Ariel Adams
Silicone or not ?

Can You Make A Traditional Watch With Silicon?

It honestly took me a while to learn that silicium what just “silicon” in another language. I got so swept up with the promise of the material and how it could fundamentally change mechanical watch movements. Change that is arguably for the better, but as I have learned that really depends on how you view things.

By Ariel Adams

I am an American with no real concept of deep cultural tradition or maintenance. I am however interested in progress, product perfection, and performance. Each of these latter things are advanced by using silicon in watches. The former items however may be deeply tarnished by the onslaught of the cheap material. 

So why is silicon exciting for watch makers? The non-metallic material has properties that metal can only dream of. It has a degree of elasticity but will never deform. It is not affected by magnetism or temperature. And most importantly it does not require lubrication when part of a moving machine because of its incredibly low friction properties. This means that using silicon in a mechanical watch movement means more reliability, durability, and of course accuracy. At the same time, you can’t polish silicon. It doesn’t come in pretty colors, and it also isn’t particularly sexy (unless you love translucent blue). Using the material offers undeniable performance upgrades, but looks less attractive than metal. So does it make sense in a “traditional” watch? 
 
I don’t have an answer to this question in a global sense. Personally, I would love a watch movement that uses as much silicon as possible. Metal parts today are cheap to produce and silicon simply performs better. I don’t care much for things like tradition when it comes to watches. I like beauty and perfection. And a perfect movement is beautiful to me. 
 
On the other hand, if your thing is imagining a watch maker sitting at a desk in 1850 making your traditional Swiss watch, then the use of a high-tech material such as precision cut silicon is less than appealing. The material has no historic presence in the world of horology, nor are traditional machines capable of making it. It simply has no place in anything inherently “classic.” Or does it? For me at least terms like “classic” and “tradition” are themes not rules. You can have a traditional looking watch that furthers the goals of traditional watch makers. Breguet for example proudly uses silicon parts because Mr. Breguet himself would have gladly agreed to the use of anything that makes the watches better. 
 
Further still, you could counter by arguing that if you are so concerned with performance and willing to sacrifice tradition, then why not just get a quartz watch? It is a good point. People like me aim to find the most accurate and modern mechanical watches available. The pursuit is almost pointless because in a sense it is like perfecting the horse-drawn carriage closer to the utility of a car, rather than just buy a car. The majority of mechanical watches could probably benefit from movements that use silicon. In doing so they could also be losing part of their soul and what makes them feel special in a world of modern disposable goods. 
 
The short answer to the question of whether you can make a traditional mechanical watch with silicon is “yes.” Tradition has shown constant improvement and the adoption of better parts and materials over the centuries. So why stop here with materials from the computer age. The mechanical watch needs to adapt to remain relevant. This is why the industry is still around today. Stop now and you’ve really curtailed tradition. 

Ariel Adams