Biel/Bienne is the tenth largest city in Switzerland and the only Swiss city with bilingual signage in German and French. Located in between German and French speaking cities, Biel/Bienne —name in both German and French— is surrounded by the Swiss Alps and magnificent crystal clear water lakes. Home to the Armin Strom Manufacture and also to Swatch Group brands like Omega and Swatch along with one of Rolex’s final assembly facilities, Biel/Bienne will captivate your senses with its Art Deco architecture, Bauhaus landmarks and views of the Swiss Alps for days. Less than two hours away by train from Zürich and only 15 minutes from Neuchâtel, Biel/Bienne is situated alongside the Biel Lake that together with Lake Morat and Lake Neuchâtel, is one of the three large lakes in the Jura region of Switzerland.
The Armin Strom Manufacture is a truly fully integrated watchmaking manufacture where no less than 97% of the watch components are made in-house. Situated in a small building with less than 20 employees, this mighty independent brand makes close to 400 watches a year, remaining highly exclusive and as competitive as it gets when it comes to independent watch brands. Four major operations are undertaken at the Armin Strom Manufacture which are milling, hand decoration, electroplating and assembly.
Upon entering the building, you will first be greeted by the 3D printed figurines of Armin Strom’s founders, Serge Michel and Claude Greisler. After sipping our second espresso of the day, the tour at this incredible place —where our unique piece was made back in 2016— began by engaging in a very candid conversation with its Claude Greisler —technical director and co-founder of the brand.
And just like at every other watch manufacture, the process begins with sketches, renderings and blueprints. Armin Strom is also one of the few brands that is currently utilizing 3D printing at the early stages of the manufacturing process to make sure the watch has the right proportions and it feels just right.
From raw materials to nano milling with machines that operate at speeds of up to 50,000 rpm it takes up to 1.5 hours for a manual mainplate to be finished from start to end and up to three hours for a minute repeater mainplate. Utilizing a 219x magnification for quality control purposes, all parts manufactured at the Armin Strom facility are carefully inspected one by one. Armin Strom is also one of the few brands that machines their own hands as well as all other components necessary for the movements including gear train wheels, screws, pinions, escapement wheels, bridges, levers, etc.
Another task that is not taken lightly but rather with the utmost care is movement and parts decoration which is fully done by hand by a small team of four female watchmakers. From perlage to Cotês de Genève and everything in between including satin finishing hands, bridges and other movement components, this small workshop was one of our favorite stops during our visit to the Armin Strom Manufacture. In this area, we were also able to experience movement decoration by doing it ourselves on a test movement mainplate. For the perlage, anglage and satinage of the mainplates, it takes no less than 1.5 hours for these skillful and talented hands to complete all tasks.
Additionally, Armin Strom is one of the few brands that carries electroplating in-house with six different color finishes for the movements that include two different variants of yellow gold, nickel-plating, rhodium-plating, rose gold-plating, and ruthenium-plating. By dipping the parts inside four different chambers, electric current reduces dissolved metal cations so that they form a thin coherent metal coating on an electrode.
Lastly, at the final assembly department, two talented master watchmakers undertake final operations from casing to setting of the balance wheel, regulating, timing and final quality control. Much like Vacheron Constantin, Armin Strom assembles and disassembles their watches in two different occasions before leaving the manufacture. After the first assembly, the watch is fully inspected and regulated as necessary. Afterwards, the watch is fully disassembled, cleaned one more time and reassembled for final quality control. Once the final casing is completed, the strap is installed and the watches are ready to ship to the authorized dealers and clients.
The visit to the Armin Strom Manufacture was an absolute treat and a great glimpse into how smaller watch companies undertake their watchmaking processes. When comparing this visit to previous visits of other much larger manufactures like Jaeger-LeCoultre or Audemars Piguet, one thing stands out, and that is that no matter the size of the manufacture, the human touch and human involvement in each and every one of the different watchmaking processes is always present and it is what makes mechanical watches so special.
Special thanks to our friends at Armin Strom for allowing us into their home in Biel/Bienne. Another incredible day in our #watchlife. For more info on Armin Strom click here.