A Photo Essay by Jon Z.
In March of 2015, the JZ&F team has had the rare and exciting privilege of visiting manufacturer Leroy, located in Le Sentier, Switzerland.
Founded in the 18th century, Leroy is the one of the oldest haute-horology watchmaker in existence – older than Patek, Breguet and Blancpain. It was the finest producer of high complication pocket watches all the way through the early twentieth century, and more prestigious than the other top Swiss houses during that era. As a French-Swiss watchmaker, Leroy was more prestigious than the contemporary Breguet. Marie-Antoinette, Proust, Matisse, Napoleon, Queen Victoria, Roosevelt, Chopin, Nobel, Bugatti, aviation pioneers Charles Lindbergh and Santos-Dumont are just some of the illustrious owners of a watch manufactured by Leroy. Leroy was a winner of a record 384 gold medals in chronometry competitions throughout its history.
In recent years, the famous brand has been revived with a strong investment. The current collection pays homage to its heritage as a producer of high-grade marine deck chronometer, high-end complication pocket watches, and most importantly, its continued dedication to precision. In fact, Leroy is one of the only three companies (the other two are Kari Voutilainen and Laurent Ferrier) that have most of their watches undergo the prestigious and expensive precision certification process at National Observatory in Besancon.
Le Sentier is located in the famous Vallee de Joux, the cradle of high-end Swiss watchmaking, and about 1.5 hour northwest of Geneva. The area is home to some of the most talented watchmakers, and many famous brands such as Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, and Jaeger-LeCoultre, are located there.
We arrived in Geneva the day before, to get ready for the visit next morning.
The next morning, after a scenic ride into the mountains, we arrive at Le Sentier.
Notice Blancpain is literally just next door.
As we walked into the front lobby, we were immediately reminded of the “Leroy 01”, a remarkable achievement that won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1900 and, with its 25 horological complications, remained the most complicated watch for nearly a century, until 1989.
The fully vertically integrated production house Manufacture Leroy (formally known as Manufacture Horolgerie Vallee de Joux), allows Leroy to have complete coontrol, in the design, production, assembly and servicing. Everything is produced in-house in this 3-story building, from movement plates, to all the tiny pinions and spring, and of course the in-house movements and superb finishing that Leroy is famous for.
Production room where the movements are first cut by CNC machines:
A technician programming the CNC Machine:
Machine of the movement inside the CNC:
Finished parts from the CNC Machine:
Each part then goes through careful inspection under magnification, parts that are an hairline outside of the tolerance are rejected.
Components cut from laser. As we can see, Leroy indeed makes and finishes each individual component in the watch. It might be an overkill, but that’s what makes a brand’s DNA pure and special.
Next, the parts go through careful hand-polishing in the finishing department. Some screws need to be meticulously polished for over 15 minutes per screw, in order to achieve that elusive and stunning “black mirror finish”.
The technicians show us, under 10x magnification, the difference between a raw pinion first out of the laser machine and a finished pinion from hand polishing. The parts are too small to be photographed here. The difference in smoothness and reflection is quite huge – this labor-intensive attention to detail is the signature of haute horologerie.
A technician checking the finishing of components:
Another aspect of a fully integrated in-house production – Leroy has invested heavily (tens of millions) in machinery and staff, to create all the small components in house, starting with the purchasing and selection of brass and steel rods.
Machining of a tiny part, with a manually-assisted cutting machine, to achieve the exact specs according to engineering documents.
Technicians are working under microscope and putting the finishing touch on wheels.
Meticulously polishing a screw using wood and diamond paste to achieve the perfectly smooth black mirror finish. Utmost patience is required for this type of work.
Next, we visit the design group. Leroy designs all of its movements in-house, and has employed a team of talented engineers/designers to create its in-house movements. The finished design then get pass to the watchmaking group for protoyping, and then finally to production.
A designer working on the new Chronometre Observatoire movement calibre L200.
The new tourbillon chain-fusee movement calibre L100 was unveiled in Basel 2015 (approximately US $200,000). This is a show of force that blows the industry away, and puts this Leroy piece squarely in the same league as Greubel Forsey and Christophe Claret.
An engineer proudly took us for a stroll outside the famous Ecole Technique de la Vallee de Joux, also located in Le Sentier – where students go through years of formal training in micro-mechanics and watchmaking design.
Our last stop is the atelier for watch assembly, where master watchmakers work in a dust-free environment and work in complete peace and patience. This is where all the beautifully finished components are assembled, regulated, tested and re-tested.
Partially assembled movements. We can see movements from the Marine Deck Chronometer, the Chronometre Observatoire, and the Skeletonized Tourbillon Regulateur.
Movement from Skeletonized Tourbillon Regulateur:
A special-order Tourbillon Regulateur “TOURBILLON LES GRANDES HEURES JOAILLERIE”, with a total of 9.5 cts for 425 “invisible set” baguette diamonds, all Internally Flawless VVS grades, retailing for $485,000.
Looking at the posters on the wall, we are reminded some of Leroy’s most proud current creations – tourbillons regulateur, which is winner of the 2013 International Chronometry Competition, in the tourbillon category. These are models with enamel and relief-engraving dials.
From this visit, I was impressed by Leroy’s commitment to not only making all vital components of the watch in-house (thus giving the brand a distinctive and pure DNA), but also its attention to finishing in detail. After examining the finishing on the main plates and various components, I was glad to see that that not only is the movement beautiful on the outside, but even the parts hidden behind the movement are equally well-finished.
As well-finished parts reduce friction, ensure a smooth operation of the watch, prolong the life of the watch tremendously, and simplify the servicing process, Leroy is sending a clear message to its proud owners – the company dedicated to its heritage of creating inter-generational heirloom timepieces and does not cut any corners and expenses.
When a watch company devotes this type of high-end finishing on parts that are invisible to the eye, it is reassuring to know that the watch is just as beautiful on the inside, as it is on the outside.
This is how true luxury is made.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you have enjoyed the report.
Jon and the JZ&F team.