Is silicon an enhancement?
Many people have heroes. Some admire sports personalities, Hollywood actors or even politicians. One of my heroes is Abraham-Louis Breguet.
Breguet was an accomplished watchmaker, businessman, aesthete and most notably inventor. Monsieur Breguet was the creative mind behind the tourbillon, Breguet spring and pare-chute to name just a few of his innovations.
Haute horology has always embraced innovation and whilst faithful to tradition, it has sought new ideas to improve accuracy and reliability.
In adulthood, the word silicon would immediately lead me to conjure images of anorexic ladies with surgically enhanced anatomy. However, the element Si, has become the talk of the watch world in recent years.
Silicon is felt by some to be the answer to many of the perils which could afflict the mechanical timepiece.
However, does this innovative material proffer advancement? This is a question I was recently asked to answer. The truth is I am undecided.
Silicon certainly counters some of the disadvantages of ferrous metals, due to it not being affected by magnetism. Moreover, it is resistant to corrosion and the smooth finish mitigates friction extending service intervals.
On the face of it there are very few disadvantages. With illustrious names from the watchmaking fraternity embracing silicon, there clearly must be some mileage in its use. These companies employ greater minds than mine, hence I see little reason to question their wisdom in using silicon for technical reasons.
My slight concern relates to the emotional attachment I have with haute horology. A fine watch harnesses craft, history and romance. Haute horology imparts a joy sadly lacking with quartz offerings.
Quartz is functional, but I see little to engage the avid collector of fine timepieces. Furthermore, it nearly spelt the death-knell for the industry we all adore.
As silicon parts are homogeneously formed, with little variation from batch to batch, there is less requirement for the fettling by skilled watchmakers.
The greatest fear is that silicon is perceived as a cheapening of prestigious watches. One reason Swiss watches are highly prized is that they necessitate significant human input.
I would also mourn the day, less finissage appeared on components due to silicon’s inability to be adorned by artisan’s skilful hands.
I applaud innovators and there are some watches containing silicon components that I dearly love. However, at present I remain ambivalent about the widespread adoption of silicon in watchmaking.
I want to wait and see how its use evolves. Will the silicon put asunder the romantic union between my heart and horology? I hope not.