How time is made
How does one build mechanical timepieces? It’s quite simple—at least in theory. Of course, no text can substitute for a watchmaking apprenticeship. Reading alone won’t enable you to construct the necessary tools or movement parts. But it will help you understand how a watch is constructed and that building wristwatches requires a great deal of work, if one does it right.
That’s why we’ve tried to summarize in seven big steps how NOMOS watches are made in Glashütte. From the first construction drawing to marketability, when the watch can be sent out into the world, often takes years, incidentally. And that may be the most important lesson: those who build watches need time and patience.
The movement is designed: a rather complicated matter. Forces and tolerances have to be calculated, plates, bridges, and cocks have to be drawn. A prototype is built—and usually several. What functions on paper sometimes proves unworkable when built. New considerations, new drawings, new measurements. The barrel has to be enlarged, but the wheels and pinions don’t want to be moved closer together? A good movement has gone through many developmental steps before production really begins.
Parallel to this work by the design engineers, toolmakers, and watchmakers, other people are drawing: the case of the new watch is initially created on a computer monitor. Or sometimes on beer coasters in pubs or on canteen napkins. The designers ask themselves: What would this new watch be if it were a car or a piece of furniture or jewelry? What does a watch have in common with a well-set diamond? With the arena of a sports stadium? Here, too, models are built. Today there are printers that can print works in 3D—watch forms in bright plastic that can be lacquered.
These models show the designers very precisely: is the bezel too delicate? Are the case horns too round? What is the course of the twist leading to the case? It’s a battle over fractions of millimeters, over materials, over their surfaces.
Dial and case producers build the first real prototypes; as a rule, a long back-andforth follows among the NOMOS design engineers, the marketing department, and the designers. When everything is right, functions properly, and pleases, when the movement has found its form and a pilot lot has been produced, then NOMOS orders raw materials for plates and bridges: brass and steel. The metals are die cut, tempered, relaxed, and ground to tolerances of thousandths of a millimeter—work steps that require months. But these work processes are the prerequisites for the precise functioning of NOMOS watches.
At the beginning of series production, steel and brass bars three meters long are prepared; from these, the toolmakers cut the turning work pieces—for example pillars, pinions, and bushes—for the future caliber. Plates and bridges, but also steel springs, are milled, drilled, and eroded.
Some pinions, pillars, bushes, and wheels have to be hardened and cut, polished and roller-burnished. Only then comes the surface finishing: ribbing or sunburst perlages stand for the finest Glashütte provenience. Now all our watchmakers are schooled in the new tools and parts. Construction of the series can begin.
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