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Words: Carl S. Cunanan | Photos: Author and Press
June 5, 2024     |    

It is about people, and passion, and oh yeah watches. Visiting the Tudor Manufacture

A legacy of innovation continues

It is about the people.
And about how motivated they are.
And how they feel.
You wouldn’t necessarily think that that would be the major takeaway I had coming from the rather rare opportunity to get inside the very new Tudor Watch Manufacture in Le Locle, Switzerland, but it is.

It is, of course, an amazingly modern facility. Construction began in 2018 but was challenged by the worldwide pandemic soon to come. However, because the whole idea was to make the facility closer to affiliates and suppliers in and around the lovely Jura mountains and the area and to use people and organizations from that area, they were more able to continue work than many. Though the earlier plans of actually visiting the facility were rather stalled until recently, which is why we ended up going there this April in 2024.

Back to the people. The Head of Manufacture, Mr. Régis Gaudimier, told us that he was pretty much the only person than moved from Geneva when they started, that the organization wanted to make the Tudor Manufacture a very localized, very Swiss operation with it’s own identity separate from but still within the Rolex organization. He pointed out the window, and said that in spite of being minutes away from the French border using the road outside, the workforce was pretty much fully Swiss.

But the key point, in my mind, was that they somewhat changed around the way they worked. Bringing in engineers, craftsmen and watchmakers from the region was their goal, and these people were all used to working in a particular way. They were used to being given, for example, a number of parts or blanks or mechanisms or whatever their expertise was, and then being given a deadline and watched over in the smaller companies they were working with before. The Tudor Manufacture system changed that around, giving more freedom and independence to those that produced the pieces.

The end result, Mr. Gaudimier said, was that they were much happier, much more motivated. And, which should be no surprise to anyone who actually does the work, production efficiency and consistency increased. Because people that feel better just do better. All this was great timing, because Tudor demand has soared globally and continues to grow robustly even as a lot of the hype has caused a softening of the market for other brands.

The new facility is amazing in several ways, and extremely forward-thinking. When you drive up to it, set against a combination of energetic community and Swiss countryside, you approach a long and not all that tall stretch of building, or rather buildings. You get a feeling of, well, a Swiss bank, solidity and strength. A bank vault? Rather, because the whole facility is red on the right side, white-grey on the left, and a black chunk in the center. And the black chunk, several stories high, is, yes, the vault.

The red portion is the Tudor side, the white portion is actually Kinessi Manufacture. I know this because I have a LEGO set I will use to build this. Because their own employees did the same thing for fun and won awards. They have that kind of camaraderie in the organization.

The two sections are side by side, but do not connect in terms of flow of materials. Kinessi Manufacture is owned primarily by Tudor, having been created in 2010 to develop industrial production capabilities that were going to be needed for the high performance mechanical movements they were going to create. Their first client outside Tudor was Breitling (remember the movement-sharing) and they developed an alliance with Chanel a few years later. Kinessi now produces movements for, primarily of course Tudor, but also TAG Heuer, Norqain, Bell & Ross, Fortis and Ultramarine.

So here is something interesting, which they didn’t really go into until I asked. The movements are created in the white side, Kinessi, benefitting from being very close to all the suppliers they use from around the region and of course the very local workforce. They design, develop, engineer and create the movements here, they do their own very stringent and repeated testing. Their production system is a very interesting combination of industrialized and hands-on. When we were there, little robots were moving trays of movements around to different testing bays and banks of equipment, with pieces pulled out either for checking by very skilled, and quiet, human watchmakers. Then rechecked and retested. They are also sent to COSC for certification from here.

When everything is all double or triple checked and tested and boxed up, it all goes to the Tudor side of the building.

By a pushcart, basically.

There is no flow of products from the white to the red. The movements go down to the flag round floor where they are put onto a trolley and rolled out. All under cover and secure of course, as deliveries take place within the big black chunk that houses the vault upstairs. But it exits the Kinessi side and gets pushed over to the Tudor side. This was hugely fun to find out. We wanted to watch it happen, but like I said, it was extremely secure.

On the Tudor side, we started with the LEGO. Really. We saw the award-winning LEGO creation made by some of the staff that went on to be a model for the smaller ones that I will be trying to do myself with my kids. Mr. Gaudimier explained the development of the building and facilities, including why as we spoke the windows changed from light to dark to help conserve energy. Then we geared up and moved to an area that moved to a place that we had to actually but on gowns and shoe covers then swing our feet (encased) from the dirty side to the cleaner side. I say cleaner because this still wasn’t the way-cleaner a where more works is done.

We went down, way down, into the physical plant of the building. We were shown air conditioning. Or rather, the air and filtration systems of the building, because they maintain pressures to keep out as many contaminants as possible in addition to constantly filtering things. We were shown the pumps used to keep moisture and humidity under control, as the building was actually build where a pond used to be. We were shown the fire control system, which is particularly complex because they want to protect people as well as the things in the vaults. And apparently, some fire control all that great for human beings. Theirs is.
Oh back to the vault, which we saw bot for which we were told not to photograph. The Head of Manufacture, the guy in charge of everything, isn’t allowed inside unless he has special permission, which in this case is because of our little (very little) group. It is that secure.

We walked upwards to where work began. We also used elevators, but the walk was fun because they have this great mural that goes from top to bottom and has little tidbits of information. If you ever get to see it, or look at the photos, you will see things like space travel return capsules. For when astronauts splash down. Why are these in Tudor? Because, guess what the guys who were supposed to rescue the astronauts were wearing?

We went through the acceptance of delivery area, where they first lay hands on what comes from the oh so far away land of Kinessi, where things are checked and put into the trays and containers that will send them off for things like putting on the hands, casing them up, finishing, bracelets and such. And testing. There is still constant testing. There are METAS office within the facility, and you can’t go in. You can’t even see in. Neither can the Tudor people. It is like an embassy, foreign soil. Inside, METAS the independent testing organization does its own testing.

Back to the accepting from Kinessi. Movements are always RFID tagged and have a complete history, and this includes more information than you may realize. Tudor doesn’t keep stock. Everything goes out immediately to fill an order that has already come in. On the different levels of the building are the different processes. Watchmakers are cross-trained in all the different areas, so they understand the demands and needs of just about everything.

Amazingly useful for an organization, to have people that happily take ownership of the end result. Surprisingly done far less than most realize.

“This hugely interesting building is the projection of a vision from someone from a vey long time ago, but has evolved and changed and moved forward past the demands of today and is ready for the demands of tomorrow.”

There are four areas or cells of watchmaking, but everything looks pretty similar. Benches are laid out the same way, processes flow the same way. There are touches of individuality, of course, but everything everywhere will feel familiar.
Dials will be fitted, as will hands. When the COSC certification is done, they use different hands from those that end up on the watch that goes to the customer. So here the right stuff is put on, and the movement is encased.

And tested. Tudor has their internal testing under what they call TUDOR Performance Control. The watch, fully assembled now, must be tested and meet certain minimums such as -2/+4 seconds of precision a day if it is supplied with a Manufacture calibre. -4/+6 if using something else. So yes, there is a difference with their Manufacture calibres. And no, this isn’t always the case with other watch companies.

Then some of the watch models go to the METAS room, where they are independently tested by METAS (not Tudor) personnel completely away from view. For a watch to qualify for a METAS approval, it must individually pass standards that are even tougher than the previous ones. 5 seconds tighter, for example, than the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC) and a second tighter than even Tudor’s internal standards. Other guarantees before a watch leaves include accuracy if subjected to magnetic fields of 15,000 gauss. Also waterproofness must be as claimed based on ISO certification standards. And the power reserve claims must be verified. All this has to happen, and each watch has to pass, before the certifications of Swiss-Made and COSC will be released.

So what has Tudor done here? They have created a Manufacture, yes, but they also gave it should and identity. It is within the Rolex umbrella and has benefits from that of course. But it has it’s own individuality. Hans Wilsdorf had the vision of taking the precision, strength and solidity of what he did with Rolex and making it more available to more people. The Tudor Manufacture is continuing with the watchmaker’s constant journey to improve on this vision. It is located away from most Rolex stuff, and whatever has been around the area recently had to do with foundation (remember, Rolex is a Foundation) work.

So this hugely interesting building, with its bank vault the boss can’t enter. With clean room within clean room. With robots assisting people and vice versa. With a primarily local workforce and supply chain that makes things both efficient and more environmentally-friendly. With a fire safety system that protects both people and parts (not like the movie Tenet, in case you are wondering). With its murals and its plants. With its LEGO awards.

This hugely interesting building is the projection of a vision from someone from a vey long time ago, but has evolved and changed and moved forward past the demands of today and is ready for the demands of tomorrow.

All while creating an environment that people are happy to be in. To feel a part of. To take ownership of.

When we started Calibre, I told people that we really don’t talk about products as much as you think we do.

We share passion. We share intelligence. We share vision.

This is such a wonderful example of what we have seen, and what I will continue to share.

And I so love that mural.

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