Dominique Renaud DR01 Twelve First, a revolution in watchmaking
The watchmaker Dominique Renaud – formerly from Renaud & Papi – is taking on the fundamentals of horology. He is now proposing an alternative to the "lever escapement and balance wheel and hairspring" combination. It's a historic moment.
With its very low appetite for energy and unbreakable special pivot adjusted to the hundredth of a millimeter, this invention by Dominique Renaud is rattling the very foundations of the watchmaking world: now past the 100-year mark, the balance-wheel-hairspring duet could fly to pieces following the announcement of the incredible discovery: the "blade resonator and its lost beat lab escapement."
A look back to the Swiss lever escapement
Watchmaking completed its inexorable drive towards industrialization at the end of the 19th century. The first factories – Louis Brandt Frères (Omega), Longines, or even Zenith – began opening at the time, at their respective helms were entrepreneurs who chose to set up shop far from the traditional watchmaking hubs of Geneva and Neuchâtel, in order to avoid the corporate monopolies of the industry installed there. Proof of this establishment power was the Geneva Seal (Poinçon de Genève), considered today a quality label. Back then, it served as the tool of a cartel jealously guarding its dominance of the market. As a craft, watchmaking allowed a certain leeway in the technical solutions, hence some diversity in the application of the fundamentals of horological science. The industrial era, however, affected the way movements were conceived, since there were now production constraints and components had to be built for reliability.
The balance wheel with its hairspring quickly became established as the most stable and efficient system, while the escapement was still a space for innovation, with various designs, like the natural escapement, the detent escapement, or the verge escapement. But as of the 1920s, it was the Swiss lever escapement that became the standard, due to its simplicity and the fact that it could be manufactured at an industrial scale. The balance wheel and lever escapement pairing dominated mechanical watchmaking without, basically, ever being called into question. To this day.
Nothing is lost, it only becomes better
Taken separately, these two parts did experience certain remarkable evolutions, like the co-axial escapement invented by George Daniels, or the use of silicon to make hairsprings. The development of computer-assisted modeling, the evolution in the use of materials and of manufacturing processes produced a host of experimental escapements, like the one invented by Ulysse Nardin in 2000, or, of more recent date, the constant force escapement by Girard-Perregaux.
But so far, no one had ever come up with a viable alternative to the old pairing, whose hegemony never seemed to be questioned. With his "blade resonator coupled with an experimental detent type lost-beat escapement," Dominique Renaud has shaken the fundamentals of watchmaking and its wealth of knowledge. Centuries worth of certainties have been blown to bits. He has laid the groundwork for what is most probably the most important innovation in chronometry since the invention of the balance wheel.
Soon, the first official communiqué from his eponymous brand will have pierced the initial information salvos and will announce the return of this very distinctive personality in contemporary watchmaking. His brand, Dominique Renaud, will no doubt then be growing our watchmaking vocabulary with words and explanations related to his invention. The watchmaker himself will surely explain the patents and opportunities offered by this ingenious invention in layman's terms. And in order to demonstrate what he is talking about, he might well use one of those great demonstration mechanisms that he, as one of the last watchmakers of his caliber, makes from plastic and wood. To better explain the subtleties of the mechanical engineering of his movement and to allow himself a clearer visualization of the interaction and requirements of his components wheels, he has affixed gearwheels to the wall of this urban workshop, gearwheels he picked up from the industrial rout of some major printers – he lives in what once was the premises of the printing enterprise known as IRL, Imprimeries Réunies Lausannoises. A story to be continued…
- The Blade Resonator: a spatially fragmented pivoting blade resonator
- The Experimental Rotary Escapement: a free rotary lost beat détente type escapement with direct impulse
- Adjustment device with multiform spring
Central point of the innovation: The DOMINIQUE RENAUD spatially fragmented pivoting BLADE RESONATOR.
The dream of watchmakers has always been to one day benefit from the finest balance staff in the balance because if you can reduce its size, you can also reduce friction. For centuries, a long battle has waged between the weight of the balance, the fragility of pivots, inertia, lift angle, and amplitude. Thanks to the arrival of shock-resisting devices a few decades ago, today’s pivots used in the balance of men’s watch calibers have a diameter of about one-tenth of a millimeter.
So let’s dream together! Say, for example, an unbreakable pivot measuring one-hundredth of a millimeter in diameter could be used in a movement. What would be the result? The impact with the tremendous reduction of friction therefore causes a significant increase in the quality factor of the oscillator. The quality factor is its autonomy to develop alone since its launch until it stops. Thus, this extreme freedom in its evolution would mean stability of oscillations and low power consumption. To sum up with this type of oscillator, we accede to much better chronometric performance and an unprecedented running time. This impossible and extraordinary dream is about to come true ... with a new kind of pivot, «a spatial pivot». A true three-dimensional miracle, with all the advantages in mechanical stability of a hard conventional pivot, but without its fragility...
To understand, you must visualize virtually this perfectly long cylindrical pivot, fragmented into three parts displaced in a plane, then in the end based around an axis. Each of the semi-cylindrical fragments elements may actually act on its own sector, reforming at different levels a perfect pivot. These semi-cylindrical fragments represent the knife blades wire and are controlled, as surrounded by the V-notch of three ruby spheres, one being in opposition to the other two. These spheres because of their shape, act as a ball joint, to self-position perfectly in alignment with the blade edge. Two endstones with anti-parachute suspensions limit the axial play on two beaks at the extremities of the center blade.
The most surprising is that the traditional spirit is preserved, the invention almost simple and complicated at the same time, goes beyond the wildest dreams...
Technological possibilities that can bring such a system are particularly interesting. These tiny unbreakable pivots can receive a heavy balance of small diameter and everything becomes possible and food for thoughts. The escapement impulse point, for example, can be placed on the periphery of the flywheel, which reduces the lift angle of the balance, allowing «the sacrilege» to ban large amplitudes. This is ideal, since the angle of the segment cut in the sphere cannot exceed 90°. The maximum angular displacement of the balance before knocking is about 80°and its angular working sector is around 60 °, hence an amplitude of 30 °. These low amplitudes allow very high frequencies with low energy consumption.
For research and development, the entire range of materials and all current technologies will be used to surely and seriously lead this audacious Challenge successfully. However, our elders would have had the means, they too perhaps, to meet the challenge using traditional adapted tools...
The extraordinary size of the DR01 oscillator was chosen to highlight the concept and facilitate its development. The knife elements can be tightened, a parallel study demonstrating that it is possible to benefit in the medium term of a new movement with small thickness.
The experimental rotary escapement: free rotary lost beat détente type with direct impulse
The extremely high quality factor also allows the use of a «lost beat» type escapement to limit the number of impulses needed to launch the balance, which significantly increases the power reserve. The balance may well evolve over several alternations, bringing a very strong potential for improved chronometry. Indeed, the freedom of the balance thanks to «lost beats» minimizes disruptions.
The DR01 therefore includes a «laboratory» escapement, which, thanks to a rotating distribution system on four levels, is able to count, control, release, and secure. Many elements of the escapement system may be changed in order to modify certain parameters and multiply experiences while maintaining the overall concept. For instance, one may adjust the number of lost beats, the impulse, and the frequency – and all in synergy with the adjustment device with multiform spring system, which is also adjustable.
The current chosen mode on the DR01 has nine lost beats and 1 impulse. It will therefore benefit from beautiful cumulative amplitude, with an interesting balance lift angle of only 15 degrees for each impulse, once every 10 alternations.
With a frequency of 36,000 alternation per hour, the first theoretical calculations, taking into account the relationship between the energy supplied by the barrel and the energy consumed in the impulse, give a two-week power reserve with a simple barrel with additional wheel in the transmission. One can imagine the incredible potential of this yet traditional in spirit timepiece.
Interestingly, the duration between impulses is one second, the final geartrain ratio was calculated for the second wheel to jump with a unique step, in fact a «TRUE seconde morte”.
Everything remains open for completely original and innovative escapements for the future. Of course, other types of existing escapements and even pendulum could be adapted for this low amplitude format.
The adjustment device with multiform spring
The minimal amplitude permits the return of the balance, and if desired, not to use the hairspring. Here we use an original crossbow-shaped resonator spring, which, in simulation, is very interesting. However, all new forms and all spring lengths can be used, in order to find the right setup for a perfect isochronism. We can test several frequencies since the escapement is adaptable.
Another important point is that we can work on the side of the balance, allowing attractive visuals for lovers of fine mechanisms.
The DR01 boasts a fine adjustment test within this assembly, an XY table collar guide system. This table is used to change the spring’s effective length, to center the resonator’s spring, and to provide it with the tensioning effects to study its behavior in the various positions. A control device that also adjusts the beat is likewise in use. This is to test the behavior and to understand the reactions of the spring. A micrometric adjustment device could be added if necessary. A mechanism, index-assembly type, reacting to temperature and acting directly on the spring in the resonator to increase or decrease the effective length is under consideration.
While it was feared to have already exhausted the solutions for fundamental inventions, the chance to develop new perspectives is again open to all...
About Dominique Renaud and the DR01 TWELVE FIRST
After almost 15 years of retirement, Dominique Renaud returns with a revolutionary concept watch that holds the distilled essence of his inspirations, creative energy and technical explorations over the last decade and a half. This is the first time that Dominique Renaud will develop a timepiece entirely under his own name under the auspices of his eponymous brand, a timepiece that revisits some fundamental principles of mechanical watchmaking, in order to meet the expectations of a new era of collectors searching for the spectacle of a new mechanical heart...
The DOMINIQUE RENAUD DR01 TWELVE FIRST is simultaneously a compendium of disruptive innovations and a faithful adherent to the traditional finishing codes of haute horlogerie mechanical watchmaking.
This first project will be available in 12 prototypes timepieces. Dominique Renaud’s vision is to involve watch enthusiasts in a pioneering spirit that allows its customers to experience exciting and active participation in writing a new chapter in the history of watchmaking. Twelve unique and revolutionary watches, each one customized for the participating collector who can well be considered a DOMINIQUE RENAUD ambassador at that point, and each one a true masterpiece of art and breakthrough innovation crafted in the form of an exceptional mechanical watch with unmatched performance and incomparable design. The pioneering collector will own a truly unique prototype, a piece of significant and historic collection that will be kept in perfect running condition throughout the project development process and receive any updates without time limit.
Every aspect of this extraordinary timepiece has been reimagined and redesigned: the regulator, the escapement, the amplitude, the frequency, the case and even the dial.
The movement consists of an assembly of cylindrical elements that appears suspended in the centre of a 360-degree sapphire-crystal capsule. The movement truly invites the wearer to contemplate mechanics, design, and life itself. This fully transparent module can be rotated to display the movement within from six preset positions.
Securing the capsule to the wrist is an arch-shaped frame, its form evocative of a futuristic monolith from another world. Angularity is emphasised in the design of the DR01 TWELVE FIRST, as sharply finished angles in watchmaking are invariably associated with the highest echelons of horology. Sharp angles, a signature element of the brand, are inspired by the founder’s initials, DR. The arch is carved from a single block of material, the choice of which is left to the exploration of each timepiece’s final owner. The customisation process extends to the colour and material of the dial, which is scaffolded by a monobloc dial-plate incorporating the company’s signature and shard-like hour indices in counterpoint to centrally mounted dagger hands. In accordance with this razor-sharp aesthetic, even the curves of Dominique Renaud’s initials are transformed into precise, hard-edged geometric forms. The hour and minute hands are complemented by a «real» second wheel (one step by second exactly). A true natural complication !
Dominique Renaud wants to open new paths, find alternatives and create innovative concepts whose designs aim to surprise as well as create wonder and emotion within pioneering collectors, while improving the functional characteristics of high-end mechanical watches.