FINISHING TOUCHES. Even if only a few people will ever see it, no component of a fine watch, from the case to the bridge, comes without a picture-perfect finish
Hand-finishing on the interior edges of a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso case
What is it that can make some watches cost as much as—if not more than—say, a new model of a top-of-the-line luxury car? The materials that go into a watch from top-tier brands like Patek Philippe or Audemars Piguet is definitely a big factor, but this pales in comparison to the level of handcrafting involved in a bona fide fine watch.
Speaking of handcrafting, this brings us to one of the most under-appreciated yet important (as in, it can sometimes contribute to a third or even half of a watch’s price) parts of watchmaking: finishing.
The Start of the Finish
The metal parts that make up a watch movement are not stamped but milled. Naturally, this will leave visible traces and rough edges. The various finishing processes used throughout the industry are aimed at getting rid of these imperfections and, at the same time, turn the aforementioned parts into aesthetically pleasing bits of art.
What many people don’t realize, however, is how much finishing is done to the internal, i.e. unseen, parts of a watch. That’s why watching an expert watchmaker tinkering on a movement is much more intriguing than watching a mechanic overhauling an engine. It is often argued that this is the main distinguishing quality that separates fine watches from common timepieces.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon sporting various decorative patterns on the dial
Now, proper polish work also ensures proper functioning parts. The smooth surface of a finely polished barrel and barrel cover, for instance, ensures that the mainspring can supply power consistently, while finely finished pinions can help reduce wear and tear. Still, the aesthetic properties conveyed by finishing are a huge deal in the industry. Take Patek Philippe, for example, where components for a new movement must be approved by an aesthetic committee of two: brand owners Thierry and Philippe Stern.
All that being said, as with just about any aspect of fine watchmaking, the path to appreciation begins with understanding. So, here, we invite you to take a closer look at some of the most popular finishing processes you may encounter in your quest for your next ticker as well as individual patterns or motifs that you might encounter during your journey in the world of haute horlogerie.