Having embraced the watch modification culture, I have assembled many watches in my time. I consider myself an experienced amateur, at best, but I can accomplish the task. For those who have modded their own watches, how often have you completed the mod, only to find in bright sunlight there is dust on your dial? Or your hour and minute hand alignment is not perfect.
For the inexperienced, it seems simple. You have a bunch of parts. Just slap them together. How hard can it be?
In January, I was fortunate enough to visit the Fine Timepiece Solutions USA (FTS) headquarters located in Fountain Hills, Arizona. FTS is assembling some up-and-coming Islander models, and I was very excited to visit and see first-hand how watches are built (in America, no less!)
What immediately struck me is the organization involved. We are not talking prototype production. This is full-fledged production; hundreds of watches pass through the facility every week. The techniques and procedures you use in the modding community are out the window!
Here, everything is kitted. Think “assembly line”, but with watches. A kit arrives at a trained technician’s station - for example, mounting a dial. The motion of installing dial spacer, dial and then inspection is performed at a rate of one per minute.
Watching the hands quickly move through the motions makes you realize that practice makes perfect. Setting hands is my nemesis. I despise it. I can spend a few minutes just mounting a seconds hand. At FTS, I watched a technician expertly mount an hour, minute and seconds hand, all with hand tools, in just a minute or so. Amazing!
This ballet continues all the way through the assembly process, and culminates in an assembled watch that is built with the highest quality. All of this is done under the watchful eye of the head watchmaker, in a clean room environment. It is quite the dichotomy when compared to how watch modding works. The production environment requires repeatability coupled with quality. There is no time to take it apart and take out dust!
Thank you for reading, and thank you for watching.