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20 Years of Watchmaking - Watchmaking patents between protection and inspiration: Part 2

20 Years of Watchmaking Watchmaking patents between protection and inspiration: Part 2

While watchmakers repeatedly demonstrated ingenuity, the patent activity over the first two decades of the century increased in such proportions that their primary purpose for companies to serve their clientele with exclusive products also fostered an unprecedented level of creation at the industry level**

Patenting Invention – Ensuring Exclusivity and Brand Positioning

In order to support exclusivity and a unique selling proposition, watch brands secured key pillars and fields of differentiation through increased and sometimes fierce patenting activity. While some reinforced their legitimacy by communicating on the number of patents associated with their products, others protected theirs in a more discrete manner.

The amounts invested in the related fields of research, as well as the efforts and time required to mature such findings, prompted a desire to protect them by all means in order to secure a competitive advantage.

Watchmaking patents between protection and inspiration: Part 2

Calibre 58-05 of The limited edition Senator Chronometer Tourbillon © Glashütte Original

While some fields can be sufficiently defended over time by one or several patents, other domains require ongoing development activity leading to repeated filings. Among these, research in the field of timekeeping performance, referred to as chronometry; or in relation to sound-generating timepieces, are particular examples aiming toward a perfection that is never quite attained yet brought ever closer through continuous improvements.

Watchmaking patents between protection and inspiration: Part 2

The Silicon Titanium Tourbillon © De Bethune

The effect produced by chiming watches, e.g. a minute repeater or an alarm, can certainly be viewed as one of the most complex fields to master in this regard. The sound achieved and perceived depends on a wide variety of sometimes opposing factors. These range from the pure science of sound production (the excitation of a vibrating organ, transmission, reverberation and amplification depending on volume and the materials used); design constraints (size and geometry of the case, water-resistance, etc.); and the complex composition of the sound both produced and perceived (a highly subjective element that is very hard to anticipate) in terms of ring tone, tonal pitch and timbre.

Owing to the considerable budgets – generally in the order of a few millions – devoted to these studies and the time required to apply and mature their learnings, watchmakers have extensively protected this field.

Watchmaking patents between protection and inspiration: Part 2

InnoVision 2 © Ulysse Nardin

Patenting Invention- From Protecting to Inspiring

More generally, the relentless patent activity over the last 20 years in all watchmaking fields (from functions and effects to materials and processes) forced competitors to design around protected solutions, hence nurturing an equally buoyant creativity.

Since an exclusive protection over a given period of time is provided in exchange for an invention disclosure, reading these documents provides engineers with extended means to identify their limits, finding alternatives, often leading to newly protectable solutions, at a pace which evidently increases exponentially.

Watchmaking patents between protection and inspiration: Part 2

Lady Arpels Papillon Automate © Van Cleef & Arpels


While active patents need to be avoided, older ones often contain valuable ideas that may have been difficult to implement or produce at the time due to limitations in designing or manufacturing capabilities. Reconsidered in the light of recent technological advances, former ideas have in certain cases been revisited and augmented into successful products, and partly protected again, a trend which will undoubtedly continue in the future.

The limitless creativity and ingenuity developed in the first 20 years of the century gave rise to a whole new era of complications dressed as magical objects less intended to strictly provide time than to reinterpret it, change its meaning or simply use it to carry the owner away on a wave of nostalgic reminiscence.

Watchmaking patents between protection and inspiration: Part 2

Poker © Christophe Claret

Fanciful complications exhibited over this period demonstrate unleashed creativity ranging from nature-inspired animations depicting flora, fauna as well as enchanting astronomical phenomena; to successful attempts to reinterpret the meaning of time; right the way through to addition of playful functions.

Is there any more romantic manner to enjoy the passage of time than showcasing it along Mother Nature’s creations, controlling its course, enhancing it with vibrant visual effects or using it to animate a random sequence?

Watchmaking patents between protection and inspiration: Part 2

Charming Bird © Jaquet Droz

*On the occasion of GMT Magazine and WorldTempus' 20th anniversary, we have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years in watchmaking in The Millennium Watch Book, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English, with a 10% discount if you use the following code: WT2021.

** written by Sébastien Dordor

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