A penny for your thought (inhouse vs outsourced movements)

…or a kingdom…in any case I’d like to hear how you rational on this subject. I know by bringing up this matter I might disturb the “Force” (sorry I am a techie geek so you need to bare with my Star Wars references…) but there are some thoughts that have been clouding my mind for a time now.


The question that has been passing my mind is how to deal with the fact that when I am buying a watch from a certain brand, in many cases I am actually getting a movement from another brand for twice or three times the money…


I know that buying parts are a must in today’s world…nobody is doing everything themselves. Buying a whole movement is not a strange thing either, if there is a master work done somewhere it’s just a great deal to reuse that one (hey we techies are all for reusing code). And since watch manufacturers have been consolidated as in car industry this has become even more common.


Furthermore, we know that two manufacturers in the same group that are aiming different market segments will use different materials and designs but with the same engineering, That makes me less and less convinced that I am getting what I am paying for when selecting the more expensive one.


I feel that somewhere along the line the brand has taken over the pricing and not the watch itself. An example (and I am not using VC in the example just to avoid negative Jedi mind tricks…) JLC has a Master Ultra Thin with a great mechanical movement and the same movement is used in the AP Ultra Thin. Now the price differences between these two models in YG are, around 6000 euro (ca 10K USD). The JLC comes also in SS which makes the price diff almost 10000 euro (same movement, same finishing)…


For you Timezoner’s there is an article from Walt Odets just about this question. Now I know Mr Odets might be somewhat biased, but I still respect his opinion since he seems to be a connoisseur with great knowledge in the movements (he has many articles where he has taken a part watches in the smallest pieces and gone through them…)


And this also leads to the connected question, how much the brand is worth? A lot of people on different forums (Timezone, The Purist etc) have noticed the fact that the Nautilus from Patek in SS costs more then the Calatrava with same movement but in precious metal?!?!?! In the same brand, just because one is directing towards a more money spending part of the market, they have decided to raise the price on a steel watch against a precious metal watch with the exact same movement…


Any who, these thoughts have been going around in my mind, now that I am looking into my next purchase…what is it that I am paying for…if I buy this brand is it their movement I am getting or just another JLC (or any other brand for that matter).


Would be great to hear your thoughts on this matter…before you guys through me out as a blasphemer


Thnx in advance



WOW that's definately a very interesting question and you put your
12/27/2007 - 14:26

finger on the watch industries soft spot.

Let's do some history first, in the 18th century when Swiss watchmaking started organising itself it was a perfect division of labor (the Swiss called Geneva la Fabrique basically a factory) you had people specialised in making raw movements, cases, dials etc... and the cabinotiers did the assembly. Basically no one made their own movements and all depended on outsourced suppliers.

It is only starting the 30s that some brands started creating exclusive movements for themselves (ie Patek) but it is mainly with the rebirth of the machanical watch and the importance that it has been taking in the past 10 years that the whole "manufacture" status has become important.

Two questions should be asked: what is actually done with the raw ebauche and is a manufacture movement actually better than an outsourced one?

The 1st question is crucial because in my opinion making the ebauche is important but its the finishing, modification and manual labor which give the movement its value and to take your JLC / AP example the latter is better finished than its JLC counterpart which also explains the price difference. Another example is the Valjoux 7750, its as pedestrian as a movement can get but IWC used it for their Grande Complication with minute repeater, chronograph, perpetual calendar and at this point that 7750 ain't really a 7750 any more is it? Or are Kari Voutilainen's watches worth less than another independents because he uses ebauches and his movements are not inhouse?

As to having an in house movement which is superior to an aoutsourced one just because it is a manufacture one is a myth and something which is definately not true.

One of the main reasons every one (me included) everyone calls for inhouse movements has more to do with the search for exclusitivity, when you pay a rather high amount for a watch you want it to use a movement you can't find anywhere else.

As for the "value" of a brand? I don't know how you can price it but I guess the older the brand and the better reputation it has I guess the more its worth?

Re: WOW that's definately a very interesting question and you put your
12/27/2007 - 17:08


I can agree with you that it is partly about finishing of the ebauche, however I am not sure whether there always is “that much” of a difference in the finishing work as the price tag refers to (in some cases at least.)


I believe, branding, market value etc plays a big deal in this question. Looking at that specific example with the AP and JLC, the difference in finishing is definitely something only a well trained eye or a highly sharp connoisseur can detect, because the JLC is VERY well finished. I myself have a hard time seeing the difference…but then again I am an amateur in this business.


And having said that, of course if you modify the basic movement or add complication that is a totally different question and I merely look at watches with exactly the same movement and same amount of complexity. And that shows a good pointing finger to how the pricing is set in the market. I believe a lot of the watch industry has become extremely overpriced to a ridiculous level.


It’s even easier to see that in trendy watches like the AP ROO or PP nautilus or Hublot…the pricing on these watches sometimes seem to be set by a big time weighted lottery machine or something :) And they drop like 30-40 % in the second hand market where there is an overflow of them…


I think watches have become like any other commodity where branding, market impression, mystified history, old heritage etc has given a big part to its pricing. And the main thing (in my opinion) which should be movement, quality, finishing, design, complexity has just become a small part of that pricing – not an insignificant but not significant enough.

And yes, as you say, when I pay 20K USD for a watch, I really want it to be unique and not based on somebody else’s work…which I can get for half the price…


Thanks for your input in this question.





Btw, this is the link to that article. Just a note that:

- I don’t think Mr. Odet is being totally fair there about VC (hence the fact that I think he is a bit biased)

- This is an old article from like 97/98


watches are a luxury item and as such their prices are not linked to
12/27/2007 - 17:49

actual costs but to what the market can handle (I guess a marketer or economist) could explain this much better than I can. Today the market for fine high end watches is huge and production is low.

However unlike any other luxury item, considering the price of these little mechanical marvels you need real craftsmanship, a design which is modern but which can not go out of fashion, reliability and a je ne sais quoi which gives the watch soul.

I agree with Walt Odets about VC having lost its way back in the 90s, that's what I was referring to as sleeping beauty in my tops/flops post below. And as I had the occasion of saying it a few times the problem with VC pre Richemont was that the shareholders were more interested in VCs prime real estate in central Geneva than in watchmaking (even though some amazing watches were made at the time: mercator, Heure Sautante, minute repeater and double barrel tourbillon etc...). Richemont saved VC no matter what the defenders of "independent" brands say.

I don't agree with Walt Odets when he says that VC used ETA 2892 in their watches, that is just not true.

He also did an excellent article on the cal 1120:


Re: Re: WOW that's definately a very interesting question and you put your
04/10/2013 - 20:05
Walt Odets marketed  himself as the guru of Timezone in the 1990' and created lots of controversy. Firstly, I owned a Les Historiques power reserve, calendar model and he somehow obsessed that Vacheron was using an ETA 2892 for the watch and that, therefore, Vacheron had lowerd itself to lowest levels in the watch industry. I sent his posts to my friend at after service in New York for VC. He assured me Vacheron had never in its history used an ETA for a man's watch. I actually took a picture of the movement and uploadede it and asked the forum what movement it was. Lo and behold, a Frederic Piguet movement. I beleive mr. Odets also  created havoc comparing a Rolex with a PP. During this time, another arcticle came out about "the Fallen Angel" or some such thing about the demise of Vacheron by another proclaimed watch guru. True, Vacheron did get squeezed out  of some movements  during the 1990's as was the case of Jaeger ebauches. Nevertheless, F. Piguet and Lemania made the best of the best, and look where Vacheron is now!!! making the most beautiful and exclusive watches anywhere with in-house movements to guarantee the best hand made movemets in the industry. Hope that all the trendy watches the gurus bought in the nineties are still holding their price, ha-ha. Also hope that Timezone and their "experts" did not get sued despite damage they may have incurred.  
Yes and no....
12/31/2007 - 16:41

Hi Alex,

Let me say that I agree with your answer as a whole.

There are definitely many answers why a watch with a specific calibre would cost more than another watch with the same calibre. A VC 47200 for instance (former Patrimony Quantième Reserve de Marche) had a much nicer case and dial than a JLC Master Reserve de Marche using the very same calibre, IMO totally justifying the price difference.

There are also reasons IMO why a steel watch could cost more than a gold watch with the same calibre. The cost of gold as a raw material is something but should not be exagerated. The cost of labour put in a complex steel watch, sometimes with a steel bracelet, can easily far exceed the cost of gold. The form of a special case can double or triple the cost of production, whatever the material.

Where I don't agree with you is about the example of calibre 849 from JLC. The finish of this calibre in a Master Ultra Thin and in the AP watch using it is exactly the same, because AFAIK it is done at the same place by the same people. Just like the finish of a calibre 889 is the same in a JLC using it and in a VC using it, for the same reason.

For years many watchmakers have kept silent about what work they do on the outsourced calibres. Too often they do no job at all and still let think that it is their baby. That would not be VC tradition to pretend such thing. They don't hide their history and their long and tied relationship with JLC. Of course that's not their role either to say "hey we bought this calibre and cased it without doing anything on it".

I've seen Eric Edelman's review of the Overseas Chronometer. I also own two GP branded watches with this calibre and let me say that my calibres are as nicely finished as the Overseas calibre is, or seems to be on his pictures. I'd be surprised to see any evidence that VC did any work on the GP calibres in the Overseas, or on the JLC calibres they use, except to add modules for perpetual calendars for instance!

Photography is an art and I'm sure a good photographer could make an ETA calibre look nicer than a 2450.

Don' t take me wrong Alex I have a huge respect for Vacheron Constantin and for the work Vacheron Constantin has done on its manufacture calibres launched in the last years and yes their finish is far superior to any comparable calibre from Jaeger-LeCoultre, far superior. The 2450 series is a very good example of top notch finish IMO. The 1400 series are also of this level. They justify a high premium above former watches with JLC calibres.

But I don't think it would be fair to see a difference where there is no. Yes in the 40s and 50s the JLC base calibres were transformed by the work done on these bases to make them suitable for VC. The VC 453 series were far superior in finish to the JLC siblings.  But current JLC calibres used in VCs do no longer make any difference.

And that doesn't decrease at all my love for Vacheron constantin watches!

Have a good new year's eve.

See you my friend.


It takes a great deal of study
12/27/2007 - 17:50

to realize just how much work goes into some movements. I will agree that many watches are ETA with a lazer etching on the winding rotor and thats it. I hate the idea of paying big money for a watch that is just a fancy case/dial wrapped around a 2824 movement, (Brietling, Tag) when I have a watch with a 2824 that is less than $200! Same for the 7750, as Alex pointed out, which is why I'm partial to the crown wheel movement.

For me, I can look to the base movements of the JLC and see a world of difference in the plates and finishing before it becomes a Vacheron. They really do re-invent the movement to make it worthy of the Geneva Seal.

It has to be more than just a refinish of the plates, and a signature. It's nice if the movement is in house, but don't count a watch out just because the company starts with a base movement from someone else.

a photographic comparaison
12/27/2007 - 18:01

just to illustrate what LSmith posted here is a photo of GP cal 3100 which was used in the previous Overseas chronometer time only which Vc named cal 1311. The difference of finish is quite obvious.

Photos courtesy of Eric Edelman

Re: A penny for your thought
12/27/2007 - 18:14

Hi Xerxes,

To begin with, your concerns, while interesting, do lead to a somewhat slippery slope. After all, anyone who purchases a fine watch is, in a sense, overpaying wildly given that a far more accurate (i.e. quartz) timepiece could be had for a tiny fraction of the cost!

What I really mean by that is that it is always necessary to make personal calculations about the relative value of a watch. Some will choose the most obvious and expensive brand/model, not because of any intrinsic qualities, but because they want to be associated with something that (they believe) will reflect on them in a certain way. Others, being primarily interested in watches as fine jewelry, will emphasize the aesthetics of the case, dial, and hands, etc., without paying much attention to the movement (unless the watch features a display back).

In your case, movement quality and finishing seems to be an important variable. As you have learned through your research, there have been many examples of movements from one manufacturer being used by others, so this is hardly a new phenomenon. As a vintage lover, my favorite example was during the '60's when both Audemars Piguet and Vacheron used a JLC ebauche as the basis for their 2071/71 and 1071/72 movements respectively. Those are widely considered to be two of the finest automatic movements ever produced, arguably on a par with the legendary Patek Philippe AT12-600 with which they were (largely) designed to compete. So in that case, and in more recent analogous situations, the only respect in which one could reasonably complain about the finished product is if the "in-house" claim were to hold a particularly powerful spell.

With respect to your specific quandry, you must decide for yourself how to weigh each variable. As Alex points out, for example, the AP version of the ultra thin is better finished than the JLC. I would also venture to guess that the production numbers of the AP version are much smaller than those of the JLC. So, just how important is movement finishing to you (especially if you can't view the movement!)? What about resale value? If it were simply a matter of good timekeeping in a slim, elegant package, and you were at all budget conscious, then the JLC would be the obvious choice. But rest assured, if you pay the premium for an AP, you will not simply be getting "another JLC".

As to the broader point which you touch on, there is no question that people pay premiums for certain watches because of how they marketed, coupled with the cache value of the brand. That is simply another part of the equation with which you must grapple. From my standpoint, when a brand or model appears to be overvalued, it can perhaps be viewed as an inefficiency in the market. That helps to explain why, for example, I prefer to collect vintage V&C (and IWC, AP, etc.) over PP.

I hope that this was of some help, and wish you luck in your next purchase!


Tony C.

It depends what you do with the ebauche.
12/27/2007 - 20:02

Let's see: Omega buys an ETA 2892, makes various functional upgrades, and then changes the escapement for the groundbreaking co-axial version. IWC buys an ETA or Valjoux and upgrades all the parts including the escapement to a point at which it is so much more efficient that it actually needs a weaker mainspring, then in some cases adds unique complications such as a proprietary GMT function; Ulysse Nardin and Oris also add proprietary GMT complications; Van der Klaauw and some other smaller makers add truly outrageous complications such as those showing planetary motion; and I could go on.  They could all start with their own base movements, but starting with the superb engineering of an ETA or Valjoux is probably a very sensible approach. Meanwhile, some in-house movements are finicky, unreliable or just inaccurate.

The situation is a bit different for Vacheron and AP. They tend to buy their movements from JLC, a very fine movement maker, and in many cases the only real upgrades they make are decorative. (I except from that statement the old JLC movements contained what I consider Vacheron and AP's finest watches, for example the VC calibers 1071, 1072, 1072/1 and 1120, which were not used by JLC at all, so you can't get the equivalent in a JLC watch.) Unfortunately, VC does take a lot of JLC movements, decorate them without (as far as I can tell) adding anything substantive, and sell them in its watches. That bugs me, especially since (a) I think many of JLC's complications are poorly designed from a functional standpoint and (b) at this stage, JLC doesn't seem to be providing VC with its best new movements (that is, the "Autotractor" used in the Hometime series, not to speak of the ingenious Hometime complication). Right now, I think it's a problem: if you want a small complication from Vacheron, you will get a JLC movement and probably one whose function has been far surpassed by comparable complications from other brands. It is to be hoped that VC will work on that, but they have somewhat handicapped themselves by making their new in-house movement thick enough that after they add complications they will only be able to sell them in very thick cases.

We should not ignore the effect of case work. JLC is not and has never been remotely competitive in the area of aesthetics. I suspect it's intentional, as they don't want to place themselves in direct competition with their principal ebauche customers. In any case, I have never heard anyone say "I would really like to by a Vacheron, but the corresponding JLC just looks better" and I do not expect to hear such a comment in the future. I myself have tried hard to like their Hometime, as I really like its movement and complication, but I just can't. It's not just about quality of finishing; it's about aesthetic talent. Also, case work can be substantively important: witness the old-model Overseas, which managed to get a high level of water resistance into a very thin case. I like its G-P movement, but I bought it for that ingenuity coupled with the fact that I liked the way it looked.

Meanwhile, consider the competition. With the exception of Patek and a small percentage of the watches from a few other manufacturers, the brands that compete directly with Vacheron rely on ebauches. They use corporate mergers and acquisitions to pretend they are "manufacture" movements, but not even the most optimistic marketing specialist can claim that they have designed the movements. I prefer an honest reliance on a decades-old trading partner. Also, over the next few years, we will see a lot of newly-minted "manufacture" movements that just don't work. The ebauche houses have a lot of experience and really know how to design a movement; many free-standing watch companies just don't. I would rather see VC continue to use ebauches than to fall into that trap.

The Pagani of Watchmaking
12/28/2007 - 19:13

Stimulating discussion Xerxes!  One really has to admire Patek and Blancpain for their consistency of vision to ensure that what goes inside the case is as high quality as their customer deserves.

While kudos to Patek for a long term committment to quality above all, Blancpain is a great example of what can be accomplished in a relatively short period of time using the same credo.

IMHO, Vacheron has been irritatingly inconsistent with regards to movement standards.  Just the random use of Poinçon de Genève illustrates my point.  Their design style has also widely varied from flamboyant to ultra-conservative, in contrast to more consistent themes from PP and AP.  Either they are still searching for their corporate image or are striving to be all things to all people?

If there was a branding icon that I would like VC to aspire towards, perhaps it should be as the Pagani of watchmaking...