Just like drivetrains, some watch companies make their own movements


Just like drivetrains, some watch companies make their own movements

More and more watchmakers are building in-house mechanisms, and that can only be a good thing

Richard HoltPublished: 21 Apr 2023  External link to Top Gear Magazine Subscription – 5 issues for £5Skip 1 photos in the image carousel and continue reading

Why is one new watch worth more than another? Two main reasons: materials and craftsmanship. The first is easy. Fancy things like diamonds and gold have been highly valued for thousands of years, long before formal currency existed. Craftsmanship is harder to quantify, and this has fuelled a trend by watchmakers to develop their own in-house movements.

A mechanical movement made in your own factory is the best way to get the kudos that separates “proper” watch companies from imitators and wannabees. But it isn’t easy. A similar problem is faced by any small volume car company that wants to make its own engine. It takes a lot of time and money to develop, and you’re normally better off buying a proven one in from someone with the resources to do it properly.

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That was generally the move for watch companies – a Swiss movement maker called ETA and a Japanese one called Miyota, among others, make movements for loads of brands. The quality is very high, but they are still often referred to as “workhorses” – a description that comes with a degree of snobbery.

Thoroughbreds come at a price, though. Which is why the likes of Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin would not dream of putting anything but in-house movements in their watches, but they have correspondingly exclusive prices. So, are in-house movements only for those with the deepest pockets? Thankfully not.

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There are now lots of more affordable companies offering their own movements. However, it is rare to make absolutely everything in-house. Most still need to buy in some components, like jewels and hairsprings, but they are still considered in-house, because almost all the work is done by the brand with the name on the dial.

Some watches boast proper in-house movements. The cheaper ones are produced at scale and affordability does diminish the flex factor if you are looking for exclusivity. But spend a bit more and they come with hundreds of hours of highly skilled watchmaking toil and plenty of bragging rights. If that’s still not enough, most posh companies will also offer gold, platinum, and maybe even a sprinkling of diamonds.

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