it full circle.”
and as usual, as far as Japanese watches
are concerned, it’s function before form,
Roberts acknowledges that TAG Heuer
absolutely. So it’s a good-looking piece,
had to do a lot of reverse engineering.
but no thrills, no added embellishment.
“The designers had to disassemble the
It is typically Japanese, beautifully-
movement and start from scratch on how
engineered, but you don’t get that
to make each part. This is not as easy
historical touch that the Swiss would
as people may think. They see what the
give to a watch.”
Chinese are doing, who seem to be able
to copy things almost instantaneously.
As Roberts analysed the Calibre 1887,
But it’s not so easy to reverse engineer
he felt that he was looking at a complete
something properly and with engineering
rebuild, with wholesale design changes.
integrity, which is the way TAG Heuer has
“TAG Heuer didn’t just buy it and change
done things.
the name plate, as, say, British Leyland
did with the MG 1100. It is totally
“This is a tricky job, but it’s still much,
their remaking of the movement. As
much cheaper than designing an entirely
Stephane Linder, TAG Heuer’s technical
©2010 QP Magazine, all rights reserved
54 | In-house
the Seiko movement was not just
and, of course, the balance assembly
designed for price; it was designed
is now Swiss with a Nivarox spring,
to be built by state-of-the-art,
Glucydur balance. Seiko used its own
automatic machines using the latest
balance, its own springs, its own shock
manufacturing techniques.”
absorber. All these components are now
Swiss, while everything including every
The nine main movement parts,
the platine or main plate and
gear and wheel has been re-engineered
and remade.
all the bridges are made at
the Cornol factory in the
“The platine is also totally different:
Swiss Jura. Completely
certain things are in the same place, but
everything else about it is different. All
very latest machinery,
of the bridges are different, the rotor, of
this is now one of the
course, is considerably modified, with its
most advanced facilities in
own special shape and design, and it has
Switzerland. Main assembly
a different bearing. There are more jewels
takes place at factories in La
in the movement: 39 as opposed to 35
Chaux-de-Fonds, also known as T1
in the Seiko. They have also changed
Assembly, again using state-of-the-
the motion work and the dimensions of
art equipment. Wheels, jewels, and
the movement.”
other smaller components are basically
throughout the watch industry. Roberts
reworking, the movement is slightly
points out that although TAG could have
slimmer at 7.13mm; the Seiko is 7.27mm.
made everything in-house, this would
Conversely, the diameter of the TAG
have tripled the price of the watch in
Heuer is slightly greater, reflecting the
which the movement is placed.
bigger watches of today, but not by much:
29.3mm against 28.4mm. “So it’s a nicely-
“One of the main criteria, as far as I can
sized movement, although not classically
see, was to get an in-house movement
slim for an automatic chronograph. The
into watches at the same price as a
El Primero, for example, is 6.5mm thick.
Valjoux 7750 series. And TAG Heuer
But nevertheless, it’s still a good size and
has pretty much done that, which is
it’s not overly large, so it can be put into
quite something. Once upon a time,
larger or smaller watchcases.
7750s were quite cheap to obtain,
The Calibre 1887 is an integrated
chronograph movement with 320 parts
in total. Of that, about 270 are made in
Switzerland, some by TAG Heuer/Cortech
(bridges, plates, oscillating weight) and
some by specialist suppliers such as
Nivarox. Many of these parts have been
upgraded from the original design.
but now they’re relatively expensive
“TAG-Heuer uses 22 out-sourced Swiss
so it becomes cost-effective to make
suppliers for making various parts, and,
movements this way, whereas Breitling
as I said, just one part that’s from Seiko,
has used a different route.
the ‘mystery’ part. But above all, the
movement is finished to a proper Swiss
“TAG Heuer has changed elements in
standard: Cotes de Geneve, perlage, nice
the process of reverse engineering,
edge finishing with diamond polishing,
but has maintained the classic Seiko
blued column wheel, nice quality screws
wind system, which has been proven in
– again, all Swiss-made and engineered
millions of watches over the years. It’s
to Swiss specification – a very different
pretty fail-safe, so why change it? But
finish to that used on the original. And
they have changed certain things in
above all, the watch performs well.”
there – the oscillating pinion, of course,
as well as much of the mechanism in
Roberts doesn’t hesitate when he says
the chronograph.
that, “TAG Heuer earned the right to call
this an in-house movement. If they bought
Making it Swiss
An original drawing from 1886 featuring Heuer’s
column-wheel design, with oscillating pinion.
Seiko’s movement and just changed the
balance, maybe the escapement, and
escapement in there, fast-beat, 28,800,
fitted a new rotor, you couldn’t say it
©2010 QP Magazine, all rights reserved
In-house | 55
was manufacture. But I think it’s safe to
the costs will come down. And if you
say that this is a TAG Heuer manufacture
make another 200,000, the costs
movement. The reasons? The company
come down further, so year on
has redesigned it completely and makes
year it becomes cost-effective
every significant part of it. What it
against the increasing costs of
doesn’t make – the jewels, the balance,
the mainspring, etc – most manufacturers
This is the main reason why so
don’t make these, either.”
many companies are introducing
Branching out
think that TAG Heuer or Breitling
Because of the scale of TAG Heuer’s
operation, it’s likely that the company
been quite so spurred on into
will need every movement it can
doing this if they were without
make. It would be a delicious irony if
the worries of supply issues from the
TAG Heuer could produce enough to
Swatch Group.”
supply other brands that weren’t able
to produce their own calibres in the
As far as one can see from the figures,
wake of Swatch’s decision to scale
TAG has achieved its goal at a quarter of
back OEM production. With the present
the cost of starting from scratch. “It’s
hard to give an exact figure as to what
capacity for 50,000 movements per
it would cost to develop a movement
year, starting with 25,000 per year,
like this from a plain sheet of paper,
with the plan to increase it by 10,000
instead of re-developing the Seiko.
per year. At the moment, they’re only
But thinking in terms of percentages
putting this movement into one range
rather than exact development costs,
of watches. After that there are likely
TAG Heuer has got it within the price of
to be modifications to it and then the
the Valjoux.”
Available with white or black dial both with
either a leather strap or bracelet, the TAG
Heuer Carrera Calibre 1887 is the first piece
to feature the new movement.
movement will be used in other models.
The proof is the price of the launch
As Roberts says: “To produce this is very
watch, the Carrera Calibre 1887: it sells
expensive, but if you can make 50,000,
for an astonishingly affordable £2,350.
Everything changes when you turn to
probably began development with this
the Breitling, the most vivid and telling
one a little bit earlier: from the numbers
element being the price of the watch
I have, 2004 is when they first started
in which the B01 makes its debut.
working on it. And as you know, in 2004
Depending on which version of the
things were still going pretty well as
Chronomat selected, the price is roughly
regards the world’s financial climate and
double that of the Carrera Calibre 1887.
in the watchmaking world.” Breitling
But this approach liberates Breitling
completed the design around 2007,
from the price constraints applied to the
enabling production to commence in
TAG Heuer, enabling them to create an
2008 and a public launch in 2009.
entirely new calibre.
The B01 features an optimised columnwheel device that provides precise control
of chronograph functions.
The race to be first
Breitling generously sent Roberts a
“If you go back to 1969, Breitling, with
movement to examine. “This is truly
our friends at Heuer and Hamilton/Buren,
Breitling’s first manufacture movement
produced the Calibre 11, which was one
and the company has gone a different
of the first self-winding chronographs – a
route from TAG Heuer. The designers
close call with the Zenith El Primero and,
©2010 QP Magazine, all rights reserved
56 | In-house
coincidentally, Seiko’s first automatic
done it in a very up-to-date way because
the designers have used a vertical
involved in the overall design, although
clutch for the connection between
the main work for the chronograph
the timepiece and the chronograph,
module was by Dubois-Depraz.
instead of an oscillating pinion or normal
coupling clutch spur gears.”
“If you look at the Calibre 11, it’s a
B01. Here you have a movement
Oscilating pinion
V vertical clutch
fitted with an integrated self-winding
Thus one of the primary differences
work, utilising a micro-rotor, resulting
between the TAG Heuer and the Breitling
in a very slim design upon which is
is the oscillating pinion versus the
mounted a chronograph module that
vertical clutch system. “The vertical
can be removed in one piece – 3 screws.
clutch system, which is very fashionable
Unfortunately we now have quite a
at the moment, is a nice system.
thick movement.
Although not a new idea it works
different type of design from the
“The other way to make a self-winding
and technologies.
chronograph is to integrate all of the
mechanisms into the movement; this
“When you engage the drive on the
was done on the El Primero and is
B01, it runs the chronograph seconds
what Breitling has done with the
hand, the minute recorder and the hour
B01. A disadvantage, however,
recorder, all from the same drive. This
for the watchmaker is that when
is a nice idea because it means that
you integrate them, you have all
they must always be in synchronisation
of these complexities on top of
with each other. With a lot of other
and mixed up with each other, so if
chronographs, the hour recorder, in
something goes wrong somewhere,
particular, is driven separately. It’s not a
you often have a lot of disassembly.
great disadvantage, but this method is a
Breitling has gone a long way with
bit of a plus.”
its new design to address this.
Breitling also fitted the B01 with self-
The B01 project has
created a specialised
assembly process
that involves an ultra
sophisticated computer
programme that monitors
and routes each movement
throughout the various
paths of assembly.
“With the new B01, Breitling has
centring reset hammers. “These are the
fly-back hammers of the chronograph,
which tends to make a slimmer
which, for manufacturing/assembly and
watch. Not afraid to use old
for later servicing, are also a big plus.
technology, the company uses
Again, this is the latest design trend
a column wheel, which is still
as used by Rolex and others. In the
old days, when operating the return-
as the nicest device to use as
to-zero, the watchmaker often had to
adjust these hammers by filing and
your chronograph.
polishing – a skilled and time-consuming
have a flexible, self-centring system
column wheel that we all love
built into them so they find their own
natural positions when they are reset.
also much easier to make
This makes manufacturing and repair so
much quicker.
But Breitling has
“These systems are very dependable. One
must remember that modern watches are
made on machines, with hand-assembly
Therefore, these systems, although nice
©2010 QP Magazine, all rights reserved
In-house | 57
for the watchmaker, are there as much to
top of the spring’s power, so it gives a
help with assembly in large numbers and
more consistent torque to the watch. It’s
to keep the costs down.”
a nice bonus that you can take it off for
the weekend and it will still be running
Breitling has made a major point of
on Monday, but it’s mainly done so the
having a fine-index adjustment on
watch uses the better part of the power
regulation. “Having examined it in the
curve of the mainspring, thus giving
movement, it looks rather simple. The
better time keeping.”
watches perform very accurately, very
precisely, but it appears that if you
Another nice touch is that Breitling
operate the micro-adjuster, it will give
has designed the movement so that
you an exact adjustment against an
it is possible to get to the barrel
index, which doesn’t normally work very
without taking half the mechanism
well on watches with curb pins-type
regulation, which this watch has.
mainspring replacement. In keeping
with its price point, the B01’s finish is to
“Normally if you want this precise
a high standard, with Cotes de Geneve,
adjustment, you have to go for free-
snailing, stippling, diamond bevels on
sprung, where you adjust the weights
the edges and other nice touches.
on the actual balance wheel. When you
move the index on all normal watches
“So, we have a very fine watch, but a lot
with a curb pin system, it’s a little
more expensive to produce than the
bit hit-or-miss. So you need a timing
TAG Heuer, probably pushing it into a
machine to do it accurately. This new
higher price bracket. Interestingly, like
index adjustment is calibrated so one
the TAG Heuer, the new movement,
can make an exact adjustment ‘+ or –’
at the moment, appears only in
in seconds per day. This is another step
one range – the Chronomat.
This page: The new
Chronomat B01 range of
chronographs is the first
collection to be powered
by the new movement.
up and they are getting fantastic results
from it. It will be interesting to see how
it performs as time goes by, as watches
Philippe quality standard of
come in for servicing.”
finish on either the TAG Heuer
or the Breitling movements
In keeping with current tastes and
– that is unnecessary in their
price brackets. But we are
still dealing with nice-looking
everyone wants a watch that will run for
movements finished to superior
the weekend; this movement runs for
levels. To me, the Breitling has an
three days when you take it off. More
excellent finish that fits its price
importantly than that, for the first 24
range, as does the TAG Heuer at a lower
hours of its run, you’re using the very
price point.” 8
Further information:
©2010 QP Magazine, all rights reserved

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