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Patek Philippe - The art of hand finishing: the bracelet

Patek Philippe The art of hand finishing: the bracelet

The quality of Patek Philippe’s finishes is built on a respect for tradition and a culture of excellence. Handcrafting is a major factor in this. We take a closer look at bracelets.

The bracelet is the main interface between the wearer and the watch, making up 80% of the watch’s total surface area. It therefore demands particular attention in terms of the manufacture, assembly and finishing of its components, something that can only be accomplished adequately by hand. Where Patek Philippe is concerned, metal bracelets are chiefly found in the Nautilus range, although not exclusively. Their components are therefore mostly steel. They have to meet requirements that are not dissimilar to those required of Patek Philippe movement parts.  As a bracelet comprises links in a dozen different widths, the company has chosen not to make a dozen different components, but far fewer. The tapering of the bracelet from the lugs to the clasp is partly completed as the parts are assembled. What is the point of adding more references according to size, given that the bracelet will spend many long hours in the hands of experts in any case? This task might as well be done at the same time.

Because of this, the art of assembling a metal bracelet is not light-years away from that of assembling a movement. Of course, the components of a movement are more diverse, smaller, and the reliability, longevity and accuracy of a watch depends on the precision of their adjustment. In a bracelet, however, the quality of the result is also immediately apparent, and it is far more tangible. The smoothness of the internal surface of the links, their drape and articulation, and the evenness of their spacing can be felt immediately on the wrist. Poor assembly can be costly: a hair trapped between two links can lead to a disgruntled client, a lost sale, a fault. The links are threaded onto a special rack that makes it easy for all the bracelet parts to be put in place, one by one, by hand, and ensures that they are the correct distance apart.

Polishing is the most delicate operation, and the one that takes the longest time. Both to the naked eye and under a microscope, the central links of the Nautilus must be perfectly mirror-polished, while the others must be impeccably satin-brushed: the large main links, the sides and their internal surfaces. Each piece is pre-polished by hand. Once assembled, the bracelet is subjected to the operations that give it its inimitable texture. The polished links are masked while the outer links are satin-brushed. Then the adhesive masking is removed, and the satin-brushed links are covered so that the centre can be polished. These adhesive protections are both applied and removed by hand – there is no machine capable of performing this task. And, at Patek Philippe, polishing is also carried out entirely by hand.

Patek Philippe bracelet

Men and women spend their days at lathes fitted with a variety of brushes, fine and coarse, smooth or abrasive. The brushes are loaded with buffing compounds and the operator uses his or her professional judgement to treat every angle of the bracelet. It’s the operator’s eye that determines whether the polishing has been satisfactorily completed. And if it hasn’t, the polishing continues. This time-consuming and demanding task is what guarantees that the bracelet of a 5960 1/A, for example, is as brightly polished as its case.

Patek Philippe 5960/1A

Not one of these operations is skipped, whatever the material in question. The metal is often steel, because that is what most Nautiluses are made of. But this legendary model also comes in two-tone gold and steel, as well as rose gold and platinum. Some less sporty models also come with gold bracelets. But the degree of care taken is exactly the same, regardless of the material. The result has to be perfect, and perfection is not relative. That is why Patek Philippe has chosen to rely on human hands and eyes, rather than robot probes and lasers.

Click on the image at the top of the article to access the slideshow

Visit Patek Philippe's website dedicated to hand-finishing.


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