Nikoloz K. from Moscow, Russia asks:
Dear aBlogtoWatch! (in fact i like aBlogtoRead more, but i guess it suits the content better)… What might be a reason that mechanical watches have not developed much, if any, in terms of replacing the balance wheel? There are numerous watch complications but the balance wheel escapement concept remains the same. I mean what could be harder to invent and produce then a minute repeater but still no replacement for balance wheel mechanism. Of course, not that I have something against balance wheel and hair spring movement concept but it would be fun to see many other escapement options. Seiko has invented Spring drive (that is quartz crystals oscillating) but it’s hardly noticeable in watch industry… Thank you.
One person on team aBlogtoWatch says: I think the reasons may be two-fold. One practical and one aesthetic. The main reason I can think of would be size. We know there are alternative regulating organs for timepieces, like large clock pendulums for example, but there is nothing that is comparably accurate within the space constraints of a wrist watch.
The balance and hairspring design is remarkably efficient for its size and easily adjusted compared to other systems that may be developed. Whilst there have been developments in the hairspring like the Breguet overcoil, silicon hair springs, or the latest design developments from Breguet, the overall concept has yet to be bettered.
It pays to bear in mind that for everyday wear the tolerances from mechanical watches (-4 +6 Chronometer, -3 +10 normal mechanical watches) are satisfactory and extreme levels of accuracy are not normally required for normal use.
Quartz has given us accuracy in a practical format, but many people feel it rather lacking in soul or technical mastery. Which leads on to my second point. There is something aesthetically pleasing about watching a hairspring breathing through a glass caseback. It shows the watch is not just a jumble of circuits and coils, but it has a life and beat of it’s own.
You may get a more accurate regulating organ in the form of quartz (or even hybrids like the Seiko Spring Drive), but you don’t get that blend of acceptable day-to-day accuracy and also the level of technical mastery and beauty that a hairspring and balance allows. Some brands have recognized this to such a degree that they have introduced one hertz models which show the beat of time perfectly and still maintain a high level of accuracy.
Another says: I agree with my colleague above and would like to reiterate that mechanical watches stopped being state-of-the-art over 50 years ago. Quartz is far more accurate so putting lots of money in to incremental improvements in mechanical movement technology wasn’t a priority for anyone in a long time. The biggest improvement in the last 100 years in mechanical watches is the Co-Axial escapement by George Daniels, but that still uses a traditional balance wheel. Today some brands like De Bethune and Omega produce totally silicon balance wheels, but overall the concept is the same. To preserve the “beating heart” of a mechanical watch this element is retained and tweaked as much as possible. It is a very clever system to be honest. For those who need quartz level accuracy, then they have tons of options available.
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