While most of us are oblivious to the magnetic fields that surround us each day, your mechanical watch isn't. Magnetism can wreak havoc with a watch's timekeeping performance, since key regulating components are crafted from metallic alloys that are resistant, but not completely invulnerable, to magnets. From refrigerator doors to audio speakers to laptop and tablet cases, magnets have become ubiquitous in modern life.
"In Japan, where there are many magnetic fields due to all the gadgets they have, we have heard that 80 percent of the watches coming in for after-sales service have a problem with magnetism," says Jean-Claude Monachon, Omega's vice president and head of product development.
Omega's new Seamaster Aqua Terra 15,000 Gauss ($6,500) is built to protect against the forces of magnetism, and disarms the power of magnetic fields exceeding 1.5 tesla (15,000 gauss), an unprecedented level that is expected to beat any competition in antimagnetic watches for some time.
Watchmakers have battled the effects of magnetism for decades. During the 1950s, Omega, Rolex and IWC emerged as pioneers in extreme antimagnetic watches. While watches are typically rated to about 80 gauss, Rolex's Milgauss, which debuted in 1956, contains a ferromagnetic alloy shield that, as the name implies, resists magnetic fields up to 1,000 gauss. Similarly, Omega's 1957 Railmaster handled levels up to 900 gauss thanks to a soft iron inner case-a construction also employed by IWC's antimagnetic Ingenieur collection. Surprisingly, this year's revamped and expanded Ingenieur range includes only one antimagnetic model, the 40 mm Automatic.
One obvious downside of the typical encasement approach is that you can no longer admire the movement mechanics through a sapphire case back. So Omega built its innovative Co-Axial Caliber 8508 movement using yet-unspecified non-ferrous materials, such as silicon. "Engineers had to rethink the movement so it is not magnetic," says Monachon, noting innovations from the way the wheels are put together to new materials and treatments of materials.
Omega plans to integrate its antimagnetic technology throughout its offerings. "No one realizes what role magnetism plays in everyday life," says Omega president Stephen Urquhart, who projects that antimagnetic features will become as common as water-resistance. "In five years time, people will say, ‘Of course watches are antimagnetic!' And not just to 50 gauss, but to the scope we are talking about."