Super Accurate Watches
From the Print Edition:
Laurence Fishburne, May/June 2013
Few of us measure in 1/1000s of a second. That kind of distinction—much faster than a blink of an eye—is usually the purview of scientists, race car drivers and photographers. But now a subset of watch innovation is putting millisecond precision on the wrists of consumers—provided they can afford the tariff for super accuracy.
Actually, mechanical movements can be twice as precise. The TAG Heuer Mikrogirder concept chronograph captured the Aiguille d’Or grand prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, the watchmaking industry’s annual achievement awards, last fall at 1/2000th of a second. The watch is still in concept stage, but that’s how TAG’s Mikrotimer Flying 1000, a 1/1000th-second watch, began in 2011, and 10 pieces were subsequently sold at $120,000. Expect the Mikrogirder to be released in very limited numbers at an even more precious price this year. It will join the MikrotourbillonS (shown above), which is billed as the world’s fastest tourbillon and the first paired with a 1/100th-of-a-second chronograph. The $250,000 special-order employs one tourbillon operating at 4 Hz for time telling and a second tourbillon running at 50 Hz to control the 1/100th-of-a-second chronograph, first debuted in 2011’s Heuer Carrera Mikrograph 1/100th. The latter watch is still available for the comparative bargain price of $50,000.
Such precision is a function of frequency in the vibration of a watch’s balance wheel. Think of a vibration as a single swing in one direction—a semi-oscillation—or the tick in tick tock. Frequency is measured in Hertz (Hz), which is the number of full oscillations per second, as well as in vibrations per hour (vph). Mechanical wristwatches typically run at 28,800 vph, or 4 Hz, and track to an eighth of a second. In 2012, Montblanc’s TimeWriter II Chronograph Bi-Fréquence 1000 ($306,000), defied the mathematical formulas with an intricate mechanism that allows for the measurement of 1/1000th of a second with a 50 Hz regulator. TAG’s Mikrogirder operates at the comparative supersonic speed of 1000 Hz, or 7.2 million vph, akin to Formula 1 cars—not suited for mass production or consumption. Still, the brand is determined to break barriers in this specialty to make a powerful differentiating statement. “We have to find a strong way to improve technology—not as a demonstration but mainly to provide added value to our customers,” says Guy Semon, vice president of research and development. “There’s nobody playing in this division.”
Even affordable, already precise quartz watches have entered the hyper-speed fray. Last year’s Bulova Precisionist Chronograph ($799), achieves 1/1000th-second timing precision over a 12-hour period, while remaining accurate to within 10 seconds per year. The chronograph builds off the company’s Precisionist technology, a proprietary three-prong quartz crystal with a quartz vibration frequency of 262,144 Hz, eight times greater than the conventional two-prong crystal.
Nevermind that you likely can’t press the chronograph buttons that fast, showing off a watch that measures 1/1000th of a second is the horological equivalent of playing your Les Paul on an amplifier that goes to 11.
Visit tagheuer.com, montblanc.com and bulova.com.
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