Omega Omega Takes the Lead in the Chronometry Race
With their new Spirate hairspring, Omega leaps at the top of the accuracy hierarchy. The system boasts a 0 to +2 seconds daily running rate, which is unheard of
Omega has built a ladder and keeps adding steps to climb it. The Biel brand is breathing new life into the chronometry race by establishing a new accuracy threshold. The new Speedmaster Super Racing has a movement fitted with a new silicon hairspring and a fine regulation system called Spirate (pronounced like rate). It allows the watch, with its movement encased that is, to be accurate within 0 to +2 seconds daily error. And the first question that springs to mind is : how good is that ?
Speedmaster SuperRacing © Omega
On a run-of-the-mill mechanical movement, the chronometer certificate awarded by the COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres) requires that a movement, not inside its case, be accurate to a rate of -3 to +5 seconds per day. Another way to call it is IT8 (Interval of Tolerance of 8 seconds). A great many brands achieve that result. One step higher than that, Omega uses another, more demanding certification called Master Chronometer. Developed with and awarded by METAS (an independent, state-governed metrology institute), it requires among other criteria that a watch, i.e. with encased movement, offer a 0 to +5 seconds per day rate. Last year, Longines launched an UltraChron model that reaches -2 to +2 s/d. This figure is clearly a reference to the internal certification Rolex has extended to the entirety of their massive production, called Superlative Chronometer. It stipulates that every single Rolex watch be accurate to this – 2 + 2 seconds per day level.
Omega will from now on best this offer by halving, no less, an already impressive achievement, thus placing itself at the top of the chronometry food-chain. At its most inaccurate, the Speedmaster Super Racing should run no more than one minute fast every month. That's a less than 1 in 50,000 error rate.
To be more specific, Spirate will be a part of Master Chronometer, since the latter is about more than just accuracy. But seeing how Omega has made this is daily bread, applying to its entire range, it's hard to imagine that Spirate will follow the same path.
The fact of the matter is that Spirate is not really made to work on any and all Omega movements. It's technical foundation is the hairspring's shape, whose end has a unique curve, which has always been a major chronometry solution. For a century and a half, inventing new ways to bend the end of a metallic hairspring has been a go-to solution for chronometric performance. It so happens that silicon, on top of its many other qualities, can also use these solutions, although in a much more restrictive way. Silicon doesn't bend, so it's impossible for a watchmaker to regulate an individual watch with this type of adjustment. Silicon is also brittle, so a watchmaker cannot choose its exact length and the point where it's fitted on the balance wheel. Spirate changes all that. Its hairspring has a unique, completely new outside appendix. It's connected to the balance bridge, where a regulating screw adjusts the hairsprings length according to individual measurements made by a watchmaker, painstakingly looking for optimal performance. Which is something silicon hairsprings did not offer to this day. So Spirate will indeed be reserved for high chronometry applications, but most likely not on all Omega's timepieces.
Speedmaster SuperRacing © Omega
Since Spirate has been first fitted inside a very race-oriented Speedmaster Super Racing, one can surmise that it will be reserved for sports applications for a while. The Super Racing looks like an existing Speedmaster, except for a handful of design details. A honeycomb dial. Yellow on black markings. A small seconds hand with diagonal yellow and black stripes as a nod to their first highly anti-magnetic piece. Launched ten years ago, it had paved the way for the introduction of Master Chronometer. As a whole, its caliber 9920 is a evolved version of the very well-known 9900 with Spirate plugged into it.
We've extensively discussed the matter of the public interest in chronometry here at Worldtempus. There's no certainty as to how buyers view it, rate it, understand it and prioritize it. The term « chronometer » is a reassuring one because it's been around for ages and it's a pillar of Swiss watchmaking. But the interest in anything beyond COSC's « certified chronometer » remains an open question. So Omega's pushing the issue in the open will certainly not move the watchmaking crowd to tears.
The reason why they've done it lies in entirely other domains. First of all, Omega has been in the watchmaking rat race for a long time, trying to establish themselves at its top in a lot of different ways. They've pushed the technical, commercial, cultural and even society angle. Secondly, the patents governing the use of silicon in watchmaking have recently fallen within the public domain. Anyone can now use it, provided they have the necessary means. But the original core of licensees of these patents, of which the Swatch Group, must now keep the technology alive on their own terms and start differentiating themselves. This is something Omega has already done, when they massively shifted to the use of the co-axial escapement back in 1999, thus positioning themselves as an innovator and moving upmarket.
But most important of all, Omega has a research culture, and chronometry is a crucial part of perceived performance. Running accuracy is at the heart of the watchmaking matter because it's the end result of a watch's entire ecosystem : development, materials, manufacturing, assembling, setting, even the way a piece is being worn. It's what the whole thing boils down to. And at the top of this pot still, Omega is now collecting a nearly pure nectar.
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.Find out more >
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