We have commented before at Gizmag on how the luxury watch business can seem to the uninitiated to be an ever-spiraling vortex of pointlessness. Take the latest creation from TAG Heuer. A mechanical watch/chronograph that can time events to 1/2000th of a second. But why? Human reaction time makes it useless and crystal/electronic timers can provide even greater accuracy. For the “haute horologist” the achievement is its own reward, but there are practical spin-offs; TAG-Heuer has essentially re-invented the mechanism that’s been at the very core of mechanical watches for over 300 years.
The regulation of a conventional mechanical watch is performed by a balance wheel and a spiral-shaped torsion hairspring, a system invented by Christian Huygens in 1675. Over the centuries, every aspect of this regulating system has been modified and improved, but not essentially changed.
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The Huygens system, although very reliable and it has to be said, aesthetically beautiful, has its limits: accuracy, sensitivity to gravity and thermal expansion, and the virtual impossibility of ever reaching a frequency higher than 500 Hz.
Accurate to an unprecedented 5/10,000 or 1/2,000th of a second, the Mikrogirder is a completely new regulator system - a coupling beam/girder and excitatory beam/girder system working with a linear oscillator (versus a spiral shape in a classical hairspring) that vibrates at a very small angle, as opposed to a traditional watch, which vibrates at an angle of up to 320 degrees.
The advantages are numerous. In a classic spiral hairspring system, the effect of gravity due to mass is a dominant issue. With the Mikrogirder, the problem no longer exists. There is no loss of amplitude and the movement’s frequency can be modulated without overburdening the power supply. The result is a significant increase in precision (division of time) and performance (frequency accuracy and stability). The Mikrogirder energy performance will apparently enable future TAG Heuer chronographs to attain ultra-high frequencies never before possible. Ten patents are pending.
The statistics are interesting: 1,000 Hz = 1/2000 th = 5/10,000th of a second = 7,200,000 beats per hour. In comparison, a regular watch functions at 4 Hz, or only 28,800 beats per hour. The Mikrogirder is 250 times faster.
The Mikrogirder dual frequency system uses two independent chains to allow the watch to function normally with a reasonable power reserve and automatic winding. When using the chronograph however the second hand spins like a crazy thing and you only get about 4 minutes of operation before you need to manually rewind (you can see it operating in the launch video below).
This obsession with mechanical accuracy may seem strange but it makes perfect sense for TAG Heuer in terms of history and brand. It has famously been involved in the timing of sports events such as the Olympics and Formula One for many years and they are simply following a tradition of constant mechanical development.
For the moment, you can’t actually buy this watch; it’s a testbed and showcase for the brand and probably cost a ridiculous amount of money to create. Undoubtedly the technology will filter down to high-street TAG Heuer watches in due course.