BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
Mechanical and quartz movements are typically regarded as polar opposites. A number of hybrid machines show that the two can be odd – and effective – bedfellows.
If there is one thing horological purists disdain more than smartwatches, it’s the quartz watch, that battery-operated and easily mass-produced time-teller that almost destroyed the Swiss mechanical industry in the 1970s. So you can imagine our surprise when Piaget shows us its SIHH 2016 highlight ahead of time – and the new watch is regulated by, of all things, a quartz mechanism.
Housed in Piaget’s distinctive cushionshaped case, the Emperador Coussin XL 700P, by and large, features all the hallmarks of haute horlogerie: All bevelled bridges and satin-brushed wheels, the inverted movement bears a micro-rotor (at nine o’clock on the dial) that powers a mainspring, which in turn drives a regular mechanical going-train. But instead of a balance assembly and escapement at the end, there is a tiny generator wheel (visible at one o’clock) regulated by a quartz mechanism. Electrical currents generated by magnets mounted on a disc in the last gear of the train are used to charge the quartz mechanism, which comprises a quartz crystal and an integrated circuit.
The charge causes the crystal to vibrate at a frequency of 32,768Hz – the standard frequency of quartz movements. To close the feedback loop, the mechanism regulates the amount of electrical charge being fed back to the magnets, which in turn regulates the speed at which the generator wheel rotates, and hence the speed at which the hours and minutes hands advance. In short, the system performs everything a balance assembly and escapement does – only more efficiently and with greater precision, since no lubricants are needed in the regulating system (as in the case of non-silicon-based mechanical movements), nor is there a risk of batteries going flat (as in the case of quartz watches). According to Eric Klein, Piaget’s director of Movement Strategy, the 700P has a precision of - 1/+1 second a day. This easily surpasses the COSC standard for chronometers: a deviation of -4/+6 seconds a day.
It seems fi tting that Piaget would come up with such a high-performance hybrid calibre, given its strengths in both the mechanical and quartz realms. The company was one of 20 involved in the creation of Beta-21, one of the fi rst Swiss quartz movements to be introduced in 1969. A few years later, it created the Calibre 7P, its first in-house quartz movement and the thinnest (3.1mm) in the world then.
“The main objective of this project was to improve the accuracy of the mechanical watch,” says Franck Touzeau, Piaget’s watch marketing and creation director, adding: “This is the best of two worlds, and is a combination of all our know-how.”
Could the 700P fi nally lay to rest the highly contentious mechanical versus quartz debate? Advocates in the mechanical