Expert Jean-Daniel Dubois talks about the silicon balance spring
Major collectors and influential bloggers have given their opinion on silicon, but what does Jean-Daniel Dubois, CEO of Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier, think?
Jean-Daniel Dubois is the fourth generation of a watchmaker dynasty from Besançon. He was appointed CEO of Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier (VMF) in early 2012. He is both a watchmaker and an horological and industrial engineer. He has been working as a consultant since 2009 after having founded and sold his own companies (including the legendary DTH, which later became the Manufacture Horlogère de la Vallée de Joux, MHVJ).
Dubois’ experience is extensive: he has worked in manufacturing, with finished products, and in teaching. He still serves as an expert at watchmaking schools and was even president of the Société Suisse de Chronométrie (SSC). He is both creative and an entrepreneur and boasts thirty patents to his name in the fields of mechanics, electronics and external parts.
His idea of substituting the Elinvar balance-spring with a silicon one was not welcomed by all. He has seen and read the opinions aired on the issue and is aware of what others say about the silicon solution. We caught up with him in a corridor during the EPHJ-EPMT-SMT 2013 trade fair: “Silicon is very interesting", he told us in no uncertain terms. "It is the solution that watchmakers have always been looking for in terms of lubrication, auto lubrication, extremely light pieces and pieces with low inertia.”
Are brands interested in this new material because it is less costly? “Nowadays we can use materials to make escapements that are cheaper than silicon”, he said evasively. The real problem, he feels, lies elsewhere. "In terms of technology, in order to work with silicon we need to master chemistry and physics, which are fields we do not excel in in Switzerland.
The Japanese and the Chinese master these technologies as well as we do. And they are capable of manufacturing silicon specimens more easily than classic escapements, which requires a great deal of know-how and watchmaking culture. What I fear is that one day, silicon escapements will no longer be a uniquely Swiss technique. We will then have Chinese or Japanese watches equipped with such escapements that will be as precise as Swiss watches."
What would you prescribe as a solution? “One aspect of the problem is that, we use a copy of the classical escapement when working with silicon. Yet, we must maintain our mastery over the classical escapement, while at the same time conducting research into the use of totally innovative and revolutionary escapements.”
Some collectors are concerned about the inability to predict how the new balance springs will work in 50 years. “That should not be a problem as there are numerous plating techniques that can ensure the durability of the product. The real problem resides in the fact that it is a technology that needs the know-how of chemical engineers and physicists, and no longer watchmakers.”