Czapek Calibre SHX5 (part three) – the brand’s first Manufacture movement
Czapek Calibre SHX5 (part three). In this final part of his three-part feature, Angus Davies discusses the finishing of the movement as well as the extensive testing it is subjected to.
Finishing is a term used to describe the embellishment of movement components. This process proves very time consuming but has multiple benefits: it removes any signs of machining, it enhances corrosion resistance and, lastly, it enriches the visual appearance of components.
The finest watches will often encompass a high quotient of hand-finishing, imbuing the parts with a degree of character invariably surpassing any mechanical means of decoration.
On the Calibre SXH5, the mainplate, effectively the chassis of the movement, is sandblasted, bestowing its surface with a muted appearance. All the bridges are ‘texture laser blasted’ and, thereafter, hand bevelled. This latter stage involves using a wooden grinding wheel or a burnisher in combination with abrasive pastes to impart a 45° angle to the surface. By chamfering the surface, an angle is created between the surface and the flank, highlighting the rim of the bridge with a brilliant gleam.
External angles, formed of two chamfers meeting towards the exterior of a component, can be partially executed using a grinding wheel. A rounded angle, where the intersection of two chamfers is rounded, can also be performed using a grinding wheel. However, an interior angle, where two chamfers meet on an inside corner can only be performed with hand tools. The idea is that two chamfers dovetail each other, forming a near-seamless join. Interior angles are the most labour intensive to perform.
At the centre of the Calibre SXH5 is a bridge supporting the third wheel. This bridge encompasses six inward angles, an indication of its protracted finishing. Moreover, this bridge is embellished using black polishing (also termed mirror polishing or specular polishing). This is the most challenging finish to execute. It necessitates polishing the component on a tin plate smeared with diamond paste. The resultant surface can appear black from one angle and white from another. It is another indication of quality.
The sides or flanks of all bridges are straight-grained. Further enriching the overall aesthetic appearance of the movement. Lastly, the jewels sinks are highly polished. In this instance, Czapek has collaborated with Chronode, who helped the Genevan watch brand achieve a level of finishing worthy of the term Haute Horlogerie.
When a movement is completed it must be regulated and adjusted as required. The usual approach is to place the uncased movement on a test instrument equipped with a microphone. The brand leader for such instruments is Witschi and virtually all watch brands use this company’s test instruments. By listening to the movement, three pieces of information can be gleaned: the rate accuracy, the amplitude and the beat error.
The rate accuracy is expressed as ± seconds per day. When the balance oscillates to and fro, it scribes an arc expressed in degrees (°), termed the amplitude. On many watches, this will typically be 270° to 315°, albeit this will vary depending on the position of the watch eg dial up or dial down. Finally, the watchmaker is interested in the beat error. This is where there is a difference between the clockwise and counterclockwise swing of the balance wheel. Ideally, the beat error should be zero, however, a very small variance is acceptable.
Returning to a comment made earlier in the feature regarding the power supplied to the escapement, it should be as consistent as possible even as the energy within the barrel becomes increasingly depleted. If the balance drops significantly as the mainspring unwinds, then the amplitude of the balance will drop significantly, impairing precision.
Czapek decided to subject the Calibre SXH5 powering the Terre Adélie models to the independent scrutiny of Timelab (also known for delivering the “Poinçon de Genève”) to get the “Chronometer” qualification. This regime does incur additional cost for the Geneva watch firm, however, it does provide further peace of mind for the consumer.
The movement, tested in laboratory in Geneva, is evaluated over a 15-day period, appraised at different temperatures and in a multitude of positions. Measurements are recorded on a daily basis throughout the evaluation period. At the end of the test period, the movement has to meet the minimum requirements of ISO 3159 in order to be certified as a chronometer. If a Czapek movement fails to meet these criteria, it is returned to the watchmaker, adjusted, regulated and submitted for testing again. Clearly, it is in Czapek’s interests to get it right first time, every time!
The Calibre SXH5 is also subject to a further raft of testing with another independent body, Laboratoires Dubois. This facility looks at the chronometry of the movement both before and after it has been subject to shocks. The winding efficiency of the automatic movement is also tested. The torque of the mainspring from when it is fully wound to fully unwound is measured. Furthermore, Czapek uses the services of metrology.ch and Ma Clef for additional quality controls.
Rest assured, the Calibre SXH5 is independently tested by an array of firms, ensuring the movement functions as intended. Indeed, the movement is subject to a total of 25 different tests, comprised of both in-house and external evaluation.
At times, some movements failed, necessitating improvements to the components. For example, the micro-bearing broke when subject to the 550G shock test. It was subsequently replaced with a 20-ball state of the art, bespoke bearing created by MPS, a leading micro-bearing company, based in Switzerland.
The brand’s fastidious approach is summed up by a phrase that left Xavier’s lips, “We are micron hunters.” Put simply, the brand looks at each element of the movement to the nth degree.
A crisis for some brand’s proved an opportunity to Czapek.
During the summer of 2020, many watch brands, unsure of what to do during the global pandemic, chose to put product launches on hold. As Xavier explained to me, this provided an opportunity for additional media coverage for those brands who proceeded to unveil new products.
On Tuesday 26th May 2020, Czapek unveiled its Antarctique model, a souscription series of 99 pieces, each powered by the new Calibre SXH5. The model was only available for 45 days with the limited volumes being on a first come first served basis. The model received much media attention. Subsequently, all of the 99 models sold within just 17 days of release. Thereafter, two further models, both featuring hand-varnished dials and limited to just 10 pieces each, were released and once again sold out in a matter of weeks.
Despite, the watch industry experiencing the biggest crisis in the last 50 years, Czapek has achieved its best ever sales results. Xavier puts this down to being open and honest with the company’s suppliers, retail partners and consumers. Based on the evidence, there seems much wisdom in Czapek’s approach.
Since the brand burst onto the watchmaking scene in 2015, it has come a long way. When the Quai des Bergues 33bis was released, nobody could have ever envisaged that it would win a GPHG award the following year. Moreover, the brand’s innovative spirit has led it to release several further models.
Part of Czapek’s success can be attributed to its capacity to procure components from the best partners. Both Chronode and Vaucher helped the brand with the making of its initial watches. However, this background of working with third parties was at the heart of its decision to make a Manufacture movement, selecting the best firms within the watch industry.
This is not unusual, many other makers of Manufacture movements will procure parts from third parties, it’s just that they are less inclined to be as transparent as Czapek. For example, visit the brand’s website and the Genevan firm declares it uses an array of firms for ‘components and movement manufacturing’, including AB Product, Arcofil, Atokalpa, Ceramaret, Chronode, CMT-Rickenbach, Comblemine, Crelier, Generale Ressort, Inca, Inodeco, MLV, MPS, Novasort, Precipro, Risa and Stocco. There is no smoke and mirrors, Czapek chooses to be open.
By making its own Manufacture movement, Czapek made a huge investment in its development. Clearly, the brand hopes to recoup its investment by equipping further models with the Calibre SXH5. Furthermore, at some future stage, the movement may be paired with modules, allowing the brand to enlarge its product portfolio with new watches endowed with new complications.
At the heart of the Calibre SXH5 is an obsession with reliability, precision and longevity. However, the brand also pays much attention to the aesthetic appearance of the movement. With its delightful transparency, the Calibre SXH5 reveals many of its thought processes. The finger-like bridges are slim and exhibit a visual lightness, albeit they are strong courtesy of the hardened German silver from which they are made. Xavier said he wanted the bridges to be like lingerie, revealing a little in order to create excitement. Indeed, he went on to describe this approach as ‘horological eroticism’!
As our meeting concluded, I thought of the brand’s future and pondered where it would be in 5, 10 or 20 years time. The answer is, I don’t know, however, based on its achievements to date, I suspect it will ascend to new heights, undoubtedly taking its own unique path to success. Indeed, as long as it considers the wants of watch aficionados, sating their desires with fine-looking movements and watches, I suspect Czapek’s future will continue on its skyward trajectory.
While this may be the final part of this three-part feature, the story of the Calibre SXH5 continues. Next week, Czapek will unveil a new watch equipped with the firm’s Manufacture movement and I will be reporting on it once it has been unveiled.
- Calibre: SXH5 – automatic movement with micro-rotor
- Diameter: 30 mm – 13 lines ¼
- Height: 4.2 mm
- Number of parts: 193
- Jewels: 28
- Swiss lever escapement, variable-inertia balance fitted with four gold masellotes
- Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)
- Power winding system: Micro rotor with an 18K recycled gold mass
- Power-reserve > 56 hours on one single barrel
- Barrel torque: 8.8 Nmm
- Finish: Open ratchets, sandblasted black bridges, bevelling, straight-grained sides, six hand-chamfered internal angles
- Certification: COSC-certified chronometer