Posts tagged watch technology

What It Means When a Watch Is a Certified Chronometer

We often field the question, “What is a certified chronometer?” With summer here and extreme activities, such as flying and diving, often taking center stage, it is a good time to address the topic. First developed back in the 18th century — after decades upon decades of research and development — the ship’s chronometer provided a way for sailors and explorers to keep accurate time at sea and calculate longitude. These tools enabled modern sailing and exploration to flourish and, today, certain rugged wristwatches now achieve certified chronometer status.

Essentially, a chronometer wrist watch is a high-precision watch capable of displaying the seconds while housing a movement that has undergone stringent testing in different positions and at different temperatures. The watch is rated under laboratory conditions in a specified testing institute and is then certified as having passed those tests within certain ranges of accuracy and precision. Several chronometer testing institutes exist, but the most prestigious and well known for Swiss watchmaking is the Controle Officiale Suisse des Chronometres – or C.O.S.C.

Watches made in other countries sometimes have their own testing facilities (Germany has the Glashutte Observatory in Saxony; France has the Observatory at Besancon). Sometimes, advanced watch brands test in-house to even stricter standards than the COSC standards. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the COSC certification. There are three different COSC laboratory testing facilities in Switzerland: Biel/Bienne, Geneva, LeLocle. All of these organizations test the watches based on the same criteria.

The ISO 3159 standards, to which the COSC complies, require each piece to be tested for five to 15 days in five positions at several different temperatures. Measurements are made daily with the help of cameras and based on comparisons with two independent atomic clocks. Only those that have met the precision criteria are granted an official chronometer certificate. Among the list of requirements that must be met before the mechanical watch can be said to have passed: an average daily rate criteria of -4/+6 seconds; a mean variation in rate of 2 seconds; a thermal variation of + or – 0.6; and more.

Certified COSC chronometers are identified by a serial number that is engraved on the movement. They are proven to withstand a host of different outside influences that range from heat and water to pressure and durability — making them rugged, precise tools. Because of the rigorous and intense testing, only about 3 percent of all Swiss watches produced are COSC-certified chronometers. After all, it is not an easy feat.

Understanding the Three Most Popular Types of Watch Movements

In watchmaking, there are essentially three different types of movements, also called calibers. And, of late, there are also solar powered watches, but that is a different story. Here, we bring you a brief look at exactly what a watch movement is and how the three most common types differ.

Essentially, the watch movement consists of all the parts that power the watch, track the time, and provide the power for added functions. Some of the most complex mechanical watches with additional functions also have specialized modules built onto the base caliber. But we will stay with the essentials herein. There are two types of calibers that are totally mechanical and do not incorporate batteries: Automatic and Hand Wound.

Hand Wound Mechanical Movements

Essentially a hand-wound — also called manual-wind — is one in which the wearer must manually wind the watch via the crown. By winding the crown, the mainspring inside the watch is coiled tightly via a gear train that leads from crown to spring. As the spring slowly unwinds, it releases its energy, powering the watch. Of course, the system is much more complex than that. Inside the mechanics, a balance wheel and spiral work to keep energy released by the spring consistent and accurate. The key with this type of movement is that one must remember to wind the watch or the energy will deplete and the time indications will need to be manually reset before winding the watch again.

Automatic Movements

A mechanical watch with an automatic movement (also called a self-winding movement) works in a similar method. However, in this type of movement, a few additional parts come into play. Each caliber in an automatic movement is fitted with a rotor that moves when the wearer moves his or her wrist. That movement automatically powers the rotor (sometimes referred to as an oscillating weight), which winds the mainspring. The watch is powered as long as it is being worn, and the power in that watch will last – when taken off and sitting still in a box or on a dresser – for a designated time period. That time period is called “power reserve” and different watches are equipped with varying amounts of power reserve.

Quartz Movements

A quartz movement is not powered by mechanics, but instead by a battery. Quartz watches were first developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and came into true serial production in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Quartz watches use a tiny piece of low-frequency quartz crystal (silicon-dioxide) that is chemically etched into shape in an integrated circuit, and that serves as the oscillator. A nearby battery sends electricity to the quartz crystal through an electronic circuit. The quartz oscillator then vibrates quickly and with precise frequency (32,768 times/second) in response to the electronic charge. The circuit counts the vibrations and generates regular electric pulses of one per second to drive the motor that turns the hands. There is no need to turn the crown or set the watch after the first time. However, in quartz watches, the batteries will die and need to be replaced.

Have You Ever Wondered Why Jewels Are Used Inside Watches?

We have gotten a lot of questions from customers about why rubies are used inside watches as part of the watch movement, so we thought it was high-time we address the issue. Essentially, when a mechanical watch movement is said to have a certain number of jewels in its composition, those jewels are predominantly synthetic rubies created especially for watch movements and used as bearings to reduce friction.

Being strong and hard, they help to ease friction, and thereby, wear and tear amongst the mechanical parts. The advantages of jewel bearings include accuracy, small size and weight, predictable friction, good temperature stability, and the ability to operate over the course of decades, as they don’t break down.

These rubies are synthetically developed utilizing aluminum and chromium oxide that undergoes a series of heating, fusing and crystallizing processes. Because the material is mass-produced, it does not have the extremely high intrinsic value of natural rubies. The number of rubies used in a mechanical watch varies depending on the complexity of the movement. The more moving parts there are, the more rubies are used. A typical fully jeweled time-only watch has 17 jewels, but some watches can utilize many more.

Setting the minuscule rubies into the designated movement holes is a tedious task, done using tweezers and microscopes. When a mechanical watch offers a skeleton movement, or has a transparent sapphire caseback for viewing the movement, the rubies are an entrancing portion of the design. Today, some top luxury brands are utilizing silicium parts to reduce friction, as well as reduce the need for too-frequent servicing of watches.

Ceramic Watches Are All the Rage

Last week we posted an educational piece about what engineered ceramic is, its properties and features, and how it is being utilized in the watch world. Again, we want to reiterate that not all engineered ceramic for timepieces is created equal, and some brands that conduct a great deal of R&D into the field actually possess proprietary types of high-tech ceramic.

That said, we are proud to carry a good number of watches in our store that utilize high-tech ceramic for cases, bracelets or bezels. This is a very popular material these days. First borrowed from the aeronautic and aviation worlds, it has made its presence well known on the wrist thanks to its great durability, scratch resistance, ultra light weight and bold look.

Depending on the watch brand, ceramic can be utilized as an accent material on bezels, as a bracelet (sometimes intermingled with steel or titanium links), or as a case. While black was always the most prevalent color in ceramic, today, white ceramic and even a few colors — such as blue, red and yellow — make their appearance on the market. We invite you in to take a close look at our ceramic watches.

Here's an Insider's Look at How Engineered Ceramics Are Used in Watches

Easily one of the most misunderstood materials on the watch market, engineered ceramic is a high-tech material that is lightweight, durable, scratch proof and impervious to adverse weather and saltwater conditions. Neither a metal nor a polymer, engineered ceramics are a blend of oxides, carbides, nitrates and zirconium that come together to offer long-lasting elegance and hardness.

Used as bezel and bracelet accents in everything from fashion watch brands to luxury brands, engineered ceramics are not all created equal. There are a host of different qualities, and the watch prices range accordingly.

Top watch brands that put a great deal of effort into research and development often blend their ceramics with other materials — including carbon fiber and aluminum — to develop harder, stronger ceramic, and to create colors. Years ago, ceramic was just available in black, but today — although hard to find — there is red, yellow, blue and white.

The first engineered ceramic timepiece to appear in the watch world was from Rado, in 1986. But it took a long time to catch on. It has only been in the past decade — with a wild quest for high-tech materials — that ceramic has taken center stage. Before watches, ceramic was used in the space industry, aviation, auto racing and in medicine. Then, watch specialists figured out how to utilize the material that doesn't scratch and offers lightweight comfort for bracelets and bezels.

Essentially, ceramic watch parts are composed of a specially crafted blend of zirconium oxide and other materials. They are created using extreme heating processes in specially built kilns. After the heating, the material undergoes a subsequent cooling process. Finished ceramic can only be worked with specially made tools with diamond bits, and it is incredibly difficult to work. Thus, the creation of top-quality ceramic watchcases, bezels and bracelets remains exclusive.

Top engineered ceramics are a non-metallic substance that can withstand temperatures of 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. The material is incredibly durable, resistant to abrasion and hypo allergenic — making it a great choice for sport watches and dive watches.

While the fashion world also uses ceramic as accents, it is typically engineered to a different degree. Often, a fashion brand will utilize layers of ceramic on top of steel for bracelet links, instead of utilizing solid ceramic, in order to keep the costs down. Still, ceramic — no matter which quality — has an unbeatable luster that keeps a watch looking like new for decades. Check back this week, as we post a selection of some of our top ceramic watches, or stop in the store any time.

Zirconium dioxide ball bearings (photo by Lucasbosch) Zirconium oxide powder, photo courtesy of Rado.