Watch Makers Discover Part Standardization

By: Mitch Endick

Like countless other consumer products, the way in which modern wrist watches are manufactured has undergone incredible changes since the Industrial Revolution that broke during the turn of twentieth century. This important period in world history ushered in entirely new ways to mass produce products for a growing world population.

In every facet of manufacturing there were incredible technological advances that improved efficiencies and helped reduce production costs.

Most of us have heard about the way Henry Ford changed the way automobiles were built by developing the production line assembly method. Cars would constantly roll off the Ford assembly line as workers would fit various parts to the chassis in a precise order and within a predetermined time.

What few of us think about are the other changes that made this type manufacturing operation possible. Absolutely critical to the success of the mass production line was the development of standardized parts, components that are nearly identical to each other.

Prior to the development of mass production assembly lines, most mechanical assemblies, including watches were built from components that were made individually most often by different producers. This meant that very often, parts from one machine be it a car, locomotive or sewing machine, could be not be used on another machine.

A good example of the obvious draw backs to building machines individually can be seen in a tragic story from World War One. The French developed a machine gun, the Chauchat that was built one at a time by individual craftsmen. Though the plans for the gun called for the same dimensions, differing production methods and the whim of the builder resulted in each weapon literally being a one of a kind creation.

For the troops in the field, this nonstandard way of manufacturing had tragic sometimes fatal results. French Army and U.S. Army troops that had been issued the gun quickly discovered that the parts were not interchangeable, meaning that the parts from one gun could not used on another.

A second even more serious drawback was that the loading and firing mechanism in the guns would often jamb owing to the lack of integrated quality control methods. All in all, the Chauchat was a disaster for the troops that had rely in it during the brutality of trench warfare.

A far less daunting problem was faced by those in the watch making and watch repair business. Like the Chauchat, the parts from one brand or even model of watch could not used to repair the same make and model. A major change in how watch parts were designed and manufactured came from the Bulova Watch Company.

In the early nineteen twenties Bulova introduced the world's first wrist watch designs that incorporated standardized parts manufactured to very close tolerances. The major benefit to this change in engineering and design strategy was that watch makers could use the parts from one Bulova watch to repair any other Bulova watch regardless of the model. Another additional benefit to watch repairers was the ability to keep spare parts on hand and as a result, the time needed to repair a Bulova watch was greatly reduced.

As other watch producers adopted the practice of parts standardization and integrated quality control, the reliability of wrist watches was greatly increased. The use of standardized components meant that those parts that subject to wear did so in more consistent and predictable way, requiring far less maintenance and repair than those timepieces assembled as one of kind items.

Sadly, as with most old line businesses that saw significant change and as watches became more trouble free, the once wide spread trade of watch repair has largely disappeared.

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