Nanotechnology - a whole new world for horology or the new quartz threat?  0 Comments


Recently I attended a most interesting seminar conducted by the Sincere Watch Academy and delivered by Prof Nico de Rooji of University of Neuchatel. A thoroughly enjoyable presentation where I learnt how new nanotechnologies are being used developed new materials for use in watch making. A comprehensive report is found here - Unlocking the Silicium Code about how the development and how Silicium has been used in Ulysee Nardin and Patek timepieces.

Uniquely, the silicium parts are manufactured in similar process as would be silicon chips in wafer fab processes. At the presentation, Prof de Rooji showed us images of three silicium parts - the pallet fork, the hairspring and the balance wheel. The attraction of these materials is its performance under different conditions. In almost every situation it performs better than the current materials. It is quite clear that the cost of using these materials is still quite expensive today but it is expected to become widespread and cheaper as it can be manufactured in great volumes as well as providing greater tolerances and ultimately higher accuracy.

While I am excited by how new technologies is bringing new designs and providing alternatives to the watch industry, the issue for me - as I always have questioned this issue - do we truly need the added accuracy from new materials?
Is the watch industry driven to innovation for innovation sake instead of asking collectors what they really want? Has the watch industry embraced the nanotech materials without realising its potential threat?

I realise that silicium as it stands today is nothing like the quartz movement. But watch out - a fully nano machined watch is not too far away (pun intended!). Watch houses have to be aware that the new nanotech materials and soon in the near future, nano machines can bring about another dramatic challenge to the mechanical watch industry and it may not survive another challenge.

Why would I say that? History will show that within a short time of the advent of the full quartz movement, many watch brands could not survive the challenge from cheaper and more accurate electronic timepieces. Those that did survive had stuck to its guns to keep manufacturing quality mechanical parts and movements.

Nonotechnology and nano materials is much more insidious in that it is now creeping into the mechanical movements. If their use become widespread, many of the old materials and methods used for traditional mechanical movements may risk disappearing altogether. With the potential risk of disappearance of the art of mechanical parts and dependence on new material and processes, bit by bit the romance of hand made watch disappears.

I am in favour of developing new technologies to improve our lives. However, watch brands must understand the psyche of the collector. Mechanical masterpieces are considered as masterpieces because they are hand made and assembled by master watchmakers. They may not be perfect but they are built and put together with rare skills.

If the Swiss watchmaking industry makes the serious error of replacing expensive skilled labour with cheaper parts and manufacturing processes, no marketing in the world can bring back the lost romance.



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  • This is a personal blog of Harry SK Tan on all things pertaining to Horology - from watch collecting, horolography, news and developments from all over the world particularly Singapore.
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Horolography - noun, the art of photographing timepieces

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