Innovations - Ron DeCorte
"Innovations" - Ron DeCorte
The Patek Philippe Advanced Research department has been diligently researching the possibilities of introducing new materials and components to the serious business of mechanical watches. There is no escaping the wide range of modern materials or the vast possibilities they represent. Ignoring these potentials would be folly considering we live in the 21st century. In retrospect we can look back to transportation such as trains, motorcars, and airplanes to see the impact that modern materials have brought to their advancement.

Patek Philippe is not alone in their innovative dedication to advanced technology. However they prefer to move ahead with the same steadfast dedication, no matter the time and resources required, which has made the name Patek Philippe synonymous with excellence.
The first innovation from the Patek Philippe Advanced Research department was the Silinvar® escape wheel in 2005 that is based on the material Silica. Silinvar®, developed by CSEM in Neuchatel, Switzerland in an exclusive collaboration with Patek Philippe, Rolex and Swatch Group, has very unique properties such as extreme hardness that reduces wear and also the need for lubrication, it is anti-magnetic, and is extremely light. But possibly the most interesting and practical advantage of Silinvar® is its ability to be manufactured using “Deep Reactive Ion Etching’ or DRIE. It is DRIE that brings new possibilities in terms of accuracy to Silinvar® components, up to five times the accuracy when compared to conventionally manufactured steel components.
Silinvar® escape wheel
2006 brought the introduction of the Spiromax® hairspring, another Silinvar® component. Spiromax® brings a new dimension to the art of hairsprings. Besides the important fact that it is totally non-metallic, and hence non-magnetic, the entire spring could be manufactured as a whole component using DRIE. Gone are the tedious tasks of pinning, forming, and adjusting each and every hairspring since each Spiromax® hairspring is exactly the same. And possibly more important was the ability to form a unique, and patented, terminal curve at the outer end of the spring (seen here as a bit of a bulge). It is the terminal curve and its shape that deceptively gives Spiromax® the ability to perform equally well at all power levels provided by the main spring. Spiromax® hairsprings have also been designed to compensate for the thermal expansion of the Gyromax® balance wheel. In brief, as the balance wheel expands with increased temperature, the Spiromax® becomes less flexible which enables a complimentary result maintaining a regular frequency of the oscillator. A very calculated and critical marriage of technology that would not be possible without the technology of Silinvar® and DRIE.
Manufacturing Silinvar® components to exacting standards was the highlight of 2008 when Patek Philippe introduced their new pallet fork; the final component of Pulsomax®, “The Trilogy”, as I like to call it, was complete. The precision of DRIE manufacturing shed new light on the age-old problem of proper pallet fork geometry. Ruby pallets stones are no longer required as to the hardness and greatly reduced friction of Silinvar®. Lubrication of the pallet and escape wheel, a considerable disadvantage of conventional lever escapements, is now obsolete. Subtle, but very important geometric forms can now be incorporated within the pallet fork as never before in order to improve its interaction with the escape wheel resulting in greater efficiency and accuracy.
Patek Philippe Caliber 324
Since 2005, Silinvar® components have been incorporated into several specific limited editions of Patek Philippe watches. Patek Philippe is progressively introducing Silinvar® innovations to current production, for example Spiromax®, to the line of watches that use Caliber 324 movements. This encompasses the broad spectrum of Patek Philippe men’s watches including Nautilus, Aquanaut, Calatrava and Annual Calendar models.
Not surprisingly the Patek Philippe Advanced Research department has not been sitting idle. Bringing new innovations to time keeps minds sharp and ideas fresh. One of these sharp, fresh ideas concerns the balance wheel, another integral component of the regulating mechanism. The idea for a new balance wheel design might look quite radical at first glance but there is good reason behind this development.
The Shape of Things to Come
Radial Oscillation
“Balance Wheel” is a fitting description for a wheel that oscillates radially on a singular axls and must be perfectly balanced if it is to accomplish its duty with perfection as demanded in a mechanical watch.

Silinvar® is used to construct the skeleton of this new development while a new idea is introduced to place as much inertia (effective mass) to the outer perimeter of the wheel via a gold alloy that is incorporated with Silinvar® during the manufacturing process. The idea is to keep the balance wheel carriage (skeleton) as light as possible while placing the weight at the extreme perimeter that increases the effective mass while in oscillation. After all, it is the effective mass of the balance wheel married with the consistent elastic properties of the hairspring that result in the most important aspect of precision mechanical time keeping.
Knowing full well that every mechanical mechanism is comprised of multitude components, adjustment of time is necessary. The new Patek Philippe balance wheel in development takes this into consideration via a dual set of timing weights (red) that are diametrically opposed at the exterior of the Silinvar® skeleton. These weights are the same that have been used in the patented Gyromax® balance for many years. A simple turn in one direction or another brings timing to perfection within fractions of a second per day. The road to the future of precision time is becoming wider due to advanced technology.
Final timing
The Circle and The Spiral
Pulsomax® and Spiromax® have brought forth a new frontier in materials and geometry to precision watchmaking. Modern materials such as Silinvar®, and its manufacturing methods DRIE, have helped to open these new vistas.

However the age-old struggle of controlling an oscillating balance wheel with a spiral hairspring might be the most difficult quandary in watchmaking and not to be ignored. At Patek Philippe these new challenges are being embraced with steadfast dedication and tempered by the idea that everything takes time…