It’s a big majestic villa on the upper side of Le Locle. It has been bought in 1997, and now it’s Montblanc’s home. However, it wasn’t big enough for the fast growing-company, now #2, in terms of revenues within the Richemont Group, just behind Cartier. So, ten years later, in 2007, the Hambourg-based brand (for its headquarters) added a complete new part to it, a kind of open basement where all the watchmakers are gathered.
Still, Montblanc has several facilities dedicated to watches in Switzerland. This one, based in Le Locle, works on the technical tests, quality controls, and the assembly of the Rieussec, Star, Timewalker and the brand new Heritage collection, which was unveiled during the 2014 edition of the SIHH in January.
Montblanc Factory Visit – Le Locle, the highest lab of quality control
The two main facilities are in Villeret (for Minerva based watches) and here in Le Locle (« Montblanc Montres »). Together, they count around 150 people. Jérôme Lambert, Montblanc’s new CEO, comes there every month. Last but not least, parts of the calibers are supplied by Val Fleurier, which is part of the group, for most of the collections. Minerva-based timepieces stand apart : the very limited number of such pieces all come from the Villeret site.
In Le Locle, Montblanc has an amazing range of tests and quality controls made upon the parts sent by Val Fleurier. Each caliber is assembled during a process of 8 steps, each of them ending with a control of precision, oil, adjustments, etc. The first time Jérôme Lambert came in Le Locle, he was impressed, in his own words, by the level of quality achieved in the small quality control unit.
For instance, the oil dropped on the gears and other parts is tested each time the oiling machine is turned on again. Another example is the test of positions : a special robot simulates how the watch is worn in six different position, from vertical to horizontal with four other steps in between. That’s the origin of the mention « Adjusted in six (6) positions » on the case back. And some should have noticed that six positions is quite rare, most of the watches out on the market being tested usually in four or five positions.
Montblanc Factory Visit – The 500 Hours test
All the process is certified by a test, called the 500 Hours test. It has been created in 2010. It’s done on each and every piece assembled in Le Locle and / or based upon an MB manufacture caliber – including all the Rieussec, for instance. In a near future, the much expected Heritage QP, presented in late January, will also have to pass this 500 Hours test.
This is an important process in Montblanc’s policy. It’s quite a tough exam that timepieces have to pass. For instance, it’s a lot more difficult than the COSC. This one is done on naked caliber, whereas Montblanc’s test is done both on the caliber and the finished, assembled watch, in its case.
This is a lot more difficult considering that a naked movement can be precise enough when the test is run, but completey out of exepected criterias once the hands are put, once the case and dial are in place, etc. All these operations, coming after the COSC test as such, can impact the precision of the watch. That’s why Montblanc prefers a test that is run on the naked movement and on the final assembled piece.
Seven steps have to be completed by a watch before getting the holy 500 Hours certificate, from the test of precision to power reserve, from waterproofness to temperature resistance. Today, the brand new Rieussec Heritage is currently doing this 500 Hours test (which, in fact, lasts a bit more, around 507 hours !). Expected it in September in stores !