The “in-house” Debate
Cool Stuff, Deep Thoughts, MB&F, Uncategorized

The “in-house” Debate

Anyone familiar with watches has been exposed to the “in-house” movement…movement.  We have been led to believe that the only watches that really matter are ones in which every part is proprietary.  I think this is a big mistake, but I understand how we got here.
“In-house” is being used as a proxy for valuable.  With so many companies, models, double-speak marketing, etc it has gotten so difficult for the average consumer to evaluate a piece that they had to grab onto something.  The alternative to “in-house” seems to be a company that just buys a cheap movement and puts a case around it.  Where is the value there?  So, yes, I completely understand why people feel this way.  Unfortunately this thinking is overly simplistic and often times wrong.

It all comes back to Clarity of Purpose.  What does an in-house movement add to the watch as a whole?  Does the newly created movement improve the watch in some way?  MB&F’s HM2 and HM3 and all of the URWERK watches are great examples.  I don’t think you can find anyone familiar with watches that will not agree that these are amazing pieces.  However, they all use other movements as the foundation for their incredible sculptures.  The reality is that either company could have remade the winding and regulating systems to be completely proprietary, but the watches would be exactly the same, potentially less reliable, and considerably more expensive.  To what benefit?  Clearly in-house does not tell the entire story.

HM4 is a great example where proprietary really matters.  Max had an idea for a piece and a movement that could clearly not be made using any other base.  As such, the project was undertaken so that every piece (311 in total) was created from scratch.  The result is spectacular and it makes the piece, as a whole, make sense.  Clarity of Purpose.

Finally, there are lots of examples of “in-house” movements that are really just companies remaking the same old movements on their own machines.  I don’t know about you, but that does not excite me.

The bottom line is that there is no sense in paying someone to reinvent the wheel.  Rather than focusing on whether a piece has an in-house movement, try to understand the essence of the watch and see if any feature sticks out as incongruous.  Sadly, there is no great proxy for understanding value.  We all just need to do a better job of educating and being educated.

  • Marc

    Great read Steve…I never understood movement snobs…when it comes down to basics sure in house is nice but why reinvent the wheel…I have several watches with a 6497 in them and they run fantastic…sure I have many watches with in house movements too but for me it is the design of the watch that makes me buy it…if it has a cool movement that is a bonus but it isn’t like i am wearing the watch upside down so I can see it…I will take neat modifications and enjoy them as much as in house any day of the week 😉

  • António Sérgio

    Hello Stephen
    I think that the turn 2010-2011, and its implications to the Swiss Watchmaking industry – ETA and all that – is probably one of the reasons for the “in-house” build up. ETA ceases to provide ébauches, movements are merely recreated but adorned with the “in-house” perfume. The detail is that this matter dates back to 2006, then stretched to 2010, which is also probably why some companies decided to take their time in announcing their “in-house” movements. It comes down to marketing manouvres.

    My first comment on this blog was about honesty (regarding showing the prices on magazine adds). It’s a cliché word to many. To me it is a very dificult word. I’m biased towards creators like MB&F and URWERK since I still have the emotions of a 5 year-old, but I am still (way) far enough disconnected from these companies to value their simple honesty in admiting they “based” their creations on existing movements and came out on the other side with something extraordinary.

    I’m an architect, and in our world we have originality vs creativity. Often confused concepts, oh my can they be worlds apart.

    António Sérgio

    • Hi Antonio,
      Thank you for another great comment.


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  • Steve
    Great post.

    To me, it’s all about perceived value. And – through the dark arts of advertising and marketing – the luxury brands can imbue almost any characteristic with that perceived value. The point you make – and which which I very much agree – is that, when it comes to ‘in house’ movements, there isn’t necessarily any real intrinsic advantage and therefore value in them. It’s something that the industry and its customers have created out of perception.

    Coincidentally, I just posted a talk that Rory Sutherland, a veteran ad man, delivered to TED Global last year on the very subject of perceived value. Worth checking out of you can spare a few minutes:

    • Thank you for the great comment, Andrew. Looking forward to watching thatvideo when I get 20 minutes.