In-House Movements in 2024: An Updated Look

In-House Movements in 2024: An Updated Look

One of my earliest articles was a think piece on the phrase “in-house movement”. Reading this article back, it’s clear that I did my research, but it’s also clear (to me, at least) that I hadn’t sat with the concept for more than a week or two. Today, my perspective on watch movement manufacturing – not just semantics, but mechanics – is much better-informed. I’ve been looking forward to revisiting the topic for some time.

Before looking at two microcosms of modern movement manufacturing (say that five times fast), I’d like to touch on “in-house” for just a moment more.

“In-House Watch Movements” in 2024

I hope that the average watch enthusiast is past the point of asking “are in-house movements superior?”. This is like asking “should I buy natural groceries?”. It’s vague, and more often than not, it’s the wrong question. In recent years, “in-house” has become less of an accurate descriptor and more of an opaque marketing tool.

Roger Smith

Image Source: The Times

Of course, an ‘in-house movement’ is definite in theory. A movement whose design, manufacturing, and assembly are all conducted within one manufacture – the one that sells the watch  can accurately be described as ‘in-house’. However, very few watches actually fit this bill. A common example is Roger Smith (above): virtually every component of his watches are made by the man himself.

For the vast majority of watch brands and independent watchmakers, complete (or even partial) vertical integration makes very little sense. For one thing, plenty of simple movement parts are effectively generic, like mainsprings and screws. Available in established sizes, dimensions, and materials, these parts are interchangeable and need not be developed from the ground up. I’ve heard James Stacey liken a mainspring to a car battery – its brand hardly matters.

Movement Manufacturer

Image Source: Monochrome Watches

Furthermore, any manufacturing process that’s brought in house costs a considerable amount of money. Someone has to pay for that R&D, new tooling, and new employee(s) if necessary. These costs skyrocket when you enter the realm of original movement architectures; many processes have to be brought in house. Again, someone has to pay for these investments. Spoiler alert – it’s you, the buyer. 

Although it may cost an arm and a leg up front, vertical integration has its benefits. These benefits vary depending on what’s being integrated and at what scale. This brings me to my first approach to vertical integration – Czapek & Cie and their caliber SXH5.

Approach #1: Czapek & Cie’s Vertical Ramp-Up

Czapek & Cie is a modern brand in the spirit of historic watchmaker François Czapek. This modern incarnation came to life through crowdfunding via watch enthusiast Xavier de Roquemaurel and two others. Their approach to creating watches is very much aligned with their dispositions as enthusiasts, particularly when it comes to mechanics.

Czapek Movement

Image Source: The Limited Edition

From the very beginning, Czapek & Cie has insisted on designing their own movements. Although these designs came from within, their manufacturing and assembly was outsourced, namely to Chronode SA. The brand’s first watch, the Quai des Bergues, features the caliber SHX1 (above): a movement that is, again, designed by Czapek but made by Chronode.

Fast forward to 2020, Czapek released the Antarctique powered by their all-new caliber SXH5. Like its predecessor, this movement was designed by Czapek & Cie. Still, this movement’s manufacturing and assembly were outsourced . . . at first.

Czapek Promenade

Since introducing the SXH5-powered Promenade collection, Czapek & Cie has made a concerted effort to bring the movement’s manufacturing in house, piece by piece. The new generation of SXH5 features in-house-manufactured bridges, plates, and structural components. By the end of the year, all screws, pins, and axes will be brought in house as well. By the end of 2025, levers, springs, and hand-beveling will too be vertically integrated.

So, if vertical integration is so expensive and often superfluous, why is Czapek striving for it? The shortest answer comes in two words: independence and flexibility. For example, the brand’s current screw manufacturer has a 10-month lead time. This is a serious wait in the fast-paced modern landscape of luxury watches. If Czapek wants to release a limited edition, new model, or simply restock an existing one, they have to take this 10-month wait into consideration. By bringing screw manufacturing (as just one example) in house, they’re much more nimble as a brand, allowing them to deliver timely releases.

Saliently, Czapek started with in-house design rather than in-house manufacturing; it couldn’t go the other way. By designing a movement and slowly bringing its manufacturing in house, Czapek is free to integrate at whatever pace they like. It’s not like they went all in on manufacturing and built a factory. However, that wouldn't be unheard of.

Approach #2: Tudor's Creation of Kenissi

Tudor Manufacture

Since its inception in 1926, Tudor’s value proposition has revolved around exceptional build quality and off-the-shelf movements. For a fraction of a comparable Rolex’s cost, you could get a Tudor with near-identical build quality, if lesser mechanics. This all changed in 2015 when Tudor introduced the North Flag (and updated the Pelagos). These watches feature the brand’s first vertically-integrated movement, the caliber MT5612. In 2016, Tudor founded Kenissi to oversee this movement’s production, develop and manufacture future movements, and offer movements to third-party brands. As Kenissi grew their collection of ‘Manufacture Tudor’ calibers, Tudor slowly but surely brought their catalog’s mechanics "in house" by proxy.

Just a few weeks ago, we saw Kenissi's latest movement: the caliber MT5450-U. This movement – introduced in the all-new Black Bay 58 GMT – is a perfect example of the independence and flexibility I mentioned regarding Czapek’s verticalization. Demand for a BB58 GMT has existed since the BB58 has existed. Tudor knows this. They also know that a BB58 GMT movement would have to be small and thin while stacking up to the specs of their other in-house offerings. With Kenissi, Tudor was able to meet these requirements and deliver a watch that their customers wanted. This is the power of vertical integration.

Tudor Black Bay 58 GMT

Swatch’s relationship with ETA can’t go unmentioned here. Following the quartz crisis (or revolution, if you prefer), ETA was the backbone of the Swiss watch industry, supplying parts and/or complete movements to essentially every brand out there. As it became clear that no one brand should have all that power (as a result of numerous competition investigations), ETA, a subsidiary of Swatch, restricted their movement distribution year over year. By 2015, the year Tudor released their first in-house caliber, ETA’s movements were nearly exclusive to Swatch Group brands. In 2020, this was made official. ETA can only provide movements to brands under the Swatch Group umbrella. 

Tudor’s creation of Kenissi was not only a response to ETA’s distribution narrowing, it was a proposed alternative. Today, Kenissi provides movements to a handful of brands like Breitling, Chanel (a partial shareholder), Norqain, and others. I imagine this list will continue to grow; Tudor has created an appealing movement manufacturer for brands and consumers alike.

Final Thoughts

With this article, I aim to highlight an alternate discussion to the tired “in-house” debate. Despite my linguistics degree, I don’t love to dwell on semantics (at least not always). I find the stories behind movement manufacturing to be much more interesting. Why did a brand take the approach they did? Why was vertical integration the right option in one instance and the wrong option in another? It should go without saying that there are plenty of interesting examples of brands modifying pre-existing movements like the Beauregard Ulysse. Furthermore, it’s often best for a brand to just use an off-the-shelf movement.

To wrap up my ramblings, I’ll say this: don’t judge a movement by its adjectives, but by its story. 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.