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Spiralage, The Heart of Time
August 29, 2011 Savoir-Faire

Spiralage, the heart of time

Audemars Piguet still makes this element by hand for extra-flat watches using purely classic methods. A presentation with Erika Meyer, a guardian of this traditional know-how in danger of becoming extinct.

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Watch aficionados have indubitably heard of “spiralage” without understanding the term. “It's the equivalent of a human heart. Nothing beats without it. Time stands still,” explains Erika Meyer, cradling a hair-fine spring in the palm of her hand. In fact, this minuscule object plays a fundamental role in fine watch making – the quality of it's assembly guarantees the smooth functioning and precision of the timepiece's movement in the long term.

Due to technological developments in recent decades, an increasing number of timepiece brands have resorted to using high-precision machinery as the method to preform this spiralling operation. Audemars Piguet is one of the few houses to uphold the tradition of using a setter like Erika Meyer. “The spring must be centred and perfectly compared to the balance. It is crucial that the opening and closing movement be as perfect as the circles engendered by a stone thrown on still water,” explains the grey eyed woman in her fifties who has worked at Audemars Piguet for over 30 years.

These various exact motions require careful patience, skill, manual dexterity and an experienced eye. All of which are rather feminine qualities, explaining why women comprise the vast majority of those who have plied this fast disappearing trade. Erika Meyer confides that, “I am focused and tense all day. Although experience is beginning to give me a certain familiarity with the secrets of the timepiece's little heart.”

The 800 to 900 odd pieces she produces yearly are intended for ultra-thin watches and the collection's Grandes Complications as well as vintage models needing maintenance. Over the past few years, she has been teaching a young colleague the skills necessary to take her place, thereby ensuring that the traditional craft will be passed on again...