Taking a closer look at one of the biggest marketing myths in the business – the manufacture movement supremacy.
Let’s start with a disclaimer: I absolutely love in-house movements. Poetically speaking, when a watchmaker or a brand goes for their own idea of a movement, this is where a new interpretation of telling time is born. What I do hate, though, is this overused and absolutely false concept that a brand with in-house movements is by default superior to the one, supplied by a third party. Being completely wrong on several levels, this misconception has somehow found it’s way into countless press-releases, and as a result, in the common watch buying… well, not exactly knowledge, more likely, perception. As if every serious watchmaker is obliged to produce everything on his own, or, in other words, should completely ignore geographical and economical conditions, that developed Swiss watchmaking in the first place.
Put in historical perspective, Swiss watchmaking was always a broad system of suppliers, individual artisans or small production facilities, specializing on particular watch elements or complete modular movements – èbauches, – and selling them to watch brands. This kind of wide expertise spectrum and horizontal connections was one of the main drivers behind the industry’s world leading position. And you know what, the watches were good without being in-house! My favorite example is the great 70s trinity: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Patek Philippe Nautilus and Vacheron Constantin 222 – the predecessor of Overseas. At the time of their inception, all three were powered by the same Jaeger-LeCoultre movement. Nobody thought it was awkward, let alone consider any of this brands inferior in watchmaking abilities.
In the last couple of decades, however, the in-house became a major marketing thing, demanding a serious productional effort from the brands. And while some managed to stay close to the concept and produce almost everything on their own, others could not, and were almost forced into a constant game of nicknaming. How many times you flip a ‘manufacture’ watch, only to see a good-old ETA staring back at you through a transparent caseback? Yeah, slightly modify a supplied movement, sometimes just by finishing alone, and voila, you’ve got yourself an in-house caliber. Why do this if it’s so obvious? Looks like the market somehow demands it.
Another solid option is to call a movement ‘proprietary’: whengiving the specifications to an order, you are inevitably contributing to the final design, right? In fact, you really do, in some cases the actual idea coming from a brand becomes a signature element of a watch. There are tons of cool unique movements produced for the big guys by suppliers. Does Richard Mille look inferior to you? Check out the 7-gram chronograph movement in Mclaren F1 RM 50-03 and shut yourself. The brand openly works with Vaucher and Audemars Piguet Renaud et Papi.
Take a walk in the center of Geneva and start counting shops and offices with a word ‘horloger’ on the door. There are tons of them. A neighbor to the left makes cases, and a neighbor to the right - balance springs, each of them knows three decent dial makers, and so on. Many of them are watchmakers in several generations with a long history of business connections all over the country. Go tell them the in-house thing is superior, they’ll laugh at you. Especially, because there’s no 100% in-house watch on the planet Earth, accept maybe Rolex, who has bought all its suppliers through the years. And you know, Rolex never tries shouting about its ‘manufacture nature’. Perhaps because this antique word does’t go well with three mega-facilities filled with Star Wars-level of machinery and A.I.
My biggest beef with all this ‘in-house-is-cool’ marketing is that it tries to picture the aesthetic and ideological differences like an arms race. When engineering a new movement, watchmakers choose the fragile route of new discoveries and take obvious risks, all for making something their way. When something is made for decades in millions of pieces, it certainly has the time and means to be improved. It’s very likely nothing can rival 7750 or 2824 in terms of sturdiness and reliability. And we are not even talking about servicing outside the official network options – surprise-surprise, finding ETA parts for a replacement is a breathe in any part of the world, so no waiting and no harsh prices. Still the right answer to ‘what is better for you’ would always be ‘it depends’. Sometimes even renowned watchmakers change their opinions. Remember how Stepan Sarpaneva made fun of all things in-house, and then suddenly made his own caliber? After all, there are only two types of watches: the ones that you fall in love and the rest. I’d stick with that.
Aug. 06, 2020