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 Hansjörg 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 utilize 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 realize
new ideas in metal watch bracelets for their timepieces. Or we
supply solutions for special problems - on diver watches, for
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
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 galvanized 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.
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 neutralize the
tension resulting from the deformation, the steel mesh is auto
matically 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
A good mesh watch band can be recognized 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 recognize 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 emphasizes 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".