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Report Peeking behind the curtain of H. Moser & Cie.  –  A trip to the independent’s manufacture in Schaffhausen

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Many brands focus only on Marketing while the watches they sell get produced by whitelabel companies. For those that want something special, there are brands that still manufacture themselves. One of these independent watchmakers is H. Moser & Cie.

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Old, but young

Schloss Charlottenfels near the Rhine fall in Schaffhausen

Heinrich Moser’s watch business was doing well. So well, that in 1848 he could afford to build the Castle Charlottenfels above the Rhine falls in Switzerland. At that point he had expanded internationally for almost 20 years. He was selling his timepieces all over the world: Japan, China, Persia and Turkestan, as well as in Siberia and all the way to the island Kamchatka, which is part of the Russian federation. Last but not least, Russian Tsars, their royal families and the Russian army had a watch from Heinrich Moser & Co in their pockets.

There are enough historic articles starting way in the beginning. I’ll start a bit later. Many don’t know that the Moser we know today is actually quite young. The reduced dials, the elegant balance between traditional and modern watchmaking, #FuméFriday and not taking yourself too seriously — that’s just over 20-years old. More precisely, the brand H. Moser & Cie. was registered in 2002 by Dr. Jürgen Lange, co-founder of the company Precision Engineering. This company is going to be part of what makes Moser watches special.

“If you don’t have exceptional products, you’re bound to fail. […] His advice was quality, quality, quality.” Roger Balsiger, great grandson of Heinrich Moser (Source)

Roger Balsiger

Rebirth at Baselworld

In 2005 for the 200th anniversary of H. Moser & Cie was back on the playing field for Baselworld. And how they delivered: the H. Moser & Cie. Endeavour Perpetual Calendar even won the award for best complicated watch at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG).

H. Moser & Cie. Endeavour Perpetual Calendar from 2005
H. Moser & Cie Endeavour Perptual Calendar from 2005.

“The Perpetual Calendar was really at the heart of my analysis. It is the epitome of our philosophy, on the one hand old-style haute horlogerie, but displayed simple: we want to express everything with three hands, even with large complications.” Edouard Meylan, CEO of H. Moser & Cie, interviewed by Handelszeitung

Edouard Meylan

At this point Moser only had prototypes at hand when the first orders trickled in. Especially retailers and collectors from the Far East were drawn to this extremely reduced variant of a perpetual calendar. A complication which is rather known for its lavish dials and rich decoration.

H. Moser & Cie. Caliber HMC 341
It’s a leap year! Indicated by the little golden hand located at the black part of the “umbrella wheel”.

Moser’s own caliber HMC 341 takes into account the variable lengths of a year. Outside of a leap year, the date will jump from February 28th → March 1st and not show the intermediate February 29th. A little indicator on the back of the watch tells you if it’s a leap year. Everything that doesn’t have to be on the dial all the time can also be shown on the back. The movement becomes another dial to read information.

Welcome to Moser’s production facilities

Let’s revise Moser’s success recipe once again:

  1. Take control over what makes you special.
  2. Reveal complexity at second glance.
  3. Deliver exceptional products.

When I arrived at Moser’s production facilities in Neuhausen, just at the border to Germany, I wanted to figure out how much is really behind the above-mentioned “ingredients for success”.

From the outside a discreet, gray building. One like many other in the industrial area. Next-door neighbors are an injection mould company, a carpenter’s workshop, a butcher, a car mechanic. Very down to earth, very Swiss. The product counts, not an extravagant location in a prime location.

Moser Schaffhausen AG entrance
Rhinefall

The “unseemingly industrial area” in Neuhausen is located right next to Europe’s most powerful waterfalls, the Rhine Falls. The equivalent of over 14 olympic size swimming pools crashes down 23 m (75 ft) of height difference every minute.

As mighty as the Rhine Falls are, I was met with an equal amount of information being poured into my brain during these few hours at Moser’s manufacture.

Take control over what makes you special

On the entrance door of Moser’s facilities are three company names: Moser Schaffhausen AG, Precision Engineering AG and Hautlence AG. The latter is also a watch brand, but they’re part of another story. All of these companies are owned by the MELB Holding.

H. Moser & Cie. entry door Neuhausen

Of course Moser doesn’t produce everything themself, but they built up differentiating know-how in two areas: movements and balance springs. Balance Springs are manufactured by their in-house sister company Precision Engineering AG (PEAG). PEAG manufactures balance springs. Without this crucial part, no watch beats. PEAG is the supplier for Moser’s balance springs, but also manufactures for other watch brands.

In-house movements

For their movements the independent doesn’t have their own full-blown company, but since March 2023 the MELB Holding took a minority share in the Geneva-based movement maker Agenhor SA (Atelier Genevois d’Horlogerie). Although Agenhor also produces for other companies, Moser’s movements are specifically tailored to each model.

H. Moser & Cie. caliber HMC 907
The caliber HMC 907, an automatic flyback chronograph manufactured by Agenhor.
A H. Moser & Cie. movement

Some people like to debate what “in-house movement” means. Is the metal scraped off the surrounding mountains? Does the watchmaker mill every baseplate? Are the screws heat-blued by hand? I can think of a handful of watch companies that still take watchmaking to this extent. The price for a watch like this would be a down-payment on a house though.

In the end, every watch has a movement specifically designed for Moser and they company is even a shareholder in their partner company Agenhor. That’s more “in-house” than just taking a vanilla Sellita movement off the shelf and screwing a winding rotor with your company’s logo on it. And how beautiful the Moser calibers are to look at!

How Moser makes their own balance springs

The base material is a thick piece of metal, which gets thinned through a process called wire drawing. At the end of production the balance spring’s width has a deviation tolerance of 5 µm, only 1/20th of a human hair. Anything larger would affect the watch’s precision.

H. Moser & Cie balance spring
100 micrometer (μm) are 1/10 of a millimeter, just about the width of a human hair.
H. Moser & Cie balance spring
H. Moser & Cie balance spring
Balance Spring material PE4000 from PEAG, an alloy most similar to Nivarox (iron, nickel, chromium, titanium and beryllium).
H. Moser & Cie balance spring
Wire drawing (tréfilage): reducing the diameter of a wire by pulling it through a draw plate.
H. Moser & Cie balance spring
Thermal treatment of the balance springs in a vacuum environment at 600 °C.

There are even more steps involved to get to the final balance springs mounted into the balance wheel. But this shouldn’t be the only focus of this article, so let’s fast forward to why “less is Moser”.

H. Moser & Cie balance spring production
H. Moser & Cie balance spring production
H. Moser & Cie balance spring production
Ta-daa! The final balance wheels.
Balance Wheels of Precision Engineering AG

Reveal complexity at second glance

Have a look at the following two watches.

Comparison of the H. Moser & Cie. Endeavour Perpetual Calendar Funky Blue and the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Perptual Calendar
Left: H. Moser & Cie. Endeavour Perpetual Calendar. Right: A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar

Both watches feature more or less the same information. The only difference is that the watch on the right also shows the current moonphase and weekday. Still there’s a lot going on. Lots of dials, lines, text, textures. An excellent show of craftmanship. On the Moser watch we’ve got a seemingly basic dial. Sunray brushed blue dial, silver and white accents. No text except the H. Moser & Cie. logo in clear coat and the day of the month. A breath of fresh air. For some maybe a bit too reduced.

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Moser ambassador of the first hour

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Essential, everyday information is displayed on the dial. Knowing if we’re in a leap year is not important for daily use. So this information was put to the back of the watch. The movement becomes a second dial.

H. Moser & Cie. Endeavour Perpetual Calendar Funky Blue
4 complications besides the usual central hour and minute hands.
H. Moser & Cie. caliber HMC 800
Ticking inside the Endeavour Perpetual Calendar is Moser’s HMC 800, which has a leap year indicator.

Deliver exceptional products

When I was in Neuhausen and we looked at each model of the collection, we also talked about the movements and their features. I realized one thing right away. There’s always something special about a Moser. You usually don’t see it, but when someone explains it to you, there’s an Aha-moment followed by a smile on your face. Because it’s just clever. Design and usability combined in a really interesting way. Those who know, they know.

Mastering the tourbillon

In French tourbillon means whirlwind. Like a tornado. When it comes to the tourbillon complication, many of them are rather flat. A rotating balance wheel within a cage. Like previously shown, Moser’s sister company Precision Engineering manufactures their own balance springs. For the Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon they took this know-how and shaped the cylindrical hairsprings by hand. Even though this elongated hairspring takes up more height, it offers greater accuracy and the spring beats with the same tension, regardless of the watch’s position on the wearer’s wrist. Still the complex watch is only 15.3mm high, including the huge crystal.

H. Moser & Cie. Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon Skeleton with Caliber HMC 811
H. Moser & Cie. Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon Skeleton with Caliber HMC 811

Since the tourbillon complication is time consuming to manufacture, it costs more. In this case the cylindrical hairspring with two Breguet overcoils takes around 10-times longer to make. That’s why you often find this little whirlwind on the dial within more delicate watches made from precious metals. The Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon Skeleton (Reference 3811-1200) is quite the opposite. A 42.8mm watch, in a steel case, water-resistant to 120 meters. On the dial three-dimensional luminescent blocks, not just painted lume. Sealed by a heavily domed sapphire crystal, which we usually see in watches from MB&F.

Invisible power generators

Chronographs allow to measure the passing of time. It sounds easy: start the time, stop the time, reset the displays to zero. If you flip over any chronograph, it looks rather complex. Lots of levers, gears, springs and plates.

If you start the chronograph, its beautiful to see all of the small parts perfectly gripping into one another, the watch being set into motion. If you want your watch to wind itself, there has to be some kind of winding system, usually in the form of a rotor, that through movement keeps the mainspring wound. In most chronographs this rotor is mounted centrally on top, covering up a large portion of the caliber.

Audemars Piguet Caliber 4310
Central mounted rotor on the Audemars Piguet Caliber 4310.
Vacheron Constantin Caliber 3500
Peripheral rotor on the Vacheron Constantin Caliber 3500.

And here’s how Moser does it differently: the rotor of the HMC 907 is on the dial side. It has the beauty of a manual-wind chronograph, showing the whole movement, but gets you all the benefits of an automatic chronograph.

H. Moser & Cie. Caliber HMC 907
Dial-side rotor on the H. Moser & Cie. HMC 907.
H. Moser & Cie. Streamliner Flyback Chronograph, Reference 6907-1200
H. Moser & Cie. Streamliner Flyback Chronograph (Reference 6907-1200) on the wrist.

Chime on, little Moser

Before electricity, people with the right pocket money would have pocket watches that could announce the time through little chimes.

A watch with a minute repeater complication is able to acoustically announce the hours, quarter hours and individual minutes with two hammers chiming a high and low pitched gong. In the above video starting at 0:15 minutes, you can hear: 7× hour signals (gong), 1× quarter-hour signal (ding-gong, 15 minutes) and 7× individual minutes (ding). This would mean its 7:22.

Moser’s flavor of the Minute Repeater

Minute Repeaters have been done before, but how did Moser pull it off? On the Endeavour Minute Repeater you can see the chimes and hammers right on the dial. This mechanical marvel is often times hidden within the movement on the underside. The dial-side attachment has the advantage that sound can escape freely without having to travel through your arm first.

The titanium case is not only 5-times lighter than steel, but it also transmits sound better due to its low density and therefore dampens the sound less. The increased space between the dial and the case serves as a tiny resonance room to amplify the chiming sound.

H. Moser & Cie. Endeavour Minute Repeater, Reference 1903-0500
H. Moser & Cie. Endeavour Minute Repeater (Reference 1903-0500)

The shape, thickness and weight of the chimes and hammers had to be meticulously controlled so that the material properties of titanium and steel sound just right.

Usually such complex engineering comes at a cost: lots of moveable parts, lots of energy use. Still Moser’s caliber HMC 904 gets you 90 hours of power reserve. All while sporting a tourbillon and a minute repeater complication.

“Very rare.”

Inside look into the Moser manufacture

As of 2023 H. Moser & Cie. still only produces around 3,000 watches per year. Like their claim this makes Moser indeed “very rare”. It’s rare to see such a small brand make their own balance springs. It’s rare to make your own movements.

H. Moser & Cie. Streamliner Flyback Chronograph Undefeated Limited Edition
H. Moser & Cie. and Alpine Motorsports

It’s rare to consistently surprise and excite customers with collaborations that are unexpected but tremendous fun. Completely blacked-out watch designed by a sneaker boutique from Los Angeles? Moser and Alpine Motorsports partnering up for the next season of racing? All nothing unusual.

From this day with H. Moser & Cie. in Neuhausen I’m impressed by this highly innovative brand that pushes visual boundaries where others in the industry prefer to make a safe buck and sell the usual models. Besides the unconventional, reduced design there’s always a technical element that is also surprising. Where other watches require manual adjustment or can even break when operated wrong, Moser finds a solution to not only be a showpiece, but an everyday watch. Isn’t this what great Design should be? It’s about how it works, not how it looks.

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