The drive for innovation has been a constant throughout the history of timekeeping. Material science, modern technology and sheer watchmaking genius have led to the development of timepieces that are lighter, more resilient, more efficient and, consequently, more precise than ever.
Watchmakers are also prioritising user experience: By offering novel and creative complications that are both functional and enchanting, they have exalted the role of watches beyond mere timekeeping tools. Here are five brands introducing revolutionary technology and research that are set to disrupt the status quo.
Hermès Arceau L’Heure de la Lune
Known for its poetic time indications, Hermès presents a double moonphase complication like nothing the watchmaking world has ever seen. Instead of an orbiting moon, the conventional display has been inversed as two mother-of-pearl moons that are stationary while a pair of floating lacquered discs rotate around an aventurine or meteorite dial (each version is limited to 100 numbered pieces) once every 59 days.
One disc shows the time while the other, the date, concealing and revealing the moons in turn to display the current moonphase in both the southern and northern hemispheres all at once. Counter-intuitively, the southern hemisphere moon is placed at 12 o’clock, and the northern hemisphere at 6 o’clock.
Housed in a 43mm white gold case, the timepiece is powered by the all-new Hermès H1837 movement, outfitted with 117 components and a 38mm module developed by renowned movement constructor Jean-François Mojon, founder of Chronode SA who’s worked with brands like MB&F and Harry Winston. The module controls the moonphase display via a patented planetary gear system that shifts the two discs around 1/59th of the dial daily, advancing at 2.30am so as not to place too much stress on the movement at midnight when the hour, minute and date hands all move simultaneously.
Additionally, since the date and moonphase are synchronised, they can be adjusted all at once — something rarely seen in a moonphase complication.
Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar
Among the biggest headaches of a perpetual calendar is resetting the indications for the perpetual calendar functions—something that would require the services of a watchmaker unless you get a kick out of manually turning the hands for hours (even days, depending on when the watch was last worn).
As a solution to this, Vacheron Constantin drew inspiration from the seasonal system from Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868), where time was divided into units that varied across seasons, depending on the length of daylight. The result is a watch with a four-day power reserve in Active mode and a Standby mode (when it’s not in use) of a whopping 65 days—that’s over 2 months of running time!
This is achieved by having two balances that are driven by the same mainspring barrel, each operating at a different frequency—5Hz (Active mode) and 1.2Hz (Standby mode)—which the user can switch between without any disruption to timekeeping.
Showcasing instantaneous jumping indications for the date, month and leap year, the jumping mechanism has been fully reinterpreted, utilising a sprung dual-gear compound system that needs four times less torque than a traditional jumping display.
What this means is that even when all three indications jump simultaneously, there is minimal impact on the amplitude of the active balance. Powering the watch is the ultra-compact, 480-component calibre 3610 QP, an incredible feat of micro-engineering measuring only 32mm in diameter and 6mm in thickness.
Zenith Defy El Primero Double Tourbillon
Boasting a long heritage in high-frequency escapements, Zenith has, for the first time, incorporated two separate tourbillon escapements in a timepiece. The first at 10 o’clock beats at an ultra-high frequency of 50Hz, making it one of the world’s fastest tourbillons.
This, in turn, leads to a super accurate chronograph that can record up to 1/100th of a second, driving the central chronograph hand to perform one full turn of the dial per second, with its carriage executing a complete revolution every 5 seconds. Mirroring the dual architecture, two dedicated barrels—one for the watch, the other for the chronograph—deliver 50 hours and 50 minutes of power reserve respectively.
The timepiece is powered by the successor to the iconic 1969 El Primero movement—the new in-house, 311-component El Primero 9020 calibre with a frequency that is 10 times faster. The watch is offered in a 46mm case that is available in two limited editions: 10 pieces in platinum or 50 pieces in carbon.
Tag Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph
One of the year’s biggest developments comes courtesy of Tag Heuer, which has invented and produced in-house a patented world-premiere technology that promises to drastically improve the timepiece’s overall performance—a carbon-composite hairspring materialised from gas, atom by atom, and fitted into the Heuer 02T chronometer-certified chronograph tourbillon manufacture movement.
Replacing the more familiar Elinvar and silicon versions, the low-density, lightweight hairspring is entirely anti-magnetic and almost completely unaffected by gravity and shock. Tested up to 5Gs, it remained intact while the metallic hairsprings became distorted and silicon ones broke. Its limitless possibilities in geometry design allow for perfect concentric oscillations, thereby increasing timekeeping precision.
It makes life easier for the watchmaker as well since the hairspring is made with the collet already attached. This means a quicker assembly process as there is no need for a complicated operation to connect it to the balance wheel axis. Best of all, this hairspring technology isn’t a prototype but can be rolled out in large numbers, demonstrating Tag Heuer’s industrial independence, with the Tourbillon Nanograph being just the beginning.
The nanoscopic hexagonal pattern of the hairspring’s carbon-composite material is reproduced in the watch design, with hexagon decorations on the oscillating mass and the movement plate visible through an open-worked dial.
Looking ahead: Roger W. Smith and Manchester Metropolitan University
Imagine a timepiece that never loses time or requires servicing. Oil has always been the foe of every single watch but the groundbreaking research into the use of nano-coatings to improve the performance of mechanical timepieces by British independent watchmaker Roger W. Smith and Dr Samuel Rowley-Neale and Dr Michael Down, research associates at Manchester Metropolitan University, could reduce, or possibly replace, traditional oil-based lubricants.
How? By applying practically frictionless, advanced 2-D nanomaterials directly to components to create a dry lubricated surface. Over time, a liquid lubricant will dry out and gradually even crumble away to leave surface deposits, causing the mechanism to become inaccurate and stop. This, in turn, drives the need for regular, lengthy and expensive servicing.
Smith says, “We’re pushing the mechanical boundaries of current watch performance and service intervals beyond industry standards. However, by rendering the mechanical watch components virtually frictionless, we could be talking about creating a timepiece that can be genuinely passed from generation to generation, safe in the knowledge that it does not require maintenance.”
The trio claim that the nanomaterials can be easily mass-produced, so you can expect to have a working watch within six months and for testing to be completed within 12 months.
This article first appeared in the July issue of A.