Does The Watch Industry Lose Its Soul By Applying Silicon?

The first time I saw a watch with a silicon component was in 2003. At that time, Rolf Schnyder, the then president of the Athenian watch (the helmsman of the revival of the fine watchmaking in Athens), brought a To the (now) collectors dinner hosted by The concept of applying silicon is very attractive. In retrospect, I think that silicon, as a fine watchmaking material, debuted in a revolutionary watch (Freak), and it is more exciting to make this concept. And not disturbing. However, it is Patek Philippe’s claim that silicon escape wheels, levers and hairsprings will be widely used in almost all timepiece products, which makes many people doubtful. When and under what circumstances is watchmaking a miracle of technology and no longer a tribute to craftsmanship? Or, can the two coexist in the same watch?

Athens Watch Freak Watch, 2001
   Silicon has become increasingly popular and has significantly changed what we think of from watches; without silicon, without LIGA (short for German lithography, electroforming and injection molding), many modern movement designs will not be able to Into reality. We have also witnessed the Rolex Chronergy escapement, which is not an isolated development. Silicon escapement wheels, balance springs and levers, and non-magnetic alloys are becoming the norm rather than the exception, and the watchmaking industry has begun a major shift towards high diamagnetism. Today, Patek Philippe, Rolex, Omega, Seiko, and even many high-end, low-end brands frequently use special materials and high-tech manufacturing methods. The breadth and depth of this brand goes back to the time when Athens released the Freak watch.

Omega Grand Prix Observatory with Caliber 8900/01
   Better diamagnetism, rate stability, and higher (to balance) energy transfer efficiency may be the three basic advantages of all high-tech materials and methods. No doubt these are all good for consumers. The diversity of watchmaking materials and methods means buyers have more choices. However, despite the benefits, I still find silicon a bit unacceptable, and I believe many other watch enthusiasts think so too. Is this a rational decision? I’m not entirely sure. If for some reason the production of silicon is outdated, or if an explosion brings humans back to the Stone Age (or at least the Iron Age), the replacement of silicon balance springs will certainly become difficult to achieve. But in addition to imagining such a post-apocalyptic scene, if it is said that no one can produce a silicon balance spring in 100 years, it is really difficult for people to take it seriously.

Omega Grand Prix Observatory with Caliber 8900/01
   For many of us, silicon is not eye-catching and unpleasant. However, in fact, Nivarox balance springs are also the result of high-tech industrial processes, and they certainly do not want to be easily replaced by an independent watchmaker sitting at the workbench in a future scene. At that time, making iron-nickel-beryllium balance springs was a thing of the past. Obviously, in the watchmaking industry, components that cannot be easily replaced by special materials, special methods, or both, will permanently turn the watch into a lifeless object; just ask anyone who wants to repair Is an Accutron watch? The point is not whether you can make an Accuron indexing wheel in principle, the problem is that it is not worth it.

Silicon escapement teeth, Dual Direct escapement
   By and large, watchmaking, as an industry, has been working for centuries to get ‘people’ out of an endless loop. Perhaps we can regard the birth of the American watchmaking industry as a real beginning; companies such as Waltham have taken advantage of milling machines (originally designed and invented by the US Federal Armory in the 1820s) to build watchmaking factories with an annual output of 500,000. Debugging balance springs (responding to temperature changes), inventing and manufacturing synthetic ruby ​​technology, developing and manufacturing different grades of synthetic oil technology, and many other technological advances mean that a modern watch-even the so-called ‘hand-made’-all Thanks in large part to the technical industrial process, it has little to do with the cheerful ideas of watchmakers in front of the workbench. If the emergence of silicon is just another chapter in the long history of watchmaking, the industry is trying to repeat the production of precision watches on a certain scale. Why does it make many of us resist?

Parmigiani Senfine concept watch with 70-day power reserve
   The only answer I can think of is that mechanical watchmaking has a unique appeal because it is based on nature-conservative techniques to create nature-conservative objects. The most practical technical solutions are not necessarily the most needed. For different reasons, we all want to get different things from watches, but what is really important for many people is that watches have some intangible ability that can emotionally connect us with watchmaking traditions.

Parmigiani Senfine concept watch with 70-day power reserve
   When it comes to silicon, it’s hard not to miss microprocessors, quartz resonators, and other nasty, modern, soulless things. Nivarox has been around for decades, and Nivarox balance springs may also be high-tech products, but at least, they are still metal. Although I don’t want to admit it, I have a purely irrational preference for Rolex Parachrom hairsprings compared to silicon hairsprings. Yes, it’s irrational, because niobium-zirconium alloys don’t seem to be made entirely by hand.

Grand Seiko Hi Beat
   I was really scared to hear that Patek Philippe planned to siliconize all the balance springs (except for some specific advanced complication watches). Would the wearer mind if the Grand Seiko watch was equipped with a skeleton escapement made of LIGA? After all, when I fell in love with a watch, none of these things existed. Perhaps the development of mechanical watchmaking has been stagnant since the 1960s. Or you can really just accept it silently, no matter what the industry looked like when you first became interested in watches.

Updated: 25. December 2013 — 23:07
Watches Classic Companion