When Henry Ford introduced the concept of an assembly line at his car factory in 1908 he revolutionised the world of manufacture. By dividing labour into tiny divisions he could speed up production and so make products more affordable and his business more profitable.
While cars and watches differ in scale, the basics of this theory applies across the two industries and sequential watchmaking is a controversial practice that brings both advantages and disadvantages to the industry.
The advantages are that sequential watchmaking, like the assembly line did for Ford, makes production more productive. The disadvantage in terms of training up future watchmakers is that people working in centres that use this style of watchmaking are only trained up to do one small part of the job and therefore can’t actually create a complete movement or watch themselves.
Sequential watchmaking has been popular in the US for years and now in the UK some service centres, such as at Rolex and Breitling, are now introducing the practice and with the majority of watchmaking now being done at larger group centres, such as that of the multiple retailers, it could be a practice that is set to grow in its use.
“A lot of watchmaking now is done through bigger groups like Aurum,” says James Robinson, a lecturer at the British School of Watchmaking. “In the 70s there was a spell of sequential watchmaking and now brands are finding that repairs time is quite high so that’s why sequential [is coming back]. “
Robinson says that The British School of Watchmaking does not train students up to work on a sequential line as it teaches them about the full process of watchmaking, but he says that the school does take in a number of students who have been working on sequential lines who are getting ready to make the next step up by securing additional training.
While each watchmaker on a sequential line has his or her job to do, it is supervised by a number of highly skilled craftsmen who are capable of working on more complicated jobs. While the life of a low-level sequential watchmaker might not be that exciting, there is always the possibility for the talented ones to progress.
Sowind chief executive Michele Sofisti says that at Girard-Perregaux in Switzerland when training new recruits they do it slowly, skill by skill, but that the level that trainee watchmakers will reach, and the pace of that, depends on their talent. “We train them to do the full job gradually,” he says. “There are people who are delegated [to certain jobs]. They don’t do the full assembly of the watches. Each one specialises in a specific area, then they end up after a few years being able to do the whole thing.”
This article was taken from the July 2012 issue of WatchPro magazine, out now. To view a digital version of the magazine click here.