As always, Nick Hayek can’t resist teasing his guests: “You’re the first ones I’m allowing into the building!” jokes theGroup CEO to the good one hundred international journalists who’ve travelled to ‘s global headquarters in Biel for the brand’s first press conference in the new, ultra-modern building. Not quite finished, it resembles a dragon’s tail and makes a suitably grand setting for the big announcement that’s about to be made: a paramagnetic balance spring in Nivachron, a titanium-based alloy that is resistant to magnetic fields, variations in temperature, shocks and ageing. Balance springs made from this new alloy, which can be wire-drawn, also cost less to produce compared with silicon. These Nivachron balance springs are premiering in the limited-edition Flymagic, after which they will equip other models then be made available to other brands. “I can’t speak on their behalf, but Audemars Piguet took part in the development,” says Hayek, almost as an aside.
There was a time, 2012 to be exact, when many wondered if the Swiss watch industry would survive Swatch Group’s decision to cut off supply of balance springs. Seven years later, it’s no longer about quantities. For decades, balance springs were made from alloys such as Elinvar that compensated for the temperature changes that affect the oscillator’s ability to precisely measure time. Today, the problem lies elsewhere, in the omnipresence of magnetic fields. To say that engineers have been creative in finding solutions would be an understatement. Rolex was one of the first manufacturers, in 2000, to patent Parachrom, an amagnetic alloy of niobium, zirconium and oxygen. Ulysse Nardin followed suit a couple of years later with silicon balance springs, as did Patek Philippe then Swatch Group. Earlier this year, TAG Heuer sent journalists rushing to their keyboards when it presented the first ever carbon-composite balance spring.
“Watchmaking in 2019 will be divided into those who have an amagnetic movement and those who don’t.” Hayek, who always has a clear-cut opinion when it comes to industrial innovations, began by pointing out that Nivachron is the first economical solution to the problem of magnetism and its effects on the balance spring. Easier to machine than silicon, it reduces these detrimental effects by a factor of between 10 and 20, depending on the calibre. This in turn increases power reserve (to 90 hours). Precision is identical to that of a Sistem51 movement, namely +/- 7 seconds/day. The alloy, and the balance springs themselves, are made in Switzerland by Nivarox-FAR.
The innovation is independent of the choice of brand. A development such as this needs volume.
The Nivachron balance spring makes its debut in the new Swatch Flymagic, a revised Sistem51 in that the movement has been reversed to show the gears and the oscillating weight on the dial side. This required additional components to reverse the hands which would otherwise run counter-clockwise. “The innovation is independent of the choice of brand,” Hayek continued. “A development such as this had to be envisaged in terms of volume, hence it makes sense that Swatch should be first to benefit.” Currently, 7.4 million Swatch watches are sold each year, all movement types taken together.
The Flymagic, in three limited editions of 500 pieces each, in black, blue or red, will go on sale April 30th – the birthday of Carl Friedrich Gauss, author of the global theory on magnetism. And this is just the beginning. From September, the Nivachron balance spring will equip the serial-produced Sistem51 calibres before being extended to other brands, both inside and outside Swatch Group. Audemars Piguet, meanwhile, is keeping shtum!