Posts tagged watch technology

Watches: A Case in Point

We talk a lot in our store about watch design, technology and calibers. In today’s world, everyone who loves a watch seems to care where it’s made, how it’s made, what powers the piece and more. One thing, however, that we don’t discuss as often is the watchcase, even though it is one of the most important design and functional elements of a watch.

After all, it is the case that determines the overall shape of the watch. It is the case that determines the look in terms of profile and appeal. It is the case — and the metal it is made of — that demonstrates our savvy high-tech or noble take on timepieces. And, it is the case that determines water resistance. In short, the case — whose job it is to protect the movement and sit nicely on the wrist — plays a very important role.

That said, not all cases are created equal. A watch case can be artful, thoughtful, simple and elegant. One case may be easier to machine and put together than another case. Cases can be milled from a single block of metal, or can have dozens of their own components.

A brief look at the history of the wristwatch case shows dramatic evolution. In the early years of the 20th century, when wristwatches first started making an appearance on the scene, most cases were round. By the first decade, round gave way to square and rectangular (witness the famed Cartier Tank). The Roaring Twenties yielded unusually shaped geometric cases and ergonomically curved cases. The 40s, 50s and 60s saw a blend of round, square, rectangular cases — all becoming more functional than elegant as we moved into the realm of dive watches, pilot watches and other sports-related timepieces. By the 1970s, the concept of creating a case had become a real work of art. Watch brands sculpted cases of gold and metal-smithing took a leading role. Many brands got incredibly flamboyant with shapes. Possibilities became limitless.

In addition to case shapes, heights and widths, material is key. Today, thanks to so many innovations in machining metal, and thanks to new high-tech materials, the concept of what the case is made of takes on new meaning. While the noble materials of platinum and gold are important, so, too, are stainless steel, titanium, aluminum, ceramic and other alloys.

Also playing a factor in the quality of a case is the attention paid to detail. For certain sports watches, starting a case from a single block of metal and keeping it as a single piece may render it more sturdy and rugged. However, top watch brands like to build complex cases with dozens of parts that demonstrate their abilities to produce a case worthy of the movement inside. Make no mistake, luxury multiple-part cases are no weaker than a solid block case. It all comes down to the gaskets, fittings and precision interplay of parts, screw-down case back and other small details.

Luxury watch brands also take the time to finish top-quality cases with stunning angels, bevels and lugs. In fact, all of these elements contribute to the identifiability of a case. True watch lovers can see a case (not a dial or movement) from across the room and know what brand it is. So the next time you are watch shopping — take time to inspect the entire package. Case made.

How Today's Watches Get Their Glow

The favored material used today to bring luminescence to the watch dial for easy night and underwater reading is Super-LumiNova - developed just about two decades ago in the early 1990s.

Super-LumiNova is non-radioactive and is a strontium aluminate substance created in a host of colors that enable the watch numerals, markers, hands and other dial accents to glow blue, green or even red-orange depending on the mixes used. Over the decades, the material has advanced thanks to a great deal of research and development, and the Super-LumiNova of the early 1990s has evolved into a new intensity that is at least double the strength of the early versions. Super-LumiNova can be as much as 10 times brighter than the previous zinc sulfide-based materials, and is applied in varying strengths.

After absorbing sufficient UV light, the phosphorescence glows in the dark for hours. The pigments, though, must be protected against contact with water or moisture, and so they are generally used only on dials (since they are protected by the crystal) and not on bezels. Super-LumiNova is the current market leader for luminous watch dials.

Why and When Should You Service Your Fine Watch?

Just like a good car, fine watches need maintenance. The extent of this service depends on the timepiece, its movement and its age. For instance, quartz watches generally don’t need a lot of maintenance. They typically need a battery replacement every two to three years, though some watch brands now offer quartz watches with a battery life of up to five years. The thing to remember about having your watch battery changed is to go to an authorized jeweler so you can be sure the store has the right battery and – better yet for water-resistant watches – the right gaskets for putting the watch back together after the battery change. Bad seals or gaskets can render your watch NON water-resistant.

Mechanical watches, much like automobiles, need regular servicing. The inner movements of the mechanical watch are lightly lubricated to reduce friction of the parts and ensure accuracy and reliability. Deterioration of the lubricants occurs over time and results in higher friction, increasing wear and tear and decreasing precision. A mechanical watch should be serviced every three to five years by a retailer authorized by a particular brand to work on that brand’s timepieces. (Certain extremely high-end, complicated luxury watches that utilize silicium or other high-tech materials in their movements to reduce friction need servicing less frequently.)

Servicing of a mechanical watch — especially a vintage or a complicated watch — is not just a simple oil change as it would be with a car. It is a thorough inspection wherein the watchmaker takes the case backs off of the watch, inspects the oils and lubricants and re-oils, if necessary. He or she also checks the gears, the teeth, the wheels and the crown. The crystal is inspected for scratches, and the case, as well. It is a complex process that takes time, precision and a meticulous eye.

Often, the retailer’s on-premise watchmakers have trained with the individual brands the store sells so that they are well versed on the brand’s movements. Sometimes these training sessions take place at U.S.-based service centers, and other times watchmakers travel to Switzerland for training. Utilizing an authorized retailer ensures not only proper parts and servicing, but also expert care. Additionally, sometimes the retailer will send the watch back to the brand if servicing is more complex. This requires time and owner patience.

Remember, letting a watch go too long without service can result in more expensive repair issues down the road.