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Managing the
March 24, 2011 Savoir-Faire

Managing the “body” of a watch

Among the sixty watchmaking occupations, the “constructeur habillage” (external parts designer) is central to the development of Audemars Piguet watches. A spotlight on the profession.

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A watch that sits well on the wrist, excellent readability, an accessible crown for setting the hour: These are all qualities that the external parts designer brings to his creations. From the technical office, part of the “watch development” section of the Manufacture du Brassus, Jean Cretin explains what he and his four colleagues do. “We are in charge of the watches’ “body” – the case, the glass, the bracelet, the clasps.”

A close collaboration must be established with the design department. The future prototype will be built from a two-dimensional image. The work is done mainly on the computer, using software that lets the technicians model the future watches in three dimensions. “A prototype is then created in epoxy resin by an outside company. This model gives us an idea of the actual volumes and proportions that were imagined at the start,” Cretin explains.

The epoxy-resin model is used to correct all the errors that weren’t apparent in the design phase. An unintentional space between the wrist and the watch means the ergonomy must be redesigned. The same goes for the dial. “We can be convinced to change the glass-opening, the dimensions of the display, the indexes. The calendar window can, for example, be too close to the exterior, which is not esthetically pleasing. We must then change the size of the dial,” the head of the external parts design office explains.

Once the design department is satisfied with the model, a small number of watches are produced in order to improve any final details that might have escaped the designers. A dial set with precious stones could end up with an irregular surface, if only by a tiny fraction, because of the size of the gems, and could prevent the hands from turning properly due to lack of space. All these situations, and the numerous models involved, demand a good measure of flexibility on the part of the “constructeur habillage.”