The Qualité Fleurier certification is the perfect embodiment of the 300-year-old watchmaking tradition in Switzerland’s Val-de-Travers. The watch industry started here when people moved to the mountain regions outside Geneva and its lake to cut their tax bills. The fringe benefit of this was that they could make watches without needing to be a member of the corporations that dominated watchmaking in the Lake Geneva region, which in turn allowed them greater freedom and the opportunity to innovate.
The Qualité Fleurier label has its origins in Michel Parmigiani, who revived watchmaking in the region when he started restoration work in the town of Fleurier in 1975. After a meeting with Chopard’s Karl-Friedrich Scheufele the two decided to produce watches to a Fleurier quality standard, which was enshrined in the Qualité Fleurier label by founding partners Bovet, Chopard and Parmigiani.
Despite its name, the Qualité Fleurier certification is not restricted to the brands that produce their watches in the Val-de-Travers. The independent Fondation Qualité Fleurier, which is supported by the Swiss Confederation, the Canton of Neuchâtel and the town of Fleurier, is happy to test the timepieces of any brand.
These tests are, however, the toughest in the industry. Before even making it to the ultimate test of endurance on the formidable Fleuritest machines, the watch movement (which must be 100 per cent manufactured in Switzerland) must pass a first aesthetic check. It must then pass the already daunting Chronofiable test at the independent Dubois laboratory and subsequently gain its COSC credentials. Only then can the completed watch head be strapped into one of the three boxes on a Fleuritest machine for its 24-hour simulation of real-world wearing conditions. During the test the movement is monitored constantly by camera and it must maintain the accuracy of between 0 and +5 seconds per day.
Given the severity of the tests and the generally acknowledged period of four years required to reach this level of quality for certification, it’s hardly surprising that only around 3,000 watches have been certified under the Qualité Fleurier criteria over its ten-year history, particularly when you consider that for the Chronofiable test alone, five per cent of the production run must be sacrificed (and remember that these watches have precious-metal cases and are thus very expensive).
To coincide with the celebration of its tenth anniversary, the Fondation Qualité Fleurier announced that it is making the services of the FQF Laboratory available to the whole of the Swiss watchmaking industry. But the results from any lab analysis for third parties must remain confidential and cannot be communicated, the idea being to push such new customers towards full certification under the Qualité Fleurier criteria.
Even without the prospect of certification, however, the unique facilities offered by the FQF Lab allow brands to test aspects such as the winding velocity and power reserve of a watch in a repeatable way using real-world simulations, providing data that are extremely useful in the development and testing phase. Soon, new devices will be added to the Fleuritest machines that will allow continuous monitoring of the balance spring and the kinetics of the oscillating mass.
As Karl-Friedrich Scheufele points out, “Qualité Fleurier undeniably represents the essence of Swiss watchmaking. It’s the only certification with 360-degree tests. But more important is its impact on research and development, since the Qualité Fleurier has helped us to innovate in quality. It allows us to conceive and produce better watches.”