In this post, I want to focus on two watches we’ve seen emerge in 2016. They’re different in a visual and practical sense, but they both extol the same philosophies and target the same goals. Their aim is to reduce friction and power consumption by redesigning the escapement from the ground up, and reducing its amplitude while maintaining a high operating speed in order to get more juice from the same squeeze. Additionally, neither one is available for sale just yet – the Dominique Renaud’s DR01 Twelve First watch one is a million dollar piece with the possibility to customise everything you see, while the Parmigiani Senfine is a high-concept watch whose progeny could become commercially viable by 2018.
The power source of a mechanical watch is the mainspring in its barrel. When a watch is wound, the mainspring coils tightly around the central post (the arbour) or the barrel. It is the torque generated by the mainspring’s impetus to uncoil that powers the watch. Were this power not prevented from being released, the watch could not hold its charge. It is the responsibility of the escapement to control the literal escapement of the power from the mainspring, and deliver it to the hands.
It is possible for watches to operate at different frequencies. The frequency of an escapement is measured by the amount of times it moves backwards and forwards (oscillates) every hour. Half an oscillation (either a backward or a forward motion in isolation) is called a vibration and is the unit used in the expression of operating speed. The slower the operating speed, the less power the movement uses. The faster the operating speed, the more accurate the watch can be due to the escapement’s ability to recover quickly from shocks or gravitational influence.
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They have both identified the amplitude (the amount of ‘distance’ travelled by the balance wheel during its forward and backward motions expressed in degrees) as an area where power can be conserved. A normal balance operates above 280 degrees of amplitude, but the Dominique Renaud moves just 30 degrees from rest, while the Senfine a stunning 16 (sixteen) degrees of movement.
Consequently, the Dominique Renaud DR01 Twelve First has a power reserve of around two weeks and an operating speed of 36,000vph. Amazingly, the Senfine boasts at least 30 days of wrist time before needing to be wound, and flutters away at a jaw-dropping 115,200vph.
With performance potential of this nature it is quite easy to see how these pieces could find an audience in the watch industry, and both, as forerunners in this field, will no doubt garner significant collector interest.
These pieces on the cusp of game-changing technology are rare and expensive, but they are also the truest embodiment of why we collect and adore luxury timepieces. They’re able to capture the imagination in ways previously thought impossible. And that’s why they’ll always be desired.
About the Author: Fell Jensen is a Swiss-trained watchmaker working as an industry analyst.