If you’re interested in watches, then walking through the headquarters of Time Products, situated just outside Leicester, makes you feel like a young Charlie walking through Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for the first time. Perhaps that is overstating things a little, but the whole operation at Time Products is as vast as it is impressive.
I find myself in the East Midlands to go behind the scenes at the company that brings us, among others: SEKONDA, SEKSY, LIMIT and, most recently, ACCURIST. The key questions that I wanted answering from my day at Time Products were: how well-oiled is the whole process of handling such a huge amount of stock on a daily basis (SEKONDA is still the UK’s best-selling watch brand by volume, so the numbers involved are frightening)? What effect has the acquisition of ACCURIST in 2014 had on the day-to-day proceedings? And finally, what level of technical service does Time Products offer its retailers?
The first room I get shown has boxes and boxes of watches as far as the eye can see. To give some perspective to the scale involved, there are always at least one million watches in the warehouse, and that figure is closer to one and a half million since ACCURIST became part of the family earlier this year. This means that the methods and techniques that are used for taking a watch that has just arrived to being a watch that’s ready to be dispatched have to be slick, efficient and effective.
A system of four or five digit codes on the outside of the boxes distinguishes every model from each other. This is a system that has stood the test of time, which is lucky as it seems that most of the team who work in the warehouse and offices of Time Products have been there for literally decades and know the processes inside out.
After every box that comes through the door is unpacked and every watch is checked thoroughly, a selection of the watches is then taken through for the absolutely crucial stage of quality control. The quality control team pick a maximum of 32 watches of each model from different trays, to ensure that there is the pivotal element of randomness involved in the testing.
The watches go through a number of rigorous tests, but I shall focus on four. The first is tensile strength testing on straps and bracelets, where the bracelet/strap is located onto a tensile load measuring device with the buckle/clasp fastened. A pre-defined tensile load is then applied, held and released. The second is a self-explanatory water resistance test. The third test is a static load test, where the watches with mineral crystals are subjected to a single impact test, using an 8 mm diameter steel ball dropped from a height of one metre above the crystal. Finally, there’s a shock drop test, which involves samples being subjected to one controlled drop from a height of one metre onto a solid surface.
After this, the final check is done by hand, which simply involves checking the watch for any visible blemishes or damage that may not have been picked up by earlier tests.
This process will have already taken place when an original batch of ten technical samples of each model comes through from the suppliers and manufacturers. All suppliers have their own copy of ‘the bible’ of quality control, which sets out in a huge amount of detail the standard that are expected and demanded. This standard is known as the Acceptable Quality Level (AQL). If any of the tests are failed or any of the standards not met, the watch will not cut the mustard.
Once the samples have been checked using the methods described above, one of the 10 will be kept back so that they have an example to check against for the later full shipment when it arrives. If a sample has been accepted and approved and then the final stock that arrives a few weeks later is different, then clearly this would undermine and slow down the whole quality control process.
Another essential way that Time Products provides superlative technical support for its customers is through its peerless repairs and services department. In this extraordinary room, the indomitable Charlie Allman casts a knowledgeable eye over almost everything that goes on; and an awful lot really does go on here. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of spare parts are stored here. Written words simply cannot do justice to the numbers involved. And, almost unbelievably, every part is labelled with its own unique number (watch number, calibre number and part number). This department seems chaotic but Charlie and his team make sense of it.
The tireless team take phone calls and requests for spare parts, repairs and advice from anyone, whether they’re a long-term retail partner or simply a member of the public. Last January, 1,976 orders were taken (January is always a very busy month as it comes just after the gift giving period) and this was before the purchase of ACCURIST earlier this year. In other words, you can expect next January’s figure to be significantly higher.
But if there’s any team that can cope with such a huge amount of work then it is this one. Allman and his team have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of what parts come from which watch, which is all the more remarkable when you consider just how many different models SEKONDA alone has produced over the years.
The mantra is simple and clear and is evident in every call or email received – ‘The customer is always right’. Time Products prides itself on providing technical service that is second to none and everything is in place to ensure that this remains the case long into the future.