This week, Timelab with the strong support of some of the amazing Geneva Watch brands like Vacheron Constantin, revealed a new technology that would refresh the Geneva Hallmark, le Poinçon de Genève.
It is about nano-technology and the aim to maintain the Hallmark very strong. The event took place at the Société des Arts headquarters at Palais d’Athénée in Geneva. The Société des Arts is the most ancient cultural society in Geneva founded in 1776. The interesting highlight of this place is that Société des Arts created the Horology school in 1824 and founded the Chronometry society in 1924. So it was a very symbolic place for the Swiss watch industry. You can read more about Société des Arts ici:
A tradition since 1886
The Geneva Seal (English), Poinçon de Genève (French), or Genfer Siegel (German) is the official seal of the City and Canton of Geneva, Switzerland. When a variation of the official seal is applied to wrist watch movements, the Geneva Seal is the quality seal of the Watchmaking School of Geneva and it has an official purpose as defined by the law. The Geneva hallmark concerns (but not mandatory) any watch produced in Canton or city of Geneva. Today 4 watch brands are concerned by it: Vacheron Constantin, Cartier, Roger Dubuis and Chopard.
This tradition writes these amazing timepieces into a great heritage. By aquiring a watch with the Poinçon, you participate to the preservation of this great know how. The seal is awarded to watches only after an “official examination” to discern whether the watch movement possesses all the required characteristics required for the accolade. The characteristics require, at a minimum, that the watch was made in or made on commission by a qualified Genevoise craftsman from the City or Canton of Geneva.
The Office for the Optional Control of Watches of Geneva was legally inaugurated on 6 November 1886 (modifier by Law on 22 December 1993). It is charged with:
- granting the State’s mark of approval of the State to watches presented by watchmakers established in Geneva.
- to deliver or to authentificale certificates of provenance.
In application of the Law, the directive stipulates the State’s mark of approval shall be grated to watch movements which, after due examination, are recognized as possessing all the qualities of excellence needed to comply with the standards required by the Directive and where the assembly, setting and casing is carried out in Canton of Geneva.
The Geneva Hallmark – 12 Historical Hurdles
The pre-2011 testing of the Geneva Hallmark required to meet the following 12 criteria.
- The quality of all parts and components of the movement, including those used for auxiliary mechanisms, must comply with the standards prescribed by the Office for the optional inspection of Genevan watches. Steel parts must display polished angles and their sides parallel file strokes, their visible faces must be smoothed and polished, screw heads must be polished or circular grained and their rim and slot bevelled.
- All movements must be fitted on the going train and the escapement with ruby jewels with polished hole. On the bridge side, jewels must be semi-mirror polished and their sinks polished. A centre-wheel jewel in the mainplate is not required.
- The balance spring must be secured by a sliding stud cap with round head and neck. Mobile studholders are accepted.
- Fitted or split indexes (regulators) with a fastening system are accepted, save on extra-thin movements where the system is not mandatory.
- Regulating systems featuring a balance wheel with variable radius of rotation are accepted provided they comply with the conditions set out in Article 3, paragraph 1.
- Geartrain wheels must be bevelled on their upper and lower sides and their sinks polished. For wheels 0.15 mm thick or less, bevelling on the bridge side only is tolerated.
- Pinion shanks and faces must be polished.
- A lightweight escape wheel is mandatory: no more than 0.16 mm thick for larger sizes or 0.13 mm for wheels less than 18 mm across; locking faces must be polished.
- The lever’s angle of travel must be contained by solid bankings, to the exclusion of pins or studs.
- Movements fitted with shock absorbers are accepted.
- The ratchet and transmission (crown) wheel must be finished in conformity with prescribed models.
- Wire springs are prohibited.
The Geneva Hallmark – Four Fresh Fences
From 2012, finished timepieces stamped with the Geneva Seal will need to pass four additional tests.
- Testing of the accuracy of the watch over a continuous seven-day period. Manually wound and self-winding watches are tested on a machine simulating the movement of the wearer.
- Testing of its water resistance. Hermetic value tested in the atmosphere and water-resistant watch must comply with the manufacturers’ claims.
- Testing of the power reserve to ensure that it meets or exceeds the claim of the watchmaker.
- Testing of its functions. All the functions of the watch are tested over one cycle.
The Poinçon de Genève goes high-tech
A new collaboration was born: PHASIS is a specialist in Nanotechnologies, positioning, metallurgy and new materials. This company has been researching the development of applications that are useful for the Swiss industry in general and Geneva’s industries in particular.
The Nanostructural marking project exists since 2008 and it take a few years to finalize and approve the new technology. This new process will enable to mark precious metal objects and components where authenticity is essential. We could imagine several applications that would include jewellry, high-security aerospace parts, medical prostheses and instruments. As this process uses nanotechnology, the marking alters metal surfaces at a microscopical level which enables the marking of tiny mechanical parts.
The process is very technical and hard to explain. It combines two technologies: Scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to write on metal structures (also called STM manipulation) and deposit of metal alloy (via a nanoparticle gel) creating a chemical mark. This allows writing, adding colors, drawing on metal. At the end you can always identify the chemical signature via a simple x-ray desktop machine that determines the element composition of the Hallmark.
What are the interests of such technology? The first one is that there is no contact between the hallmarking tool and the metal piece to mark. This means it cannot be any possible alteration of surface of the metal piece by pressure or mechanical contact. Pressure deformation can be a problem when it comes to mechanical components. The engraving has no clearance angle which means that any fishing treatment post-hallmarking would not damage the Poinçon. The new technology preserves all the qualities of the Poinçon layout so you get a better definition, flexibility in terms of metals and the integrity of the component. It creates a robust mark, very precise, without any contact.
The new technology will fight the counterfeit
Inspired by the laser Tunnel technology, this new hallmarking will definitely make things harder for counterfeit companies. According to Swiss customs, there are in average 30 to 40 million fake Swiss watches put in circulation every year. To compare how big this counterfeit business is developing, the number and value of Customs’ seizures rose from CHF 400,000 and 18 seizures in 1995 to CHF 10,300,000 and 572 seizures in 2005. Today we estimate an annual loss of CHF 1 Billion. EU figures show that at least 54% of fakes seized in 2004 originated in China.They commonly retail anywhere from $5 to upwards of $1,000.
By protecting the Swiss heritage, we also maintain jobs and perpetuate the great tradition in excellence and luxury. With this new nanotechnology, there is even a possibility to place a chemical fingerprint that would even help the tracking of every single watch. We can now imagine a big database that would collect all individual chemical signatures of these Hallmarks. This would probably help the fight against grey market and counterfeits.
Please feel free to visit the Timelab website here below to get more information about their activities:
When heritage matches the future through cutting-edge technology, we open a new path of opportunities. This is the richness of such creative industry as Swiss Watch-making. Geneva has a special position in the Swiss industry as they were and still are the proud representatives of one of the most interesting industries of its kind.
LA and Sebastien Eich
Info sourced at the official press conference at Société des Arts, organized by Timelab, Watchpro, Micronarc and Phasis. All content is copyrighted with no reproduction rights available.