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Breaking News: The Le Locle Chronometry Competition Restarts In 2019

Every Swiss watch brand should recruit its best watchmaker-tuner from among its teams to participate in the only competition that rewards only measurable results. Being "nominated" there is already a triumph.

By Joël A. Grandjean

Let's go for the 2019 edition. It is this Thursday, September 13, 2018, in Montreux, as part of the study day of the SSC, the Swiss Chronometry Society, that Philippe Fischer, President of the International Chronometry Competition, is revealing the 2019 edition into the audience of around 800 watchmaking professionals.

Some brands are afraid, and they are wrong

Every timepiece "nominated" for the International Competition is to the science of precision, chronometry, what Formula 1 is to the automotive world. Would you compare your daily vehicle, even if it is the best of all the lines, to Formula 1, which is at the start of a Grand Prix? Of course, some sleeper cars hide their performance potential. The same applies to watches.

Some major watch brands will refrain from participating in this time trial because they consider that their reputation and notoriety place them above the crowd. For them, taking the risk of not being in the first place is inconceivable. So, version 2019 includes a significant evolution on this matter: there is only one category and three distinctions. And let us be clear, when we talk about the award, we should instead take the image of the mentions that accompany graduation. Thus, the brand takes the single risk that, in the mention of excellence, three nuances indicate its intensity.

The other reason not to be afraid in 2019 is that the brand is registering its watch with complete discretion. In this way, if its watch does not pass the first test, its name will never be revealed. However, it will continue the competition and pass the other tests while having the guarantee that its results will not be made available to the public. Only it can get them. If we realize that the registration fee does not exceed CHF 3,000.00, then it becomes ridiculous not to offer 80 days of intense tests at the price of this amount, including three visits to the COSC.

The brands, whether they have decided to play the game to the end by placing their best watch-tuners on their candidate watch, or whether they have decided to borrow a piece at random from a series to send it to the competition, will have for a paltry amount of money an incredible amount of data useful to their quest for perfectibility.

The quest for precision at Le Locle

Watchmaking competitions have their origins in the past. The current one, which normally takes place every two years, was launched in 2009 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Musée d'Horlogerie du Locle, the Château des Monts. Le Locle has housed since the beginning an Official Office of the COSC, the authority of the Swiss Chronometer Control. The municipality claims to be the city of precision. A touch of historical knowledge proves it right. In particular, if we recall the exceptional career of watchmaker Henri Grandjean, father builder of the Neuchâtel Observatory - he is the one who had it built - and father ten years later of the Ecole d'Horlogerie du Locle. This school was one of the first academic institutions to be connected to the Observatory.

When he was back from Latin America where he was in charge of the watchmaking fair created by his father in Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru from the age of 21 and for almost a decade, Henri Grandjean wanted to use the spirit of English watchmaking as a model. He invited the craftsmen of his time to be inspired by it to make precision watches from then on. He was therefore naturally very involved in the field of marine chronometers. Moreover, his models seem so precise that they deserve him the nickname "Delights Of Captain."

All over the world during the 19th and 20th centuries, chronometric observatories organized contests around precision. Until the arrival of quartz, at the beginning of the seventies, the Chronometry Competitions followed one another and honored the work of the timekeeper, an experienced watchmaker sometimes able to hear and diagnose and therefore treat any irregularities in a mechanical watch calibre.

The first Observatory competitions, from Greenwich to Neuchâtel

As early as 1766, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich held the first adjustment competitions, rewarding competitors with bonuses, with the aim of getting its fleet to the best chronometers. In France too, the Royal Navy used to pay 2,400 francs for the winning models. At the Geneva Observatory, where the talent of adjustment also gave rise to competitions from 1816, the annual frequency of competitions was introduced in 1873. In short, the validity of these competitions and their international influence encourage the players in the watch industry to do everything possible to take part in them.

In England, in 1884, the Kew Astronomical Observatory began work on it, and in 1885 the Besançon Observatory in France. The competitions of the Observatories of Neuchâtel, Hamburg and Washington also benefit from a high reputation. Unfortunately, nothing is standardized, which makes it difficult to compare results. However, the award-winning timepieces receive an official Bulletin de marche and medals. From 1900 to 1939, Patek Philippe won no less than 764 prizes in Geneva, 187 of which were first prizes, representing more than half of the distinctions awarded during this period.

In Neuchâtel, where competitions are particularly appreciated, two old contests remain in the memory. One in 1923, for the centenary of Abraham Louis Breguet's death, the other in 1948 for the anniversary of the canton of Neuchâtel.

The 2019 edition, ten years after its relaunch

Among the new rules, only one watch per brand and one that matches the criteria of the swiss made. The name Concours International obviously remains totally justified since Swiss precision and its expressions are part of the values recognized worldwide. For the rest, with a few variations, the the testing watchmaker's motto is always to make watches suffer. Those who survive are therefore heroic timepieces.

80 days of testing including three passes at the COSC. Four institutes accredited by Switzerland were requisitioned: METAS, the supreme authority of the Confederation, and the Swiss Institute of Metrology, preside over the Jury. The COSC, whose reference in Swiss law allows the mention "chronometer" to be applied to a watch dial, i.e. a watch whose precision is validated by a strict control. The Timelab Foundation in Geneva, holder of the famous Geneva Seal, and the Dubois Laboratory, founder of accelerated ageing tests under the Chronofiable@ label.

Methodology and chronology

After a first visit to the COSC Official Office in Le Locle, not the movement alone but the complete watch head, the watch reaches the status of "nominated" which is in itself already a big victory. It is therefore like an F1 stationed on the starting line. Then, the watch leaves for Geneva, to the Timelab Foundation, which will expose it to intolerable magnetic violence. In order to see if her accuracy has been altered by these invisible attacks, it will always offer itself in Geneva its second visit to the COSC. Then the watch will go to La Chaux-de-Fonds in the facilities of the Laboratoire Dubois, an institution renowned for its accelerated ageing test protocol: Chronofiable®, a label and registered trademark synonymous with absolute resistance and reliability. Moreover, in order to check and above all measure the inevitable variations in precision, the watch will offer itself its last visit to the COSC in Le Locle.

In December 2019, the results will be communicated at the end of a calendar punctuated by two key dates, 31 March 2019, the deadline for registration, and the end of August 2019, the date of submission of the pieces to Le Locle. It should be noted that this deposit is made in the most total discretion, often through a back door located at the back of the Château des Monts.

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