If you want to get a true understanding of what Haute Horlogerie is all about, and what makes these watches so special, you should visit a watch manufacture, preferably from one of your favorite brands.
Of course, this is much easier said than done. Entrance to many manufactures is highly regulated, for safety reasons, but also because they do have to make watches and a constant stream of visitors might not be ideal for your concentration when you are putting together a minute repeater or other complicated watch.
Patek Philippe recently took part of their manufacture to New York City for the Grand Exhibition, in which they also gave an insight into what happens in their workshops, and how their watches come to life. That is actually the most magical part of visiting any watch manufacture: seeing metals and other materials come together and become a ticking piece of art.
But before that happens, a lot of steps have to be taken, and a lot of, different types of, expertise have to be utilized. Some are of course automated, with large CNC machines turning gold discs into detailed cases. Others are still done by hand. Initially, we think of the movement itself, which is often the case, but brands like for example Piaget still make many of their bracelets by hand. A visit to a manufacture will also give you an appreciation for professions you might have never heard of. Like that person that polishes the watches. Sounds easy enough, but take a closer look at some of the watches, with their alternating brushed and polished sides, and you will get an idea of why this is such a demanding task.
Imposing is also the testing, which happens not only when the watch is complete, but at every intermediate step. To an outsider, it seems quite harsh when a gold case or bracelet, and yes, even an entire movement, is rejected because it does not meet quality standards. It is one of the things that give you a better understanding why Haute Horlogerie has the word Haute in it, and that this goes much further than just using exclusive materials. It is a constant strive to achieve perfection, of which you can enjoy the result on a daily basis, around your wrist!