Biel/Bienne, Switzerland sits at the base of the Jura mountains and is located at the boundary of the German and French-speaking parts of the country, hence the name “Biel” which is the German name and “Bienne” which is the French name. Since 2005 the official name is “Biel/Bienne.”

The city has been the industrial heart of Swiss watchmaking since the 1800s. It’s home to some of the industry’s most powerful watchmaking brands, like Rolex and Omega, right alongside young independents such as Armin Strom.

Armin Strom manufacture
Armin Strom manufacture

Originally founded by Armin Strom himself, a watchmaker with a specialty in the art of skeletonization. In 2006 Serge Michel took over the company and refocused on producing a more contemporary, unified line of timepieces – yet still to this day, every movement has a hand-engraved component as an homage to their heritage.

Train ride from Basel Switzerland to Biel/Bienne
Train ride from Basel Switzerland to Biel/Bienne

By 2008, the company began producing its first in-house movement, thanks to the investment from Michel and the guidance of Claude Greisler, which thereby eliminated their total reliance on outside suppliers.

Mainplate manufacturing at Armin Strom
Mainplate manufacturing at Armin Strom

My visit

In March 2017, just before the start of the world’s largest watchmaking trade show (which I attend every year), I took a train from Basel to Biel/Bienne to visit Armin Strom’s manufacture, which takes a little over an hour.

Armin Strom design team
Armin Strom design team

For reference, the French usage of “manufacture” refers to a watch factory that designs and produces at least one caliber (or watch movement), entirely or mostly in-house.

Armin Strom manufacture
Armin Strom manufacture

The journey, like most train rides in Switzerland, was filled with beautiful countryside views right up to the picturesque train station, that’s situated at the base of the mountains, with watch factories visible all around.

Armin Strom design department
Armin Strom design department

After a short Uber ride from the station, upon arrival at Armin Strom, I saw the prerequisite watchmakers assembling watches, workers manufacturing components and hand finishing of miniature parts – all within a spotless environment with great natural light, much the same as we’ve seen at long-established watch manufactures such as Audemars Piguet, A. Lange & Sohne, Piaget, and Jaeger-LeCoultre over the years.

Armin Strom manufacture
Armin Strom manufacture

However, one distinct difference I noticed immediately was the closeness and proximity of the departments. The relatively small size of the facility seemed to create a unique synergy not possible at the larger watch houses. Accordingly, the teams can work together better because they are all near each other.

Armin Strom Close Up Balance Bridge
Armin Strom Close Up Balance Bridge

Customization

Another detail I noticed was all sorts of components, such as mainplates and bridges, in unique colors such as purple or blue, that were being worked on at workbenches around the factory. It turns out that these parts were being prepared for the debut of the company’s new custom Configurator system that was launching the next day, at Baselworld 2017.

Armin Strom colored mainplates and bridges
Armin Strom colored mainplates and bridges

Customization may seem like an obvious feature that all watch companies should offer, and many do on a much smaller level (engraved casebacks or custom straps), but to offer virtually every primary watch component, in a number of variations that customer can choose from, is a logistical nightmare, which surely becomes more difficult to manage as the volume increases.

Armin Strom Manual with brown PVD movement
Armin Strom Manual with brown PVD movement
Armin Strom caseback
Armin Strom caseback

Interestingly, Armin Strom director Claude Greisler explained to Professional Watches how this ability to offer custom options was already one of the companies core competencies, as they were already doing some level of customization for over half the timepieces they sell (Armin Strom currently produces 600 timepieces a year). And so that synergy, gained from being smaller and closer together, also appears to carry over into their now growing bespoke business.

A wheel manufactured at Armin Strom
A wheel manufactured at Armin Strom

Summary

While there are other watch companies already offering custom options, few have anything with so many different choices other than say TAG Heuer with their new Connected 2 smartwatches, which as of this year operate with a very similar modular system.

Armin Strom electro-plating baths
Armin Strom electro-plating baths

This could become a very hot trend, especially considering the culture of the Swiss watch industry, which is highly predicated on competitors following other competitors. In fact, I’ve already heard of at least one more Swiss manufacture planning to offer custom watches soon.

Armin Strom manufacture in Biel/Bienne
Armin Strom manufacture in Biel/Bienne

Bespoke has long been available in numerous product categories such as shoes, cars, suits – but within the context of watches, it has mostly been reserved for the ultra-high-end. Armin Strom is by no means “low-end,” but for this amount of customization, the starting price of $9,100 is approachable, relatively speaking.

Armin Strom Configurator sample components
Armin Strom Configurator sample components

Learn more at the Armin Strom Configurator site.

Armin Strom parts storage
Armin Strom parts storage
Armin Strom CNC department
Armin Strom CNC department
Armin Strom CNC department
Armin Strom CNC department
CNC machine at Armin Strom factory
CNC machine at Armin Strom factory
CNC machine at Armin Strom
CNC machine at Armin Strom
Armin Strom manufacture
Armin Strom manufacture
Armin Strom electro-plating department
Armin Strom electro-plating department
Assembled movement going through final quality control
Assembled movement going through final quality control
Watchmakers assembling and adjusting timepieces at Armin Strom
Watchmakers assembling and adjusting timepieces at Armin Strom
Armin Strom in-house movement at the factory
Armin Strom in-house movement at the factory
Armin Strom manufacture
Armin Strom manufacture
Armin Strom watch
Armin Strom watch
Mainplate being manufactured at Armin Strom factory
Mainplate being manufactured at Armin Strom factory
Armin Strom components
Armin Strom components
The front of Armin Strom's factory and HQ in Biel/Bienne
The front of Armin Strom’s factory and HQ in Biel/Bienne
Jason Pitsch
Posted by:Jason Pitsch

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