Technology The ephemeral glory of high frequency
After a rapid-fire series of salutary innovations, the race for high frequency reached its peak in record time. What is now left of that headlong rush?
In 2012, a spate of announcements pushed one of the boundaries previously thought to have been cast in stone. After many years of being pegged at a maximum of 5 Hz, the frequency of mechanical movements was suddenly bursting at its seams. Launches by Audemars Piguet, Chopard, Breguet and TAG Heuer had put an end to the belief that no mechanical movements operating at more than 36,000 vibrations per hour would ever emerge. This magical frequency, a round number corresponding to tenth-of-a-second measurement, was Zenith’s stomping ground. Its El Primero movement had indeed long remained the only one to run at this speed, although the brand from Le Locle had been discreetly joined by Seiko and later by De Bethune.
In 2009, Audemars Piguet launched a 6 Hertz movement, albeit an extraordinarily costly one. This first move, characterised by extreme complexity, had broken the spell of silence in this field and was followed by Breguet which managed to dramatically up the ante with its 10-Hertz Type XXII chronograph. Chopard had opted for symbolic value with 8 Hz – the figure being a lucky number on the highly strategic Chinese market. These accelerations were all based on technical foundations relating to the use of escapement components made of silicon and thus less sensitive to friction. This material made it possible for the pallets and escape wheel to run at high speeds without being subject to wear and without depleting the power reserve.
As for TAG Heuer, it successively launched several Haute Horlogerie chronographs shattering existing frequency records: 50, 500, 1000 and even 2000 Hz. The only drawback was that these frequencies applied to the chronograph functions, and not to the running of the watch into which they were integrated. The latter, which is constant and not occasional as is the case with the measurement of short periods of time, remained stuck at the good old 4 Hz cadence. This same principle of separating the movement and the chronograph function is also at work in the Montblanc Timewalker Chronograph 100. Its chronograph function runs at 50 Hz, whereas the hours and minutes are measured at the rate of 2.5 Hz.
The dust has more or less settled and the prevailing status quo is that each of the three brands has occupied its own frequency. Chopard remains at 8 Hz. Its L.U.C 8HF operating at 57,600 vph has just evolved into a Power Control version clad in black ceramic instead of titanium and endowed with a power-reserve indicator. Meanwhile, Breguet has followed up on the 10 Hz technology of its Type XXII with a more classic watch – one of its star models. The Classique Chronométrie 7727 is as up to date as ever and represents a compendium of Breguet’s classic design codes along with its innovative capacities.
The situation has however reached a stalemate. The battle of figures attained summits so high that anyone superseding them will no longer be able to leverage this advance. Once you get past a certain altitude, such feats are simply lost in the clouds… Witness the MikroPendulumS by TAG Heuer, which did not make a particularly strong impact despite the fact that it is truly unique in its kind. This is in fact a 12 Hz tourbillon combined with a 50 Hz chronograph function, no less… And yet pushing the boundaries of physics, mechanics and the status quo is a powerful and timely driving force of which watchmaking is fundamentally in need… until that fatal tipping point where performance ends up proving itself to be self-defeating. In an ironic twist, the race to reduce movement thickness has just experienced a similar fate.
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