In its new Manufakturzentrum, IWC Schaffhausen marries traditional watchmaking with state-of-the-art manufacturing methods and technologies.
Completed in just 21 months, the facility sits on the outskirts of the Swiss town of Schaffhausen. Even as you approach the building, it becomes clear that the watch manufacturer has raised a monument in a year that also coincides with the company’s 150th anniversary. The glass façade with its black frames stands in stark contrast to the white, flat roofs that extend beyond the façade. Inside, IWC brings together the production of movement components, manufacture movements and cases in one place – a milestone in the company’s history.
The imposing, 9-metre high entrance lobby affords direct access to the movement-component production workshop. This is where around 1500 components are produced, including components for the automatic movements of calibre families 52 and 82, the hand-wound movements of calibre family 59, and the chronograph movements of calibre family 69. Complex components are manufactured, such as bottom plates, bridges and oscillating weights, as well as small components including switching levers, springs and latching elements. Some parts are so small that they are barely visible to the naked eye. This department’s activities also encompass the production of components for complications, such as perpetual calendars, annual calendars and tourbillons.
Movement components receive the desired surface finish properties in the electroplating shop. Movement components that are engraved are particularly complicated to produce. For example, the barrel bridge is first gold-plated all over and then a coating is applied to the engraving. Once the Côtes de Genève have been added, the components are rhodium-plated in an electroplating bath and any remaining coating is washed off. The engraving now gleams in dazzling gold.
The transition from movement-component production to movement assembly is seamless. While the production of the movement components is largely automated, assembling the manufacture movements is a delicate operation that must be performed by hand. It is beyond the capabilities of any machine to piece together the complex mechanism and bring it to life. At the pre-assembly stage, plates and bridges – which together form the ébauche – along with a number of other components, are assembled to form a unit. These finished assemblies are later sent to the assembly lines together with components that are kept in stock.
Even tiny amounts of dust or dirt can impair a movement’s performance. For this reason, the components are assembled in a cleanroom atmosphere; the conditions here are similar to those established for the manufacture of computer chips. Fifty thousand cubic metres of air are circulated every hour. The pressure in this environment is above atmospheric pressure, making it even harder for dust particles to find their way in.
The basement of the Manufakturzentrum houses the case production department. Stainless steel, titanium, platinum, red gold, white gold and bronze watch cases are manufactured here. Even a simple case comprises a great many individual components. If you then add functions such as a rotating bezel or chronograph pushers to the mix, the number of components rises rapidly to several dozen or more. The machining process for the blanks is customised using computer-controlled turning and milling centres. Depending on the material and case type, between 30 and 50 cases can be made from a metre-long bar. The milling process alone can take hours.
Once they have been machined, the cases proceed to the surface finishing stage, in which they are polished. The final clean and the final inspection then take place in a cleanroom atmosphere once again, and once again, these are delicate manual tasks. The case-production specialists are skilled in a range of particularly complex and demanding machining methods.
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