JCK Web Feature: Timely Innovations

Every year the watch industry introduces fascinating technological innovations, primarily in mechanical horology.

This year’s most popular innovation was increased use of silicon-based material (usually referred to in its Latin form: silicium) to make lightweight, nonmagnetic mechanical watch parts that last longer and don’t need lubrication. Notable examples include Patek Philippe’s exclusive Pulsomax escapement (made of silicon-based Silinar) with its patented Spiromax balance spring; Frederique Constant’s Heart Beat tourbillon, its first with a silicium escapement wheel; Ulysse Nardin’s Sonata Silicium, its first with silicon parts (hairspring, escapement wheel, anchor, and roller), including its dial and logo inlay of the rotor. Omega uses silicon balance springs in its De Ville Hour Vision Annual Calendar and Seamaster Aqua Terra Co-Axial series for women, while Girard-Perregaux’s Constant escapement is made with silicon treatment technology.

Chopard, meanwhile, has developed an escapement with higher-frequency balance wheel oscillations, boosting accuracy. A typical mechanical watch escapement has a frequency of four oscillations per second. Chopard says its new escapement can reach eight to 10. It has filed two patents on it and is continuing lab tests to fine-tune it.

Following are some other significant technological achievements.

* A. Lange & Söhne’s Cabaret is the first tourbillon that can be instantly stopped (to set the time) and restarted, something previously impossible.

* The DeWitt WX-1 of luxury watchmaker Jérôme de Witt and French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte is a lightweight (191 grams) 72.5 mm × 48.6 mm timepiece of 18k gold, titanium, and aluminum. Its square case has a manual-wind movement with vertical flying tourbillon and parallel train with five barrels for a power reserve of 21 days. The barrels, gear train, tourbillon carriage, power reserve indicator and winding device are arranged linearly and are visible when the case is slid open. A half-oval time display extension has a small inner disc that turns clockwise for minutes and a large outer disc that turns counterclockwise for hours. They line up with a small arrow at the dial top to display current time. An accessory electronic tool (with a USB socket) can wind the watch in seconds. 

* Wyler Genève’s GMT chronograph is the first timepiece ever certified carbon neutral by the CarbonNeutral Company of London. All elements and stages in its production were analyzed and their carbon dioxide emissions calculated, including energy used, waste generated in production, and transportation to bring the watches to the brand’s Geneva headquarters. Emissions were offset by support of the CarbonNeutral Company’s energy-saving projects.

* De Grisogono’s manual-wind Meccanico dDG is the first watch with a mechanical digital display. The lightweight gold and titanium watch uses an exclusive De Grisogono patented movement, has two time zones (an analog in the top half and the mechanical digital display in the lower part), and a 35-hour power reserve.

* Vacheron Constantin’s Quai de l’Ile employs state-of-the-art security-printing technologies used by designers and printers of Swiss currency and passports—a watchmaking first—against forgery, counterfeits, and theft. Semitransparent dials use security film (the same as bank notes) with secret texts, precision markings, micro-characters, security inks, innovative graphics, and invisible ultraviolet markings. A customized “passport,” with perforated reference, case, and movement numbers, comes with each watch. Also included are a USB key in 11 languages with use and maintenance tips, brand history, animations, a Web site link, and customer service centers.

 * Maurice Lacroix’s Mémoire 1, a chronograph, is the first mechanical watch with memory. It can switch between time and chronograph functions without losing track of either.

* Seiko’s Spring Drive Spacewalk watch is custom designed for U.S. video game designer Richard Garriott, the first private citizen to walk in space. Battery watches can’t be used for safety reasons, and space’s extreme temperatures can affect mechanical watch escapements (which regulate timekeeping). Seiko’s Spring Drive 5R86 movement is designed for accuracy despite space’s extremes (–4° to 160° Fahrenheit). Its Tri-Synchro Regulator uses mechanical, electrical, and electromagnetic power and is less affected by temperature variations. The titanium watch (92.5 grams) is airtight, and can endure direct exposure to space. Its dial, designed for maximum readability, uses luminescent material three times brighter than a typical luminescent watch. Large control buttons let Garriott adjust it without removing his space gloves.