A producer of modules, mechanical manual-winding and automatic movements and tourbillons, its products are customizable both technically and decoratively, allowing for brand differentiation.
One of Technotime’s characteristic features, which it considers a competitive advantage, is its use of twin barrels to generate a full five-day power reserve, an optimal torque for driving complications. Additionally, Technotime is one of the few companies capable of making its own balance springs.
Established in 2001, Technotime is located in Les Brenets in the heart of Swiss watchmaking country. It is the successor of a French-Swiss tradition, born from the remains of France Ébauches, the last French company to produce mechanical and quartz ébauches and movements. Technotime acquired that company’s assets after its bankruptcy. A major turning point for Technotime was in 2003 when it turned its attention to high-end mechanical movements. It launched a complete series of new mechanical movements derived from a basic tractor, then the TT741 automatic column-wheel chronograph with date and small seconds.
According to Sébastien Gigon, Technotime’s Sales Manager, the company in 2003 analyzed the market and saw that the Swatch Group was alone in producing mechanical movements.
“The situation was that some brands asked us also to be a producer of mechanical movements,” he explains. “We decided to become a competitor of Frédéric Piguet, the producer of high-end movements for Breguet and Blancpain.”
Introduced in 2003, Technotime’s first mechanical construction was the TT651.00 module for either hand-wound or automatic movements, featuring a patented big date with quick-change correction at 12 o’clock, and second time zone with hours and minutes at six o’clock. About thirty brands use it, and this year the module is being updated with an oversized day/night indicator disc making one full rotation every 24 hours, placed on the same axis as the second time zone hands with independent setting of the second time zone that doesn’t affect the central time display.
A 10-mm diameter surface area is available on the disc for a brand’s designers to customize, and may be fully revealed or left partially visible. Various display options are possible: the second time zone display may be used on its own, without a pointer, by careful transferring of the disc, or the disc may be combined with only the hour hand or with both hour and minute hands. Two discs may also be superimposed, with no hands, where a color appears through the cut-out numerals of the upper disc.
In 2004, Hong Kong-based Chung Nam became a shareholder of Technotime and the group, led by billionaire Charles Chong, now holds a majority of the shares. But in an age where watch brands aim to achieve vertical integration, Technotime moved in the opposite direction. Originally housing the necessary equipment to produce a large part of its movement components, it gave up this capability and near complete integration due to supply chain limits and high costs. This was further aggravated by the economic crisis, which forced the company in 2009 to close its French subsidiary in Valdahon (specializing in bar turning and watch component production) and slash staff numbers.
Instead of complete in-house creations, the company works closely with a network of partner subcontractors, experts in their respective areas of competence. For example, Technotime collaborates closely with Mercier in Breuleux, a company specializing in the finishing of movements and watches, for the assembly of different calibers, such as the TT718 and TT738.
Yet Technotime continues to produce and adjust its own hairsprings at its Les Brenets factory.
“We currently use two alloys to produce the spring and have just launched a partnership with a well-known European research center to test a new alloy with very promising characteristics,” explains Gigon. Technotime today employs twenty-two and last year delivered about 11,000 mechanical modules, movements and tourbillons.
To prove the quality of its products, one of Technotime’s movements was tried and tested at the second edition of the International Chronometry Competition.
A first-time participant, the company subjected its specially-built timepiece to the competition’s strict and objective criteria. After its in-house made hand-wound tourbillon Caliber TT791.50 went through three rounds of shock and magnetism tests imposed by the Haute École Arc, all validated by the Besançon Observatory and the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC), it won third place in the tourbillon category, scoring 791 points out of 1,000, placing behind Greubel Forsey’s Double Tourbillon Technique (first) and Chopard’s L.U.C Tourbillon Tech Twist All Black (second).
Although that piece was a standard movement, Technotime gave it special attention, especially regarding escapement adjustment and trimming operations to optimize chronometric performance. One week was required for movement assembly, four weeks for adjustment, control and chronometric performance follow-up and two days to design the case, with a subcontractor brought in to make the case.
That competition validates Technotime’s work and the recognition marks an important step for Technotime in terms of its watchmaking credibility. The company already has plans to participate in the third edition of the competition in 2013, hoping to score another win.
“Technotime participated in this competition to prove the quality of its movements, and also to demonstrate that a product does not necessarily need to be the most expensive in its class to deliver excellent performance,” says Gigon.
Technotime’s Calibers TT738.00, a popular “all-terrain” movement (available in self-winding or hand-wound versions), and TT791.00 can be personalized to respond to a client’s need to distinguish itself. Its current portfolio offers two modules, one manual-winding movement, one automatic movement and one tourbillon movement.
The movements and tourbillon are available with additional complications (retrograde date, power-reserve indicator and soon a chronograph) or any other specific modules developed by clients. Equipped with in-house manufactured balance springs, these movements may be optionally chronometer-certified by COSC. Technotime obtained its first COSC certification in March 2010.
The company today works with between sixty and eighty customers, including Blacksand, Ebel, Louis Erard, Edox, Hanowa, Andersen Genève, Maurice Lacroix and Yeslam. Gigon refuses to reveal the full list, saying, “As an engine supplier, to avoid causing prejudice to brands that use our movements by presenting them as their own manufactured movements, we do not disclose the names of our customers, except customers clearly indicating the origin of their movements.”
In an environment where the Swiss watch industry is tightening its grip on movement supply, and watch brands are moving to secure provision of movements, Gigon says he expects steady demand for his firm’s wares.
“We hope to be able to manage a controlled growth that respects the product and that meets customer expectations, both in terms of quality, meaning the functionality of our movements, and value for money.”