A Visit to Artecad

Posted by: David Chalmers   |   15 July 2012   |   3 Comments  

One of the most enjoyable part of writing about watches is having the opportunity to look behind the scenes of how watches are made. In the past we’ve been able to take you on a tour of TAG Heuer’s HQ at La Chaux-de-Fonds and through the Cortech factory, where TAG Heuer makes the Calibre 1887.

What you see in these factories is a reassuring level of “hand made-ness”. Yes, they are modern facilities with elements of high-tech machinery, but while the Swiss watchmaking industry has modernised and changed significantly over the years, it is still an industry of small suppliers based in a network of small villages in the Swiss Jura region.

Artecad in many ways is typical of these suppliers. It’s one of the major employers in its town and from 1885 to 2000 was owned by the same family. And also like many suppliers, it’s no longer independent, but now part of one of the major watch-making groups, LVMH (owners of TAG Heuer).

You probably haven’t heard of Artecad, but they are one of largest specialist dial manufacturers in Switzerland, supply dials to LVMH, Swatch Group and Richemont. And as well as making dials for TH, the company used to be owned by TAG Heuer.

History of Artecad

Artecad traces its origins back to 1885 when the company was known as Kohli, after the family who founded and managed the company. The company is based in a small Swiss town called Tramelan in the north of Switzerland, not that far from Basel. When the company experienced financial difficulties in 1999, it was bought by one of its major customers, TAG Heuer, who changed the name to Artecad.

TAG Heuer went about modernising the factory and made a series of significant investments allowing rapid prototyping and the capability of making more complex finishes- lacquered, mother of pearl, guilloche, “Star-burst” and jewelled dials.

In 2004, TAG Heuer sold the business to Artecad’s management team- Philip Hubbard and Christopher Gouthier. The pair led another round of investment in the business, and  shifted the company from its former location (above) in the centre of the village. In fact, my trip to Artecad started with lunch at a small restaurant (superb, by the way) opposite the old factory. Tramelan is a typical town in the region- quite small, lots of open space and generations of workers who rely on the Watchmaking industry for employment.

In 2008 the new Artecad factory opened on the outskirts of Tramelan- a far cry from the old site in the middle of town. While a more modern factory, it’s still a picturesque setting, as you can see from the view at the Artecad car-park.

The ownership of Artecad changed again in 2011 when LVMH acquired the company, which today makes more than 20,000 dials a month.

Laser Cut Numbers and Indices

Artecad not only makes dials, but also small brass components, such as indexes and numerals. Above you see a brass plate that has been laser-cut, allowing parts such as these small arabic numerals to be cut to a width of 8 Microns (0.008 millimeteres).

Here are the lasers doing their work.

Once the numerals have been cut, they are then glued to a large wheel, ready to be polished. These wheels are then diamond-polished to remove a few microns from the face of the numerals, giving them a shiny finish.

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