Tuesday, March 29, 2005

More on Patek's New Shock Proof or Coaxial Escapement

Let's go back to the overall picture we were discussing earlier:

Step by step the following happens (well in simple terms. You can check the patent for detail!)

1. Tip of 11 sits on 21
2. 42 hits 22 on its anticlockwise swing.
3. 32 rotates to block 22.
4. 42 returns clockwise to hit 32.
5. 32 drops into 22.
6. 10 drives 20 and 22 around.
7. Impulse from 11 to 41.
Back to 1. Tip of 11 sits on 21.

What is clear is that impulse is only imparted to the balance wheel once per cycle. (11 onto 41).
I’m not sure but it may also not be self starting; by its nature it locks the wheel (11) until released.

What I like is that the impulse is imparted somewhat radially (like a coaxial) from 11 to 41 – but it could possibly be improved. There is also somewhat radial movement when 42 goes clockwise and hits 32.

What I don’t like is the sliding contact between 11 and 21; 32 also slides across 22. Also 42 (anticlockwise) and 22 has apparent sliding but it might be improved by careful geometry optimisation. The degree of importance of the sliding will depend on the forces involved. These could be improved by geometry development; and mesh timing of the gears.

At this point it must be remembered that the patent is not a toolkit to allow others to make the system in its ideal form. It is only describing the principle of operation sufficient to gain protection. Thus I am sure there are developments and details to work out that would improve the system compared to its description here that will remain secret within Patek for the moment.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Patek Developing a Coaxial Escapement?

Patek’s recent announcement of their oil-less escapement and the new silicon wheel used in it is covered in a superb article by the astute Suitbert Walter here.

One of the pictures showed various components being prepared on the silicon wafer. It struck me straight away that at least one part at a glance is there from Patek's 'shock proof' escapement patent.

Image from the Patek Patent WO2004008258

You can clearly see Part #11. Can you see any more? Well if you zoom in....

Pretty much everything is there.

This patent was published in early 2004 and described being 'shock proof' as its main feature. My view is that it is also performing a 'coaxialesque' function much like Daniel's device now in various Omegas.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Ladies Moonphase Watches

If a search engine has got you here, then you'll probably be going through the nightmare I had. When I was looking for a ladies moonphase watch last year, I found it an incredibly hard job! There is very little out there to choose from with real mechnical movements in, let alone complications!. Quite an error on the part of manufacturers not to offer this complication more often in women's watches I think.

In the end, my favourite was this one, a limited edition Dubey & Schaldenbrand Lady Star. D&S are owned by Cinette Robert, great grand daughter of renowned watchmaker Meylan-LeCoultre*.
*If someone can tell me more about Meylan-LeCoultre, I'd be happy to hear.

There were four left in the world (only 350 total) and only two I could find with the black dial. Phew, got it! So Viniphile could retire her mum's 50's Yema and we made it her engagement watch!

The Guilloche is well done, the moon bright, the date hand blue a nice contrast and the arabics and hands well matched. The D&S tonneau (barrel shape) case is very hard to capture in the pics even on their own website and looks better in the flesh. It's been fine since, but recently I regulated it and took a shot inside of the movement.

As I say, choices were limited - at any price. I didn't like the Vacheron Constantin Malte Complications, Blancpain Leman, nor the Maurice Lacroix Phase de Lune nor the Frederique Constant one. Maybe you will - check 'em out.. The only other one close or preferable for me was the Patek, the 4857. I'm saving that for her 40th ;-)

Patek 4857 - One of the rare ladies Pateks with a real movement in!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Lemania 5100 - Integrated, Vertical Clutch and Column Wheel Chronograph?

Chronographs can come in many different forms. Often a chronograph module is bolted to an existing movement but, preferably, from an aesthetic point of view it's nicer to have it integrated from the outset. Fortunately the 5100 is an integrated chronograph.

Then there is the method of engaging the chrono drive. As recently emphasised over the new chronograph from JLC, the Cal 75x,
"There are 3 main types of coupling, Lateral, Vertical or sliding Pinion, Vertical Coupling is a signature for high-end chrono. Test shows Vertical Clutch system has the advantages of (1) No hesitation of the chrono seconds hand at start, (2) much higher shock resistant and (3) The rate of balance wheel remain unchanged at start and stop, making accurate time recording possible"
You can see the vertical clutch system in the Lemania 5100 in this excellent pictures taken from the extensive gallery of Lemania 5100 (and Omega 1045) movement photographs maintained by Sergio Lorenzon at his very useful WatchScape site.

Lemania 5100: Vertical clutch is the gizmo with the 3 pointed star (that's the clutch spring).
Note also the chrono seconds heart shape cam that there are often problems with getting to reset to '0'.
That big 'Y' shape below is its reset hammer.

Finally, there are two methods of controlling chrono operation: either cam as you can see below in my Lemania 1877 movement or by column wheel.

Lemania 1877 in a Sinn 903. The cam is the little gizmo at 9 o'clock that looks like an apostrophe with a screw head in the middle!

JLC Cal 75x: The column wheel is at 2 o'clock.

Now 'column wheel' is considered 'the best'. My question is what is the definition? It's certainly got to be a rotary device rather than to-and-fro. It requires high points and voids to guide the movement of the different levers which press a column or fall in a void. So, does the rotary device at 11 o'clock in the picture below qualify as a column wheel?

Lemania 5100: Column wheel at 11 0'clock or rotary cam?

Does it take a year to make a Rolex?

Let’s take a look at the claim “it takes a year to make a Rolex.”

A Rolex factory yesterday where apparently Rolexes have to grow for over a year.....

Rolex submits about 800,000 watch movements to COSC test per year. However, this does not consider the watches that they produce that are not certified chronometers and I would think that a good number to work with would be around 1,000,000 units per year. Surely at 1,000,000 watches/working year you need 1,000,000 watchmakers for it "to take a year to make a Rolex!"

Using some simple arithmetic, you'd figure that Rolex pumps out in the area of 4255 units per day (assuming a 235 day production year), or 532 units per hour based on a single-shift eight hour day or about 9 watches per minute. So a Rolex is created every 7 seconds or so. Now, I heard somewhere that Rolex employs ~5000 people between their Geneva, Bienne and other satellite facilities.

Of course, “a Rolex is made every 7 seconds” does not quite have the same ring to it……. But, Rolex are to be lauded for literally punting out their level of functional quality; an impressive achievement. To me it is more impressive than actually trying to pretend that it takes "a year to make" one.

Compare Jaeger LeCoultre: Based on making 50000 watches per year with 900 staff (of which 200 are watchmakers) and gives 213 watches per working day, 27 watches per hour. One watch every 2 ¼ minutes - 20 times longer than Rolex. In JLC’s case, we know the number of watchmakers and can calculate on that basis: ~1 watch per watchmaker per day.

Remember on the one hand the average is across the model lines AND JLC provide movements (in various stages of finishing) to other watch firms; in other words tying up resource not making their own product. On the other hand something as complex as the Gyrotourbillon will take a lot longer than a day to put together, test, and send out the door…….

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Jaeger LeCoultre Réserve de Marche

For me, the Jaeger LeCoultre Réserve de Marche stands as one of the most beautifully balanced watch designs in history. As traditional elegance seems to be taking a back seat lately, let’s have a look at a future classic.

It starts with the chamaeleonic, ‘soleil’ effect finish of the dial. This always creates involuntary glances from casual onlookers, it adopts a variety of different metallic colours depending on lighting. Once drawn in to the subtly shallow pie pan face, it’s the balance of the dial that amazes most. The position of the power reserve balanced with the date and small seconds is genius. The whimsical, irregular use and length of hour markers, numbers and dots, the echo of the dauphine hands in the hour markers, the sub-dial positions, all these elements conspire to balance the face and add to its charm without losing function. Somehow it’s simple and yet pleasingly complex simultaneously. You can understand how ‘right’ this design is simply by looking at the Zenith or Vacheron equivalents.

The RDM is simply one of the most original, beautiful watches EVER made. Unfortunately, you have to see it to really understand it. The catalogue shots from JLC are particularly under whelming completely flattening the sunken sub-dials; fortunately I think the picture of my watch above has captured its shape (which I took recently.) My only wish was that it had a hinged caseback with an exhibition back.

(updated 5 May 05)

Friday, March 11, 2005

Limits on the development of mechanical watches?

I thought I’d revisit this topic, in light of Patek’s recent announcement of their oil-less escapement. The new silicon wheel used in it is covered in a superb article by the astute Suitbert Walter here.

You can make out the grey silicon escapement wheel in the picture above.

If we look at other areas of our lives, a new technology comes along and blows the previous one away because the job is done better and cheaper. The steam engine was supplanted by the electric motor, the piston engine usurped by the jet engine. Mechanical watches seem to flounce that because, I’m sure most of us agree, it’s an emotional thing, there’s the appreciation of craftsmanship and that ultimate accuracy isn’t that important. In the end, the mechanical watch is a bit of a pet. However, I’ve been reflecting on where mechanical watches can go in terms of technical time-keeping performance.

Quartz offers superior time keeping prowess. Thus sticking with mechanical watches is almost an exercise in futility from a performance point of view. The question in my mind is how far do you go to innovate new methods of improving the timekeeping performance of a mechanical watch. Does it boil down to, “If you want accuracy get a quartz?” And does that then mean that horologists should stop any further progress such as developing anything that could beat a tourbillon, remontoir or whatever.

I read recently about Renaud and Papi allegedly developing a hyper fast beat escapement and it made me wonder, what’s the point? Despite being a mechanical engineer and having an appreciation for craftsmanship, innovation and so on (I mean one can envisage some kind of ultimate mechanical watch containing a coaxial gyrotourbillon with Diapal coated pallets) but I can’t help thinking what is actually the point of that when you can do it another way much better (in this case quartz). Does that then mean mechanical horology stagnates at the level of the lever and/or coaxial escapement with the occasional tourbillon flourish?

If things move forward would there need to be some kind of rules needed and what would be the definition of a mechanical watch? By which I mean:
Would some method of quartz regulating a mechanical watch be ‘allowed’?
Would the ‘rules’ be that to dictate it’s a mechanical watch that it has to have a mechanical spring power source and a intermittent escapement mechanism with no electronic interference or assistance?
Would there be any appeal to us in a mechanical watch that contained electronic (quartz or radio controlled) regulation?

30 years ago wristwatches split into two branches: quartz and mechanical movements. If you look at the range of radio controlled watches available now, they are essentially perfect timekeepers. It is fair to say that there is no way that mechanical watches could ever do that. Mechanical watch fans warm to new movement developments that enhance accuracy, as greater precision is a measure of its creator’s pursuit of excellence.

Using electronics to improve the accuracy of mechanical watches has been tried with some success, but mechanical enthusiasts have usually not been interested in these. The logic being perhaps, if one wanted absolute accuracy, one would go fully electronic; quartz or radio-controlled.

Mechanical fans are usually after some romance, some life or soul; the presence of quartz or some electronic regulation would sully the purity of the mechanical watch. It might enhance the watch's accuracy, to be sure, but it would be, “a bit of a cheat.”

Thus, if one wishes to develop the accuracy of a mechanical watch, then one must do so within the limitations of an all-mechanical movement.

Key recent developments in the mechanical watch world would have to be Daniels' Coaxial escapement and Sinn's Diapal treatment for the escapement and Patek Philippe’s most recently announced silicon escape wheel. They tackle the key issue of the effect deterioration of the tribological conditions at the escapement pallets has. Where lubricants change their physical properties (and hence friction) over time and use is one of the main areas affecting long term watch accuracy. In the Coaxial case by nearly eliminating all rubbing contact in a novel escapement design and in the Diapal or silicon case by using materials or surface treatments with naturally low dry contact friction on the rubbing components of a traditional lever escapement. A well-sealed watch made with either approach will not be subject to the worsening of the lubricant properties over time and use.

Why there is not more of an effort made to create more precise mechanical watches is probably simply because, with the availability of quartz, no purpose would be served in doing so. Innovation is extremely expensive to the watch manufacturers and, given the two hundred year successful track record of the lever escapement, there is little incentive to change. However, we do see innovation when it’s necessary to maintain or increase sales by being technically innovative in the specific mechanical watch market.

To conclude, I would predict that of the innovations recently seen, these latest materials technologies such as coatings and silicon wheel will move into mainstream mechanical watch manufacture.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Jaeger LeCoultre New Chronograph Controversy

First spotted by eagle eyed ei8htohms of ThePurists.com, he suggested this movement "bears an incredibly strong resemblance to the Piguet 1185."

This was never really answered or challenged. So.... in the absence of any further discussion on the movement, inevitably I've gone wandering myself (I prefer that term to surfing - it seems more applicable to the way I 'search' the Internet...) and I have to agree with ei8htohms.

Pictures can be deceptive, but here's the new JLC Calibre 752

And here is a FP 1185.

JLC has an undoubted historical pedigree in chronographs including, of course, the recently developed Calibre 829. It’s precisely because of this grand history that once everybody understood a new chronograph was coming out of JLC, most were on the edge of their seats to see what it would be like. This makes the mysterious likeness of FP1185 to their latest chronograph simultaneously fascinating and puzzling. One’s immediate reaction is to sink to the obvious and disagreeable conclusion, i.e. investing in a new chrono is too expensive, so JLC choose a good base calibre/parts-bin-base to save money and then sufficiently technically upgrade and choose feature content to give brand differentiation, add insuperable JLC prowess and level of finish, et voila Cal 75x.

I remember a similar question arising over Omega 33xx. But IMO 33xx simply doesn’t as closely resemble FP 1185 as much as JLC Cal 75x seems to! In addition, if memory serves me right, Omega even announced that it was going to be a co-development with F Piguet. So nothing was hidden from the outset and nobody was under any illusions that it incorporated many of the features that FP 1185 possessed but it was at least to be Omega exclusive.

With JLC’s brand integrity underpinned by its commitment to in-house manufacture, I would expect they would not risk undermining this philosophy by using even one part of someone else’s. So what is going on here, and in light of the situation where taken at face value the calibres look next to identical, why create a situation where this damaging question will arise rather than tackling it at the outset? JLC were a wee bit careless to think people (least of all Purists) were not going to notice.

If it turns out to be the case that it is an (extensively) adapted base FP1185, incorporating all the Autotractor features (except notably for a true balance bridge (sic)), adding another winding barrel and semi-instant minute change, these are not trivial steps and of course the movement is still phenomenal. BUT, then the next step would be to have to re-enter the well worn debate of “when is a modified base calibre a new movement in its own right” for Cal 75x and I fear, it might become an enduring blot on the manufacture status of JLC. In fact, I think this may well turn into brand error of the century for them. I hope not.

Watch this space as the story will unfold.

In the meantime read a view on why Chuck Maddox thinks the Omega 33xx isn't a FP 1185 despite appearing so

Friday, March 04, 2005

Jaeger LeCoultre's New Chronograph Arrives

As announced FIRST on ThePurists.com, JLC have finally launched their long awaited new chronograph movement.

To date, the Compressor series of watches has been an irrefutable sales success. Reaction to these latest watches, posted on ThePurists, has been very positive. Nonetheless, naturally there has also been a body of restrained posting over the last couple of years indicating a level of disquiet over their styling; an expected situation for challenging new themes. However, it seems that very negative feeling about this range is not represented in open forum but, strangely, is being unleashed in private e-mail. If I am but one of the recipients of this undercurrent of anti-Compressor e-mails, I would have to conclude there is a fair body of disappointment with these designs and the direction JLC is heading with this growing range.

For the sake of balancing the perceived view of the Compressor range (and others), getting this out in the open, out of my inbox and off my chest, here are some uncut (well mostly (!)) comments from the undercurrent of (predominantly unsolicited and sometimes anonymous) e-traffic I have about these watches:

"Did you see the new JLC 'flik flak'chronograph-world time-divers-cup of tea watch....brilliant how (JLC) can screw it up."

“The crescent windows of the various compressors, the useless '3 days aperture' for the date on the Compressor classic, and all the very good points you made on the AMVOX1 are perfect examples of this, which I regret deeply.“

"A disk as an hour counter.... WHY??? The last thing I want is a Joan Miro influenced watch, especially when Gaudi has had some influence.”

““It adds nothing to the design and makes an otherwise superb watch merely very good.”

“I was going to write something awful ............ Instead I am just muttering to myself and shaking my head.”

“The "flaws" of the current AMVOX1 are minor to fix, but make the difference between a "marketing" watch, and a serious watch from a serious manufacture.”

“Janek must be under house arrest, or in hiding”

“They undertake all the R&D for an integrated chrono, only to have a Miro (fan) design the face"

At least Alain Silberstein starts off with the understanding that the watch will not necessarily be functional, AND the colours are that much more entertaining"

"….only to wrongfully add some useless features..."

“Therefore, I believe the '3 normal crowns diver memovox' is technically very achievable while being more aesthetic“

"Once again, JLC prove that they cannot design a sports watch for love nor money....."

"....about AMVOX1. No, I won’t be buying one in case you wondered. A p!sspoor effort that watch"

“(The parachutist) probably forgot to open the chute as he was trying to figure out how long he had been descending”

“....without using any gimmick (compressor keys) of disgraceful appearance... “

“….fully regret that (the) new designs of JLC put form over function”

“The "Polaris" design should have been used for a dive watch“

“I had an argument over the design of (the feature) and was basically told, “Well, no-one really uses that function anyway…..” I begged to differ. I guess that says a lot about where they’re coming from now.......”

Why I'm a recipient of the ‘anti-mail’ is beyond me. I just wish people would post what they honestly think on the forum, or at least as comments here. I posted my personal reflections on the Compressor range here recently.

As for me and the new chrono? Well, I could just about live with the basic stainless version. Very interesting to see 'half keys' on the chrono buttons (as proposed in my Polaris re-issue spec) and that the tick marks are every 1/4 second in line with the vph. However, I'm afraid I have some qualms: just why is the first 15 minutes of the chrono and tachy track silvered? And the main hands obscure the counters as you can see in the photo just like the original Speedmaster (and why NASA had them modified). The choice of dark red on black is a legibility disaster…. At least it's a proper integrated chronograph movement with a vertical clutch....... so just like the Lemania 5100 in my Sinn 157! LOL

More classically inclined Purists will have to wait for the movement to appear elsewhere. We can't wait.