Watchmaking storytelling:Silicon, the greatest innovation in watchmaking?
It is the second element most common in Nature, after oxygen. It forms almost 30% of Earth’s crustal plate weight. It is commonly used in bricks production, in solar panels and in microelectronics. Since a decade, it is the frontier of innovation also in watchmaking. For hairsprings and wheels.
We are talking about silicon.
This element has the following interesting properties:
- Very hard (silicon: 1100 Vickers; steel: 700 Vickers; ruby: 2000 Vickers; diamond: 3000 Vickers)
- Light (specific weight of silicon: = 2,33 g/cm3; steel = 8 g/cm3; gold = 19 g/cm3)
- Corrosion resistant
- Completely smooth on its surface, so as to avoid the use of any lubricant
- Workable through new techniques that allow to produce perfectly identical parts even in the smallest sizes
- Even though it is hard, is flexible when with microstructures similar to glass fiber.
All of them are fundamental properties for watchmaking, always searching for usury reduction and stable motion of the balance wheel. For this reason, many Swiss Manufactures are experimenting silicon use in their calibers.
Breguet introduced silicon within its high frequency chronographs’ and chronometers’ escapement. In the Type XX, XXI, XXII family’s calibers, Breguet used balance wheel in silicon with timing screws and balance spring in silicon. This is the first and only series-made mechanical chronograph movement with a silicon escapement and balance spring whose frequency has been raised to 10 Hertz (i.e. 72,000 vibrations per hour). Silicon is at the heart of this technical exploit, resulting in more lightweight mobile components and the avoidance of the lubrication problems generated by high frequencies. Silicon is used also in the newest Breguet’s innovation, the Classique Chronométrie 7727 10 Hz: hairspring, balance wheel and escapement wheel are all made in silicon in order to tolerate the magnetic field needed to sustain the balance wheel.
Starting from 2005, Patek Philippe gradually introduced Silicon in all the “beating heart’s” components of a caliber: escapement wheel and anchor (Pulsomax), hairspring (Spiromax) and balance wheel (GyromaxSi) are made of Silinvar, obtained through silicon oxidation. The group of those three components is called “Oscillomax” and counts 17 patents for the Maison. The Oscillomax was introduced for the first time on the ref. 5550P, a perpetual calendar that shares the same platinum case of the ref. 5140P.
Last born is the Syloxi hairspring by Rolex, made within Rolex laboratories with a silicon and silicon oxide composite (hence the name Syloxi), whose thermo-compensating and non-magnetic properties allow the Syloxi hairspring to maintain its high precision when subjected to temperature fluctuations and magnetic fields. The Syloxi hairspring was introduced in 2014 on calibre 2236, the first of a new generation of movements for Rolex women’s watches. This new calibre offers exceptional chronometric performance for a ladies’ watch movement, thanks to the Syloxi hairspring and other technical enhancements.