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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Inside Montblanc Montre Headquarters

While going through my blog I realized that there was a story from November that I failed to post. Below is the story of my trip in the fall to the headquarters of Montblanc Montre SA. It's still timely, especially as the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) tradeshow for luxury timepieces approaches. Enjoy

Montblanc Montre Headquarters

LE LOCLE, Switzerland — It doesn’t take long to realize this city on the border of France is an industry town. And the industry in this town is watches. In fact, it is here that the Swiss watch industry is said to have been founded.

For all the romance that goes into the marketing and advertising of watch brands the reality is a little different. Many of these culturally and historically significant companies are housed in non-descript identical glass and steel structures located in what can only be described as an office park. The only distinguishing feature on the buildings is their logos on the front. They could very well contain insurance companies, pharmaceutical firms or just about any kind of unexciting endeavor.

A display of the individual components of an automatic movement that was conceived, developed and manufactured in house for Nicolas Rieussec timepieces. Its manual counterpart is the MB R100.  Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco
Pass the office park and onto the edge of a residential community you come upon an attractive Art Nouveau villa. This is the headquarters of Montblanc Montre SA.

Inside this one-time residential building is where nearly all of the Montblanc watches are made (with the exception of Montblanc Villeret watches). This includes the Star Collection, Sport Collection, Lady Profile Collection, Summit Collection and TimeWalker Collection. Its newer lines are the Nicolas Rieussec Collection, named after the person who invented the chronograph, and the Montblanc Collection Princesse Grace de Monaco, in honor of Grace Kelly, the famous actress and Princess of Monaco. In recent years it began building its movements in house, such as MB R200 for the Nicolas Rieussec.

Montblanc Montre recently began designing and building its own in house movements.Designing the piece is the first step in the process.  Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

Comparing this building with the institutional-like facilities on the outskirts of town, it’s difficult to believe that Montblanc is the newcomer in the Swiss watchmaking industry. Known for its luxury writing instruments, the venerable Hamburg, Germany-based company entered the world of Swiss watchmaking in 1997, when it purchased the villa. Unlike some of its competitors, Montblanc uses this attractive, old-world building in its marketing.

Thierry Junod, general manager of Montblanc Watch Production, had to deal with all of the barbs from his established competitors. “Where do you put the ink?” is one of the most common ones.

Even with modern technology, skilled watchmakers are vital to making superior timepieces. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco
“We have a lot to do and lot to prove,” Junod said.

The brand already has proven a lot and now stands as a permanent fixture in the world of Swiss watchmaking, particularly with the chronograph models that is its specialty. Inside the one-time residential building, there’s a lot activity as approximately 135 employees churn out watches throughout the year, combining traditional Swiss watchmaking techniques with the high-tech machinery that is now commonplace in the industry.
Automation with the human touch. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

In addition to upholding tradition, this newcomer has also shown innovative tendencies, particularly with its testing facilities. An area in the building is dedicated to testing the integrity and endurance of watches through five sets of tests for a total of 500 hours. The program is designed to simulate the first five years in a watch’s life. Approximately 2 percent of the watches produced are tested for winding performance, accuracy, function of the movement, general performance and water tightness. Videos of the some of the testing are below following the story.

An example of a typical workstation. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco
Junod said he has a lot of plans for the future. Those plans someday may have to include moving Montblanc Montre to one of those nondescript buildings in the office park.

That would be a shame.

Montblanc will be releasing a number of timepieces at SIHH (January 21 - 25 in Geneva). I will be attending and will provide an overview of the new products. 

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