Hairsprings are miniscule. Typically no a couple of centimeter in general diameter when coiled, they’re roughly 50 microns thick and 150 microns extensive.
Tiny they could be, however insignificant they aren’t.
The truth is, they’re so vital that Rolex refers to them as “the guardians of time.”
The hairspring, which has lengthy performed a significant function within the accuracy of timekeeping, has come a great distance with varied technological advances over its lifetime. The newest in that lengthy line is the silicon hairspring.
Right here, I’m going to match the silicon hairspring with extra conventional hairsprings presently utilized in watches, discussing its future and whether or not silicon is an enchancment for at this time’s timekeepers. I gained’t be overlaying all manufacturers and sorts of silicon hairsprings right here; I’ll particularly reference Rolex springs.
Transient historical past of hairsprings
Metal hairsprings had been the primary on the scene, however they’d two drawbacks: the metal used was a ferrous metallic that’s simply and adversely affected by each magnetism and modifications in temperature. To compensate for this, the bi-metallic temperature compensation stability was invented.
When temperature rises, a metal hairspring expands in all dimensions, due to this fact reducing the speed of the watch (making it sluggish). However, in chilly climate the metal spring contracts, turning into smaller and growing the speed, or pace, of the watch.
To compensate for temperature modifications affecting the metal hairspring, the stability wheel was product of a metal band on the within overlaid with a brass band on the skin, leaving two cuts.
Brass shouldn’t be as adversely affected by temperature as metal, so the 2 metals labored collectively. With an increase in temperature, the reduce ends of the stability curled inward, making the watch run quicker and compensating for the spring making the watch run slower.
With decrease temperatures, the other was true: the reduce ends curled outward, thus compensating for the spring’s improve in price. With the introduction of this temperature-compensation stability, the impact in temperature change had been largely overcome.
However one hostile situation remained: magnetism.
Invar, Elinvar, and Nivarox
Across the flip of the 20 th century watchmakers had been launched to Invar and Elinvar, compounds comprising iron, nickel, and chromium that had been virtually impervious to modifications in temperature, possessing a near-zero thermal co-efficient and far much less affected by magnetism.
An additional enchancment arrived within the 1930s when the world was launched to Nivarox, a good higher compound based mostly off Invar however with added chromium and the brand new addition of cobalt, although nonetheless containing ferrous metals.
With the introduction of those new compounds, temperature compensation balances had been a factor of the previous. These new parts had been stronger, extra technically superior, put on resistant, corrosion resistant, and longer lasting – they had been higher in each manner than earlier hairsprings. A step in the precise path.
Additionally one vital level to notice is that you’ll learn loads of data on the web stating that Nivarox and Elinvar are non-magnetic, however this merely shouldn’t be true. Each compounds nonetheless include ferrous metals and are due to this fact nonetheless magnetic. Nevertheless, the impact of magnetism was considerably minimized on account of different compounds being added.
Nevertheless, the issue of magnetism nonetheless existed.
Rolex Parachrom hairspring
Within the 12 months 2000 Rolex launched the world to the Parachrom hairspring, a real technological development on the horological panorama.
The Parachrom hairspring is a Rolex-patented alloy of niobium, zirconium, and oxygen.
Rolex states on its web site that the Parachrom hairspring presents main benefits for precision timekeeping: it’s insensitive to magnetic fields, presents nice stability within the face of temperature variations, and stays as much as ten instances extra correct than a standard hairspring in case of shocks.
Let’s break this down.
Being insensitive to magnetic fields is improbable, an enormous step in the precise path for hairspring manufacturing, Rolex created a hairspring with out the presence of ferrous metals, thereby eliminating the magnetism downside.
Being secure throughout temperature variations is an efficient factor, however earlier supplies have achieved that simply effective so at this stage we are going to give attention to magnetism being the standout enchancment.
Claims of being “ten instances extra correct than a standard hairspring in case of shocks” is nice, however at this stage we’ve got no manner of verifying that with out Rolex displaying us take a look at outcomes. However what we are able to conclude is that the Parachrom hairspring is actually an awesome innovation, technologically superior, superior in each approach to earlier hairsprings, and may be maintained effectively into the long run. Nicely finished, Rolex.
So issues had been wanting up for the common-or-garden hairspring, however in 2014 every part modified once more.
Rolex Syloxi hairspring
Silicon hairsprings have been round loads longer than 2014: Ulysse Nardin was the primary to introduce this wonderful feat greater than ten years earlier than (see Looking Back On 10 Years Of Ulysse Nardin’s Pioneering InnoVision Technology).
Although Rolex was a part of the identical Swiss analysis group, it took the Genevan large just a little longer to get on board.
The Syloxi hairspring is a silicon and silicon-composite combine, designed to beat among the points confronted by a standard hairspring, and it’s presently being utilized in Caliber 2236, which made its debut in 2014 in a girls’ watch (see Always Expect The Unexpected: Rolex Surprises Yet Again With The Oyster Perpetual Datejust Pearlmaster 34).
Rolex explains: “Guaranteeing the oscillator’s regularity is considered one of watchmaking’s nice challenges. It could solely be achieved by minimizing the consequences of environmental disturbances that have an effect on the oscillator’s efficiency, notably temperature variations – which trigger supplies to broaden or contract – magnetic interference, gravity and shocks.”
The Syloxi hairspring makes most of the identical claims because the Parachrom spring: it’s ten instances extra correct when uncovered to shocks, impervious to magnetism, and presents larger stability when uncovered to temperature variations. Nevertheless, there’s a method it stands over and above the Parachrom: gravity.
Rolex has a provide you with a brand new manner for the Syloxi hairspring to develop into extra secure by altering the geometry to optimize the isochronism of the hairspring – which principally implies that the stability will preserve the identical time no matter amplitude.
Elements that have an effect on isochronism are the escapement, incorrect poising of stability and spring, play between the curb pins and the stability spring, centrifugal drive, and magnetic fields. The Syloxi spring attaches to the stability workers in a completely new manner, with out the necessity for a collet that has been pinned or glued, which boosts the flatness and concentricity of the spring. It attaches to the stability bridge by way of two mounted factors versus one on a standard or Parachrom hairspring, making it extra inflexible, flat, and centered.
So is silicon actually higher?
I conclude that silicon hairsprings are technically higher in each manner.
They’re higher timekeepers throughout, much less affected by exterior forces, and put on much less over time.
I’ve just one situation with silicon hairsprings: they require advanced and costly manufacturing strategies, making them restricted of their lifespan.
If a classic watch with a hairspring in determined want of restore or alternative involves a reliable watchmaker’s bench, it’s one thing that may be tackled. She or he might manipulate that spring or maybe reduce, pin, and time a brand new one from scratch, thereby respiration new life right into a traditional piece.
With silicon that presently isn’t attainable.
Nevertheless, fashionable manufacturing is turning into easier, cheaper, and extra accessible by the day. Maybe 3D printers able to printing new silicon stability springs in a matter of minutes will likely be commonplace in all watch restoration workshops in some foreseeable future?
Silicon hairsprings are the best way of the long run, although. Of that I’ve little question.
They do possess actual advantages for watches at this time. Shoppers demand extra from every part, together with watches, and the business is listening.
I used to be as soon as a skeptic of silicon parts, however having seen timekeeping outcomes first hand I do know they’re right here to remain.
* This text was first printed on February 15, 2018 at Is Silicon Here To Stay In (Rolex) Watch Movements?