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Inside Franck Muller’s Dial Factory – Manufacture de Cadrans Soignés Part 2

The second part of our photo-video essay of the dial manufacturer "Les Fils d'Arnold Linder SA"
by Dan-Andrei Kluska on February 6, 2018

We were invited to visit Franck Muller Group’s dial factory, the Arnold Linder SA, in Les Bois, Switzerland. A rare occasion like this could not be missed. We started our essay with how the dials are mounted and finished. We continued with de dial lacquering decoration and mechanical operation like stamping or milling. The first part of our article is available here: Inside Franck Muller’s Dial Factory – Manufacture de Cadrans Soignés Part 1.

 

Doing Numbers, Logos and others

The numerals are produced using a cut-out process or by milling, depending on the design. Most dial specialists buy these from more specialised producers. But here in Franck Muller, they make the appliques in-house.

 

Arabic numerals in "on going" procees - Franck Muller Dial Factory

Arabic numerals “in between” processing: the numbers are cut, the burrs are removed, electroplated and then fixed on the dial and lacquer filled. Depending on the dial’s model, the steps could be different

 

Numerals gold-plating - Franck Muller Dial Factory

Some of the numerals are gold electroplated. Depending on the model, the numerals types and finish can differ.

 

Rhodium plated numerals - Franck Muller Dial Factory

Despite the black&white look, this is a colour picture of the rhodium plated numerals. The numbers are held together by the back pins.

 

After the numerals and decoration are manufactured, the batch is sent to be mounted on the dials. For the electroplated numerals like the ones in the pictures above, this will be the final step.

 

Fitting numbers - Franck Muller Dial Factory

Dials and numerals: dials waiting for the “12”, “1” and “7” to be mounted along finished dials. Image from a workbench.

 

The logos are done in the same way.

 

Frank Muller Logo - Franck Muller Dial Factory

The Franck Muller logo: the technical specification in a red vinyl folder and the finished piece.

 

It all stands in the pins

I have several times mentioned, that the components need pins. For handling or for fixation, the pins are essential in the birth of the dial. We saw earlier that the metal dials are cut from a flat piece of metal.

 

Soldered pins - Franck Muller Dial Factory

Brass disks after pin soldering

 

Except for the ones from the mother of pearl dials, all the pins are soldered. There are two methods used. The most complex one involves placing the dial in its support, manual feeding of the pins (place and fix them) in the carrier and then electrical welding. It’s a simple but extremely monotonous process.

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The second variant is an almost fully automatic tool: the dial is placed on the support and the machine supplies and solder the pins solely. The operator intervention is just for placing and removing the dial and check the feeding system.

 

Automatic soldering machine - Franck Muller Dial Factory

The automatic fed pin soldering machine. It has the advantage of speed in soldering the pins from the back of the brass dial.

 

 

Inside the “typography”

Since the dials are 100% in-house, all the dial elements including the printing are done at the dial factory. The printing includes numerals, indexes, decoration, the name of the brand and, of course, the “Swiss made”. The dial factory takes big pride in their 100% Swiss made products.

 

Printed dials - Franck Muller Dial Factory

Different types of printing and printed dials

 

The printing, just like in the lacquering department, requires a lot of skills and patience. Even if the surfaces are different in material, size, bending angle or colour, the transfer printing is done in the same way. A cast is filled with paint and then, using a rubber head, transferred to the dial.

 

 

For each colour, a separate cast and process step are used. The operator must be sure that there are no other traces of ink or residues on the cast, otherwise, the dial will be ruined. The negative casts can be produced by laser engraving or by etching.

 

Printing template - Franck Muller Dial Factory

The printing template is filled with ink that will be transferred on the dial using a rubber head.

 

In the same factory area, there is the painting, lacquering department. As the example in the picture below, a mother of pearl dial is lacquered on the back side. This will lead later to a very interesting coloured pattern visible in the top of the dial. Again the spectacular pattern of the mother of pearl dials.

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MoP yellow lacquer - Franck Muller Dial Factory

Mother of pearl dials lacquered on the back. Due to the uniqueness of the base material, each dial will have its own yellow shade and pattern.

 

Some of the dials require up to 20 layers of paint. Yes, twenty layers of paint to be then polished to the final result: a perfect polish at the perfect width.

 

Yellow Mop dial - Franck Muller Dial Factory

The unique pattern is given by the mother of pearl base material

 

The “typography” includes a galvanisation room and a physical deposition system (PVD). The process shown in the video below, the system is automatic. In this way, the entire operation is precisely computer controlled and the accidents are avoided.

 

 

There are several “baths” for electroplating, depending on the components and desired finish.

 

Electroplating - Franck Muller Dial Factory

“Ongoing” steps: the plating gives the dial not only a nice look but also an increased resistance to ageing and disturbing factors

 

But how about the sunray dials

As a dial factory, the sunray could not miss. To obtain the magic light playful effect, a special machine is used. The dial is visited by a rotating brush while rotating itself. The brush can have different sizes (granularities), according to the desired finish. The dial is also covered with a secret formula compound. The compound has his own contribution to the final finish.

 

 

Some facts and numbers

During our lunch break at a neighbouring village, we were given some interesting numbers of the manufacturer.

 

 

Gemstones dials - Franck Muller Dial Factory

Precious stones set dials waiting for the next step – applied Arabic numerals.

 

Prototyping and failure rates

The manufacture is not only for production, but prototyping is done there as well. Sometimes in the design phase, the computer-animated piece or design on paper looks nice but does not look good in reality.  A new design typically requires between six and eight weeks of trials and testing for it to be a viable, usable product.

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Almost fifty percent of the production is rejected on final check. The reasons may range from aesthetic considerations to mechanical faults. Plus, every six months or so, the designs are changed to meet demands for new trends and collections. That keeps the failure rate at this high level. Of course, the percent is not evenly spread between models.

 

Carbon dial stages - Franck Muller Dial factory

Steps in the manufacturing a carbon dial: the piece is cut/milled to the final shape, bend and then decorated by printing and/or applied decoration.

 

The classical designs are easier to make and they have a failure rate of up to 20%. But for the novelties, like the Gravity, the failure rate can go up 90% or more. Depending on the processes used, some failure occurs in an early stage of the dial and modification can be made to make the dial usable. The failures at the end of the dial making process are more critical and usual ends with the complete rejection of the dial.

The rejected parts are kept safe. For the security reasons, the dials are not recycled in a typical process. For the copyright issues and for keeping secret the new developments, the manufacturer has its own way of storing and recycling the materials.

 

 

Diamond setting dial - Franck Muller Dial Factory

Tourbillon dial prepared for a precious diamond setting. The next step of its preparation will be the galvanization.

 

The people

Mr Boillat, the dial factory manager, is part of the company since 1984. At the beginning, the dial factory manufactured pieces for other brands, including Piaget, Chopard, Baume et Mercier. At some point, he met Franck Muller and he starts working for him. The Franck Muller Group purchased the dial factory in 2000 and now the manufacture produce exclusively for Franck Muller watches.

 

Mother of pearl dial stack - Franck Muller Dial Factory

A stack of the mother of pearls dials. Due to the uniqueness of the base material, each dial has its own unique pattern.

 

Now, at Les Fils d’Arnold Linder SA there are around 110 employees.  They work in teams which are small. It’s hard to find well-trained workers. From the people who come to work in the dial factory, some of them may already have a basic training and experience. For the less trained personnel, there is the possibility of training in situ. The jobs in watchmaking are attractive, but the skills and passion for this kind of work are hard to grow if one is not one hundred percent dedicated. The hard training and the high failure rate discourage. The personnel are a mix of Swiss (50%), French (30%), Italians and some other nationalities. Les Bois is close to the French border and the language used inside the manufacture is French.

The end of the day, final thoughts

After the dials pass all the operations is it checked for quality. A dial must fulfil a rigorous set of requirements and pass the final quality check, otherwise will not be used in a watch. The rejected dials are recycled for precious materials.

Almost all the visitors passing dial factory’s gates come with the misconception of how easy a dial is to make. Only after visiting all the ateliers and talking with the people and, maybe, try out manufacturing steps on their own, one might comprehend the amount of work, skills and passion.

 

Steps in dial making explained - Franck Muller Dial Factory

Steps in dial making explained: the golf-themed watch requires a dial with extra manufacturing processes.

 

Ending this article with a piece of advice: if you have the chance to visit a watchmaking atelier, do it. It is an unforgettable experience. Every watchmaker use at some point similar techniques and technologies, but the steps are different, the implementation is different. In this way a large variety and range are possible.

Looking at the picture below, I know what comes next and I have a pretty good idea about the necessary steps and the final result. Hope you do the same.

 

Dial manufacturing - Franck Muller Dial Factory

The starting point (the brass disks) and the final design (on paper) – for one might be almost impossible to think and imagine all the processes required from the beginning until the final product.

 

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2 Comments
Leave a response
  • Hasse
    February 7, 2018 at 4:54 am

    Great article! I have visited another dial manufacturer and it is very different. Extra plus owning a few Franck Muller watches makes it extra interesting.

    • Dan-Andrei Kluska
      February 7, 2018 at 2:47 pm

      We are glad you like it. Visiting a manufacturer/watchmaker is always an impressive experience and a mind opener. Rarely we are aware about the tremendous work behind our wrist companions.

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