Inside the Manufacture: Richard Mille’s Manufacturing Facilities In Les Breuleux
It is quite unusual to enter the holy of holies of a manufacturing entity to find out how to create a new generation of high watchmaking watch. Watchonista was lucky enough to visit the Valgine factory in Les Breuleux, a small village in the Swiss Jura region, to offer our passionate readers the opportunity to discover the specificities and meticulous care with which Richard Mille watches are made. Follow the guide!
Without remaking the world, it would be almost possible to say, "In the beginning was an idea to give time with a futuristic dimension". From this spark was born a brand driven by an innovative design and high-end features set in motion using cutting-edge materials. What a program!
Giving form to the principle
As silly as it sounds, a finished watch is the sum of over 500 work plans developed by designers and engineers, then processed into machining programs that specialists will shape using the latest generation CNC machines working in ultra-fine tolerances. At Valgine, multi-axis lathes and mills have been assembled in a dedicated room to meet all present and future needs. Operating at the task, these tools calibrated to the brand are perfectly suited to precision work to perform in small series. But if these bikes are perfectly optimized and able to read the computer sequences corresponding to a specific toolpath, the eye of the specialist is nevertheless essential for the perfect functioning of the whole. And it is not uncommon to see technicians edit a program on the keyboards of the machines to complete a cutting work and thus improve the finishes or correct the tolerances.
At Richard Mille, the machining of cases changes depending on the materials used. The production is quite large, but very far from that of traditional brands, it does not require the use of stamping, the conventional method of forming the cases for a production volume. Here, machining, wire cutting (electrical cutting see photo bellow), Jet cutting or forming composites with cooking under overpressure chamber, are the rule.
Once the basic shape obtained for each element of the cases, these are shown in the unit of a tool corresponding to their dimensions in order to receive the bores, the curves and millings for releasing their final form.
In some cases, scrap materials can be huge as some small parts are machined in the mass of an imposing metal bar.
It's a bias that depends on the material because it is ultimately what dictates its rules to ensure the best robustness to the finished product.
Once all the machining operations have been carried out, the elements are washed, degreased and checked optically and by probes to check the tolerance with respect to the dimensions of the plan books.
Forming, material, and anodizing
But at Richard Mille, the metal for the cases is often replaced by sometimes strange composite materials. To achieve these, they are either molded under pressure or polymerized in form on supports to the dimensions of the room, as is done for the elements of the chassis and body Formula 1.
Then, these components are machined to the final dimensions and receive the holes. These operations are obviously controlled, and small imperfections and deburring are done by hand with a cutter.
Once all the operations performed on the composite-based elements (TPT and other polymerized multilayer epoxy based), the elements are all checked by specialists who do not let anything pass.
It should be noted that the possibilities are endless at Richard Mille and it is necessary to have employees experienced in all tasks, able to adapt and observe depending on materials, and control defects.
And because it must also be able to adjust shades of materials together, the factory carries out a colored surface treatment of glasses and bezels with some versions with paintings ceramide that are ultra-resistant to scratches and temperatures that are usually used in in the automobile and weapons industry (motor lacquer-polyamide ceramide).
At Richard Mille, the method used for the machining of calibers is not different from what is done in other factories of the same size. The only difference in some cases, is the materials employed. At Les Breuleux, brass is no longer a common material for the plates machined by a 5-axis lathes in simultaneous face and back operations (Both faces are machined during the same sequence, thus avoiding dimensional offsets).
This historic metal in the craft is here replaced by titanium alloys or ultra-rigid composite materials.
All these ultra-sensitive elements are individually checked to see if the finishes and dimensional dimensions are in accordance with the specifications. Sometimes, for unexplained reasons that can hold up to very little (Metal paillon in alloy, melting defect, tool wear, chip left out, or furrow of cutting tool), machining is not perfect. The faulty component is then auscultated, the defect analyzed and indicated using a special marker.
At the same time are controlled the parts constituting the gear train and powertrain, and all the hardware, before assembly.
The finished case, ready for assembly and the caliber in spare parts remain to assemble before being finally associated with one another.
These operations, carried out by specialists, are conducted with extreme care because of the careful assembly depends on the proper functioning of the watch.
At each stage, many quality checks are carried out.
Once the cases have been mounted they check the water resistant and the perfect assembly of the elements constituting the movements these are gathered to be associated with each other.
At this level, every detail counts, and nothing should be left to chance.
Once placed in the middle, the functions of the movements are controlled, and the hands of the watch set. The sapphire glass is then placed, and the bottom screwed to the middle part.
At this stage, the waterproofness of the piece is controlled as well as the surface condition of each piece. Once all this complete, each watch can receive its strap and join the shipping area. But before that, each piece is protected by a protective plastic and a final check of the proper operation of each part is performed.