However, the activities surrounding the mainspring barrel are commercial and industrial as
technical. In March 2009, the Biel spring-making company, Générale Ressorts, was taken over by the Acrotec holding group, which already owned the screw-cutting Vardeco firm in the Jura as
Kif-Parechoc in the Joux valley, which specialises in shockproofing and adjustment indexes for balances. This sensitive takeover was carried out with the help of the movement constructor, BNB Concept and the EPF investment fund. Générale Ressorts had been long considered as
the leader in mainsprings for Swiss watchmaking with a market share estimated as
80%. Such a strategic supplier changing hands caused some concern in the industry, still wary of the virtual monopoly of the Swatch Group’s Nivarox-Far company in the supply of balance-springs. However, the takeover of Générale Ressorts is just a surface ripple on powerful undercurrents of the mainspring business. Things started to wind up between 2003 and 2005. Competition breaks loose
Until the start of this century, Générale Ressorts dominated the market. Then two new competitors emerged to challenge its supremacy. In 2002, the small Seeland company, Schwab-Feller, which had been making springs since 1894, passed into the fifth generation and under the control of Stefan Schwab. The company invested in the latest machinery, much of it developed internally, renovated its products and focussed on responsive service, while being suitably discreet. This started to pay off in 2003 when several watch brands, including some of the more prestigious, became Schwab-Feller clients in order to secure an alternative source of supply. “We experienced strong growth and gained a substantial market share,” Schwab declares, taking issue with figures suggesting that they only got the crumbs. “I don’t know where they got those statistics from. If you take the total amount of mechanical movements made every year in Switzerland, the number of mainsprings we have sold accounts for more than 50% of the market.”
So far as
innovation is concerned, can the barrel’s efficiency be increased by its design? “We have undertaken a great deal of research, but the results were no better than those achieved by the current alloys of cobalt, nickel and steel,” Schwab replies. These alloys are cast by the German foundry, Vacuumschmelze GmbH, which also supplies alloys for most balance-springs. Schwab-Feller has nevertheless upgraded the manufacturing process, which comprises no fewer than 28 operations, cutting tolerances by half to one micron for a more even quality, and making the metal strip thinner to reduce the size of the barrel without any loss of performance. Générale Ressorts is also seeking ways of making its springs perform better in close collaboration with BNB Concept, the movement constructor.
The other major event in this sector is that the Swatch Group has also been developing the capacity to manufacture mainsprings since 2005. Its Nivarox-Far company is applying its balance-spring expertise to mainsprings in a bid to achieve independence in terms of strategic supplies for the group’s brands. The company opened a new 6,000 m2 factory at Fontaines to make barrels and cast the alloys for springs.
It is indicative of the strategic importance of the humble mainspring that the monopoly supplier of the noble balance-spring should condescend to manufacture them. http://www.watch-around.com/en/subsc...-barillet.html