Armin Strom Lady Beat (part one)
The Armin Strom Lady Beat is the Swiss marque’s inaugural ladies’ watch. It has been conceived by Claude Greisler, Armin Strom’s co-founder and Technical Director, together with an all-female design team. The new model encompasses feminine styling and is endowed with optimal ergonomics, ideally suited to slender wrists. In this first part of a two-part feature, Angus Davies goes behind the scenes of the Manufacture and explains why Armin Strom believes Haute Horlogerie should not just be the preserve of men.
Biel/Bienne straddles the border between the French and German speaking parts of Switzerland. Unusually, the chosen spelling of the city’s name is determined by the person’s native tongue. While some of the city’s residents talk of Rue de Boujean, Armin Strom refers to it as Bözingenstrasse, its home for the last 11 years. This latter name is a telltale sign that the Manufacture is unequivocally Swiss-German, a characteristic which permeates every aspect of the company’s paradigm.
As an Englishman with an embarrassing inability to speak any language other than my own, I am always humbled when I hear Swiss citizens address me in perfect English before breaking off to converse in French, German or Italian. However, when you arrive at Armin Strom, there is one word they always say with gusto, ‘Grüessech’, meaning ‘hello’ in Bernese German or Berndeutsch. The first time my host uttered the word, I was somewhat confused by the greeting, however, over the years I have grown accustomed to the salutation.
Likewise, I have also grown accustomed to touring Armin Strom’s Manufacture. The brand never hides the production of its watches behind a glossy veneer of marketing. Quite the contrary, the firm is happy to show what it makes. In fact, Armin Strom purposely designs watches to showcase parts usually hidden from view, justly proud of its handiwork. This candid approach to watch design means that every component must be executed to a flawless conclusion.
In 2009, Armin Strom moved to its present home. At the time it was a bold move as the world economy was in the midst of a financial crisis. Few other companies had the appetite for expansion, however, this proved advantageous to Armin Strom as it was able to procure state of the art machinery at very keen prices.
The term ‘Manufacture’ is used to describe a watch company that makes its own movements. In the watch industry many firms procure components from a number of suppliers. By making parts and, by default, its own in-house movements, Armin Strom can fully control the production process, ensuring consistently high levels of quality.
Making a Manufacture movement
The movement is the heart of a watch and to ensure it remains healthy, all components have to be made to exacting standards. Plates and bridges are milled from brass using a CNC machine (Computer Numerical Control). This type of machine can mill parts to tolerances measured in microns (1 micron = 0.001 mm).
Tiny parts, such as wheels, screws, pivots and pinions, are made using profile turning machines. This type of machine is loaded with long rods of brass or steel that are ultimately transformed into minuscule components, some barely visible to the naked eye. Some steel components are placed in a bath of deionised water and cut using an electrified wire. This latter machine is termed a wire erosion machine and delivers a degree of precision that even surpasses CNC.
Armin Strom exists in the rarefied world of Haute Horlogerie, a term that is used to describe high-end, no-compromise watchmaking. Components are made to a peerless standard, intended to last for decades to come. After parts are made, they are subsequently finished. This process removes any burrs or evidence of machining and necessitates polishing components by hand to impart a refined finish. Tradition dictates the nature of each form of decoration applied to a surface. While Armin Strom is a relatively young company, making contemporary timepieces, it still uses some historical finishing techniques that have been employed for generations. Interestingly, while some parts will never be seen by the wearer, they still receive the same meticulous care as visible components.
Some components, such as plates and bridges, are electroplated. An ultra-thin layer of gold, rhodium or ruthenium is applied to the surface of the parts, protecting them from corrosion as well as hardening the material.
An Armin Strom watch is born
Once all movement parts have been made they must be brought together and assembled. A skilled watchmaker will expend much time and expertise, uniting all the components. Great care is taken to ensure the finished, pristine components are not damaged during assembly. Everything must retain a showroom-fresh appearance.
The completed movement is placed upon a measurement instrument that is fitted with a very powerful microphone. This device listens to the movement and indicates the rate accuracy, beat error and amplitude. A trained watchmaker then ‘regulates’ the movement, making slight adjustments to ensure the watch delivers a high level of precision.
While Armin Strom makes its own movements, it chooses to procure both the cases and dials from specialist companies, albeit each item is made to the company’s own design. The dial and hands are fitted to the movement and, thereafter, these parts are encased.
The completed watch head is checked again for precision as well as any case blemishes. Thereafter, the strap is fitted and the watch is ready for dispatch.
Although I have talked briefly about the making of a movement and the subsequent assembly of a watch, the path to greatness starts much earlier.
Claude Greisler, Armin Strom’s co-founder and Technical Director, has always been a key figure in the design of the brand’s movements as well as its completed watches. Despite his youthful appearance, Claude is a veteran of the watch industry. He attended engineering school in Le Locle and worked as a constructeur and watch engineer at the prestigious brand, Christophe Claret.
When walking past Claude’s office, he can be seen intently staring at the screen of his CAD system, conceiving his next movement or designing a new watch. He does not work alone, a constructeur and an engineer also work in the same room. They spend many hours looking at a virtual movement on a screen, assessing how parts go together, repeatedly assembling and disassembling components, and checking everything behaves as intended.
Over the years, Claude has designed many watches, some are simple, displaying hours, minutes and small seconds while others have been more elaborate. He often burns the midnight oil, initially sketching his ideas for a new creation on a piece of paper. Ultimately, all ideas are captured in electronic form, visible on a CAD system. Last year, Armin Strom released an incredibly complex watch combining a minute repeater with resonance-based regulation. This über complex watch was truly groundbreaking, receiving plaudits for its technical ingenuity and refined specification.
Claude also has an eye for design. It’s a rare talent, albeit it doesn’t stop many amateurs from ‘having a go’. The Swiss watchmaker has an impressive understanding of proportions, lines, curves, angles and textures. This is clear whenever you see an Armin Strom watch. Moreover, Claude’s design prowess has attracted plaudits and independent recognition from a variety of sources. For example, the company has been the recipient of reddot awards in 2015, 2017 and 2019.
A new era
While the annual production of some watch brands can exceed 10,000 or even 100,000+ units, Armin Strom only produce approximately 400 timepieces per annum. Needless to say, Armin Strom ownership is very exclusive, primarily because of the Manufacture’s limited production capacity. Moreover, the firm’s fastidiousness always means that the making of an Armin Strom is protracted.
The firm’s watches are often acquired by ‘those in the know’. Indeed, horological connoisseurs will recognise the technical virtue of Armin Strom’s products, the impressive finishing and the distinctive styling of the Swiss-German firm’s watches.
Serge Michel, the founder of Armin Strom, regularly meets with the company’s clients and retailers. He has learnt that by chatting to these individuals and, more pertinently, listening to them, he can gain an insight into what makes the brand’s clientele tick (pun intended). In the last few years, several of the brand’s customers, virtually all male, have remarked that they would like to see Armin Strom offer ladies’ watches. The overriding sentiment was that ladies should be able to enjoy the same Armin Strom experience as men.
Serge and Claude talked at length about the feedback they had received and agreed that the notion of producing a ladies’ watch was an interesting idea.
As Serge explained, “We asked ourselves what do women really want? Initially, Claude created a few renderings and showed them to ladies in order to gain their feedback. We soon realised that in order to create a ladies’ watch we needed to understand what they were looking for and what attracts them to particular models. It was based on this realisation that we chose to collaborate with a female design team. Claude and I learned much from employing this approach and we are delighted with the end result. The look of the Lady Beat is feminine, but remains recognisable as an Armin Strom. Indeed, similar to our System 78 collection, this new timepiece showcases fine watchmaking with finely decorated components on view.”
Designed by women for women
Having decided to break with convention and create a ladies’ watch, Claude and Serge chose to engage a freelance design team, comprised of female designers. Although Claude has designed virtually all of the brand’s models to date, the two founders of the business felt a female perspective was essential to the success of the project.
The design will be revealed in its entirety in the second part of this two-part feature, however, I can already disclose that the specification of the watch subscribes to the brand’s ethos of showcasing parts usually hidden from view. Furthermore, the model pays due consideration to gender-specific ergonomics and sizing.
Rest assured, the Armin Strom Lady Beat harnesses all of the brand’s watchmaking expertise and perpetuates the firm’s reputation for mechanical excellence. Indeed, as you will soon discover, in releasing this new model, Armin Strom wish to demonstrate that Haute Horlogerie should not be just the preserve of men.