Elwin : The art of the turn

By Peter Chong for Parmigiani 

Our next exploration on our journey to discover the manufactures within the manufacture of Parmigiani is to look into Elwin.  Elwin specializes in bar turning parts and bar turning machines. Originally specializing in making balance staffs for the watchmaking industry since 1912, Elwin has grown to be a leader in the field of bar turning.

Tucked into a small town of Moutier (not to be confused with Motiers which is right next to Fleurier, Moutier is a bit further up north, towards the direction of Biel), Elwin was acquired by the Sandoz Foundation to be made part of the Parmigiani manufacture.

What is bar turning?

Bar turning is a method where small parts are manufactured using a turning engine. Examples of a turning engine is the lathe, milling machine or drill press, to make parts. The work piece to be machined is turned by the machine, and a cutting tool with a single edge is used to remove material from the rotating piece to generate a cylindrical shape. The tool is manipulated to make its cuts precisely to make shapes on the work piece. Traditionally, these machines were spun by hand, and later industrialization brought electric motors to do the work of turning. Control of the cutting bit had traditionally depended on the hands and skills of craftsmen. However, modern machines are now controlled by computers...using computer numerical control (CNC), for better precision, accuracy and consistency.

The parts so manufactured in the bar turning technique will have a very high surface quality and very good dimensional tolerances.

What do they make?

Elwin uses the bar turning know-how to make small watch parts with microscopic precision. Parts like balance staff, wheels, pins, pinons, column wheels for chronographs, receptacles for screws are all made in high precision.

Small bar turned parts with extremely high precision

An example is the screw manufactured by Elwin. Typically these are made in the industry by the millions, and sold sometimes by the kilo. But the Elwin screws are high precision ones, cut and polished to high surface tolerances. And high quality allows the market prices commanded by Elwin screws to be sometimes several hundred times more than the regular run of the mill screws used in inexpensive watches. These high precision, high priced screws are used in Parmigiani Fleurier movements and by a number of the top tier haute horology manufacturers in Switzerland and Germany.

Bar Turning machines and software for CNC control

Elwin does not only manufacture state of the art parts to the watchmaking industry on machines they designed and built themselves, but also specializes in machine building and producing the software to drive the machines to the industry and other high precision requirements. The company recently developed a new and revolutionary bar turning machine specifically to meet the demands of microscopic precison for high end watchmaking. This new machine is licensed to be built and marketed by the Humard SA in Delamont, a manufacturer of presses and precision machines for the watchmaking industry.