Watchmakers like to enlighten us with their innovations, sometimes literally so. A few months back, we considered how brands are drawing on technology and their own creativity to invent new outlets for luminescence (https://journal.hautehorlogerie.org/en/go-with-the-glow-2/). For our visual delight, electricity is another of the technologies used by these “brilliant” timepieces. Both Van Cleef & Arpels and HYT have turned this energy to advantage in mechanical movements, offering a fascinating albeit fleeting alternative to traditional lume.
Did you say piezo?
Early 2016, Van Cleef & Arpels presented a prototype piezoelectric module. Two years later, at Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie 2018, the Midnight Zodiac Lumineux Poetic Complications collection made delightful use of this scientific phenomenon. Piezoelectricity, as you may already know, is the potential certain materials (such as ceramic and, yes, quartz) have to create an electrical charge when made to vibrate. It’s how the quartz crystal in a watch produces the energy to power the movement.
For the Midnight Zodiac Lumineux watches, a single press on a pusher causes a wafer-thin ceramic blade to vibrate. “The energy produced by this piezoelectric effect is directed through an electric circuit to LEDs. There are no electronic components whatsoever,” explains Nicolas Stalder, who is head of movement projects at Van Cleef & Arpels. “We were able to achieve this result only after working on the mechanical system and making further improvements to the material and dimensions of the blade.” Through science comes magic: the miniature LEDs underneath the dial light up translucent enamel beads, positioned to represent the stars of the twelve constellations of the zodiac. The dial comes to life during four seconds before gently fading – an effect which can be repeated on demand, simply by pressing the pusher.
HYT spotlights the H4
Early last year, HYT debuted the first ever watch movement that converts mechanical power into light inside the H4 Alinghi and the H4 Metropolis. This patented light module was developed by sister company Preciflex for HYT, which has exclusive use of this technology for watches. It operates along similar lines to a dynamo. Turning the crown between 4 and 5 on the case charges a generator that is integrated into the mechanism. A press on the pusher in the crown transfers this electrical energy to two LEDs, hidden under the rider at 6 o’clock. The dial is suffused with light: white for the Alinghi and blue on the Metropolis. The fluid inside the capillary display becomes even more visible against this illuminated backdrop. One, two, three, four, five seconds pass before the energy is depleted. Here too, the mechanism can be activated at will and is fully autonomous, with no battery required. This unique module promises multiple applications, in fact HYT and Preciflex are already working on new uses. Let there be light!