Product development: Perfect precision in a traditional case

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This year a series of new watches was released on to the market that have advanced timekeeping technology in mechanical watches.

Two very different companies, TAG Heuer and Jaeger-LeCoultre have released state-of-the-art chronographs, driving forward development in their timepieces.

TAG Heuer is already famous for its chronographs and was looking to improve a movement it knows well.

Its Calibre 360 aimed to be a new chronograph that would offer ultimate precision, timekeeping to for motor racing enthusiasts.

“Creating a watch and chronograph that can time to such accuracy is a huge challenge,” says TAG Heuer’s head of design, Stephane Linder.

“Let me give you an analogy. This is like asking a sprinter and a marathon runner to combine disciplines and still expecting them to perform.”

The problem for TAG Heuer was that in order to create a chronograph running this fast, it would have to run 10 times faster than anything else on the market.

“That’s fine,” says Linder, “but it would be vibrating so fast that it would drain all the energy from the watch and it would need rewinding every two hours.”

He explains: “We realised that the solution was obvious; we had to separate the two functions, the chronograph and watch and make two separate hearts.

“For the chronograph, we miniaturised the balance wheel to reach a frequency of 360,000 vibrations a minute, which enables 1/100th of a second accuracy. The watch has its own balance wheel, with 28,800 frequency, as we needed low energy consumption and endurance.”

Because the chronograph would drain a lot of energy TAG Heuer had to make independent sources of energy: a conventional automatic winding movement for the watch main spring and manual winding for the second mainspring, driving the chronograph.

Because of this, the watch functions normally and the chronograph can work for two hours, more than enough for short timekeeping.

To integrate two different movements into one watch was a huge technical challenge for the engineers.

After they had worked out a solution, they created prototypes to test their theories, followed by a final prototype in which all the parts were integrated and tested.

TAG Heuer finished with a product that boasted a new patent, and a single crown to rewind the chronograph in one direction, the watch in the other.

Jaeger-LeCoultre has a tradition of building everything from A-Z and from scratch.

Jerome Lambert, chief executive, recalls: “We wanted to manufacture a state-of-the-art chronograph embodying all the latest technical developments: vertical coupling for better precision, long power reserve and ceramic balls for the automatic.”

There hadn’t been a new chronograph movement launched on the market since 2000 because of the problems associated with building them.

The chronograph is a very dynamic function, which exposes the watch and movement to very high demands.

Jaeger-LeCoultre set two teams to work on the project, which included a movement engineer, designer and case engineer.

The brief was to include all the new technical developments in the movement, meet the required aesthetics of the company and build a case that could withstand vertical shocks.

“We looked at what already works in industry,” continues Mr Lambert.

“The best system was a pneumatic one, as in cars, and the problem with the pneumatic system is that cars use oil and water which cannot be put into a watch.”

Oil and water would eventually leak, and the developers needed to find a system that was water-resistant, and to ensure the air would remain inside when the watch was compressed.

Team 1 developed a system that compressed the air inside the watch, spreading out the summit of the shock, over a longer period while a spring would push the case back up after the impact.

Once a solution had been found, prototypes were created, with all members of the team working in close proximity of each other, ensuring that when all the tests have been mastered all the parts work together.

After all the tests Jaeger-LeCoultre boasted a new chronograph, the Master Compressor Extreme World Chronograph.

“This is how high watchmaking will exist in the future, not repeating itself but looking forward, integrating the latest technologies,” continues Mr Lambert.

“This is the second age, when technology is used behind the scenes. We have 50 people working in technical development, so it’s a huge investment. Last year, we registered eight patents, this year six, next year probably seven or eight.”

So what does the future hold? “Well in a couple of months, Team 2 are due to present their new watch,” continues Mr Lambert.

Meanwhile, TAG Heuer is already starting to test the feasibility of yet another revolutionary mechanical movement.

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