On my recent trip to Geneva I had the opportunity to visit Les Cadraniers de Genève – the place where all the FP Journe dials are manufactured. I had no idea the complexity required to produce a dial and was completely blown away and impressed. I arrived early to meet up with up Juliane Gauthier, Retail & Customer Service Manager for Montres Journe SA.
The drive to Les Cadraniers was about twenty minute and is located in the district of Meyrin. The building shares the same space with Les Boitiers de Geneva the case manufacturer also owned by Journe. Journe started Les Cadraniers de Geneva over twelve years ago in a partnership with the Jeweler Harry Winston and recently took full ownership of the dial maker.
We met up with Tony Billet, manufacturing director and Stéphane Cornioley, administrative director who were kind enough to show us around and explain the process how Journe dials are made. Making a specialized dial is a complex process that requires strict controls. At each stage there is high probability that something goes wrong and they have to start all over again.
The are many steps in the process including cutting, polishing, CNC processes, washing, coloring, varnishing, printing and finishing. The initial stage is cutting the base plates.
The base plates are then polished using a sophisticated polishing machine. For the Chronometre Blue they polish the base plate until it shines like a mirror.
There are many steps in making a dial and the process order and time can vary depending on the complexity of design.
Every dial is inspected by hand to make sure they are absolutely flat.
Special tools and setting blocks are used depending on the model.
What really caught my attention was a tray of unfinished red Centigraphe dials.
Stéphane showed me the blue mother of pearl dial used in the Octa Automatique Lune model and part of the Collection Boutique Nacre.
Holding the dial in my hand was quite a thrill.
While most of the machines used in the dial making process are state of art this sanding machine still gets the job done and is from 1959.
After cutting and polishing the dial continues its transformation by passing through a CNC machine. This is the step where the dial is cut with special oil (looks like water), which helps cool it down and prevents it from burning.
After passing through the CNC machine the dial goes to the washing machine room to get the excess oil off.
The polished base plates are then treated with a special varnish.
The varnish in put into pistol and sprayed across the plate. The technique needs to be a smooth movement that is not too slow but not too fast.
The next stage of the process takes place in the galvanization room. This is the area where they make the dial colors one example would be the white silver dial of the Chronometre Souverain.
The dials are dipped into a series of baths using a special hanger and hook. Electric current is also added to the bath. Timing is essential to get color right and consistency is critical. One of the big challenges is that temperature and humidity can change which results in the times need to be adjusted. In some respects it is a bit like baking.
A recycling machine helps reuse the water.
The next area we visited was the printing room where numbers and other markings are put on the dial.
I was fascinated by this stage of the process. The way it works is a special balloon like device is pressed onto an engraved plate that has been covered with ink.
The balloon looking knob is first brushed clean with some light powder to keep it dry.
Ink is spread across the engraved plate. The balloon knob gets pressed on the plate to capture the design, lifts up and then is pressed onto a clean dial to make a perfect copy. This process is then repeated for different markings on the dial usually with 90 minutes in between each step. A complicated dial can take a few weeks to complete.
The next area I visited is where index markers are applied to the dial. At first I was a bit confused because Journe doesn’t use index markers on his watches. What I didn’t realize Les Cadraniers also produces dial for a few other brands including including Vacheron. You can see some of them on the tray to the right.
The finishing stage is where it all comes together whether it’s adding a guilloche center, a mother of pearl border or some other fine details. What was most impressive is the number of controls in between each stage to make sure the dial is absolutely perfect.
One of the interesting machines was a device that enlarge the dial 66x its original size and allows you to compare the actual the dial with a dxf computer file.
What is incredible is that this machine allows them to find errors half the size of a strand of hair.
Of all the dials the Chronometre Blue is one of the most challenging to make. It’s coated with many extremely thin layers of blue paint until the perfect color is achieved.
I could have spent an entire day at Les Cadraniers but Tony and Stéphane had to get back to work. Everyone I met was so passionate about what they do and you can feel the energy flowing throughout the place.
A special thank you to Tony and Stéphane for taking the time to show me around and to Juliane for helping to make it all happen. One thing is for sure – Journe watches are amazing – and I just LOVE THAT DIAL!