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Technology at The Heart of Watchmaking Improvements

Technology at The Heart of Watchmaking Improvements

TAG Heuer recently released its third-generation luxury Connected smartwatch — a higher-resolution screen, ceramic bezel and mechanical buttons give it a refined look. The modular case construction was sidestepped in favour of a traditional “one-piece” case design.

New sensors measure health vitals in tandem with TAG Heuer’s new fitness tracking App while the Connected Wear OS provides connectivity to mobile phones. Despite the glamour, it still tells time at the heart of it.

Time is ageless — an underlying concept that existence is based on. Men have studied and measured time from centuries before. Shadow clocks of ancient Babylonian ancestry circa 1500 BCE were the earliest known tool that measured time. Today, time telling tools are an excellent embodiment of technological advancement.

Who would have thought a humble bronze fixture would evolve to watches of today?

The advancement of technology has contributed to this rapid development. Time telling was not the only area that benefited humankind; the discovery of aviation, harnessing of solar energy and splitting of atoms are examples our forefathers never knew would exist. In more ways than one, technology has helped us grasp the intangible concepts and infinite passages of time.

Layer Work
Whether one’s watch is mechanical or quartz enabled, layers of gears work harmoniously to ensure every passing second is recorded with each tick. Watch construction blueprints were once hand drawn, every component dimension had to be precise down to the millimetre.

Even so, accuracy was not guaranteed. The introduction of AutoCAD in 1982 changed the game for watch designs. Three dimensional renderings were accurate and showed how cams, gears and levers would interact with each other as an added bonus.

The Right Material
The advancement of material science was another aspect that greatly benefited the development of horological alloys both inside and outside watches. Stainless steel, a de rigueur of modern day watch making was not available during the heydays of horology.

Improvements to materials enabled better timepieces to be crafted — ceramic cases had the strength of steel but the weight of titanium, synthetic sapphire crystal is virtually scratch proof compared to glass or plastics and silicon components improved chronometric reliability and performance.

Over the course of horological history, two inventions revolutionised the industry thanks to technology. Seiko unveiled its present to the world on Christmas Day 1969 — the Seiko Astron 35SQ comprising capacitors, circuitries, a battery and a quartz crystal oscillator.

It was the world’s first quartz timepiece that forever altered the course of watchmaking. Numerous applications spawned forth from the small mechanism.  Such is the significance of the quartz mechanism that not only did it revolutionise the watch industry but the world as well.

Smartwatches were the next game changer. LCD screens display vitals reading from sensors while microprocessors allowed contactless payments and provided connectivity to mobile phones. Yet it was considered a reluctant revolution before this boom.

Smartwatches came in waves over the years, niche toys for tech-geeks making big splashes before fading — Microsoft’s SPOT in 2003 and the Pebble watch in 2013 are examples.

Apple changed that in 2015 with its smartwatch, the Apple Watch. It became cool to wear a smartwatch with its sleek and minimal design — it was a hit and the Cupertino firm had figures to back the craze. Tim Cook famously boasted that Apple had surpassed Rolex as the world’s top watch producer in revenue in just two years, reaching annual sales of $6 billion.

Revitalised by the renewed interest and profitable potential of smartwatches, companies started producing them by the masses. Luxury watch brands TAG Heuer, Montblanc and Frédérique Constant
followed suit with their own versions.

It remains to be seen what the future holds for watches. Right now, it seems the possibilities are endless.

This story first appeared in the May ’20 issue of Men’s Folio Singapore.