Our Swiss Adventure: Exploring the Origins of Breitling

Hannah Steele - one of Winsor Bishop's specialists -  travels through the Swiss valleys to reach Breitling's Chronométrie facility to learn all the intricacies of building one one of their highly engineered time pieces. Her enchanting retelling is as follows...

"I arrived at Heathrow airport, Terminal 2, eager to meet my 10 co-explorers and Andre Paparella, Retail and Training Operations Manager for Breitling UK, for our trip to the Breitling Chronométrie facility in Switzerland.

After a quick and easy flight, we were greeted at Zurich Airport by our Chauffer and an impressive mini-bus complete with blacked out windows and Breitling embroidered leather seats. It was certainly going to be a comfortable journey to our first destination.

Having settled at our hotel, we enjoyed a fantastic meal in a local restaurant before an early night ready for a full day. The next morning, our stylish transport took us along to the Breitling Headquarters in Grenchen. Here we met our Breitling tour guide, Jean, who has been a horologist (watchmaker) his entire working life and with Breitling for 24 years. Jean's knowledge was phenomenal, and his passion and enthusiasm contagious.

We then took a drive to the infamous La Chaux-de-Fonds Valley, home of Swiss watchmaking heritage, and where many watch factories were first established. I could see why this fine city was awarded UNESCO world heritage site status. A unique juxtaposition of typical Swiss architecture, aged farmhouse buildings, along with the neatly positioned, modern, expansive, glass-fronted factories.

Nestled into the rolling Swiss hills stood the impressive Breitling Chronométrie facility. The scale of the building was impressive. High ceilings with wooden cladding inside and out, room after room of watch makers; men, women, and machines. All beavering away at their specific tasks in silence, you could hear a pin drop. We learned that the was air changed seven times a day to minimise dust particles and moisture in the air, which may compromise the intricate watch parts. The whole building was meticulously maintained, just like the amazing timepieces produced there.

Donned in white lab coats with Smurf-like blue shoe protectors on our feet, we were fortunate enough to be allowed the opportunity of a watchmaking class. Seated at our own workbench, equipped with the necessary tools and eyewear, we set to work on dismantling and rebuilding a movement. It was not easy! Piecing together the intricate parts, using tweezers and minuscule screwdrivers.

It was amazing to see firsthand just how much work goes into the production of these fantastic timepieces. From the minor adjustments to ensure the accuracy of the movements, to the intense and rigorous testing of the cases, bracelets, dials and sapphire crystal.

A highlight of the trip was dinner in an Old Swiss Farmhouse built in the early 17th century, now a listed building, with the original worn flagstone floors and heavy wooden beams. We were welcomed with an open fire, a gentleman playing an Alpine Horn and a glass of the local speciality, Absinthe! Followed by a divine three course meal, of which the main course was a delicious steak, cooked on the open fire.

The whole experience was completely fascinating and I have a new found appreciation for the amazing craftsmanship that goes into producing Breitling’s extensive collection, all 100% Swiss made and meeting COSC standards."