From the Pirouette to Non-Round Wheels...

Sep 24, 2009,09:38 AM

From the Pirouette to Non-Round Wheels,
the 13th Journée d’Etude of the Société Suisse de Chronométrie, the SSC.

This study day of the SSC, held the 16th of September at the Beauliex convention center in Lausanne, was dedicated to the theme “Complicated Watches, Technical and Esthetic Challenges”.  Also featured was a one-day exposition on the theme of Complicated Timepieces (lots of photos below)

As usual, with its 750 participants this study day attracted many from the Swiss watchmaking community and was an opportunity to talk with many ex-colleagues and renew old friendships around the coffee bars in the foyer.

At the sound of the gong we all headed for our seats in the conference room.

The conference included 9 presentations:

- We started out with the historical overview of complications with the goal of increasing the timekeeping precision of Mr.  Joseph Flores.  Including a panoply of complications such as the pirouette, which I had never heard of before, Mr. Flores continued through all the convolutions of tourbillon type systems and constant force mechanisms.  The pirouette is a very old complication used to increase the balance amplitude permanent contact type escapements.  As so often when reviewing the accomplishments of past generations one must come to the conclusion that even without today’s hi-tech and fast prototyping our great-great-grandfathers watchmakers were at least as ingenious as today’s engineers.

- Next we had an introduction to the new automatic Breitling chrono movement, the B01.  Starting with the design brief through to the finished movement and purpose built production facilities in La Chaux-de-Fonds Breitling aimed to make a high quality mass produced movement for their wathces.  Note that all Breitling movments are COSC certified.

- After a quick break for coffee and croissants Vacheron Constantin introduced us to the development and complications in their Qai de l’Isle watches.  These watches which were introduced for the 250th anniversary of the founding of their company include 16 complications in a from the size and weight still very wearable wrist watch.

- Who would have thought at the Basel Fair this spring that the development of the Concord Quantum Gravity watch which caused such a stir had been started just 6 moths before the fair?  The management techniques that allowed that fast development were described by Mr.  Bruno Constans of Concord.

Our mid-day meal was, as we must expect in Switzerland, a joy.  (sorry, I forgot completely to take pictures)  The appetizer, a salmon terrine with salad accompanied with a Swiss white wine from La Cote.  The main course, beaf ragout with steamed zucchini accompanied with a Swiss red wine, I think it was Valaisanne.  The desert, raisins soaked in grappa with vanilla ice-cream.  The coffee from La Semeuse (La Chaux-de-Fonds, supposedly the only coffee torrified at 1000m altitude) helped keep us awake for the following presentations.

- Christophe Claret and Alain Schiesser of Christophe Claret SA then walked us through the design and development of the Claret DualTow watch.  It was interesting to see how the design preceded from the first sketches to the final design to the finished watches and to hear the reasons behind some of the design decisions.

- I had been waiting all day for the next presentation, Prof. Pascal Winkler on the use of non-circular gearing in watchmaking.  You are going to tell me that that can never work, I know, but they do.  Take a look:

Or here:

Pascal took us on a short tour of the conditions needed to design such gearing with the occasional good natured poke of a good professor to make sure that his students aren’t sleeping after their mid-day meal.  Some of the designs he showed us were really amazing.  Mechanical designers have spent generations working on gear forms that provide perfectly constant speed in the transmission of energy.  This to make the hand movement perfectly regular in watches or to reduce vibrations and noise in car transmissions, for example.  Now this guy comes and shows us how to do the opposite.  You ask if this can have any useful value.  Well, yes, of course.  For example in linearizing the scales of depth gauges and altimeters the use of non-circular gears is standard procedure.

- Next came a presentation by Masatoshi Moteki of Seiko about the torque-return system on the new Spring Drive movements.  I had somehow expected a marketing blitz and was pleasantly surprised by a thoroughly technical explanation of how this system works and the ideas behind it.  I originally figured this “torque-return” system to be a clever marketing trick.  After learning how it works I have to say that it is a very clever if not somewhat complicated way to extend the autonomy of a watch without increasing its size.  As we all know the mainspring torque is much more than is necessary to run the watch during a large portion of the running time.  During this time the “torque-return” system funnels about 20% of the mainspring energy back into winding the mainspring through a self-winding system.  A clutch disables this winding system when the mainspring is partially wound down.  In this way a portion of the mainspring energy which normally is simply wasted in higher friction and shock losses in the escapement is fed back to the mainspring allowing the extension of the watches autonomy by about 7 hours without increasing the size of the mainspring and its barrel.  Very clever.

- After a small coffee break Mme. Elena Stefanova presented us with an overview of the history and present of clocks and watches and complications for women customers.  Over long portions of history timepieces were in the realm of extreme luxury only affordable to the highest notables of a country.  Of course a countries Queen could not be given short shrift.  Throughout history women such as Marie-Antoinette of France and Cathrine of Naples have been a driving force in complicated watches with their orders for watches from the best makers of the time.

- The last presentation gave us a look at the development by Vaucher Fleurier of the second watch from Maîteres du Temps, the Chapter 2.  This is a three hand watch with big date and the day and month on barrels at the top and bottom of the movement.  This presentation brought to light the esthetic and technical problems that were addressed in the development of this watch movement and case as well as the solutions that were found.

That finished up the presentations for the day, but there was still more to see.  Partnering with the Musée international d’horlogerie de La Chaux-de-Fonds (MIH), the Musée de l’horlogerie et de l’emaillerie de Genève and the Collection de l’Ecole Technique de la Vallée de Joux the SSC presented an one-day exposition on the theme of Complicated Timepieces for the participants of the SSC Journée d’Etude.  In the following some of the pieces that caught my eye.

Astronomic Table Clock by André Millenet, Genea 1712-1713
Indication of hours, minutes, seconds, date, week day, moon phase, day of the lunar month, day of the month , month and zodiac sign.
One of the first clocks with a seconds indication from the center.

Astronomic Watch, Peter Octavius Haagen, Hamburg, beginning of 18th century
The engraved silver dial shows the following indications:
The month and its length with the corresponding sign of the zodiac, the day, the moon phase and age, the day of the week and the hours.

Calendar Watch with Equation of Time, Courvoisier et Compagnie, La Chaux-de-Fonds ~1830
The white enamel dial shows the equation of time by a central hand in a sector of +- 16 minutes.  Small dials show the date and month.

Calendar Watch with Equation of Time, Moyse Allié, Geneva ~1790
White enamel dial with the indications hour, minute, second day, date and month

Movement for a watch with Equation of Time, Vuillemeir de la Reussille, Tramelan, ~1850

Above: Calendar Module, Courvoisier Jonais, La Chaux-de-Fonds,  ~1880
Module designed to be placed on the bridge side of a movement to have the indications of day, date and month on the reverse of the watch.  Correctors allow setting the indications.

Below: Perpetual Calendar Module (incomplete), Ulysse Huguenin, Le Locle ~1885
This QP was the object of a Swiss patent (nr. 8201) and was presented in the Journal Suisse d’horlogerie in 1883.  It comprises the indications day, date, month and moon phase.

Above: Watch with Date, Etienne Hubert, Amsterdam beginning of 18th century

Calendar Watch with small seconds. D. de la Roussille, Geneva, 1795-1796
Day, date, moon phase and small second.

The 4 following demonstration models were made by students at the Ecole Technique Vallée de Joux for the Swiss National Exhibition in 1939, note that these mechanisms all work.

Minute repeater mechanism scale 3:1

Chronograph mechanism scale 3:1

Tourbillon mechanism, scale 5:1

Perpetual Calendar mechanism, scale 3:1

Ink-Drop Chronograph, Rieussec, Paris 1822
The first mechanism for measuring short time intervals.  A drop of ink is placed in the inking lever and placed over the turning dial.  The 3 buttons allow for start, stop and reset to 0 of the minutes which are shown in a window.

Above: Quarter repeater with chronograph movement, Le Phare, Barbezat-Baillot, Le Locle, ~1900
Below: Chronograph Movement Ebauche, Anonym, end of 19th century

Above: Chronograoh watch with second “foudroyante” 1/5th of a second and seconds hand, without reset to zero. Hippolyte Perrenoud, Le Locle, ~1880
Below: Chronograph rattrapante with second “foudroyante” 1/4th of a second and minutes counter

Dead seconds movement, Antoine Tavan, Geneva, ~1825

Chronograph with seconds “foudroyante” 1/5th of a second
Jules Frédéric Jürgensen Le Locle, 1867

Dead Seconds Watch with Pouzait escapement,
Louis George, Berlin, ~1800
Large 4 armed balance with 1 second beat

Automatic winding watch, J.J.L. Brun Hilaire Bassereau, beginning of 19th century
With power reserve indication on the dial

Above: Automatic winding watch, Cabrier, London? Paris? ~1800
Below: Automatic Winding Watch, Henri Audemars, Bévilard, 1880-1890

Chonometer with Two Balances, Ecole d’horogerie de la Vallée de Joux, Jean-Marius Piguet, 1933
This movement with an 8 power reserve has a differential on the seconds axle which distributes the energy to two Swiss anchor escapements.
(this appears to me to be the movement that the stories have it provided the inspiration to Philippe Dufour to design his famous watch the Duality)

Watch with only one wheel, Pierre-François Gautrin, Paris, 1796-1797
This watch has only one wheel which supports the minute hand.  With a pirouette escapement.

Anonymous, Swiss? French? ~1840
Repeating movement with passing hours.

Quarter Repeater Squelette, Louis Duchene & Fils, Geneva, ~1825

Left: Musical Watch Movement, Anonymous, Swiss, ~1830
Quarter repeater with a disk musical mechanism with 23 notes driven from both sides of the pinned disk.
Right: Musical Watch Movement, Anonymous, Swiss, ~1830
Quarter repeater with a disk musical mechanism with 34 notes driven from the pinned cylinder.

Left: Quarter Repeating Watch with Automates, Anonymous, La Chaux-de-Fonds, ~1850
The automate smiths hammer on their anvil when the hours and quarters are sounded.
This watch belonged to Ami Girard who along with Frédéric Courvoisier was one of the principal instigators of the revolution of 1848 in Neuchâtel.

Left: Louis-Gabriel Calladon, Geneva, ~1880
Watch with Automate “Adam & Eve”, a snake turns around Adam & Eve in a window at 12 o’clock.

This message has been edited by DonCorson on 2009-09-24 09:39:34 This message has been edited by MTF on 2009-09-24 10:15:56 This message has been edited by foversta on 2009-09-27 10:30:49 This message has been edited by AnthonyTsai on 2009-09-27 20:34:16

More posts: Christophe ClaretDufourMIH

  login to reply

Comments: view entire thread


some fabulous and historic pieces there Don.

 By: G99 : September 24th, 2009-10:15
i especially like the huge balance wheel with 1 second beat. that would be something very special if it could be incorporated in a wristwatch. best Graham

The Pouzait escapements are a wonder...

 By: DonCorson : September 25th, 2009-11:00
that huge balance wheel turns so slowly, you'd figure it will stop at any moment, but it doesn't. I am not really a collecting soul, but I was sorely tempted by a Pouzait pocket watch once... if only it hadn't been twice my budget. Don

Great post Don, thanks for this! [nt]

 By: Tim Jackson : September 24th, 2009-15:09
No message body

Wonderful post DonC! [nt]

 By: DRMW : September 24th, 2009-15:22
No message body

What stunning pieces, thanks for showing us. [nt]

 By: Topcat30093 : September 26th, 2009-00:02
No message body

What I find striking...

 By: BDLJ : September 24th, 2009-17:35 the raw finish of these magnificent movements. It would seem the creators were more interested in the function than the appearance, which based on the amazing functions you've presented, seems the correct aspect to emphasise. The challenge was in t... 

Some are ebauches... not finished movements

 By: DonCorson : September 26th, 2009-00:37
Through the division of labour in the Swiss watch industry at the time different companies/people did the machining to make the parts and the "termination", finishing and making it work. Many of the movements shown are the ebauche produced by the machinis... 

Great report!

 By: Peter  : September 24th, 2009-19:09
Thks for sharing

The chronograph mechanism seem to have a hammer in it.

 By: Allen : September 24th, 2009-23:48
Wonderful and fascinating pieces. Are they shown in any museum regularly? I love the non-circular gearing. Just image what you can build with those in a watch that doesn't tell the time! Crazy hours that speed up and slow down depending on the time of day... 

The time pieces are all part...

 By: DonCorson : September 25th, 2009-11:05
of the collections of two museums where they are shown and the technical school in the Vallée de Joux. I do not know if the school collection is "visitable" or not. - Musée international d’horlogerie de La Chaux-de-Fonds (MIH) - Musée de l’horlogerie et d... 

Thanks Don.

 By: Allen : September 25th, 2009-22:01
It seems that the Musée de l’horlogerie et de l’emaillerie de Genève has been closed since the theft in 2007.

Really nice pocket watches. Thanks Don.

 By: ling5hk : September 25th, 2009-17:30
After looking at those watches, I am wondering what are most of the watch brands doing nowadays. Regards Ling

Amazing post, Don!

 By: dxboon : September 25th, 2009-22:27
Those are the most interesting gears I've ever seen. What odd shapes, but they do look like they seamlessly mesh together. I'll be curious to see what kinds of timepieces would utilize these eccentric gears. I particularly like the nautilus-shaped gear in... 

Thanks for the report Don

 By: SJX : September 26th, 2009-22:54
The non-round wheels are fascinating. - SJX

Amazing post Don . . . Thanks!!! [nt]

 By: Craig LA : September 27th, 2009-11:59
No message body