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.
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.
The logos are done in the same way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.