The Paradox of Watchmaking

As our smartphones get Leica cameras, higher optics, sooner processors and biometric safety sensors, you’d think they’d be getting more expensive. However they aren’t, actually they’re getting cheaper. In 1960, a younger computing engineer from the University of Pennsylvania introduced us to the idea of “scaling”. Douglas Engelbart hypothesised that as electronic circuits were made smaller, the elements would not only become quicker and wish less energy however they’d turn into cheaper as well.

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

When Abraham-Louis Breguet started us on the path of Breguet overcoils, Breguet numerals, tourbillons and potence pour l’horlogerie purposeful decoration within the 1800s, watches have been about as hand-made as they may get. There have been no machines. You only had instruments and also you used them. Materials sciences were so primitive, all method of decoration had to be utilized to make sure your watches weren’t rusting out a yr later; elements have been so crudely reduce and drilled that you simply finished screw sink holes and edges to ensure things match proper and ran appropriately and effectively with as little energy loss as possible.

When Jean-Richard arrived on the scene and improved efficiency of manufacturing, the strategies have been still tediously by hand, only higher organised with armies of part-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, altering timezones between towns and cities made the industrial enterprise of the transportation enterprise a customer service nightmare — with missed trains, late connections, business necessity inspired the Railroad watch and the expansion spurt of practical chronometry.

There’s going to be little argument that at 770,000 watches produced yearly (extrapolated from indie business reports) or close to 1,000,000 (in keeping with numbers of Rolex watches submitted for COSC grading), that Rolex is just one of the largest and arguably the very best producers of serially made, moderately to expensive mechanical watches in the marketplace 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 at the forefront of technology.

For starters, Rolex watches are more complicated to machine (as Jeff Parke will attest to) simply because their grade of 904L metal just makes it more complicated to cut and shape than common 316L steel. Parke, the Rolex engraving specialist we recently covered makes use of special 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.

If you examine the dimensions of what Rolex does and the way Rolex does it, their watches start trying 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 material R&D, movement R&D, in-house manufacturing and smelting after which hand assembly.