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Poinçon de Genève - 135 years of experience in meeting the challenges of the 21st century

Poinçon de Genève 135 years of experience in meeting the challenges of the 21st century

A respected institution, but one that is being destabilised by modernity

The Poinçon de Genève, the guarantor of a very high level of watchmaking excellence, is being shaken up by contemporary brands and practices. Its current regulations allow it to adapt and react, but without giving it the capacity to project instead itself into the future, so that it does not become a symbol of the past, but one of the future.

135 years of experience in meeting the challenges of the 21st century

Archives © Poinçon de Genève

Discreet, but very present, the Poinçon de Genève, or Geneva Seal as it is called in English, will have been the only member of the watch industry not to seize the opportunity of a jubilee! Created in 1886, the organization is celebrating its 135th anniversary this year, in the most absolute discretion. But, why is it so quiet?

Six Historic Partner Brands

Cultural, technical, and commercial reasons overlap. By its very nature, the Geneva Seal does not seek out new partners. With six historical clients – Cartier, Chopard, Louis Vuitton, Roger Dubuis, Vacheron Constantin, and the Ateliers de Monaco – the institution has a permanent base of brands that ensure its operation This prestigious hallmark is administered by a foundation called Timelab, which has no commercial vocation.

135 years of experience in meeting the challenges of the 21st century

Calibre 708 © Les Ateliers de Monaco

Nevertheless, these six historical brands, with their varying production quantities, could be joined by others. Regularly, small independent watchmakers come knocking at its door. Like Czapek, for example. Since its inception in 2015, the company has expressed an interest in certifying its pieces with the famous seal. “It would be feasible to do,” explains Xavier de Roquemaurel, CEO of the brand, “But we need to reach a critical size, to recruit a few more people, expand our premises, and be patient!”

A Hallmark at the Highest Price

Joining the Poinçon de Genève is not only a question of aesthetics and reaching an elevated degree of finishing and precision, but also a question of price as a timepiece that has been certified by the Geneva Seal costs 20% to 40% more, depending on the degree of advancement of the company, which also has to be based in Geneva. This is a significant additional cost that smaller companies, whose margins are closely monitored, often find difficult to absorb.

A High Standard of Quality

Technically, achieving the quality required by the Geneva Seal also hinders some attempts. “Good workmanship” and “Reliability” are the keywords of the organization and the minimum requirements are high. Main plates, bridges, gear trains, rubies, regulating systems, shaped parts such as screws and pins, all have to be produced according to the highest criteria. Nothing is left to chance.

135 ans d’expérience face aux défis du XXIe siècle

© Poinçon de Genève

To subscribe to the Geneva Seal, all the plans for all the components must be submitted to the organization, along with several samples of each piece. If they are validated, which can already take several months, the Geneva Seal will also take random samples from the brand from time to time to ensure the consistency of the quality standards. Here again, this is an additional constraint for the brands who need to be committed to adopting processes that are not only rigorous but also monitored and stable.

New Materials: The Geneva Seal Adapts

As the guarantor of a centuries-old tradition, the Geneva Seal has often been accused of suffering from a backward-looking image. Nothing could be further from the truth. Consisting of a commission of experts and brand representatives, the group regularly welcomes new requests to examine a new material or a new finish. The objective is not to protect the original rules tooth and nail. It is also open to welcoming new watchmaking advances that are compatible with the requirements of the hallmark.

The case of Roger Dubuis

In this example, Roger Dubuis is a particularly interesting case study, especially in terms of its Calibre RD509 as it is made of carbon, a material that falls outside of the classic field of those targeted by the seal (gold, steel, and nickel). Presented in 2016 by the manufacture to the authorities of the Geneva Seal, it has been the subject of 18 months of deliberations and was finally certified in 2018.

“For Roger Dubuis, the Poinçon de Genève is not an end in itself, it is the starting point of a quest for excellence,” the brand explains. “We invest an additional 40% of our time to ensure that our timepieces are worthy of bearing this guarantee of exclusivity, origin, know-how, performance, and durability.”

135 ans d’expérience face aux défis du XXIe siècle

Calibre RD509 © Roger Dubuis

It is in the same way that the hallmark commission examines requests relating to titanium and sapphire, from time to time, and also coatings, such as NAC or DLC. However, they remain rare because, apart from Roger Dubuis, the six historical client brands of the Geneva Seal have a very traditional way of working. It is unlikely that we will see a carbon skeleton tourbillon from Vacheron Constantin, for example, anytime soon!

A Closed Circle

This is the limit of the exercise: to preserve tradition. The Geneva Seal certifies brands that preserve tradition. The circle is closed, with the actors continuing to go round and round. This is a loss of potential. The Geneva Seal is the guarantee of unique know-how, heir to 135 years of tradition, but which is struggling to seduce others beyond its technical and geographical borders.

This would be what we would expect. Like with the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, the Poinçon could also welcome brands that are not located in Geneva, but that respect its attributes. The levels of excellence achieved by Kari Voutilainen or Credor are already on par with those of Chopard or Cartier, for example.

What about Tomorrow?

Concerning this thorny question of new materials, we could envisage that the Geneva Seal could change the rules concerning “traditional metals” and “other materials”, which is written into its regulations. The tradition of tomorrow is being written today. Having to refer a sapphire crystal bridge to the Hallmark commission to have it certified – and there are now plenty of them – turns some enthusiasts off, when the regulations could proactively give a precise specification so that a sapphire crystal bridge can be certified in the same way as a steel or gold one. To act, and not to react, this remains the main challenge of the Poinçon de Genève.

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