Not that long ago, at least in watchmaking years, most watch brands sourced their movements from external manufacturers. Buying movements out-of-house was much less expensive than producing them in-house. Movement-making is an art unto itself, as well as a massive, expensive commitment for a brand.
Why do watch brands buy movements from external manufacturers?
The development of in-house watch movement manufacture is costly, to say the least. The equipment is hard to come by, especially given that the tools for movement-making are mostly hand-made. Finding skilled watchmakers, not to mention luring them away from their employers, is an uphill battle. After acquiring the right equipment and finding adept watchmakers who will come work for you, a brand then must dedicate several years toward developing their own movements to equal the quality that external manufacturers produce.
Why do high-end watch brands produce their own movements?
Despite the cost and time required to bring the manufacture of movements in-house, virtually all modern luxury watch brands make their own movements. It’s a point of pride for watch brands, and collectors have come to expect in-house movements in their watches.
Of course, there are many brands that have made their own movements from the start, including Piaget and Audemars Piguet. Arguably the best example of a brand that was founded on in-house movement-making is Breguet. Establishing his watchmaking business in 1775, Abraham-Louis Breguet was responsible for a number of horological inventions, including the tourbillon, the first equation of time watches, the retrograde time display, as well as an anti-shock device called the “pare-chute.” He’s been called the father of watchmaking, and it’s easy to see why.
How can you recognize an in-house movement?
So, what exactly qualifies as an in-house movement these days? And why do so many of the world’s top brands make their movements in-house? Let’s take a look!
In the broadest terms, an in-house movement, as its name suggests, is made at the brand’s premises, by the brand’s watchmakers, and using the brand’s equipment. A movement acquired from a company outside the brand’s umbrella does not qualify as in-house. However, within these parameters, there are a lot of gray areas with terminology that can be confusing to a watch buyer.
For example, a brand may say its movement is “designed in-house.” In this case, the brand designed the movement, but they didn’t manufacture it. “Designed in-house” does not qualify as a true in-house movement. Additionally, some brands buy “base” movements and then add functions in-house. For example, a brand could start by purchasing an automatic movement and then add a chronograph or moon phase in their manufacturing process. While these additional function “modules,” as they are called, are built in by the brand, that doesn’t mean they qualify as in-house movements. The modules simply lie on top of the base movement that was purchased from an external supplier. These “enhanced” movements technically don’t count as in-house, but how much does any of this really matter to the average watch owner?
Are in-house watch movements always better and worth the money?
It makes sense that most watch buyers are looking for a reliable timepiece that functions properly at a price they can afford. Can this be achieved with movements that aren’t manufactured in-house? Absolutely. As long as everything is working as it should, the average watch buyer might not care at all where the movement was made.
True aficionados and collectors, however, will often opt for in-house movements. There’s a feeling of authenticity that in-house movements impart, as well as the reassurance that the brand has total quality control. Owning a watch made completely in-house is a point of pride for collectors. It feels more personal.
Are in-house watch movements worth their significantly higher price tags? In the end, it depends on the buyer and how much they are willing and able to spend. Rest assured, there are plenty of great watch brands out there that don’t make their own movements and still deliver high-quality timepieces.