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Omega - Mastering Magnetism

Omega Mastering Magnetism

The Bienne manufacture rarely ventures into such deep territory when it comes to haute horlogerie, but when it does…

When most people think of Omega, the first thing that comes to mind is likely the milestone Speedmaster collection, the first watch on the moon. Film buffs might immediately go to the association between Omega and the James Bond film franchise, thanks to the legendary secret agent’s on-screen fondness for the Omega Seamaster. Sports fans will have experienced Omega primarily through the brand’s sponsorship of the Olympic Games, and anyone who was around in the 1990s (and wasn’t living under a rock) would doubtlessly remember the ubiquitous My Choice advertising campaign that featured the biggest stars of the day wearing Omega timepieces.

Not many people think about Omega’s expertise in high-precision watchmaking or traditionally prestigious horological mechanisms, which is strange. It is especially strange when you consider the reputation of the Biennois company and their watches for reliability and performance. Reliability and performance are not qualities that can exist without a foundation of mechanical expertise.

Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon

De Ville Central Tourbillon Antimagnetic © Omega

The recent premiere of the De Ville Central Tourbillon, in a new anti-magnetic version, is not simply an example of Omega flexing their horological muscles. Here’s why the timepiece is a significant advancement for mechanical watches in general.

One of the most pervasive problems to affect mechanical watch chronometry is magnetism. Its most pernicious effects were felt by the hairspring, which is why the creation of hairspring alloys less susceptible to magnetism (first Elinvar in 1919, followed by Nivarox in the 1930s) was such an incredible advance in the chronometric performance of mechanical watches.

Magnetic fields are literally all around us today. In the home, the kitchen and living areas are hotbeds of electromagnetic activity, ranging from your television set and laptop charger to the magnetic seal that keeps your refrigerator door shut. The exponential rise of personal electronic devices contributes significantly to this as well. Mobile phones and tablets each generate their own electromagnetic fields, and some of them have sleeves and covers that utilise magnetic closures. I was once told by a watchmaker working in an after-sales and servicing department that an astounding percentage of watches became magnetised and required intervention after being in proximity with smart phones and tablets — simply placing your watch next to your phone while you work at your desk is enough to magnetise it. A recent news article reported that an e-cigarette placed in a shirt pocket was able to disrupt the operation of an implanted pacemaker. That means it’s definitely strong enough to affect your watch too.

Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon

Seamaster Aqua Terra >15,000 Gauss © Omega

In 2013, Omega announced that they had succeeded in shielding a watch movement from magnetic fields of over 15,000 gauss. The word “over” is important — 15,000 gauss was the maximum strength of the magnetic field that they could artificially induce and measure. In other words, the Seamaster Aqua Terra >15,000 Gauss, was able to resist magnetic fields beyond the ability of laboratory equipment to generate.

While the >15,000 Gauss technology has been progressively implemented in Omega’s entire collection over the years, it was not until this year that their De Ville Central Tourbillon received this extra system of protection, which is achieved largely through the use of amagnetic materials instead of traditional magnetic shielding.

A brief detour into the history of magnetic shielding — which applies not only to watchmaking, but all branches of mechanical engineering that underpin modern civilisation. Before amagnetic alloys were invented, sensitive machinery was protected by encasing them in soft iron shields. In the same way that a Faraday cage shielded sensitive machinery from electrical interference by providing preferential pathways for the current, the soft iron shields conducted magnetic fields away from the mechanisms they were protecting. Kind of like distracting your intern with cookies so he’s less likely to devour your chocolate stash.

Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon

De Ville Central Tourbillon Antimagnetic © Omega

Of course, encasing something in slabs of soft iron means that you can’t see it, and let me tell you, a dial-side central tourbillon that you can’t see makes for a total washout of a watch. Omega’s >15,000 Gauss technology, by using amagnetic materials that were completely unaffected by magnetic fields instead of using traditional shields, made it possible for an antimagnetic watch to have a visible movement for the very first time.

Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon

De Ville Central Tourbillon Antimagnetic © Omega

The central tourbillon of Omega is the perfect mechanism to demonstrate how well the brand’s antimagnetic technology works. It is completely visible through the dial, so you can see it all the time instead of having to take it off to examine it through the caseback. Also, despite what some people say, the tourbillon should not automatically be considered a mechanism for improving a watch’s chronometric performance. In a poorly regulated movement, a tourbillon mechanism actually exacerbates the errors in timing. Putting their antimagnetic technology into their tourbillon was the greatest test faced by this area of Omega’s watchmaking expertise, and (no surprise) they passed with exceptional results.

The Seamaster Aqua Terra >15,000 Gauss proved to us in 2013 that Omega had the knowledge and skill to permanently deflect the menace of magnetism from a utilitarian sports watch. Now, with the new De Ville Central Tourbillon, we see that even the most delicate of high watchmaking mechanisms are safe too.

Omega De Ville Central Tourbillon

De Ville Central Tourbillon Antimagnetic © Omega

 

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A company of the Swatch Group, OMEGA has been behind major revolutions in watchmaking technology and the timekeeping of numerous Olympic Games. Its watches are worn by world-famous celebrities and have travelled to the moon, the depths of the ocean and everywhere in between.

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