Etablissage is a method of watch manufacturing where existing components are assembled rather than manufactured from raw materials.
The mountains of the Swiss Jura were a desperately poor region without raw materials. The manufacture of watches there began in the 18th century in small workshops and at home. Most of these home workers had previously been working in textile processing, but became unemployed due to automation of English textile production, increased tariffs and a decline in domestic demand. Rather than build large factories, these workers assembled components of watches and movements at home for delivery to workshops to then be combined into finished products. This assembly of watches from purchased components is called “établissage” in French, meaning “workbench.”
The etablissage system was so efficient that it dominated watch manufacturing in Switzerland until the end of the 19th century. Additionally, it resulted in reasonably high quality products, with the watchmaking knowledge gained through this kind of work contributing to the rise of Swiss watchmaking and its international reputation.
Over time, mass production replaced home etablissage as the most widespread means of constructing watches. Zenith famously built an integrated manufacture in Le Locle to create and assemble all components of a watch. This was later adopted throughout the Jura, in Saint-Imier by Longines, in Tavannes, and in Bienne by Omega. Soon the “American system” of mass production resulted in the construction of many large factories.
Today, a company is known as an etablisseur if it combines finished components into a product rather than producing the components in-house. It is the opposite of today's manufacture movement, where watch components are built from raw materials inside a company's facilities.
There are four main methods of manufacturing watches