The Way to the Wrist
At the Beginning There Is Only Metal
In up to 85 work steps, the raw material is transformed by a team of toolmakers, goldsmiths, production assistants, metalworkers, polishers and production engineers. The assortment of watch bracelets manufactured by Aristo Vollmer in Pforzheim/Germany ranges from the robust-athletic to the stylishly elegant.
According to Hans-Jörg Vollmer, co-owner and grandson of Ernst Vollmer, the founder of Vollmer watch band manufacturing in 1922: "We work with 30 percent stainless steel, 20 percent titanium and 20 percent silver. The rest of our metals are non-precious, such as brass and German silver".
The tradition-rich enterprise has its own set of individual standards with regard to the quality of the raw material. Hansjörg Vollmer reports, "Every tenth watch band to leave our factory is made of solid individual units. Of course this is the most time-consuming and costly method of production. The market today overwhelmingly demands reasonably priced bracelets, and for this type we utilise units of folded sheet metal, which is punched, pressed and rolled".
The company's real strength is the tools and machines of which watch band manufacturers in the Far East are envious. "Our oldest sheet metal punch originates from the 1930s. No current machine is able to get the same kind of results. Because of this, that we act as correspondents for many designers who want to continuously realise new ideas in metal watch bracelets for their timepieces. Or we supply solutions for special problems - on diver watches, for example".
When it comes to classic steel watch bands, Hansjörg Vollmer exhibits the same manufacturing quality standards: "Every single watch band link is individually stamped out of a piece of sheet metal two to four millimeters thick and then pressed into form. Or it gets milled by machine, or even filed down with additional profile rods. After this, the components are linked to one another".
At this stage in the game, the individual watch band links' edges are still sharp and their surfaces rough. The links are then worked, above all polished and fitted. In order to pin and screw the links together, extremely precise, tiny holes have to be drilled. Forms for the folded watch bands are stamped out of thinner sheet metal and formed into links in a press. After this, the edges and surfaces are smoothed.
Another specialty of Aristo Vollmer is stainless steel watch bands with solid links connected with rolled metal sheets. Hansjörg Vollmer demonstrates several typical work cycles: "First of all I lay two solid parts right and left into a pre-formed, U-shaped piece of sheet metal. The sides of the sheet metal are rolled to the inside through the press and they firmly connect the links. In the same manner - by pinning, screwing, or pressing - we add the clasps to each watch bracelet". Most of the metal link bracelets receive their final appearance either by satin-finishing or polishing, or they get a special effect from galvanised coating.
What catches the eye with the Milanese watch bands on the other hand, is their smooth and softly plaited structure. The name is derived from their place of origin, Milan. Stainless steel, titanium, or non-precious metals in thicknesses of 0.28 to 2 millimeters are used as raw material, supplied on approximately 20 cm high bobbins by wire companies and other suppliers.
Milanese Mesh Bracelets
During production, the bobbin containing the wire is set onto a Milanese machine, which runs the material into the apparatus like a sewing machine. The wire is turned into a leveled spiral, pushed forward, and cut off at a certain length. After this, the machine makes the next spiral, pushes it into the already existing one and cuts it off. Then another spiral follows, which is subsequently once again pushed into the previous one and cut off. Then the whole thing begins again with another spiral, and so on, and so on. In this way, a carpet is formed, consisting of many spirals which have been pushed into one other.
When this carpet has attained a certain size, the steel webbing is cut into strips. Great skill is needed to push it into a sharp-edged coil by hand, as the cut must always be led into the same, often hardly recognizable notch. The relatively short pieces that are attained in this way are manually bound into a long band - quite simply connected to another spiral of equal strength by joining both ends with no visible seam. The edges of the metal mesh band are subsequently cut, and they are still quite sharp and uneven. Therefore the material is manually passed by a grinding disk.
Then the spirals of the material are locked so that they can no longer untwist and the steel mesh cannot unwind. In addition, the edge is pressed flat and condensed. When using stainless steel, annealing is necessary after each individual step. To neutralise the tension resulting from the deformation, the steel mesh is automatically passed through a three-meter-long blazing oven of 1050 degrees Celsius. After this, the mesh passes through the constantly moving coils of a jogmachine, thereby producing a loud knocking sound. This treatment makes the steel mesh flexible. For very fragile thin or gold pieces, however, this step must be carried out by hand. In addition, the Milanese material is pulled over a round grip of synthetic material and is gently bent in one direction.
Further steps that serve to improve the visual appearance of the Milanese mesh follow. The material can be reshaped and stamped before the folding clasp and end pieces are added. A final polishing brings out the true charm of this type of bracelet. The amount of time necessary to manufacture it is one of the reasons why Milanese watch bands are usually more expensive than other types of metal bracelets.
A good mesh watch band can be recognised by its consistent and stable mesh, as well as its lack of sharp edges. It must be flexible in one direction and must softly envelop the wrist. It is also important that the mesh band is well adjustable, usually with the help of a folding clasp or removable links adjacent to it. Fine Milanese mesh gets dirty quicker than other metal watch bands, but it is easily cleaned with a small amount of water and a soft toothbrush. The same holds true for link metal watch bands.
Finally, how does one recognise the quality of a metal watch band? Solid precious-metal watch bands are naturally of the highest value. Apart from this, buyers should see that every individual metal link is round, without sharp edges, and that it has been worked perfectly. One should also check to make sure that the length of the watch band is adjustable. Hansjörg Vollmer emphasises the importance of one often overlooked aspect in judging watch bracelet quality: "The deployant clasp must be functional, solid, and stable. After all, this is the part of the watch band that gets used the most".
Form Follows Function
Aristo Vollmer, the bracelet manufacturer of Pforzheim, Germany, provides material for prominent watch brands. The senior chief, graduate engineer Hans Vollmer, is especially enthusiastic about the fact that filigree woven mesh bands are currently experiencing a renaissance as premier equippers of luxury watches.
Hansjörg Vollmer, his son and president of the sportwatch maker ARISTO Watch, has now inspired him to a new type of bracelet construction. The clasp should be easy to use and only small links should be used so that the bracelet can easily cling to the wrist. The mold should be unobtrusive, timeless and functional. It should live up to the Bauhaus design philosophy that "form follows function".
When Hans Vollmer presented his bracelet design study in January of 2004, the testers unanimously agreed that this bracelet deserves to carry the appellation Aristo Vollmer Short Easy System. The bracelet links cannot be felt on the wrist and are precisely the right length for optimal carrying comfort. The result is a stainless steel watch band which feels like "one piece".
After attempts on the basis of several proto-types, Aristo Vollmer manufacturing facilities now provide three models with its unique Short Easy System:
- A Milanese style mesh bracelet
- A filigree double-clasped bracelet
- A steel bracelet made uniformly of single links