Yesterday morning I had the pleasure to meet with Guy Semon, the Vice President Sciences & Engineering at TAG Heuer and you get a look –if you can see it flying around–at the prototype Mikrogirder, which measures 1/2000th of a second. Faster than a blink of an eye.
TAG has staked out a position as the experts in chronograph timing and they take this claim very seriously. A whole division of about 50 people, including Semon, is dedicated to research and development with the guiding principle being innovation.
Timing is in TAG Heuer’s blood. Edouard Heuer founded the company called Uhrenmanufaktur Heuer AG in 1860 and patented his first chronograph in 1882. The “Time of Trip”, the first dashboard chronograph for autos and aircraft, followed in 1911. Since that time TAG continued to be involved in timing devices for racing sports.
Sitting in the room with Semon is a real experience. Dispense with the dull PowerPoint presentations, Semon is going to give an interactive lecture (after all, he was a professor for three years). With pen in hand, he furiously draws diagrams on a standing easel explaining the theory of watchmaking –a crash course in materials and physics. I won’t go all techno on you but I want to let you know what TAG Heuer is doing because it’s pretty exciting. Honestly, I didn’t quite get how they are living up to their motto “Swiss Avant-Garde Since 1860″ until now.
Semon breaks down watchmaking into three easy pillars: energy, transmission and regulation. For hundreds of years all watchmakers have used the same architecture of a spiral for energy, gears for transmission and a hairspring for regulation. Questioning these very tenets, Semon strives to improve on all these pillars and comes up with new architectures to improve performance.
Instead of using normal gears, the V4 operates its transmission through belts, while the Mikrograph separates out the power source, transmission and regulation of the watch from the chronograph so it is a separate entity. This patented system allows the watch to work without an energy drain from the engagement of the chronograph because the two are separated. With all these wildly fast 1/100th of seconds flying around, how can you know how accurate the chrono is? That’s the question.
Semon’s answer is to go down a level to 1/1000th of a second for reference and that’s how the Mikrotimer was born. But here’s the kicker, after more than 600hz, the spiral frequency isn’t consistent any more. There’s only so much you can cut the balance spring down and shorten the oscillation swing to increase bph. Semon employs the vibration theory of Jean-Baptiste le Rond d’Alembert, an 18th century physicist, philosopher, mathematician and music theorist, to get around the roadblock. What does that mean to us mortals? Semon once again changes the architecture of the regulation to a straight line with the micro-blade or girder. In simplest terms, imagine putting a plastic knife on a table and flicking it—see how fast it vibrates—that’s the theory.
With this new system, Semon proves two things: you can use another kind of regulating system to regulate the time and also that it’s possible to go higher than 600hz with accuracy. What does this have to do with a watch company that sells most of its models in the $1-5k range? I wanted to know that too.
President and CEO of North America Ulrich Wohn chimed in. These innovations give the brand legitimacy as a timing company with easy-to-read designs that are accurate. It shows a company making breakthroughs and pushing the boundaries. Perhaps most important, TAG Heuer wants to demonstrate its chronographs are accurate. Right now anyone can say they’ve got a watch measuring miniscule parts of a second, but there’s no agency like COSC that can certify the claim. Any chronograph watch that is COSC certified is only referring to its timekeeping function without the chrono because engaging the chrono will throw off the watch from COSC standards (-4-+6).
TAG wants to change all that. They want to implement a vetting system similar to COSC that can validate a result. Right now their blazingly fast chronos are COSC for the timekeeping but Tag plans to show their accuracy with the chronographs too. Their dual system makes this huge leap forward possible.