Friday, July 21, 2017

Our Secret Weapon

Reports from Switzerland are generating a fair bit of feedback, mostly - if not all - positive. And then here comes one which got me thinking for a moment: "Nick, it is obvious why the Swiss are not so keen to show you their watch manufacturing facilities, machinery and processes. They simply want to show you how difficult and expensive watchmaking really is, so you'll give up, broken and discouraged."

There is no doubt that watchmaking requires special knowledge, a large capital investment and two or three generations of watchmakers working on a project. But this is not a reason to quit, rather, the opposite; to work even harder and smarter. The Rebelde project has no alternative, no plan B.  Seriously, I cannot imagine myself waking up one day deciding that 'I have had enough of watchmaking'.  I am too old for a career change and completely unemployable. And if we run out of cash, so what? I can always set up a cardboard box watch repair booth in Martin Place and do battery replacements on the spot for $5 a pop. The best office in the city, a great view and thousands of people passing by just to say “hello”; No phone calls, no staff, all income tax-free. Flexible working hours, plus a shoebox with a chessboard and a hand- written sign:  "$1 to beat homeless Master Watchmaker!"

Even if the Swiss really want me to go broke I am not worried at all. I do have a SECRET WEAPON: I have YOU. Every time you place an order for a rebelde watch, or rebelde pen, cap or even a leather rebelde bracelet, we make a profit. Every time you buy a second-hand Swiss watch from us, again we make a profit. Thanks to this free newsletter, our advertising costs are practically zero.  We work harder and smarter - because of YOU.  If one day all Australians, collectively at once, decide that they no longer need a watchmaker, then so be it. We'll bow down, say thank you, pack up our bags and move to New Zealand.

That being sorted out, let’s move to on to something truly cool: outillage.

***As I said yesterday, French is the language of horology

And since French watchmakers have no intention of learning English anytime soon (why would they?) we have no choice but to learn a word or two of French.
One thing that I noticed a long time ago was that some of the flat-watch components were clearly made by a stamping process.  So my plan was to get in touch with some small press makers. After visiting a few machinery dealers, I soon discovered that stamping is not about presses, hydraulics and materials, but rather about outillage.  The word translates as 'set of tools', which in my mind, looked like this:

In other words, a simple punch and die tooling. Yet for some strange reason, press dealers kept frantically repeating outillage, outillage !! to the point that I got a bit annoyed.  So why such a fuss?

Finally, I asked them to show me the bloody outillage. And they couldn't. Now it was their time to get frustrated – why didn’t I understand that outillage is not something you buy with the machine, but rather something you make yourself?

After a bit of googling, I finally figured out that we are talking about the same thing, except for one: punch and die, or the tooling set they call outillage is a rather high precision piece, custom-made for mass production.   Something like the two examples shown below:

In horology, the stamping process is only feasible when production quantities reach a certain level, justifying the cost of tooling and preparation (we are talking here about 100,000 pieces, up to a million). Yes, the well-made outillage can make a million identical watch components still within strict tolerances. 

And how much is the outillage? The first one around $20,000 and the second one around $45,000. That is one set, to make just ONE watch component.

Clearly, parts stamping in horology is not for a small batch production or prototyping.

Au revoir outillage!

PS: the brass-looking cylinders are high precision ROTARY STROKE ball-bearings with zero backlash. A piece of art themselves!

No comments: