I say this because unlike metal, silicon cannot be polished or decorated. You cannot engrave it by hand, nor can you place upon the surface of silicon a variety of decorative polishes. Traditionalists and purists can’t deny the clear performance benefits of silicon over metal, but they call into question its aesthetic limitations.
Moreover, many traditional watch makers are threatened, if not simply concerned about silicon because, as a material, it requires special technology to product and cut. While silicon is a very common material, it is the technology industry which has all the machines and tools necessary to cut it. Watch makers have little to no ability to produce silicon parts one at a time if a repair is needed, and would be at the mercy of large suppliers or the availability of the right software plans in order to produce new parts (assuming they have the necessary machines at their disposal).
Of course, much of this could change in the future as more special cutting and milling technology exists to cut silicon and, ideally, costs go down. Though, for now, the traditional watch industry is at the total mercy of the computer and technology industry to hand down the tools and techniques necessary to use silicon technology in traditional watchmaking applications.
With that said, if investment in silicon continues – as seems to be happening at major movement-making firms – some of these concerns could diminish in the future. Vaucher – with has powerful backing – is likely investing in serious silicon production environments which will allow for the material to be less elusive in its ability to be produced and experimented with. Already, brands like Rolex, Breguet, Ulysse Nardin, and Patek Philippe (among many others) are increasingly using silicon as a mainstay in more and more movements – even if the material’s application is only for small parts such as escapements and anchors.
Will there be a future of 100% silicon mechanical watch movements? I think we will see it some day. How it will change the landscape and beauty of mechanical watches is yet to be seen. Though, in this watch lover’s opinion… change is always good. This industry requires more disruption and more of the innovation that it claims to thrive on. Most deeply embedded minds and engineers in the watch industry all agree that the major innovations that will come in the next decade are in the form of both materials and the production and machining of those materials. The Parmigiani Senfine is just one of many manifestations of what is to come. A potential revolution, if successful (as I think it will be), will fundamentally change how we think about and categorize the art of mechanical watchmaking.
It requires a careful eye to inspect the actual operation of the complete Senfine regulation system in the Parmigiani Senfine concept watch on my wrist. At the bottom of the motherboard-style bridge with silicon components is the rapidly spinning silicon oscillator and, under it, you can view the silicon grasshopper escapement as well. It is almost too simple in its real-life execution, but it is part of the future now. I love it, even if I don’t know what it will fully translate into. If I were a collector, I’d very much want one of these Parmigiani Senfine concept watches. Not only does it look cool, but it has the rarity and effort behind it to really be worth something someday. Now I just keep thinking about what we will see from the ever-creative minds at Parmigiani in 2018 when, according to them, the Senfine will be more fully realized and available for sale. parmigiani.ch