From tower clocks to wristwatches, the history of timekeeping over the past four hundred years is essentially the story of the progressive miniaturisation of the mechanical movement that runs timepieces. Advancement in technology over the centuries enabled watchmakers to gradually reduce the size of the components that go into the making of the watch. Smaller parts consume less energy, thus increasing the efficiency of the watch and consequently the accuracy of its timekeeping. However, as watches have gotten smaller and smaller, the engineers and innovators have expectedly hit a wall. Conventional technology cannot miniaturise the components any more, and hence cannot reduce the energy consumption or improve the accuracy of the mechanical watch.
It was a challenge that the two Swiss watchmakers Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey, who founded the respected boutique firm in 2004 that bears their name and is known for its brilliant innovations, took head-on. Last year Greubel Forsey revealed that it is experimenting with nanotechnology to create a super efficient watch with a 180-day power reserve movement. They were planning to do this by developing a complication powered by what is called a `foudroyant jumping seconds’ mechanism that uses nano components that can be seen only under a powerful microscope. Foudroyant is a French word meaning ‘striking as with lightning’, and a foudroyant jumping seconds hand is one that makes one rotation every second around the face of a watch to indicate the fractions of a second. The work is an offshoot of Greubel Forsey’s EWT (Experimental Watch Technology) Laboratory’s 10-year effort to push the boundaries of mechanical watch making.
The company has now unveiled the concept which has been named Nano Foudroyante EWT. Compared to a traditional foudroyant jumping seconds mechanism, the Greubel Forsey Nano Foudroyante EWT consumes 1,800 times less energy and occupies 96 per cent less space. The truly original and innovative foudroyant jumping seconds mechanism makes the best use of energy and available space in the mechanical movement.
The next step, of course, would be to convert this radically new technology concept into a working watch. Going by Greubel Forsey’s decade long history of innovations, it won’t be long before we see a mechanical watch with a 180-day power reserve.