Baselworld 2011 Friday, May 6th 2011
At TAG Heuer, a concept watch must break new ground in technology and make commercial sense. The Mikrotimer Flying 1000, which Guy Sémon, head of R&D, unveiled at this year's Baselworld, ticks both boxes.
Guy Sémon, head of the TAG Heuer R&D © TAG Heuer
A former test pilot for the French air force, then a lecturer in physics and mathematics at Besançon University, and later a consultant with proven expertise in helicopter, missile and fighter plane flight simulation, Guy Sémon joined TAG Heuer three years ago to set up the Research & Development unit, which now employs 45 specialists from watchmakers to engineers. "Five years ago, I didn't know the first thing about watches!" he explains. "But I'm convinced we've invented no more than 10% of what it's possible to achieve with a mechanical watch. This is an extraordinary blank page for an engineer, who can work on an entire product rather than just individual components, as they would in aeronautics, for example."
A long line of innovations
Guy Sémon draws on his experience to approach watch mechanics with an engineer's eye. "I see a watch as a set of systems with functions. I'm not talking about complications. I take existing technologies developed in other cutting-edge industries and apply them to watches. I didn't invent high or very high frequency any more than I did solid lubrication, yet both these technologies are exactly suited to horological micromechanics."
Which is how Guy Sémon got the project for the now famous V4 up and running. This concept watch's V-shaped "engine" is driven by belts rather than gears. Next out of the bag, at last year's Baselworld, was the Pendulum whose regulating organ replaces the balance spring with the magnetic field of magnets on the rotor and stator. This breakthrough was followed a few months later by the Heuer Carrera Mikrograph 1/100 Second, the first integrated column-wheel wrist mechanical chronograph with a foudroyante central hand displaying 1/100th of a second.
3.6 million beats/hour
Now TAG Heuer has pushed the concept of the Mikrograph even further, and came to Baselworld with the Mikrotimer Flying 1000: the first mechanical chronograph to measure 1/1000th of a second! "We've kept the same principle of a dual chain or two assortments, one for the watch and one for the chronograph, in an integrated movement," Guy Sémon explains. "Eliminating the clutch increases the chronograph's precision. We upped the frequency of the Mikrograph chrono to 50 Hz or 360,000 beats/hour by reducing the diameter of the balance, and therefore inertia, hardening the balance spring and incorporating a launcher system. For the Mikrotimer, we've optimised the rigidity of the Elinvar balance spring and made it shorter. We've also removed the balance wheel while keeping the launcher system. The anchor/escape wheel transmission is by impulse which prevents slippage and does away with the pallets. The aim was to achieve frequency of 500 Hz or 3.6 million beats/hour, and for the chronograph hand to make 10 rotations of the dial per second to display 1/1000th of a second. We have 11 patents pending for this movement."
Nor is this art for art's sake. Says Guy Sémon: "TAG Heuer develops its concept watches as industrially viable products; they foreshadow a product which has its place on the market. Yes, they break new technological ground but they also add up commercially. The Mikrotimer takes us to a new standard, that of 1/1000th of a second accuracy for a mechanical watch. There is logic behind all this. Remember that TAG stands for Technologie d'Avant-Garde, avant-garde technology. With this watch, we are demonstrating our expertise and our capacity to project ourselves into the future while staying true to a brand that has made motor racing, hence speed, and innovation its prime attributes."
With research into how a movement generates, transmits and regulates energy in the pipeline, no doubt the R&D unit at TAG Heuer has more tricks up its sleeve. Especially when Guy Sémon declares that "we can expect the biggest breakthroughs of the next five years to be in regulation and the escapement." ■