Jean-Louis and Michel, press-tool artisans
In the mechanical workshop of the Manufacture, we are in the den of Jean-Louis and Michel, who have 84 years of experience between them. Their expert hands have given rise to thousands of tools used for making the parts powering Zenith timepieces. The instruments required by the in-house artisans are made on-site while taking account of the specific issues involved in each operation and adapting the tool to left-handers or right-handers.
Jean-Louis and Michel have
84 years of experience between them
The back of the workshops is the area where the hard-metal tools serving to machine steel and brass plates are made, while the shelves are used for storing the press tools, particularly those that Charles Vermot saved from destruction in 1975. Press tools, also known as swages, are the favorite realm of Jean-Louis. Based on technical plans provided by the constructor, he develops and makes these high-precision tools composed of two main parts – the punch and the die – which serve to blank, drill and true the various parts of a watch. Once the press tool has been made, Jean-Louis performs trial blanking procedures and then checks the quality of the components produced. These are tiny and even microscopic parts of which the smallest measures just 1.33 mm and weighs 0.001 grams.
Jean-Louis, master swage-maker
Michel, master swage-maker
Historic swages (press tools)
Precision reigns supreme here, with 0 to 2 micron-level tolerances ensuring that all elements can interact to perfection once assembled and ensure the smooth running of the movement. Jean-Louis sometimes works with vintage press tools, giving them a new lease on life, and well remembers the not-so-distant past when the dies were entirely made by hand. Michel has also witnessed the changes in the profession and is proud to have been working for so many years within one of the rare Manufactures able to control its entire production chain in order to enjoy total independence in making its strategic decisions. Choices such preserving the die-sinking guarantees an optimal lifespan for a part, despite the increasingly widespread use of wire technologies that take 15x less time.
Proud to work for one
of the rare Manufactures
able to control
its entire production
Michel thus still patiently makes the punches using historical tools – although he was also one of the first to hail the appearance of new processes, such as spark erosion to bore impeccable sunk holes, or computer-controlled machines making it possible to operate in both positive and negative modes so as to achieve the perfect shape.
Michel definitely knows what he’s talking about, since he has made countless tools used by watchmakers: bases serving to hold the movement in place during assembly, special screwdrivers, specific tools for fitting jewels on the plate, tweezers to hold the cannon-pinions, or the “in-house” heart-shaped cam fitted with a pin resting in a tooth and serving for zero-resetting of the chronograph hand.
Whatever the tools being developed, the air of the mechanical workshop is filled with a sense of knowledge and a love of all things mechanical – along with a passion for perfectly executed work so strongly characteristic of the Manufacture.