Watch out for measurement systems!

There are a few industrial domains where mention of the final product is so immediately synonymous with our having a clear picture of what’s involved in our heads. Hear the words “watchmaking” and chances are, what instantly comes to your mind will be things like “detail” or “accuracy”.

The component parts (particularly those within the case) of a watch are, we understand, (almost) microscopically small and the mechanisms that link them are complex. All this means that watchmaking is an industry founded on perfection and in which everything must work – and be manufactured – with an unusual degree of precision. This means making watches requires intricate processes that blend traditional craftmanship with ultra-modern technology to ensure the highest quality outcomes – both for artisanal creations, as well as mass-produced models that depend on reliable movements.

Notwithstanding that different types of watches (for instance, mechanical, quartz, and smartwatches) are made in slightly different ways, the general principles of these processes need to be understood to grasp where measurement comes into the picture.

How are watches made?

So, how are watches made? Let’s see. As we explain, it’s worth keeping the issue of measurement (which we’ll come to in more detail later) at the back of your mind.

Step 1 – design and prototype

Before it’s made, the watch must be designed. This is done on paper (detailed drawings), but prototypes are also often built to test both functionality and aesthetics.

Step 2 – selection of materials

Watches need to be both precise and durable which means high-quality materials are generally of paramount important. Commonly, these include stainless steel, gold, titanium, sapphire crystal (for the face) and, of course, leather and metals for the strap.

Step 3 – making the case

Think of the watch case as the shell that houses the watches intricate moving parts. Depending on the material used and its design, its manufacture generally involves machining, casting, and stamping processes.

Step 4 – building the movement

The movement is the watches engine, and it can be mechanical or driven by quartz. The former involves intricate, usually hand-assembled parts like gears, springs, and other components. The latter use batteries and electronic circuitry for power.

Step 5 – putting it all together (assembly)

The higher end the product, the more skilled the watchmaker needs to be. The assembly process is meticulous and requires attaching gears, springs, and other components together often via dedicated manual work and if not using precision machinery.

Step 6 – dial and hands

At this point. The watch dial will need to be attached to the underlying movement.  The hands, extremely intricate, will need to be mounted with great care and precision.

Step 7 – the case

Everything (the dial, hands, and movement) is inserted into the case, which is then sealed to protect from the environment.

Step 8 – quality control and testing

Testing is rigorous when accuracy is the name of the game. Precision, power reserves, water resistance, and more all need to meet the manufacturer’s standards and are tested to make sure they do.

Step 9 – the strap

The last step, the strap is attached to the case, leaving only final inspection and packaging of the complete watch before it’s ready for sale.

With that overview of the manufacturing process, now think back to the suggestion we made earlier that, as you grasp the method you keep the question of where measurement fits into it at the back of your mind. We’ve now seen how making watches is an extremely intricate exercise involving the manufacturing and integrating of multiple small, delicate components. To ensure they’re fit for purpose, we now need to understand how they’re made.

Making the parts

Making the component parts of a watch involves the use of numerous machine tools and tooling processes. The level of precision required here demands advanced machinery and highly skilled craftsmanship. Let’s look at some of the key machine tools and processes themselves which underline why this is the case. Among the most important are:

  • Milling machines, which are used to cut and shape metal parts with precision. In watchmaking, milling machines are crucial for creating intricate components, including cases, gears, and pinions.
  • Drilling machines, used to create holes in watch components. Accuracy is critical in drilling small holes for screws, jewels, and other elements of the movement.
  • Grinding machines, deployed for the precision finishing of components. Surface grinding ensures that parts have smooth and accurate surfaces while cylindrical grinding produces the cylindrical shapes required for various watch parts.

There are, of course, many other machines (lathes, screw machines, laser cutters, engraving machines, polishing machines, and beyond). Together, they are responsible for the exceptional precision and quality required in the manufacture of a timepiece.

Let’s dwell for a moment on that word “precision” because we’ve used it a lot in this blog. Why is precision so important? And why is this a particularly good time to bring the issue of measurement into the conversation? There are several reasons. Precision and measurement) in manufacturing are vital because:

  • Precise measurements ensure that the components of a watch, such as the balance wheel, escapement, and mainspring, are manufactured and assembled with the utmost precision. This accuracy is essential for the watch to keep time reliably.
  • Watches consist of numerous tiny components that work together harmoniously. Precise measurements are what ensure that the components fit and function seamlessly. Any deviation in size or shape can lead to friction, wear, and will affect the watch’s performance.
  • Standardized and accurate measurements ensure the interchangeability of parts. In the manufacturing process, if components are consistently measured and produced to precise standards, it’s possible to replace or repair individual parts without compromising the watch’s performance.
  • Well-measured and well-made components contribute to the durability and longevity of a watch. Accurate measurements help in selecting materials that can withstand the stresses and strains of daily wear and tear, ensuring that the watch remains functional for an extended period.

As we can see, precise measurements are the backbone of quality and performance in watchmaking. Measurement is a critical aspect that impacts every stage of the watchmaking process.

Measurement system for watchmaking

So, accuracy in manufacturing is critical to assuring the performance of the many components used to create a watch. The parts are small and intricate and there isn’t any margin for error in making them. The machine tools responsible (like the milling and drilling machines) must perform optimally.

To do so, the deployment of a measurement system should be table stakes and given the difficult-to-make nature of watch parts a camera-based machine tool measurement system in particular makes a lot of sense. Made for use in machine tool settings, effective deployment of such a system will improve manufacturing outcomes. And while any measurement system can make a difference, camera-based systems are particularly effective in watchmaking scenarios. That’s because camera-based tool measurement systems are suitable for measuring tools regardless of the manufacturing environment which means they can eliminate many of the enemies of precision that can affect watchmaking (heat, dirt, dust, fingerprints)  

About Conoptica

To summarize, when it comes to manufacturing watches, measurement systems should play a vital role! If you’d like to discuss the subject with us directly, please click the link below.

Conoptica has been providing high tech camera-based measurement solutions for the metal working industry since the 1993. We make sure that the metal working industry has access to key quantitative data about their products and tools. Conoptica is the market leader for measurement equipment in the wire & cable industry.