Since the first watch was created, watch makers have been striving to better their timepieces in terms of accuracy, durability and aesthetics. Watch manufacturers are forging ahead inventing exciting new materials. Many of these material innovations are targeted to eliminate friction without the use of oils and thereby obtaining greater accuracy in mechanical movement and simultaneously increasing durability and decreasing weight. Up till now the oils and lubricants are critical for reducing the friction of wheels. These oils and lubricants deteriorate with time requiring ongoing watch maintenance. Is there a material that is so friction free within itself that no oils or lubricants are necessary to maintain the accuracy of the timepiece?
Patek Phillipe has gained great ground in the progress of inventing an oil free watch in experimenting with the potential application of silicium in watchmaking techniques. During the past six years Patek Phillipe Advanced Research Department developed Silinvar - a patented substance derived from oxidising the constituents of pure silicium in a vacuum. From this material , Silinvar, Patek Phillipe has presented an escape wheel, a hairspring and an escapement which requires absolutely no oiling as well as eliminating long term servicing concerns, resistance to corrosion and magnetism and in addition improves the performance of the mechanical movement. Patek Phillip has utilized Silinvar in its Patek Philippe Ref. 5450 Annual Calendar watch. This platinum timepiece, produced in a limited series of 300, features an escape wheel, hairspring, and pallet fork in Silinvar which boasts a density 1/3 that of steel components.
Richard Mille agenda in developing a new material was to create an ultra lightweight watch that is expectationally resistant. The success was in the RM 009 which has Alusic for the case- a super light hybrid material- aluminium AS7G, silicium and carbon used for the production of ultra-light satellites, and another aluminium-lithium alloy for the tourbillon skeleton movement. The RM 009 weighs just over one ounce and is the worlds lightest mechanical watch ever produced as well as being extremely resistant.
Audemar Piguet has adopted carbon for its Royal Oak Offshore Alinghi Line as Carbon is both lightweight and shock resistant.
Jaeger-LeCoultre presented a watch that required no lubrication - the ExtremeLab Tourbillon. Jaeger-LeCoultre tested the amazing properties of its watch to a whole slew of witnesses to provide evidence for its claim. The watch was first subjected to extreme temperatures from -40 degrees Celsius to + 60 degrees Celsius. A quartz watch and another regular mechanical watch was used as a control. When these watches were removed from the test baths only one was working - you guesses it - the ExtremeLab Tourbillon. The success is not as a result of a simple new material but a collage of 13 different materials such as carbon, titanium, ceramic, magnesium, polyurethane, carbonitride Easium, silicium carbonitride, black crystalline diamond, platinum-iridium and Ticalium. The end result is a new calibre, the 988C. Jaeger-LeCoultre is definitely ahead in the game for the development of ultimate watch - a watch where time does not symbolize the nearing of the end, but merely the passage of time.
Some Watch Manufacturers have developed there very own materials that actually bear there name: Zenithium - A Zenith innovation. Zenith has every right to name a material after its company. 7% of all Zenith turnover was poured into years of research and development. The end result is Zenithium which is three times stronger than steel. The material is comprised of titanium for resistance, nobium for memory of shapes, and aluminium for lightweight. Zenith is not the only company to name a material after its company:
Hublot has created Hublonium. Hublonium which combines magnesium and aluminium creating a timepiece that is lightweight and durable. Its Mag Bang timepiece is the first timepiece ever to have a movement and case made of the same material.
These materials are incredible in innovation and functionality, but don't kiss the good old elements goodbye ... not just yet.
Traditional materials such as brass (copper and zinc), steel (iron and carbon) and nickel silver (copper, nickel and zinc) are still favored in watch productions. Many modern companies have attacked the use of these materials as old-fashioned; however, steel pinions and brass wheels still provide the best friction coefficient and so these two alloys remain crucial in modern watch production. In addition, these materials are familiar to watchmakers and watch repairers throughout the world, and there workbenches are laden with tools, oils and lubricants designed to service these old time materials. If these new materials flood the market will the watch makers know how to repair these pieces or are these pieces going to be so durable that no repair is needed?
These pieces are still very costly as the price incorporates the years of research and development as well as the specialized craftsmanship and materials required to manufacture a watch of this calibre.