The second stage of production is the Union Collection case manufacturing. In the previous article, you discovered the process and creation of the flat and curved dials. Today, we will introduce you to the next chapter of our series and will discuss the savoir-faire of the case’s fabrication.
Before we begin, it is important to note that our cases go through a unique design process. Generally, the horns are an integral part of the case, but in Beaubleu, the horns come to encircle it and screw inside the case. The challenges of our design, therefore, lie in the adjustment of parts and the treatment of surfaces. An exciting process but not without risk.
Let us start the manufacturing of the cases! Suffice to say that, for now, these are simple blocks of steel, and it will be a long journey before the results. To go from the draft to the result, you must follow different stages interspersed with measurement and annealing operations.
The first step in creating the middle of the case is the modeling of the steel block. It is a simple block that will be successively compressed and flattened ten times using rolling mills – machines made up of hardened steel cylinders. This stage changes the metal quality to create a compact solid shape. Each piece will have to pass the dimension test because each variation will be visible on the final product. Nothing we can’t handle!
Today, we are in the workshop to check the first pieces of the stamping stage. We will discuss with our craftsmen the various difficulties encountered and viable solutions.
The stamping operation, which would be like cutting, consists of shaping the medium with a stamp that crushes the material. Repeated several times, the metal gradually regains its shape. Between each stamping, the part is annealed and remeasured.
We begin to see the first elements of the Beaubleu watch horns. They are worked separately, and at this stage are only a silhouette of the design. We remain ruthless in the face of quality, and non-conforming parts are entirely reworked.
Once the stamping process is finished, the piece is now ready to begin the machining stage. The machining process is an important step, and failure at this level of manufacturing can result in significant costs. This step consists in sculpting the final shape of the parts, focusing on the mechanical aspect, i.e. ensuring the placement and drilling of the screws, the adjustment of the parts between them (case horns and movement), and the quality of the shapes (chamfers, fillets, curves, and solids).
At this stage, we finally have before us the Beaubleu pieces. The horns are hollowed out using an arm capable of positioning on five axes. This technique is called CNC 5-Axis Use and is intended for small series. In our case, it is the most advanced technology to obtain the expected result. The horns’ slenderness and position must be treated first by computer-controlled machines and after by hand.
Alex, a machining specialist, sums up our day with a laugh: “Your horns are beautiful, but hell to do.” In order not to spoil anything, pieces are precise to a tenth of a millimeter, with each part remeasured and redone from the start if it is considered non-compliant.
We knew it, but the machining step being extremely delicate, several parts were not in conformity: deformations of certain parts due to metal variations and other unexpected “pleasures”. So, we stay calm and begin again. Luckily, this has no impact on production times, which is a victory.
Considering the past few days and the relaxation of government working conditions regarding Covid-19, we are now entering the most beautiful stage: the treatment of surfaces. We have gone from a big block of steel to a rough watch. Now it is time for a final look at the metal of the Union collection: grained and polished. All visible parts are placed in a sealed box where very fine sand will be thrown at high speed. Abrasion of the steel will then give this grainy, almost powdery appearance. The challenge here is to better control the grain size to obtain homogeneous and delicate graining.
The next steps is polishing. Using a lathe, the parts are polished, being extremely careful not to protrude from the grained surfaces. Despite the loud noise of the machines, the workshop is plunged into religious silence for the concentration of each craftsman. A single movement can damage the sanded surface and if this is the case, we must start sanding completely.
Another element must be considered: the quality of the surface. Aside from the absence of scratches, the qualified experts, and our designer Nicolas, check the light and environmental expressions on the watch. It is like the body of a car, the reflective design will tell you if the part is “veiled”, concave, or convex. It is a question of experience at this level because if you remove too much material from the polishing, it is the assurance to start the part from the beginning.
There is a special mention for the hollowed-out ropes. Since no power tool is small enough to polish the interior, the finishes are done entirely by hand. Great progression!
A small routine check on the first steel watches begins. The angles of the parts are well controlled, and we see ourselves in the polished surfaces. Some parts have been reworked to meet our quality requirements.
Today, there are still different stages, such as the processing of certain models such as the Audace or Olympe from the Rive Gauche line, and of course the final assembly. In the meantime, we will focus on our signature round hands and their manufacturing process.
Most of us have resumed work, life is gradually resuming, and for several weeks now, the production of our Union Collection watches has begun. This article will be the first of a small series, which will give our ambassadors the opportunity to follow the manufacturing process and its different stages: from the dials to the straps.
Today we are going to discuss the dials. Originally, it was a simple metal plate, which quickly became the center of attention. If we consider the case as the body of the watch, the dial is therefore the delicate face.
This is the first element that attracts the eye, it is, therefore, important to carry it out in the rules of art with impeccable quality. The manufacture of a dial is far from being a subcategory of watchmaking, it requires impeccable know-how and extreme precision to be both beautiful and readable. It supports many elements such as indexes, decorations, or simply inscriptions. In addition, for perfect placement of the hands, without risking touching the glass covering them or the other parts of the dial, each measurement must be made to the nearest hundredth of a millimeter. For our watches, the additional difficulty will be the curved dial, which requires a special technique.
April 15, 2020
First day of production. The excitement is at its peak, after weeks of the pre-order campaign and the uncertainty that we have all faced with COVID- 19, we are finally starting the cutting of steel plates which will become flat or curved dials. We begin to make the central and outer contour, where the canon of the movement will be housed. The canon will consequently receive the circular hands. The cutting process stops here for the flat dial, and for the curved dial, we will have to carve a thicker steel plate to give it its curved shape.
April 20, 2020
That day, we soldered our feet to the dials. These feet will be clipped onto the movement to position the dial for the following operations and final assembly.
April 25, 2020
This Wednesday, big things are happening. Using sandpaper, we will soften the metal plate. This step will remove machining residue, then sand the surface and finally prepare it for polishing.
Directly after these stages of dial preparation, before lacquering and varnishing, the plate must be properly polished to obtain a perfectly smooth surface to eliminate micro-scratches. This stage of the process is very meticulous, and we establish the bases of the best quality to limit the problems which can arise later. Indeed, we always have some surprises…
April 27, 2020
The dials now have the desired shape, they are polished and ready to receive their first layer of lacquer for the curved dials and varnish for the flat dials. Here we begin the last and most delicate stage of the production of the dials.
Whether lacquer or varnish, the process remains the same, but as you may have seen in pictures, the rendering is different. To prevent particles of dust from settling on the dial, we isolate it in a special cabin under very strict conditions. Our standards of cleanliness are high to offer you high-quality parts. Then, the varnish is applied with care, set to dry, and adheres to the metal plate before adding a second coat to obtain our famous velvet colors. Generally, a lacquer is applied on a flat surface and it is thus easier to manage the thickness of the coats. On our curved dials, the operation is more complicated and requires a special technique which is a secret recipe from the Maison!
May 7, 2020
Our dials are now dressed in their velvet color. So, it is time to focus on the last details. Let us start with the decal, here it is to add the inscriptions that should appear on the plate. Whether on flat or curved dials, you will always find the same three inscriptions: “Beaubleu Paris”, “Création Parisienne” (Parisian creation), and “Automatique” (automatic). This pad printing process is carried out in a white room to prevent the encrusting of dust particles once again. You may have a question in mind, but what is pad printing?
A pear-shaped tool collects the ink inscription on an engraved surface, then immediately moves it on the dial to obtain a clear and precise inscription.
May 12, 2020
Today we insert the indexes. The application of the indexes which are in the form of a lamp requires a different technique. These elements must be applied meticulously in their reserved place on the dial. They thus create a relief effect that accentuates the contrasts of the dial and therefore of the watch. And you know, it is all about contrast with Beaubleu watches!
May 20, 2020
Now is the time for quality control, an important step as it determines which parts can be used and which have defects.
May 27, 2020
Following the quality control of the dials, defects were detected on 4% of the parts. These defects, not visible to the naked eye, are most often micro-dust between the varnish and the metal plate or microbubbles in pad printing. They, therefore, lead to the scrapping of these parts to remake them from scratch. By this process, we install a high level of quality for our pieces.
This is how the first part of our logbook of the production collection ends. In the next article, we will detail the manufacturing of the cases, which requires different know-how but is just as exciting.