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Thread: Thoughts on Non-Traditional Materials

  1. #1

    Thoughts on Non-Traditional Materials

    I posted this on one of the other forums, but I'm curious to hear the thoughts of the folks here.

    During my visit to Patek's U.S. headquarters last December, one of the watchmakers mentioned that Patek is moving to include silicon parts in all of its watches over the next few years. (For the non-American English speakers, silicon=silicium.) The silicon parts in question are the escapement and pallet fork. Apparently, the silicon pallet fork can be made to such high precision and accuracy that it does not need to be adjusted, thus eliminating the pallet stones. Watchmakers would no longer need to make adjustments, saving time and improving the accuracy of the watch.

    I'm a bit torn on the use of such parts in watches, especially those which have such a high degree of hand finishing. Mechanical watches are such an anachronism in themselves that it seems odd to use high tech silicon materials to eliminate a portion of human interaction in the assembly with the watch. Why not just move to quartz or an entirely robotic assembled watch like the Swatch Sistem51?

    In other words, if the point of a hand-finished, hand assembled watch is to keep true to traditions, then why "modernize" certain parts of the watch that eliminate those attributes? Once formed, silicon parts are not and cannot be decorated in the same manner as metal parts.

    The use of such parts seems almost hypocritical to me in a truly hand-finished watch. That said, I'm all for the use of new manufacturing techniques to create interesting movements that are not otherwise capable of being made by hand. For example, G-P's crazy butterfly silicon thingamajig is really cool and is an interesting contribution to modern horology. But that is used in what I would consider a hybrid design merging modern materials and designs in a mechanical timepiece.

    The question I pose to you is whether such modern materials that eliminate traditional parts and watchmaker involvement (assembly, decoration, etc.) have a place in traditional watches? Or should they be relegated for use in a new class of modern hybrid movements?

  2. #2
    I don't see any issue there, it's still assembled by a craftsman, will probably run better which will please the buyer of the watch more than hearing some guy had to make some minor adjustments to make it run well. I'm sure the same sort of worry was expressed over the adoption of synthetic jewels over hand selected, hand worked natural ones.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Lexvil View Post
    I don't see any issue there, it's still assembled by a craftsman, will probably run better which will please the buyer of the watch more than hearing some guy had to make some minor adjustments to make it run well. I'm sure the same sort of worry was expressed over the adoption of synthetic jewels over hand selected, hand worked natural ones.
    But with synthetic jewels vs. natural jewels, there is no difference in visual appearance of the movement. Similarly, the use of advanced metal allows does not change the appearance and still allows for hand finishing of the parts.

    In contrast, when the balance wheel, pallet fork and stones are substituted with silicon parts, there are several key differences. First, the parts themselves cannot be hand-finished and therefore do not match the rest of the hand-finished bits and pieces. Second, the parts are industrial or semiconductor-like in appearance, making it look like the watch has bionic parts.

    Here are a few photos of Patek's silicon bits alone and installed within a movement.

    pulsomax+escapement.jpg

    patek+gyromaxsi+balance+wheel.jpg

    patek_5550P_mvt_detail_lg.jpg


    For brands where the prestige and premium pricing is often argued based on the hand-finishing of its parts, replacement of key parts with those that cannot be finished by hand seems to be a contradiction.

    Patek originally introduced these parts in a watch referred to as the Advanced Research Concept. Now they are seeking to include these concept parts in all of their watches.

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  5. #4
    I think those look pretty good, you can barely see the pallet jewels anyway, the balance looks interesting but where is the hairspring?

  6. #5
    The hairspring is completely covered up by the balance bridge. That is also a silicon part.

  7. #6
    I'd say it depends on the watch. If it was a completely wild avant garde design or a unusual case material, I like the use of non traditional materials. But to me it would seem very out of place on a traditional dress watch or a conservative looking watch.


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  8. #7
    The Dude Abides Nokie's Avatar
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    If I was able to preform that kind of craftsmanship in building watches, I would always be looking for the most advanced components I could access to make the product the best I could.
    "Either He's Dead, Or My Watch Has Stopped....."
    Groucho Marx

  9. Likes Lexvil, Little Big Feather, Upstate, CFR, Chase liked this post
  10. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Nokie View Post
    If I was able to preform that kind of craftsmanship in building watches, I would always be looking for the most advanced components I could access to make the product the best I could.
    This...

  11. #9
    I have no issues with them using modern materials, if it allows them to make a better mechnical timepiece, why not?

    There's only that much one can improve on with traditional materials and methods, without innovation this hobby would go the way of the dodo.

  12. #10
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    It is their job to identify ways to increase profitability. Developing parts that reduce labor and future labor/parts replacement costs under warranty do just that.

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