Of all the inventions that help improve the accuracy of mechanical timepieces, nothing is more important than the speed control mechanism. This article will trace the development and evolution history of speed governing mechanism from its early prototype to the latest material. This article is the ninth part: silicon escapement.
Rolex Calibre 3255
After entering the third millennium, the watchmakers no longer need to start from scratch. They are faced with a choice in which new direction to take the lever escapement. Patek Philippe created the Advanced Research department and set out to develop a new speed control mechanism based on silicon components. In 2005, the Advanced Research Division released the first major innovation, the Silinvar escape wheel without lubrication. The following year, the Spiromax hairspring was launched. Then came the 2008 Pulsomax escapement. Finally in 2011, the GyromaxSi? Balance wheel became the last puzzle.
Calibre 324 SC movement on Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 5227 watch with Spiromax® silicon spring
Patek Philippe’s innovation significantly improves the accuracy of the speed without any structural changes to the movement. Patek Philippe’s Pulsomax escapement optimized the geometry of the escapement fork and escape wheel through the application of silicon, but it is still a classic freestyle escapement, except that the raw materials for manufacturing the parts have changed. Perhaps the silicon revolution should be led by a brand that strictly adheres to tradition, so that everything is possible. In fact, this research is indeed a joint project of Rolex, Swatch Group (via Breguet) and the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microelectronics Technology Research (CSEM).
Truly new concept
Rolex Syloxi hairspring
Since then, silicon has steadily expanded in the watchmaking industry, starting with hairsprings and escapement wheels / forks. Since 2014, even Rolex has begun fitting Sylox hairsprings (and another patented alloy, Parachrom hairsprings) for women’s watches. However, none of these systems using silicon as an alternative material changes the basic nature of the escapement. Speaking of a truly new structure, the first thing that comes to mind is the constant-power escapement, which was developed by Girard-Perregaux from the concept of Nicolas Dehon (in 1998 Nicolas Dehon was patented while working for Rolex). The feature of this mechanism is to adjust the two escapement wheels, the lever connected to the silicon flexible piece, and the traditional balance with hairspring by using the elasticity and regular deformation of the ultra-fine silicon flexible piece. This kind of mechanism is difficult to control, and if it is to be put into industrial production, it still needs to be simplified.
Girard Perregaux Constant Power Escapement
Other brands have launched silicon-based solutions. In 2016, Parmigiani launched the Senfine concept movement, which includes a new escapement mechanism that can significantly reduce energy consumption and increase power reserve from days or weeks to months. The specific method is to abandon the mechanical coupling energy consumption factor in the traditional speed governing mechanism and replace it with a zero friction flexible joint system. The invention was attributed to a Geneva engineer named Pierre Genequand, who began working on the idea after retiring from the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM) in 2004. This unconventional, zero-friction escapement is still under development, and it is the silicon material that makes it possible.
Zenith Defy Lab movement
In September 2017, Zenith used DefyLab watches to show the brand’s vision for the future. DefyLab replaces the hairspring balance with a new monolithic oscillator made of monocrystalline silicon. Approximately 30 parts of the standard adjustment mechanism were replaced by monolithic monolithic elements that were only 0.5 mm thick. The design of the gear train also seems to be inspired by the TAHEuer Mikrogirder watch (both mechanisms are designed by the same person). Except for the single-crystal silicon escapement that does not require lubrication, the rest of the movement is in a classic configuration with a vibration frequency of up to 108,000 times / hour (15 Hz). High vibration frequency and silicon material means that the movement is not affected by acceleration, gravity or magnetic fields.
TAG Heuer Mikrogirder watch
Watchmakers followed the example of Bulova Accutron watches to create a similar high-frequency system, but replaced the power source with a mechanical mechanism. In a way, maybe this is the idea of TAGHeuer. In 2012, the brand launched the Mikrogirder dual-frequency chronograph and described it as ‘reshaping the mechanical speed regulation mechanism’. Brand-new fine-tuning system-consisting of a connecting beam and excitation beam system and a linear oscillator (different from traditional spiral hairsprings), synchronously vibrates at a small angle, which greatly improves accuracy and performance. The timing accuracy reaches 1/2000 seconds.
Seiko Spring Drive Chronograph Movement
In fact, strictly speaking, the meter escapement adjusted for long-term reliability is also a speed-regulating component. Broadly speaking, this is the research direction of Seiko SpringDrive movement. The concept of combining waves and high frequencies has been around since 2012, when DeBethune launched a new speed control mechanism called ‘Résonique’. At a given frequency, the magnetic escapement enters resonance and then maintains a constant frequency. In theory, the results are absolutely accurate. The system is still in the prototype stage, but this independent brand has opened up new directions for the watchmaking industry. (Photo / text watch home compiled by Xu Chaoyang)