REPORTAGE IN SAINT-IMIER AT MICROMAG
Mr Tolck's passion for springs.
Jean Depéry, our CEO, loves a challenge. When he set out to create our first in-house watch movement, he also wanted Emile Chouriet to develop his own components. So we formed a partnership with Micromag to develop our spring. Thus perpetuating one of our values: the alliance of talents. We met Mr Tolck, Micromag’s founder, in his workshop in Saint-Imier.
COULD YOU TELL US ABOUT SAINT-IMIER ?
I am not a native of Saint-Imier. I’m from Bévilard in the Tavannes valley. Originally, I came here to see my future wife, who lived in Saint-Imier. I never thought I’d settle here. But when I created Galvarex, I bought the former workshop of TAG Heuer. It was a great opportunity to come and live here.
HISTORICALLY, HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THE EXISTENCE OF SUCH A LEVEL OF SKILL IN THE REGION ?
At that time, firms like Longines, Blancpain and Chopard subcontracted work to local farmers who had no work to do during the winter. So farms and flats were turned into watchmaking workshops.
HOW MANY INHABITANTS ARE THERE IN SAINT-IMIER ?
Today, there are 5000 inhabitants. The population is increasing slightly. But before the watch-making crisis, there were 8000 inhabitants. In the 1970s and ‘80s, a lot of people worked in the watchmaking plants in the region. There are photos taken at the time showing an immense flood of people on their way to the Longines buildings.
HAS SAINT-IMIER ALWAYS BEEN A WATCHMAKING TOWN ?
There are a lot of mechanical workshops here, too, that developed through the watchmaking industry in particular. Today, a lot of things are made for the medical industry. In fact, at that time, at Galvarex, they made catheters for pacemakers.
SO YOU HAVE ALWAYS WORKED WITH SPRINGS. TELL US ABOUT YOUR CAREER ?
When I was 22, I started working at Spiraux Réunis in Bienne as a machine builder. We used to make 38 million springs a year. In the beginning, winding was all done by hand. For three or four years I worked on automating the production process. Then quartz came along. I had to leave the company. A friend of mine asked me to take over an electroplating firm. That was a totally new direction. I started a new apprenticeship at the age of 35.
YOU WERE BOTH THE DIRECTOR AND THE APPRENTICE ?
There’s only one electroplating school in French-speaking Switzerland. It’s in La Chaux-de-Fond. My classmates were 18 or 19 years old. Only two of us were older. At the same time, the company was expanding. We had eight employees in the beginning, and there were 42 of us when I left the company. Then I set up a company, Galvarex, also in the electroplating field. There we carried out continuous treatment on wires for precious-stone workers and the car industry. I retired three years ago.
BUT TODAY YOU ARE STILL WORKING.
Yes, because we're a bit mad…
HOW DID YOU COME TO WORK WITH EMILE CHOURIET ?
Two years ago, after I met Jean Depéry with my associate Marcel Gerber, we decided to set up a workshop. That is how Micromag began. My former boss always told me that we would need to make springs again. In his view, that was the future.
AND WHAT'S NEXT ?
We'll see... But I'll probably stop working.
TO SPEND TIME ON A HOBBY ?
I have two horses. They are pet horses. I’ve taken part in a lot of horse-jumping competitions in the region. That is the region's other main activity. Horse-riding schools and firms are very active. It's also because the Franches-Montagnes district is nearby.