Watches: Standard Issues

  • James D. Malcolmson

The Swiss are confident that they make the best watches in the world, but they cannot agree on how to prove it. In an attempt to eliminate the confusion created by competing performance standards—including those associated with the Geneva Seal, the COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres) chronometer certificate, and the Chronofiable durability test—manufacturers from the town of Fleurier in Switzerland’s Val-de-Travers have introduced a comprehensive quality standard and created their own hallmark. In establishing the Fleurier Quality certification last September, members of the Fleurier Quality Foundation (FQF)—comprising representatives from Chopard, Parmigiani Fleurier, and Bovet Fleurier—found that reaching a consensus in the balkanized and highly political watch industry was even more difficult than they had imagined.

Similar in that they produce limited quantities of timepieces that are finished with extensive attention to detail, the three companies agreed that their production methods were not represented by the existing industry standards. “The COSC chronometer certificate measures only accuracy and is really oriented toward mass-produced movements, plus it does not take into account the way a watch is treated in real life,” explains Eric Broulis, managing director of Chopard’s Fleurier Manufacture. “The Geneva Seal, on the other hand, measures only the quality of construction and is too traditional—it does not allow for certain modern constructions and techniques, and you can’t even apply unless you are a Geneva company.”

After considerable negotiations, the trio agreed on a set of criteria for the new FQF hallmark, establishing what may be the most comprehensive and demanding standard ever for watches. Candidate timepieces must first obtain the COSC chronometer certificate and pass the Chronofiable test, a little-known evaluation that measures a watch’s response to shocks. Then members of the foundation examine disassembled movements to gauge the quality of the finishing, a key criterion.

Perhaps the most novel aspect of the evaluation process employs a robotic device to simulate everyday motion and measure how it affects accuracy. A watch fails the test if it loses more than five seconds per day—a more stringent requirement than COSC’s and a difficult one for smaller companies with fewer engineering resources to achieve.

Before three new limited edition models—12 Bovet perpetual calendars, five Parmigiani Forma Grande Qualite Fleurier automatics, and 250 Chopard L.U.C. Fleurier automatics—could qualify for the seal, the manufacturers had to make expensive and time-consuming adjustments to the calibers that power them. Chopard plans to bring more of its top-grade movements into compliance over the next few years.
 
All European watchmakers can apply for the Fleurier hallmark, but so far few have done so, in part because of the difficulty and expense of meeting the requirements. The continued appeal of the Geneva Seal as a long-standing symbol of prestige also is partially responsible for the dearth of Fleurier applications. Furthermore, the Fleurier Quality Foundation’s acceptance of modern industrial materials and methods, including machine finishing, does not sit well with traditionalist companies and collectors.
“It is very difficult to get watch companies to agree on anything,” says Jean-Patrice Hofner, Fleurier Quality Foundation president. “They tried to create a similar standard in La Chaux-de-Fonds—and failed.” Nevertheless, if watches bearing the Fleurier hallmark live up to the promise of high craftsmanship and accuracy, it could compel other companies to raise their standards.

Bovet Fleurier, +41.22.731.4638, www.bovet.com
Chopard, 800.246.7273, www.chopard.com
Fleurier Quality Foundation, www.fleurier-quality.com
Parmigiani Fleurier, 949.489.2885, www.parmigiani.ch

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