Villeret, Switzerland
    Villeret, Switzerland

A visit to Villeret

The surroundings of the small town of Villeret – the centre of the world’s watchmaking industry. It is here that the factories of many of the best global watchmakers are headquartered, including OMEGA, which opened the door to me to...

The surroundings of the small town of Villeret – the centre of the world’s watchmaking industry. It is here that the factories of many of the best global watchmakers are headquartered, including OMEGA, which opened the door to me to show its cutting-edge manufacturing lines, and its awesome Technospace. Today I want to take you on a journey into those stunning nooks and crannies. Are you ready?

The town I was invited to lies at the very heart of the traditional watchmaking industry, in Switzerland, which has long been known as the birthplace of this art. Villeret lies among captivating scenery, surrounded by mountains and beautiful woods. When choosing the location, OMEGA was faithful to tradition, as the town is cradled in the Swiss mountains where watchmakers have been honing their skills as European watchmaking pioneers since at least the 16th. An interesting detail is that the factory I had the pleasure of visiting actually opened quite recently, in the summer of 2015, and immediately after the opening, the official brand ambassador – Daniel Craig – came for a visit. On my visit, I, too, felt like James Bond, Super Agent 007, lover of pretty women and luxury items. In a nutshell – I went on a quest at the OMEGA headquarters.

Factory or laboratory?

The interior of the assembly line is astonishing. It looks more an ultramodern laboratory than a factory. Everything here is clean, sterile and perfectly white. No wonder, as the precise mechanisms of OMEGA must be assembled in an extremely clean environment. Everything is designed to eliminate dust particles, which are invisible at first glance. The workers wear special white overalls, and the air is filtered by special air-conditioning systems. At Villeret there are even special wall-to-wall linings to trap the particles from shoe soles. There is no room for any mistakes or even a hint of spontaneity. Sadly, Michał and I were not allowed to take pictures of the assembly line.

Turning into a watchmaker

The modern technologies on the assembly line meet the standards of the ETA, a member of the Swatch Group, which also includes OMEGA. Yet, despite the use of the most modern machine technologies, which were largely made on special order for OMEGA, the human dimension is still extremely important here. Some of the manual work, chiefly supervision, is performed by people. For me, undoubtedly the greatest pleasure was the chance to participate at one of the assembly stages of the OMEGA mechanism, exactly the same as in my model. So for a while I turned into a modern watchmaker. :) This was an extremely precise adventure! Applying special grease only to the 8th wheel tooth turned out to be extremely difficult! Fortunately, this very moment could be captured in pictures!

In search of precision

Nevertheless, the most interesting place at Villeret is the Technospace, which has special video screens for getting a closer look at the interior of chronometers and learning about the modern technology solutions applied by OMEGA. In those rooms the company boasts its greatest achievements over the years. Here I could see the Co-Axial escapement, the revolutionary Si 14 silicon balance spring, or the construction of the ceramic case. Not to bore you with details, I’ll focus on the most emotional parts.

Above all, this was an unforgettable journey into the world of mechanisms resistant to magnetic fields. The most exciting process was certification as a Master Chronometer, which proves the resistance of OMEGA watches to magnetic fields. Let me explain. Naturally, OMEGA tests its products for many aspects, such as water resistance. But they are absolute pioneers in the behavior of watch mechanisms tested for strong magnetic fields. All this to make future chronometers as precise as possible. The factory has begun cooperating with the Swiss Federal Institute for Metrology (METAS), and so the tested models receive a unique certificate as Master Chronometer.

Master Chronometer

The certificate is highly prestigious, and so far has been awarded only to OMEGA watches. Obviously, other brands may also apply for it, but the key thing is that they must satisfy extremely demanding criteria. So demanding that only Omega has been able to meet them. What is METAS certification then? Nothing more than putting a watch through 8 hard tests – such as placing it in a magnetic field of 15,000 Gauss, testing it in various positions that imitate wearing the watch on your wrist, or testing for water resistance. After each test, the watch is carefully examined and its precision is measured, and in every case it must satisfy specific, extremely demanding standards.

What is it all for? Nowadays. more and more devices such as smartphones and tablets – but also fridges, radios and loudspeakers – produce electromagnetic fields, and all this has an impact on the precision of other mechanisms. I saw it with my own eyes. Two chronometer models: a quartz watch and an automatic (no brand) watch of standard construction failed the test of magnetic fields generated in the factory. The quartz watch stopped and restarted after having been taken out of a strong magnetic field, while automatic watches can often become damaged permanently. Both watches started showing significant time deviations. But my OMEGA did not.

All these activities demonstrate that OMEGA is still searching for new cutting-edge solutions, extraordinary precision, and classic design in the details, which I greatly appreciate them for. And not only I! Agent 007, too. :)

fot. Michał Śliwiński 

This post is also available in: POLISH VERSION


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