Many parts make up the mechanism of a Watch Mechanical but cDo you subscribe to the spiral? What is its role in a watch? In this article, Team Charlie Paris presents you the spiral, a central part in a mechanical watch movement.
- Spiral of watch: What is the point?
- The origins of the watch spiral
- A spiral of watch that is a debate: metal spiral or silicon spiral?
1. Spiral of watch: What is the point?
The spiral is an important part of a mechanical watch movement. The spiral is used as a regulating body when combined with the pendulum. It acts as a spring for the pendulum and allows the pendulum to be brought back to the point of departure for each alternation. In other words, the spiral is used to beat the measure. By entering the detail, the spiral is compacted to balance the force sent, and then it relaxates to bring the pendulum back. It therefore allows the Mechanical watch To have real precision. The spiral is with the pendulum, which is called the resonator of the mechanical watch which is responsible for fixing, in the most stable way possible, a frequency of oscillation.
Physically, the spiral is a small spring wrapped in the horizontal plane in spiral, hence its name. The spiral is extremely thin, to give you an order of idea, it is less thick than a hair, its thickness is in the order of less than 0.03 mm and weighs less than 2mg. The spiral is often made of steel, but some watches are equipped with a silicon spiral. The spiral is an essential component of the watch and one of the most complicated to conceive because of its fineness, its fragility and its length.
Once assembled with a pendulum, the balance turns in one direction, then in the other, that is, it oscillates around its equilibrium position. If the spiral does so regularity, it produces a recurring phenomenon and becomes a count base that the gears transform into seconds, minutes, or hours. The spiral receives the energy produced within the watch and the caliber so that this energy translates into information.
2. The origins of the watch spiral
The spiral was invented in antiquity. For example, this form of spring was used for the closure of the fibulae, the ancestor of the safety pins. It is also found in the Serrures of the Middle Ages, and later to animate the spring-spring watch mechanisms.
Its use as a regulating organ of watch dates from the XVIIth century. Three men, including two renowned scientists, are fighting for the first application: the abbot of Hautefeuille, Christian Huygens and Robert Hooke. Around 1675, the Dutch physicist, mathematician and astronomer Christian Huygens invented the use of a spiral coil spring associated with an inertia steering wheel to regulate watches. Huygens proposed his first spring watch-spiral in the "Journal des Savans", he entrusted his realization to Isaac Thuret, one of the best watchmakers in Paris. However, when he wanted to register his discovery in parliament, Abbot Hautefeuille opposed it, explaining that he had thought about it before. For his part, Robert Hooke, also an astronomer and mathematician, made an identical proposal for the use of spring spring as a watch regulator. He then opposed Huygens to defend the authorship of the invention.
3. A spiral of watch that makes a debate: metal spiral or silicon spiral?
The spiral is a complex piece, complicated to make and few companies realize. To function properly, the spiral must retain its shape. However, with the sustained rhythm of oscillations that it undergoes, always finding the same shape is not obvious. As stated above, the spiral is made up of metal. This material is sensitive to magnetism and temperature variations, these elements change the shape of the spiral. In fact, the heat dilates the metal and the cold shrinks it. Thus, for the spiral to retain its original shape and to oscillate at the same frequency, it must resist oxidation, magnetism, and temperature variations. This requires the spiral to be elastic, flexible to deform and regain its shape. When the spiral is unable to recover its shape, the watchmakers work the metal of this piece, cutting it to give it back its original shape.
To answer this problem, the metal of the spiral is replaced with time by silicon, an essential component of the glass, and it is also found in the sand. The characteristic of the silicon spiral is always to keep its shape. Unlike a metal spiral, the silicon spiral is molded and made to the right shape from the start. Indeed, if the metal can be worked, cut to adjust the shape of the spiral, the silicon cannot be worked because it breaks. A silicon spiral is less sensitive to heat and therefore more precise and does not magnetise. The silicon spiral was first used in the horlogerie in 2001, for which the watchmaker Ludwig Oechslin has allied with the brand Ulysse Nardin. The research needed resources and three companies decided to fund it: Patek Philippe, The Swatch Group and Rolex. A patent on the use of the silicon spiral and the results have been filed by these groups. The latter were the only ones to have the right to exploit them. These silicon-related patents will fall into the public domain in 2022. So over the next few years, we're going to see the popularization of the silicon spiral in the mechanical watches.
However, this kind of spiral is a debate. Indeed, if the silicon spiral has technical advantages over a metal spiral, some actors in the watch production find that the silicon spiral runs counter to the original clock values. The silicon spiral meets the horological problems encountered with a metal spiral, it remains for some the fruit of chemist and technological skills, no watchmaker. With the silicon spiral one is in the search for performance and one moves away from the watchmaking by getting close to the High Tech. Unlike other sectors, state-of-the art technology does not have the same meaning in the world of watchmaking, as it sometimes seems to be contrary to the watchmaking tradition. In watchmaking, mechanical engineering refers to tradition, which explains why quartz was the enemy of mechanical clocks. However, there are disturbing similarities between quartz and silicon, for example, both of which provide a formidable precision. All these reasons feed into this debate and explain why the debate is continuing. This debate uses the definition of watchmaking and the limits fixed between watchmaking and new technologies.
What if the future of the spiral was carbon? In 2019, the LVMH group, via its Tag Heuer brand, presents an ultra-light carbon spiral. These carbon spirals are as good or better than silicon. Although expensive to produce, they are an alternative to silicon springs. This carbon spiral proposes a high elasticity, extremely low density, and a tensile strength 15 times greater than that of steel. In addition, this new type of spiral offers great resistance to magnetic fields and temperature variations. With this patented manufacture of carbon nanotubes composite, LVMH gets a hundred times more precision than in the production of classic silicon parts.
The world of watchmaking is changing over the years and technological advances. The spiral is an example that shows once again how far evolutions are possible by combining know-how, tradition and technique, sometimes leading to debate, especially at the border between watchmaking and new technologies.