gregory bruttin
High Frequency

Grégory Bruttin: The Unique Heartbeat of the Quatuor

Grégory Bruttin, Master Watchmaker for Roger Dubuis, presents for us the Excalibur Quatuor, the first watch in the world to house four balances which add up to 16Hz and a novel and magnificent manner of ‘ticking’!...

By Constantin Stikas
Photographer and journalist

First published on

Constantin Stikas: What do we gain with high frequency?

Grégory Bruttin: Thanks to high frequency, we gain a better functioning of the watch, due to an improved operational stability. There is also less vulnerability to shocks.

CS: What is at risk with a high frequency watch?

GB: The problems caused by high frequency in mechanical watches are due to the strains caused by wear. The approach that we adopted for the Quatuor was to use a stable frequency (4Hz) that eliminates this risk. A high frequency consumes an enormous amount of energy, which impacts on its power reserve.

CS: Man has attained 4Hz, remained at 5Hz for more than four decades, and then TAG Heuer attained 50Hz, two months later 500Hz and one year later 1000Hz!... Are there any limits to Horlogerie?

GB: The nature of man in itself is to push back boundaries. By taking this principle as one’s starting point, we will see the impact that this will have on the Horlogerie sector with the passage of time. The possibility that Horlogerie will have the same fate as IT processors cannot be ruled out. To count ever faster! But this will surely entail a series of small revolutions.

CS: There are everyday watches beating at 5, 8 or 10Hz and watches that are better classified as concept watches beating at 50, 500 or 1000Hz. What is the difference between a high frequency watch that will remain a prototype and one that will be mass produced?

GB: It is very difficult to control high frequency. As previously mentioned, the main concern is related to wear. For this reason, the higher the frequency, the more difficult to produce in large quantities. The significant consumption caused by the increase in the frequency limits the use of the type of product on an extensive scale.

Roger Dubuis Excalibur Quatuor in silicon

CS: At Roger Dubuis you recently presented the Quatuor, which represents a true revolution in the sphere of high frequency watches. Would you like to explain your concept for us?

GB: The way of creating the Quatuor was to work with a frequency we have already mastered (4Hz), which resolved the wear issue. We have coupled the oscillations with the aid of differentials, in order to obtain an average rate. For example, if we listen to the watch, we will count 16 oscillations per second, offering a unique reading of the time. The approach we adopted is that we wanted to compensate for all the errors generated by gravity. What does a tourbillon do in order to compensate the problems generated by gravity? A tourbillon will place the balance and the anchor in all possible positions, by making them rotate in the cage once per minute. What we basically did, was to place four balances in such a way as to allow them to adopt all possible positions too. We have therefore four balances that are placed at 90 degree angles from one another. This makes, four times 90 degrees, namely 360 degrees. You can admire this originality on the watch’s front face.

CS: And what results did you arrive at?

GB: Today, our watches are controlled by the Geneva Seal organization (Poinçon de Genève). The Geneva Seal has developed a machine that takes a photo every 24h, and by comparison we will calculate the angle of variation of the seconds’ hand, which will allow us to measure the precision of the watch, to an accuracy of one tenth of a second.

To date, there are around 10 timepieces that have been made, and we easily comply with the standards of the Geneva Seal, that is to say, 10 seconds in one day, or roughly 1 minute in one week.

CS: What is the importance of the use of silicon in creating the Quatuor?

GB: The aim of the Quatuor is not solely to increase the frequency, but equally to resolve the issues due to gravity. Silicon, being a material that is extremely light, and combining this case in silicon with the Quatuor movement, allowed us to attain a consistent concept between the movement and materials.

CS: Maximilian Büsser stated in his interview that “…after the ‘70s and the invention of quartz, the mechanical movement has ceased to have any reason for existing… In Watchmaking, we can state that in the era of the TGV we are making steam engines. Therefore, when we move from 5 to 6, 8 or 10 Hz, (and I am not talking about 500 or 1000Hz), it is the same as if we were straining to make a steam-powered engine that is 5 or 10% faster than its counterpart…” What do you think about this?

GB: And after that, Jean-Pierre Musy, Patek Philippe Technical Director, replied to this remark by Maximilian Büsser: “When we see high-quality watches, they have a chronometrical bulletin, COSC values, meaning –6 to +4. There is a daily deviation of 10 seconds! In any case, it is significant, 10 seconds per day, this amount to nearly one minute every minute! Do you believe that there is nothing to be done? I believe that there is something to be done! There is work to be done in order to improve this situation. We cannot allow ourselves to make watches that have upwards of a one minute error margin within the space of a week! The mechanical watch must be more accurate than that!” What is your opinion about this?

I think that it is of a certain interest, since this error margin of approximately one tenth of a second per day, or one minute per week, is quite significant. If, therefore, we manage to diminish it, in a noteworthy manner, I think that it is something important. There has always been a race after accuracy, throughout the History of Watchmaking. That is why today we have witnessed the comeback of Chronometry competitions, since there is a desire to prolong what has been attained throughout the History of mechanical Watchmaking. I think that we will never arrive at a precision equal to that of quartz-powered watches, but conversely there is in any case an interest in improving watches’ accuracy, and today we believe that there really is potential in this.

In our days, a mechanical watch is potentially a highly avant-garde object, since it does not run on fossil fuels. It therefore has an extremely long operating life. It may represent the energy of the future.

CS: Switzerland, to most people, is a ‘slow’ country. However, the CERN is located in Switzerland and today we have seen Horlogerie regularly beating high frequency records… What is your opinion on this?

Despite its reputation as being a slow and folkloric country, Switzerland has known how to set itself apart and distinguish itself for its technological strengths and innovations, particularly in the domains of cutting-edge machinery and in the Watchmaking Industry, in which boundaries are ceaselessly being pushed back. Everything is a question of equilibrium.

CS: What is your personal relationship to speed?

GB: I am a big fan of speed, but it must pose a certain interest, and it must be controlled. Those are very important parameters in relation to speed.

CS: Do you think that a speed limit should be imposed on motorways and, if yes, that it should be set at how many km/h?

GB: I am very Swiss. I follow the rules and conform. I think that speed limits are justified. There are experts who have made sound decisions. It is not acceptable to drive on the road in an excessive manner. There are racetracks for that. Everything has its proper place.

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