September 7, 2012 11:19 pm

Advances: Developments that embrace geometry and aerodynamics

Cartier's ID Two watch

Exposé: Cartier's ID Two features a transparent case

The quest for optimum efficiency is at the top of every designer’s brief these days, but it is usually associated with reducing the greenhouse gases and energy consumption of objects such as cars and domestic appliances.

Few people would imagine, however, that the traditional clockwork mechanism could be made much more efficient. It could be described as the nearest mankind has come to achieving perpetual motion, with its internal, spring-driven power supply which in the case of self-winding watches is constantly topped up by the movement of the wearer.

But brands such as Breguet, Patek Philippe, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Ulysse Nardin, to name but a few, have been working hard to incorporate new, lightweight, low resistance materials into their mechanisms to reduce friction, drag and energy consumption with the aim of enhancing accuracy and combating wear.

Earlier this year, the technicians at Cartier’s haute horlogerie laboratory in La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland, took things a big step further with the unveiling of a concept watch crammed with high-tech developments that address everything from the basic geometry of a mechanical movement to its “aerodynamic efficiency”.

The ID Two is (unsurprisingly) the sequel to the ID One concept piece shown at Geneva’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in 2009, which featured a niobium titanium case containing a lubrication-free movement designed to eliminate the need for the time consuming post-assembly adjustment that all conventional mechanical watches must undergo before leaving the factory. Bernard Fornas, Cartier’s chief executive, likened the advance to the car world’s switch from carburettors to fuel injection.

The ID Two incorporates some of the developments seen in its predecessor, but Cartier’s designers and engineers – led by Carole Forestier, head of “movement creation” – have introduced numerous other, groundbreaking features which serve to demonstrate the brand’s prowess as an important innovator in the business, despite it being only five years since Cartier began to conceive and make its own movements.

“ID” stands for innovation and development, and this second project bristles with the results of both. For a start, the entire case of the watch is transparent, having been made from a material called Ceramyst, a polycrystalline ceramic developed for the defence industry, and used, among other things, to make windshields for tanks as well as the bomb-resistant windows of the White House.

More remarkably, however, the inside of the 42mm case is devoid of air. On final assembly, the air is sucked out of the watch through a hole which is then sealed with the winding stem.

The result of creating the vacuum is that the typical energy losses caused by air friction within a normal case are reduced by 60 per cent. The treatment also means the back of the watch does not need screws or a thread to attach it – it is simply sucked into place, requiring the application of an 80kg force to remove it. Further sealing by gaskets “doped” with clay nanoparticles means the ID Two case should take up to a decade to return to standard atmospheric pressure.

The movement itself, meanwhile, features two winding barrels, each of which is equipped with a pair of springs made from glass microfibres rather than conventional steel, which allegedly produce greater power and deliver it in a more linear fashion.

The components of the movement, including the escapement, are made from materials such as titanium and carbon crystal, many of which are covered in “amorphous diamond-like carbon” (ADLC) which does not wear, is highly shock-resistant and requires no lubrication.

The result is a movement that uses half the energy of a conventional mechanism while boasting a power reserve of 32 days – making it comparable to the automotive world’s quest for combining greater fuel mileage with better performance through the development of more efficient engines.

At this stage, the ID Two is very much a concept watch, but Mr Fornas wants its technologies to be put to use in commercial pieces.

He says: “The technological solutions and creative gambles of Cartier ID Two will find their way into Cartier’s watches for 2020 and 2030.”

“This is not just a marketing gimmick – the position I have adopted is that these technological advances should be used in the watches we sell. We want to preserve tradition, but that does not mean we should be afraid to take things a step further. Concept watches such as this stimulate creativity and make the future real.”

Indeed, the first commercial piece to benefit from the advances made through ID One will go on sale about the time of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in January.

The Cartier Astrotourbillon Carbon Crystal will be produced in an edition of 50 and feature a case made from niobium-titanium, with tourbillon bridges and pallet and escapement wheels in carbon crystal – negating the need for the two latter to be lubricated.

The watch also features an unusual interpretation of the tourbillon concept, in which the carriage is incorporated into an off-centre, arrow-shaped balance wheel bridge that makes one revolution of the dial a minute while simultaneously serving as a seconds indicator.

The price of the watch has yet to be announced.

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