Assembling a mechanical movement and a watch may seem like an intimidating task if you are not a trained professional. However, this can be an enjoyable educational experience with the right tool and guidance. This is what I have experienced, assembling my personalised Petite Seconde by Cimier at the Watch Academy in Biel.
The origins of Cimier can be traced as far back as 1924 when Joseph Lapanouse founded his watch company in Holstein near Basel. Cimier made a name for itself selling important quantities of so-called Roskopf watches, good-quality yet low-cost timepieces also referred to as proletarian watches. Today, the brand is headquartered in Biel and, since 2010, it has been operating the Watch Academy by Cimier.
The Watch Academy organizes watchmaking courses combining theory and practice during which you can sit at the bench and step in the shoes of a watchmaker for a day, exerting your patience and skills on different watchmaking operations, in particular the assembly of the movement and of the different components of the watch.
You can also assemble your own personalised watch. Three different base models are available: the Royal Skeleton, the Petite Seconde (the model I have picked) and the Big Matic (which is powered by an exclusive automatic version of the tried and tested Unitas 6497 calibre). Once you have selected your model, you have a wide choice of samples to choose from to personalize it: case material, dial, hands, strap… All of these can be easily put together on a practical stand so you can try different combinations and you can get an idea of what your watch will look like. Another personal touch, you can also decide to engrave your case back when booking your session.
Once the components are chosen, it is time to put on a watchmaker’s gown and head to the workshop. There, a watchmaker provides basic watchmaking knowledge which will prepare you for the hands-on part. The process begins with the assembly of the movement that is performed step by step, under the guidance of a watchmaker. There are a couple of delicate operations, in particular the assembly of the escapement wheel and of the balance wheel but all in all, this is perfectly doable, even for beginners. No prior skills or competencies are required. The watchmaker will eventually help you with the most difficult steps, and, to regulate and check your movement once it is complete. In addition, the movements of the three models proposed by CIMIER are all based on the Unitas 6497 calibre whose large dimensions make things simpler.
Back to the workbench after a friendly lunch with the Watch Academy team, the dial is fixed onto the movement and the hands are fitted – putting the small second hand in place on its pinion was probably the trickiest step – After the casing of the movement, the last operations consist in attaching the leather strap and the buckle.
At the end of the day, a certificate is presented to the participants together with the gift box and documentation of the watch.
Overall, the experience is both fun and educational. If you want to get a good understanding of how a mechanical watch works and of watchmaking in general spending a few hours at the bench will definitely help. Nothing compares to learning by doing. Most importantly, it is quite rewarding to leave with a watch that you have assembled with your own hands!
The Watch Academy is located in Bienne, Switzerland. Watchmaking sessions are organized by appointment. Price starts from CHF 350 for watchmaking initiation courses and from CHF 1,400 to assemble your own watch. Some workshops are sometimes organized in other cities or countries, in particular for groups or companies.
For more information, please visit www.watch-academy.com.