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Mechanical light - Electrophobia

Mechanical light Electrophobia

A look at new approaches that shed light on traditional mechanical watches

Unlike the tourbillon, the automatic winding system or constant force mechanisms, electricity was not “invented”, since it occurs naturally. Numerous scientists, however, have helped us to harness its power for various applications, from the humble light bulb to detecting gravitational waves.
We owe the supreme simplicity of the incandescent light bulb to inventor Thomas Edison, who was responsible for a number of devices that reshaped the world. Whereas the incandescent light bulb produced its light from heat, advances in the use of electroluminescence, where the light is produced by passing an electrical current through a material, produced the technology that allowed me to light up my digital watch at the touch of a button when I was a child.

But in the tradition-rich watchmaking valleys of Switzerland, the very presence of the prefix “electro” in front of anything gets heads shaking vigorously. Engineers in these parts like to set themselves ever more daunting challenges and in the case of traditional, mechanical watchmaking, one of the more recent of these has been to generate light without recourse to the easy option of a battery.

In the case of the HYT H4 Alinghi and Metropolis models the preferred option was a miniature dynamo (hidden between 4 and 5 o’clock) that can be wound up using a separate crown. Once the dynamo is “charged”, pushing on the crown lights up two small LEDs that are hidden beneath what HYT calls the “rider tab” – the section bearing the oversized 6 that hides the real heart of every HYT watch: the meeting point between the two bellows and the capillary that, respectively, power and indicate the hours in the brand’s unique fluidic display. In the H4 Metropolis, a limited edition of 100 pieces, the light is blue, while in the limited edition of 25 H4 Alinghi models, it is a white LED that illuminates the red fluid in the capillary.


SuperLuminova is so passé…
Van Cleef took an altogether different approach for its Midnight Lumineuse model. The watch took several years to develop but the final version was validated by the brand just two days before this year’s SIHH. “We wanted to create a truly mechanical light,” Denis Giguet explained to WorldTempus, “without using any electronics – not even to conduct the electricity.” The result is a system that uses piezo-electric blades, which are set in motion by pressing on a push-button. The energy is accumulated simply from pressing the pushbutton and is used to excite the bi-metallic piezo-electric blades to produce electricity that is conducted to LED diodes along gold threads covered with mother-of-pearl.


The added difficulty in this case is that the intention was to illuminate diamonds, which by their very nature reflect light in many different directions off their facets (it’s what gives them their appealing sparkle, after all). Van Cleef & Arpels are considering filing a patent for this application, which at the moment remains at the concept stage, with the Midnight Lumineuse unlikely to be commercialized in the near future. “The first phase was to generate the power,” explains Denis Giguet. “Now we have miniaturized the technology and we can use it. But this is just the start and we are looking at a number of ways to use it”.

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