Most often, a watch’s movement is made of brass, German silver (an alloy of copper, zinc, and nickel also known as nickel silver), and steel or gold—or a mix of these. In high horology movements, these metals are cut or milled—not stamped—to create their raw form. Finishing a movement rids the components of burrs and traces of machining, ensuring greater longevity and reliability of the movement. Most of all, these varying manual processes transform dull metal into an aesthetically pleasing and eye-catching mechanism.
At Vacheron Constantin, each component undergoing finishing is systematically checked for quality to make sure that it has not been deformed in any way as even the slightest alteration in shape could influence the correct functioning of the watch.
In a calm and relaxing atmosphere overlooking typically beautiful Swiss scenery of green meadows and mountains, Vacheron Constantin’s movement finishing department team is hard at work. These skillful hands do not belong to watchmakers, but rather craftsmen called finisseurs (finishers) who have had special training in movement finish and decoration. Unfortunately, watchmaking schools no longer teach the kind of high-level finish applied by Vacheron Constantin, for which reason the brand has set up a special internal program that can take anywhere between six and eighteen months to complete, depending on the type of finish to be mastered. Nonetheless, the objective is for the members of the team to learn all types of finish.
At Vacheron Constantin, all components—from the largest to those hardly perceptible to the eye—are painstakingly manually finished. This applies to both components that can be seen through the transparent case back as well as to those hidden from view. Spending so much time retouching parts and surfaces that the owner may never see can seem frustrating; however, when asked this question one of the finisseurs answered, “It can be frustrating, but knowing that the work is perfectly done and that the watchmaker who assembles the movement or the one who at a later date will take the movement apart for servicing will be pleased with what he sees gives us great pride.”
CHAMFERING or BEVELING (ANGLAGE)
Certainly one of the most complicated of finish methods, it is both time consuming and requests the most dexterous artisanship. Bevelling consists of eliminating the edges between the surface and the flanks forming a 45° angle. The edges of the flank are gently pressed down and then polished to give a very shiny aspect. The surface of the angle needs to be regular and smooth with a constant width and parallel edges. It is a very difficult process since if too much pressure is exerted the component will deform and if not enough the angle will not be sharp and clear.
There are different kinds of bevelling:
- Interior angles: where two bevels meet but must be made in a way that looks as if it is a continuing line, this is the finish which requires 18 months of training at VC!
- Exterior angles: the bevels meet at the exterior of the component and the corner must be sharp.
- Rounded angle: the angle follows a rounded pattern.
Two methods are used for bevelling, depending on the type and area bevelled:
* Files: used for interior bevelling as well as areas which can only be reached by a small file (ex in skeleton watches). It is interesting to note that the tools used are prepared inhouse by VC as to perfectly correspond to the desired aesthetics. The angles are created by using files of different sizes and grains or using abrasive pastes. The radiance is obtained by rubbing the surface with diamond paste covered pegwood or a specific rubber. This last step also gets rid of residues.
* Grinding Wheels: used mainly for rounded and exterior bevels. Wooden and leather wheels on which abrasive paste has been applied are used. Each wheel has a different thickness, and is used depending on the size of the component or the type of bevelling. The finisher gently rubs the component against the rotating discs until the required result is obtained, then the component is polished using the leather wheal to obtain its sheen. The technique using the grinding wheel calls for extreme dexterity as material is removed and any mistake would be difficult to make up for.
Other than its aesthetics, believing also removes residual burrs and limits corrosion