In early February 2018, Bespoke Unit was fortunate to be invited by Bovet for a guided tour of their facilities.
Founder Paul Anthony with Trevor Guilday and Charles-Philippe travelled to the Val-de-Travers, Switzerland exclusively to see the Dimier 1738 Manufacture & historical Château de Môtiers.
On a frosty February morning, we were picked up from our Geneva apartment to be driven along the snow-laden Swiss landscapes.
Within a few hours, we had arrived at an understated building in a small village called Tramelan. Here, we were greeted by Christophe Persoz, Bovet’s project manager, who personally tour us around the facilities
Dimier 1738 Manufacture
Our first port of call was the Dimier 1738 Manufacture purchased by Bovet’s Pascal Raffy in 2006. Christophe explained that Raffy envisioned an entirely in-house production process.
In order to realise this, he obtained both the Dimier manufacture as well as the Môtiers château and a dial facility.
Built on two storeys, the manufacture is divided between micromechanics downstairs whilst the upper floor is dedicated to the artisans and watchmakers. The overall workforce consists of 73 employees and artisans of 41 different professions.
After a quick coffee, we headed down to the micromechanics workshops. Once below, we were greeted by an employee handling long machines used for lathing and milling rods into shape.
Although partly automated, these particular machines required programming to cut a particular component at a time. On one end, the rods were viced into a compartment that were then fed into the cutting section.
We were able to see one in action, which was very impressive. The piece being cut was constantly sprayed with oil under high pressure in order to reduce the temperature. Meanwhile, an automated device would both lathe and mill the piece into shape.
The results were breathtaking. A single machine could be programmed to cut a variety of wheels, gears and components with extreme precision. What was particularly impressive was seeing examples still attached to the thick brass rods. The juxtaposition of a delicate watch component hanging from a chunk of raw metal was not without poetry.
With Bovet’s reputation for handmade timepieces and artisanal values, it was fascinating to see how they progressed with the times. The following room was framed with a variety of machines that were supervised by a handful of technicians.
Some of these were capable of cutting highly complex components. Christophe eagerly brandished a highly-detailed main plate for their 17BM03-GD calibre.This intricate structure comprised of varying curves, cross-sections and spokes on multiple levels. Used on both the Virtuoso VIII and OttantaSei flying tourbillon pieces, it was a technological marvel.
Designed with lightness in mind, it’s one of the most complex main plates ever seen. The aim was to create the most lightweight plate possible that was still able to withstand 10 days of power reserve.
In order to build this impressive piece of engineering, we expected that it required several machines to build. However, Christophe pointed to a single one behind him. He then explained that originally Bovet had considered contracting another company to make this as it was so complex.
However, each one turned them down saying that it was impossible to achieve due to the piece’s three-dimensional structure.
Nevertheless, Bovet prevailed whilst staying true to their in-house philosophy. The device he had indicated was able to be programmed with multiple tools to make any component. In this instance, it required 12 separate tools, which were each made by hand in the workshop. Each base plate would take over 8 hours to be intricately created.
In order to ensure that every component is precisely constructed to the micron, the centre of the workshop was dedicated to quality control. Several benches were assorted with microscopes, measuring devices and computers.
Here, each and every component would be tested and verified before being taken upstairs for assembly.
The next workshop was somewhat more artisanal and what you’d expect from a watchmaker’s workshop but on a larger scale. This time Christophe introduced us to an artisan that was working on the cutting tools for making the components.
With great pride, he showed us a finished piece as Christophe explained how the vices that held the tool worked. A minute blade on a small piece of metal, we had to look close to see what it was.
“How does it take to make one of these?” We asked curiously.
“One week at the very least.” He replied proudly, “I have to cut it down in increments and if I make a mistake, I have throw it away and start again.”
“And how long does it last before needing to be replaced?” We responded.
“Oh, it could break after two days or be good for a few years.” He smiled nonchalantly.
He then enthusiastically brought us a finished component made using the tool. No bigger than a fingernail, it was a finely-sculpted wheel with thin spokes.
We Bespoke Unit team exchanged glances. We were in awe not just in how something so refined could be made by hand but how passionate this man was of his work.
In the workshop’s final room, we saw a few other machines in action that were manually run. Although some new technologies could be used with certain components, others still required older, heavy-duty machinery.
On one end, a woman was hunched over a machine where she would place washers to be stamped into shape. The structure looked familiar and it turned out it was using the vice and cutting tool made by the man from earlier.
We then were given a demonstration of another machine that would reel in strips of copper and cut them into components. With a purr, it began drawing in the raw metal and chopping away. Below, it would churn out the finished pieces into a box at a high-speed rate.
Many airlines don’t have the facilities that are precise enough to make some of their cockpit parts so Bovet is often called upon to make them instead. Similarly, Bovet realise a number of medical components and instruments thanks to the superior precision that they offer.
Before leaving, we then took a look at a few isometric schematics and the resources used to translate these into action with traditional light panels. After a few complex calculations, an artisan is than able to build the component with the machinery at his disposal.
As we headed back upstairs, we were fitted in sterilised surgical coats before heading into the workshops. Christophe explained that it was to avoid dust particles dispersing into the air, which would risk contaminating the delicate components inside.
The first room we visited was dedicated to engraving and making some of the more intricate pieces by hand. In fact, it was quite a radical change from the rooms below. Where those were loud and energetic rooms with large machinery, this one was more reminiscent of a laboratory.
Artisans hunched over their respective pieces and concentrated on their tasks at hand. Nevertheless, they were delighted to show us some of their work.
One woman, with a particularly appropriate and eye-catching Fleurisanne-style tattoo, was carefully engraving plates under a microscope. Using a small hammer and refined chisel, she carefully tapped away at the polished metal.
She let us take a look through the lens and we would stupefied by the level of detail. Needless to say, the work was painstaking and we admired her steady hands.
Meanwhile, a few older gentlemen worked at their stations on intricate pieces too. Whilst one was carefully buffing, another was working on a piece that was so small, it was barely perceptible on the tip of a finger.
Although dazzled by their work, we left them in piece and moved onto the next room.
Top Secret Balance Springs
Before we stepped into a small room in the corner of the facility, Christophe quickly explained that this particular location was somewhat confidential. Therefore, we couldn’t take many photos but we could get a small tour.
However, we were blown away by what we did see. Dedicated to the balance springs, this secretive room would be used to manufacture the world’s most refined coils in existence. Forever loyal to their in-house approach, developing this practice took considerable research, development and investment.
Using a special and confidential technique, Dimier draws and rolls out a unique steel allow into thicknesses measured in microns with a tolerance of less than 0.0001 mm. These are then carefully coiled in a surgical environment.
More impressively, the actual balance wheels on which the springs are fixed aren’t a solid piece either. Instead, they are small spokes with thin weights that come together in an almost science fiction design.
Finally, Christophe added that it was very rare for a watch firm to make these themselves. In fact, many other brands turn to Bovet to supply them with springs as it’s an expensive and sophisticated process.
After checking out a few painting rooms as well as where the dial’s logo was printed using the transfer method, we were ushered into the assembly room. Although it was lunchtime, most of the technicians kindly stayed to show us their work.
In the surgically sterilised environment, technicians carefully put together the components into full movements. Here we witnessed the fruit of all the other rooms’ labour as the timepieces were carefully and intricately assembled by hand.
Through monocle eyepieces and furrowed brows, the technicians hunched over their work as they delicately put together and test the movements. One artisan took a little time to show us the completed movement in action. It was breathtaking to see all those complications of 400+ components working in harmony after having seen their construction only moments earlier.
Research & Development
At the end of our tour of Dimiers, we were taken to a small open-space office where designers would work on the 3D models of current and future calibres.
Given that much of what happened in this room was highly confidential, we were delighted that they took the time to show us some less restricted designs.
Using Autodesk’s Inventor software, each watch had been assembled in a 3D render. The designers then could strip down the full watch in its case so we could see every component and how they came together.
It was particularly impressive to see Bovet’s patented spherical winding mechanism in a full 3D environment. Here, we could really understand how the tridimensional toothing came into play and made such an innovative concept possible.
Le Château de Môtiers
Having wrapped up our exhilarating experience of Dimier, we were then taken on a drive into the Val-de-Travers, the birthplace of Bovet. Driving through Fleuriers, Bovet’s ancestral home, Christophe pointed out the “Chinese Palace”.
Once Édouard Bovet’s home and headquarters, it was the town’s municipal building today. However, it still hosts the Fleurier Quality Foundation, which was partly founded by Bovet. As we left the village, we began driving up an uphill, spiralling country road.
Eventually, we arrived at the summit and encountered the large gates of the Château de Môtiers. Built in the 14th Century by the count of Neuchâtel, Rodolphe IV, it was originally called Vauxtravers.
It was purchased by Henri-François Dubois-Bovet in 1835 before being donated to the Neuchâtel municipality in 1957.
When Pascal Raffy sought a base of operations for Bovet that was worthy of its heritage and values, he came upon the castle. Fortunately, the Neuchâtel municipality couldn’t afford the upkeep and sold it to Raffy in 2006.
As we entered the courtyard, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. However, we were certainly enthusiastic!
After a few moments left to gape in the courtyard, we all nodded to each other and agreed that it was reminiscent of a James Bond filming location. Hopefully no-one expected us to talk…
We were then brought into the main building, which hosted the marketing and sales team. The juxtaposition of modern computers with tall stone walls and thick oak beams was mesmerising.
We were heartily welcomed by the team before being taken upstairs by Christophe.
The Castle’s Workshop
As we headed up the stairs, the scenery drastically changed into another surgical environment. Outfitted in another sterilised overcoat, we were explained that the workshop’s room was a fully controlled atmosphere.
Here, the pressure and temperature were regulated to ensure that the watches weren’t affected by any variations.
With a hiss of the door, we stepped in to see another stark contrast between thick oak beams against a laboratory environment. Half a dozen artisans were again hunched over their work with monocle eyepieces.
Christophe explained that this room was dedicated to the assembly of the watches as well as some engraving work. The technicians eagerly and proudly showed us their work and we were amazed by the detailed miniature paintings on display.
Through microscopes, we were in awe at the depth of detail on each of the paintings. Often painting on a mother of pearl canvas, an enamel painting could be fired and polished over 30 times. If any cracks were to appear during this process, it would be discarded and started again.
At the end of the room, against a large window that gave a panoramic view of the valley below, an engraver was hard at work. We admired some of the finished cases on display with their hand-knurled and Fleurisanne bezels and bows.
The engraver looked up and invited us to try out engraving on a practice plate under a microscope. Each of us gave it a try, trying to hold the tool at the correct angle and only turn to the rotating base rather than the blade itself. Needless to say, it was far harder than it looked!
Before leaving the workshop, we were brought a tray of finished timepieces to admire and handle. Wearing speciality gloves, we gushed over the intricate timepieces from the Virtuoso VIII to the Édouard Bovet Tourbillon.
I particularly loved the Monsieur Bovet, which features the revolutionary Amadeo system. This ingenious concept case allows specific watches to be converted from a pocket watch to a table clock or wristwatch.
By simply pushing the bow’s cabochons, the strap is released. A chain can then be securely clipped in or an invisible easel flips out for resting it on a table.
After having witnessed only the tip of the production’s iceberg, we were momentarily struck by all the years of development and careful work required to make what we held in our hands. After all, Bovet only makes a few thousand timepieces per year on average, which was a conscious and philosophical choice on Pascal Raffy’s part.
La Tour Diesse
As our tour wrapped up, Christophe took us across the courtyard to the castle’s tour. Named the Tour Diesse, it hosts the building’s board room.
We were first taken into a lavish meeting room. Tapestries, golden clocks and samovars surrounded an oak table whilst Pascal Raffy’s private pocket watch collection was displayed in the far corner. With timepieces dating back to 1820, we were captivated by the works of art that captured Bovet’s essence and spirit.
We then headed upstairs to see the board room, which felt appropriate in the lavish setting. The far wall hosted a fresco dedicated to the Port of Canton in the 19th Century. Facing it was a print of some original Bovet posters with Chinese lettering.
Christophe used this to explain Bovet’s early history as well as the efforts it took to combat counterfeiting in 19th Century China. You can watch the video below to see Christophe explain it all in person:
The Dungeon & Fond Farewells
Before our visit came to a close, Christophe Persoz took us to one last room in the cellar above. Hidden in the low roofing was an old medieval prison cell made from oak and iron bars.
It seemed to have been restored and as Trevor Guilday stepped in to test it out, Paul Anthony shut the door on him.
Overall, our visit of Bovet was a captivating and eye-opening experience. Despite our best efforts, seeing the watches’ design and construction is an indescribable sensation. Knowing what goes into making such ornate and refined timepieces, you become far more appreciative of the time requirements and pricing.
If you enjoyed this article, you can learn more about Bovet’s history and structure by checking out its dedicated page on Bespoke Unit. Alternatively, you can watch the video below and see our experience first-hand!
Paul, do you think they let Trevor out yet?