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The Paradox of Watchmaking

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As our smartphones get Leica cameras, higher optics, quicker processors and biometric security sensors, you’d think they’d be getting more expensive. However they aren’t, in truth they’re getting cheaper. In 1960, a younger computing engineer from the University of Pennsylvania launched us to the idea of “scaling”. Douglas Engelbart hypothesised that as digital circuits have been made smaller, the elements would not only turn into faster and wish less power but they would change into cheaper as well.

Gordon Moore, founding father of the Intel Corporation would prove Engelbart proper and Moore’s Law, his namesake economic theory also confirmed that technology would double in efficiency while dropping in price as production methodology improved and from computers to vehicles, it has held true except for one business — watches. Therein lies the paradox of watchmaking: shouldn’t watches be getting cheaper as watchmaking technology improves?

When Abraham-Louis Breguet began us on the trail of Breguet overcoils, Breguet numerals, tourbillons and purposeful ornament in the 1800s, watches had been about as hand-made as they could get. There have been no machines. You only had instruments and you used them. Materials sciences had been so primitive, all method of ornament had to be applied to make sure your watches weren’t rusting out a 12 months later; components have been so crudely lower and drilled that you just completed screw sink holes and edges to verify things fit right and ran correctly and effectively with as little energy loss as possible.

When Jean-Richard arrived on the scene and improved effectivity of production, the strategies had been still tediously by hand, only higher organised with armies of half-time watchmakers working cooperatively. The Industrial Revolution was when things really changed. The Railroad watch from Hamilton is literally an emblem for the age, invented within the time of railway networks, the steam engine necessitated precision on an unprecedented scale; once, it was unnecessary to maintain uniform time because it was uncommon to cross timezones in a single day on foot or by horseback. With trains, horlogerie altering timezones between cities and cities made the business enterprise of the transportation business a customer service nightmare — with missed trains, late connections, enterprise necessity inspired the Railroad watch and the expansion spurt of purposeful chronometry.

There’s going to be little argument that at 770,000 watches produced annually (extrapolated from indie enterprise reports) or close to 1,000,000 (in line with numbers of Rolex watches submitted for COSC grading), that Rolex is simply one of the largest and arguably one of the best producers of serially made, moderately to costly mechanical watches on the market today. While the Rolex manufacture in Bienne is highly automated and producing numbers of watches which far outstrip many other Swiss watchmakers, Rolex continues to be priced at values above what Joe Street can afford and that’s for one easy reason — Rolex tends to stay on the forefront of technology.

For starters, Rolex watches are more difficult to machine (as Jeff Parke will attest to) merely because their grade of 904L metal just makes it more complicated to cut and form than regular 316L steel. Parke, the Rolex engraving specialist we just lately covered makes use of particular carbide tools to chop into 904L, extrapolate that to the hundreds of 1000’s of watches and you’d be wondering why Rolex watches aren’t more expensive.

Whenever you compare the dimensions of what Rolex does and the way Rolex does it, their watches begin wanting competitively priced in comparison. Rolex watches aren’t just chronometers because COSC says so, they’re Superlative Chronometers because they’re tested a second time to a precision of -2/+2 seconds a day, beating COSC requirements of -4/+6 seconds per day. We haven’t even begun to talk about materials R&D, movement R&D, in-house manufacturing and smelting and then hand assembly.