— Laurent Ferrier only produces around 100 cheap replica watches per year. Here is why.
The brand is only five years old, yet it is rooted in the finest traditions of Swiss watchmaking. Laurent Ferrier’s objective is simple: he simply wants people to open up his watches in 50 or 100 years’ time and marvel at the quality of the workmanship, just as he has done himself on antique timepieces.
The company headquarters is in Plan-les-Ouates, which cheap replica watches aficionados may know as the industrial zone that is the epicentre of Swiss watchmaking, with the huge workshops of Rolex and Patek Philippe among many other large watchmaking sites. Yet the Laurent Ferrier workshops are found in a 400 year-old building in the very heart of the old village, where a small group of watchmakers decorate and assemble the movements by hand. Because of the importance attached to the art of decoration by Laurent Ferrier, one in-house decorator works solely on decorating the movements (although the other watchmakers are capable of doing so as well). Flat surfaces such as the tourbillon bridge are mirror-polished by hand, working the piece against a sheet of zinc coated with diamond paste, while the acute angles inside the movement are painstakingly filed by hand. In an era where CNC machines can offer precision machining down to the micron level, there is still no machine that can match the sensitivity of a woman’s touch (the majority of movement decorators and engravers are women) for this delicate operation.
All this decoration work adds up. In the case of the FBN Calibre 229.01 with the off-centre micro rotor, for example, 27 hours of decoration are required for the movement. Add another 13 for assembly and you already have over a full week of non-stop work just to produce the movement. Before adding the cost of the case and other components, this helps to explain the 35,000 Swiss francs starting price for the brand’s collection. With only a handful of watchmakers performing such time-consuming operations, it’s hardly surprising that Laurent Ferrier only produces around a hundred fake watches per year.
But the exquisite decoration is only a part of the special appeal of a Laurent Ferrier timepiece. The brand is also one of a very select few that uses a “free”, or in Laurent Ferrier’s parlance, “natural” escapement. Originally invented by Berthoud and later used by Breguet, this escapement configuration aims to disturb the oscillation of the balance spring as little as possible (hence the “free”), by providing an impulse from both pallets on the pallet fork with minimum friction and at the optimum moment. Laurent Ferrier illustrates the difference with the traditional Swiss lever escapement with the wonderful analogy of a child’s swing. The Swiss lever escapement is like a traditional swing, where you push and wait for the swing to return before pushing again. The natural escapement is like having two people pushing the swing from both sides. The benefits in efficiency are considerable: a Swiss lever escapement offers a paltry efficiency (i.e. the ratio between the power input coming into the escapement from the mainspring and the power output from the escapement) of 30%. With the natural escapement the efficiency doubles to 60% and the force is much more constant.
On a more tangible level, the superior performance of this escapement has been proven by the tests passed at the Besançon Observatory, where a Laurent Ferrier watch set a new record in 2012. Differences in rate of just a few seconds – easily double the precision of a chronometer – are not uncommon with a Laurent Ferrier wristwatch.