Angus Davies visited two manufacturing sites that belong to Bovet 1822. He witnessed awe-inspiring skill.
This overview of Bovet 1822 includes numerous live images and details of the production facilities at Château de Môtiers and Dimier. .
Sat on a tree-clad hillside, Château de Môtiers is unlike any other watch manufacture I have ever visited. It has an elevated position looking out across the Val-de-Travers, affording breathtaking views.
The castle originally belonged to Henri-François Du Bois-Bovet but the descendants of the Bovet family donated it to the Canton of Neuchâtel. Subsequently, an opportunity arose for the current owner of Bovet, Pascal Raffy, to acquire Château de Môtiers and the purchase was completed in 2006.
The Château de Môtiers required much renovation work to achieve the pristine appearance it now exhibits. Moreover, a 14th century castle does not ordinarily lend itself to the creation of timepieces in a near aseptic environment.
A dust-free environment
Prior to entering the workshops at the castle, I dressed in my pristine lab coat and placed overshoes over my brogues. Resembling a microbiologist, my new attire was intended to mitigate the risk of carrying potential contaminants into the dust-free environment.
Positive air pressure within the workshop ensures filtered air is drawn into the room and pushed outwards, guaranteeing no drafts enter the room which could transport foreign bodies and blight the pristine appearance of a valuable timepiece.
Although, the workshop has modern equipment and is spotless the castle has been sympathetically restored, ensuring its historical features have been retained.
The environment provides a peaceful and romantic place in which to bring these artistic objects to fruition. Windows at one end of the workshop allow natural light to flood into the room helping the artisans work at an infinitesimally small scale.
Touring the facilities
Touring the facility I went from bench to bench, surveying the work in progress. Various models were in different stages of production.
An Amadeo Skeleton, in 18 carat red gold, featuring Fleurisanne hand-engraving to the front, with a second dial located to the rear, sat in a protective case. But, in this instance, a customer had requested additional engraving to the bezel, bow and caseband. The resultant finish was gorgeous to behold.
Fleurier Amadeo Amadeo Skeleton Tourbillon, Unique Piece
Nearby, the engraver was at work. I watched her, transfixed by her adept use of a burin. She encouraged me to sit at her bench and try my hand at applying lines to a piece of metal that would later be discarded for recycling.
As I looked through the microscope, the first priority was merely to locate the tip of the burin held in my hand. The smallest of hand movements seem to take on huge proportions when viewed through the lens of the microscope.
My instructor for the task explained that the burin ought to be an extension of my arm and movements should be made with the whole arm and not merely the hand alone. I attempted to engrave the metal plate and was horrified at my inept fine motor skills. As I created wayward lines it soon became obvious the exceptional skill required to engrave a Bovet 1822 timepiece. Moreover, the engraving was not restricted to those surfaces parallel to the dial, but also surfaces which sat perpendicular to the watch hands and virtually every other angle in between.
Trying to empathise with the engraver, and imagine her daily role, I could not help but feel that there must be an immense pressure upon her not to damage many hours of work with one slip of the burin. However, she seemed perfectly at ease and relaxed in her role.
A little later, I would witness her work on another timepiece, this time employing a hammer and chisel to create an alternative motif.
An array of models to engage admiring eyes
The array of the models present in the workshop, during my visit, was a mouth watering proposition. The sublime execution of the watches was incredible. Traditional styling was much in evidence on some models but the Sportster and Pininfarina models exhibited contemporary design language whilst retaining historical artisanal craftsmanship.
Cambiano Chronograph designed by Pininfarina
Gem-set timepieces sat alongside dazzling creations featuring hand painted dials. The miniature painting of animals, and in some instances cherished family members, manifestly conveyed the adroit skills synonymous with Bovet 1822.
Château de Môtiers Collection with miniature painting. Limited Edition reserved to the BOVET Boutique in Moscow
Mother-of-pearl is invariably used as the canvas upon which artistic expression takes place. Whilst it presents a greater challenge for the artist to use, it bestows an aesthetic allure which is undeniable.
The respect for past traditions does not mean Bovet 1822 have eschewed modern quality controls. I saw numerous watches being exhaustively tested for both accuracy and water resistance using state of the art equipment.
My visit to Château de Môtiers was drawing to a close and a trip to sister company, Dimier 1738, was planned for the following day. I must confess, I was sceptical that Dimier could live up to the splendour of the Château de Môtiers.
Dimier is located in Tramelan, approximately 40 miles to the north-east of Môtiers. The company acquired by Pascal Raffy in 2006, is known for its competence in producing movements. Unlike Château de Môtiers, the building is contemporary in design and outwardly more typical of watch factories I have visited before. However, within the confines of the building there were many sights which were unfamiliar to me.
Following the linear-flow of the production process, I saw raw materials such as brass and steel awaiting fabrication into various movement components. Typical of many manufactures, I saw CNC machines and spark erosion equipment. Yet, what I had not seen beforehand, prior to visiting Dimier, were the numerous stamping machines.
Metals fed into a press aree exposed to huge forces, sometimes measuring many tons, to create the small components which exit the machine. The stamping tools are precision made by “swage-makers”, who are time-served engineers. Their duties include responsibility for the maintenance, adjustment and modification of the machinery.
The breadth of abilities within Dimier, means that virtually all components can be made on site including balance springs.
Experienced hands industriously, yet patiently, polish tiny components to a blemish free standard. Pinions, screws, mainplates and bridges are finished employing traditional methods. Perlage on mainplates, anglage and Côtes de Genève motif on bridges and circular graining on wheels are all splendidly in evidence at Dimier.
It is the precision and extraordinary detailing on some movements which is particularly noteworthy.
Ottantare designed by Pininfarina
Admiring the three quarter plate from a Pininfarina designed Ottantare, I noticed it incorporates a Clous de Paris motif. The motif features intersecting circular lines which elegantly interface. Their creation is magnificent but the product of involved manufacture.
Dimier Recital 9 Miss Alexandra
The moon-phase of the Dimier Recital 9 Miss Alexandra is unlike any other I have seen. The nocturnal sky is presented in a deep blue with a textured surface which accords a superb three-dimensional quality. The moon itself, depicted on a mirror-polished steel plate, is exquisitely engraved and the recesses filled with luminescent material.
Dimier proved to be anything other than the perceived anti-climax after visiting Château de Môtiers. Different? Yes, but no less commendable.
I left Dimier in haste, endeavouring to reach my next appointment on a hectic schedule. I felt a sense that there were many sights I had not afforded adequate time to see. Looking back, I now feel that my speedy departure was almost disrespectful by not according due reverence to the craftsmanship exampled.
The métiers d’arts seen at Château de Môtiers and Dimier defies adequate explanation. I am left reproaching myself that I have omitted a notable skill or other amazing observation from the account of my time spent with Bovet 1822.
On reflection, the splendour of both Château de Môtiers and Dimier seems almost make believe. The painstaking details imparted to watches sounds almost fictitious. However, despite discussions of a fairy-tale castle, the craftsmanship I witnessed was very much a reality.