The Bovet Recital 22 Grand Recital, which debuted in May, was the third astronomically themed Bovet 1822 complication in as many years. The watch re-introduced many of Bovet’s technical achievements within one impressive watch. The watch is a limited-edition tour-de-force of artisanal and technical craftsmanship. In short, it’s a multi-level, dual-side perpetual calendar Tellurium-Orrery, with a flying tourbillon representing the sun.
To understand in greater detail how Bovet 1822 develops its complicated timepieces, we spoke with Bovet Project Manager Christophe Persoz at the Bovet’s Dimier 1738 manufacturing facility in Tramelan. Persoz enlightened us to the watchmaking processes at the facility and explained how Bovet develops its enviable collection of complicated in-house movements and cases. (This interview is Part 1 of a two-part feature stemming from our inside look at Bovet 1822. In an upcoming post, we’ll speak with Bovet 1822 owner Pascal Raffy.)
Does Bovet make all its movements?
Here at Dimier 1738 (in Tramelan) we produce all of our in-house movements. We do continue to buy the chronograph and the minute repeater. Everything else uses an in-house movement, and now eighty-five percent of our models use in-house movements.
In the factory we make the movements, and in the castle we do final assembly and casing. Here we also produce the dials.
Regarding cases, Mr. Raffy is a major shareholder in a case maker (Manufacture de Cadrans) about 15 kilometers from the manufacture, so it is essentially integrated. For our volume of production, which is 2,000 to 2,500 pieces, a full case manufacturer is too much. We therefore sell some cases to others. Our goal is to remain below 4,000 timepieces per year. That is the limit for producing artisanal high-end watchmaking. Greater production means a more industrial process.
Does Bovet also make its components?
We produce more than 99% of the components in our movements. This includes traditional hairsprings. It does not include the rubies and the mainsprings.
At the beginning, this manufacture was Progress Watch. Then it became STT. Bovet was a customer of STT, until 2006, (Raffy bought Bovet in 2001, and until 2006 we didn’t have these facilities.) In 2006, he bought this company, which was making tourbillon movements.
From 2006 to 2010, we used the best movements in the STT catalogs, and the rest were out of production. We increased the quality and finishing of those movements. This was a base tourbillon movement with a variety of complications.
In 2010 we introduced the Amadeo system (which allows the wearer to transform the case into a pocket watch or for desktop use). We then adapted the movements to display on both sides.
In 2012, we made a new two-barrel movement with seven-day power reserve and moved the tourbillon carriage from 3 o’clock to 6 o’clock. With that new construction, we could move the crown to 12 o’clock and have the tourbillon carriage at six. This was a brand-new construction.
In 2014 we made another big change. Until that time we made only tourbillon movements here. That represented 35% of our models. So in 2014 we introduced our first non-tourbillon movement.
We had still supplied other brands (like Harry Winston) with movements until that point. But in 2014 we stopped supplying to others, though we still supply other brands with some components, particularly regarding hairsprings and dials, and some stamping.
Finally, in 2015 we introduced our third-generation tourbillon movement. This was the Braveheart. It went from two-barrel to one barrel, with a ten-day power reserve. We increased the efficiency and it was a flying tourbillon construction. We fix the tourbillon barrel in the center of the axis, making it very transparent and very efficient. The traditional flying tourbillon is fixed on the exterior of the axis, and you have a big weight. This increased chronometry and aesthetics.
Only for the Braveheart do we use a cylindrical hairspring. Until the Recital 22, but we may use it again.
The last of big step for the manufacturer was in 2017. We transferred our dial facilities from Geneva to Tramelan.
Now we have sixty-five employees in Tramelan using forty-three different watchmaking skills. We are small, but we control all the know-how. We occupy an interesting position between small manufacturer and large production. We also have many tools for many brands from the past fifty years. If another brand needs a particular component (wheels for example) that it no longer makes, they call us because we have that tool we can make it for them.
What are typical Bovet timepiece characteristics?
First of all, the crown at 12 o’clock, the pocket watch reference. Also, decorative arts in general. The flowery patterns—actually more leaf than flower. This is Fleurisanne design, from the village of Fleurier. Not patented, but typically 19th century. (Bovet engravers engrave all cases at Bovet’s Château-de-Môtiers Atelier Workshop, in nearby Môtiers).
Our Amadeo case is about seventy percent of our case production. Its design is protected and the mechanism is patented. Since 2016, we have developed two iconic cases: Amadeo and the Grand Recital case that we introduced with the Shooting Star two years ago.
That is also something really special. It is a combination of the case design and mechanism/movement architecture. We played with the shape of the movement and how information is displayed. For Mr. Raffy, the only criterion is quality.
How does Bovet begin to design a new timepiece?
Mr. Raffy offers an idea of what he wants. He gives us a few keywords. Then we hand-draw the idea of the timepiece to show where we want to display the information, all without technical consideration at this point. After we talk about this we begin to study it and we bring the components together. Then we find some problems. Then, step-by-step, we find the solutions.
Using this process we have to be more creative and innovative. The Braveheart was a good example of it. Mr. Raffy’s first key words were that he wanted all of the Bovet characteristics in one single timepiece. These were: chronometry, artistic works and a long power reserve. He wanted a three-week power reserve.
We found that we could do that, but we had to address the winding process. With such a long power reserve you could wind for ten minutes. We didn’t like the existing solutions being used elsewhere. We developed the spherical differential system. With this system, when you wind the watch once it is as if you’re winding it two times. So you wind it two times faster.
For each step, we found solutions and earned patents.
Do you apply customers’ feedback?
Yes. Our annual appearance in Geneva in January is very important for this. Sometimes we will change something in a piece as a result of the feedback we received then.
We just finished in this process for the Grand Recital. The fine-tuning was very small: we increased the safety functions of the perpetual calendar. We proposed new dial colors for the power reserve and the retrograde minutes. We added black and white coloring to the rhodium and silver versions. And we were at eight-day power reserve, but after fine-tuning the movement we discovered we could certify it for nine days. The indicated power reserve is in general one day less than the actual power reserve.
Does Bovet look at its own vintage designs?
The idea is not to replicate the 19th-century design, but to be inspired by them. For example, the circular balance wheel weights are shaped similar to those from the 19th-century. The shape of some bridges comes from the settings of other 19th-century pocket watches. And of course the engravings, the hand shapes, the numbers. The phrases we engraved were seen on early advertising for Bovet.
We will look at 19th-century pocket watches, but also look at 20th century chronographs for examples. With materials we stay very traditional, with the exception of titanium. For example, our hairsprings will only be made in steel.
No silicon. We use titanium on certain cases and for certain carriage bridges in movements to make them lighter and non-magnetic.