Piaget Manufacture 2009

The Piaget brand, a living heritage

At its Plan-les-Ouates and Côte-aux-Fées premises, Piaget has bundled all the know-how necessary to design and produce outstanding watches. Guided tours, a journey through the brand's heritage…

By Joel Grandjean

From the sky, the Plan-Les-Ouates manufacture, with its surface area of 8,471 square metres, quite graphically demonstrates the Piaget’s sheer manufacturing power. The site links with the company’s first one, the manufactory at la Côtes-aux-Fées, cradle of the eminent international watchmaking brand.

A fabulous horological journey

Right from its founding in 1874, the company enjoyed elements of an identity permanently connected with the world’s VIPs. How could a humble family from the watchmaking peasantry, surviving in a hostile environment combining both geographical altitude and a harsh climate, ever set out to conquer the visible areas in the world and those most trodden by the jet set ?

The imprint of this particularly religious family still endures in this little village in the Canton of Neuchâtel where the Piaget story began. Everything here reminds the visitor that the watchmaking spirit is still alive and well, from the fleet of minibuses mentioned by the older folk and which served to transport employees in the days of yore, to the ski-lift that was built for the township. It’s a spirit that the brand’s founding father summarised in a pithy mission statement of quasi-corporatist nature: “Faire mieux que nécessaire” (To do better than necessary). Still revered inside the company, these words were even inscribed on the Piaget Emperador Coussin Répétition Minutes Extra-plate model to complement the first-ever mention of the “Côte aux Fées.”

Champions of the ultra-thin

In 1988, this world-renowned family enterprise was bought up by the Vendôme Group, which later became Richemont Group. As a pioneer of ultra-thin calibres, Piaget was known for its capacity to design and produce its own mechanical movements and the complications in-house, as well as its ability to push miniaturisation to an extreme. The current portfolio is composed of twenty-three extra-flat calibres and five skeleton movements, to which the skeleton calibre Piaget 1200S has recently been added.

This range of products, which is fully embedded in the brand’s DNA, includes the calibres 430P (2.1 mm in height) and 830P (2.5 mm), created in 1998 and 2007 respectively. It also comprises a family of ultra-thin complications like a custom-shaped tourbillon, the 600P, a chronograph, the 880P, a perpetual calendar, the 855P, and an automatic tourbillon, the 1270P. And finally, a number of calibres were created on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Piaget’s famous calibre 12P: the1200P (hours and minutes) and 1208P (hours, minutes and small seconds), the flattest self-winding mechanical movements in the world, as well as the minute repeater calibre 1290P.

Built for synergies

Walking along the halls and individual workshops generously bathed in natural light, you quite often meet craftspeople who remember the time when the company was just beginning to become established in a building located behind the immense Rolex headquarters in the Acacias district in Geneva. That building was named Prodor, and it soon became too small. The construction of the current premises in the Plan-Les-Ouates industrial zone, which were inaugurated in 2001, finally enabled the company to consolidate all its arts and crafts under one roof, leaving only  design, construction and production of movements and the tools in Neuchâtel.

It's no coincidence that the architect Paul Studer set the new construction inside a ring symbolising the brand’s watchmaking as well as jewellery activities. A ring comprised of a heart with a central building extended by a visitors' access footbridge suggesting a watch hand, suspended above green space. The headquarters and the main production unit division were then relocated to two immense halls on the spot.

The advantages of craftsmanship proximity

The administration, executives, marketing, finance and HR departments work cheek-by-jowl with concept and production of any component that a perfect watch made of precious materials might require. In the office of the designers specialising in research and development, the complete pedigree of each timepiece is recorded and carefully measured. The case, the crystal, the bezel, the gaskets, the sometimes tiny screws, the dial, the hands, the strap, the parts needed to encase the movement, everything is there, even quality control and chronometric testing. After examination and registration of the data, it's time for prototyping, feasibility studies and the plans for the production.

This system allows about 80- to 100 novelties to be offered annually, be it a simple change on a dial or the launching of a new line.

Gold and precious materials

In the area of precious materials, the Richemont Group, does not engage in group purchases. Every brand has its own room for manoeuvring, its own suppliers, and its own negotiating liberty. Thus there is clearly a spirit of competition among the brands. At Piaget, except for some titanium or bi-coloured pieces, each watch is made of gold. It is a clear reference to the brand’s DNA. There were some exceptions in the 1990s, like the Up-Stream, a watch made of steel. The idea has soon dropped, however.

The precious ingots purchased are then sent on to an external supplier who blends them with alloys to produce an 18-carats gold in line with the in-house specifications. At Piaget, there are almost 300 different sectionals. There is also a grey gold – or white gold – whose typical whiteness is more noticeable than elsewhere. At Plan-les-Ouates, the manufacture has its own kiln, which is rare in the sector. After returning from the finisher, the gold is melted here and then poured to make the desired shapes. From the ingot to the case, passing by the bracelet links, everything is made in close proximity and hence with greatest efficiency.

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Piaget, manufacture, tool mastery and secure independence

By Joel GrandjeanEditor-in-Chief
Piaget goes beyond the term manufacture both in Plan-les-Ouates and La Côte-aux-Fées, with the exhibiting or consigning of historical pieces and...