Last year I was fortunate enough to be able to go on a few watch factory tours of the Montblanc and Corum factories. I visited Corum first and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Going through the factory everything is done by humans, there is no machinery used. The quality control section has bins of parts and two people go through, one part at a time, with a loupe, searching for any imperfections. Any parts they find an imperfection on is immediately discarded. The next step in the process is assembling the movements. The movements are all assembled by one single person from start to finish, there is no assembly line sort of setup. The movements are quickly time tested on an electronic tester immediately after it is assembled (this is not the only test). The movements are then carried into the largest room where dials and hands are added and the watches are cased and tested for water resistance. To ensure that the watches will have no dust there is a large setup where air is being blown from below to keep the dust out. Before the crystals are vacuumed with what looks like a miniature vacuum head. After being cased the watches are tested for water resistance and time tested over a few weeks to ensure accuracy. They will get bracelets after they have passed the timing tests.
The second factory I visited was Montblanc. They are known for their pens but they are becoming a more and more sophisticated and developed brand in my mind. Their watches, that used to carry ETA movements are starting to be replaced with in-house movements. They have more machinery involved than Corum, but also more testing. They use a system of conveyor belts to aid with the assembly-line style process. The movements are assembled by hand, but unlike Corum, they are not assembled start to finish by one person. The oil (which lubricates the parts so the watch runs smoothly) was done completely by a machine. The production was linked to a computer system, so they could track the watches that came in and went out and when the movements were cased. Now let's get into the testing. The amount of testing may seem ludicrous but it will completely eliminate all error. When the movement is finished being assembled, it is tested for accuracy (8 weeks), then when the movement is cased it is tested for accuracy (another few weeks), functions (time setting, chronograph, date setting, etc), shock resistance and water resistance. The results are all put into the computer system with the results of the tests. Any watch that does not pass is discarded. When the bracelet is put on it is again tested for accuracy, functions and water resistance and they are prepared to be sent out.
Corum and Montblanc produce different amounts of watches. Montblanc produces just over 150,000 watches a year whilst Corum produces around 18,000 a year. To give some prospective Omega produces around 500,000 watches a year, Rolex produces around 1,000,000 and Breitling's number is around 160,000. Corum had a sign that said no pictures and Montblanc was like getting into Fort Knox so I didn't even ask. You may be able to find pictures of the factories on the company websites (http://www.corum.ch and http://montblanc.com). I hope you are able to get a similar experience, Switzerland is a great place.
Jake Fogarty is the founder and writer for most of what you will read here. If you want to contact me you can visit the contact and advertising page.