Parisian watchmaking and bespoke production
It is enough for a watchmaker who is passionate about the construction of watches to peruse the numerous books dealing with our field of work to realise that between all exceptional pieces, well-known or exhibited, have many things in common. The art of watchmaking described in them is perfect mastery, and the technical details highlighted are proof of the good workmanship of each piece, but the design and harmony of each piece, however complex it may be, owe their high quality to the great sensitivity of the watchmaker.
The most beautiful watches were produced during the 18th century, the golden age of chronometry. London and Paris were then reckoned to have some of the best watchmakers on earth, and these artists were able to benefit from an industrial fabric at the forefront of technology.
This industrial fabric evolved and moved to the Swiss mountains before disappearing from France almost completely. The difficulty today lies in the fact that a creative watchmaker needs to master, alone, a whole multitude of trades. He needs to draw the plans and therefore know all the rules inherent in the mechanics as well as in the industrial design. He needs to know how to manufacture the components and therefore master a great variety of machine tools as well as manual tools. He also needs to know the profession of watchmaking assembler and adjuster, to master both tempering and filing, and finally to know how to decorate, how to activate and how to perform fine-tuning – the ultimate proof of a well-made watch. Above all, he must know how to surround himself with the best craftsmen, so that every detail of the piece, from case to engravings, emphasises the value of his work.
This approach is now a thing of the past, dating back to the times when a Breguet or an Emery designed the watch, had a ‘blank’ made by a specialist in ‘blanks’, the wheels made by a wheels manufacturer and the escapement by a dedicated craftsman, and finally brought together all the different components in order to have them fine-tuned by a specialist in ‘blank’ adjustments and one specialising in decorating the final product. These operations thus gave life to an exceptionally crafted object by means of a thorough mastery of each component and each operation.
In Paris there are still craftsmen who work on such high-end products that make the city famous throughout the world. Boot-makers, tailors and opticians sometimes undertake work in which they follow the principles of tailor-made products, generally known as grande mesure or bespoke service. This means in practice that the craftsmen offer to their customers a product that is adapted to their particular tastes and their special requirements.
The term grande mesure or demi-mesure can be applied to luxury watches provided that their production will not require manufacture on an industrial scale. But these terms may also apply in cases where the specialist watchmaker is able to adapt his own schedule and his work, at any given time, in order to produce an exclusive and luxurious object that meets the requirements of a highly knowledgeable client.