Pierre Gygax: Childhood Memories
Childhood memories of Pierre Gygax, COO of Ulysse Nardin today, but equally ‘childhood’ memories of high frequencies, since every day of his life, Pierre Gygax aspired to acquire the watchmaking know-how of his father, René Gygax, an important watchmaker at Zenith, during the mythical era of the competitions of the Neuchâtel Observatory.
First published on veryimportantwatches.com
Constantin Stikas: The President of Zenith, Jean-Frédéric Dufour, told me in his interview that you had informed him that your father, who was watchmaker at Zenith at the time, had spoken to you of research that they were conducting into moving from 3Hz to 4Hz. Could you give us more information on this?
Pierre Gygax: I effectively talked with Jean-Frédéric Dufour about my childhood memories of the time when my father René Gygax was the Head of the ‘Accuracy Adjustment’ [Réglage de precision in French] Department at Zenith, and he had taken part with great success in the competitions of the Neuchâtel Observatory with (..and against) his friends/ opponents at Longines (Vaucher) and Oméga (Ory).
At that period (late ‘50s, early ‘60s), the advantage of increasing the frequency of the balance spring was taught at the « Technicum » (currently Engineering Faculty). Therefore, we cannot say that ‘someone invented’ high frequencies.
From the moment it was possible, numerous brands launched themselves into pilot, then industrial production of movements at 4Hz (28,800VpH) and 5Hz (36,000VpH). I recall very vividly that, during my adolescence, my father had offered me a Zenith watch that he had equipped with a prototype, which he had modified from 3Hz to 4Hz.
The increase in the frequency of the oscillator is seriously deteriorated due to the harmful consequences on the functioning of the escapement (inertia, angle traversed between 2 ticks and tacks). We can therefore state that all watchmakers had realised the advantages of a higher frequency, and it was FAR (currently Nivarox) that was the only technological R&D organisation in the field of the escapement and of the oscillator, and thus permitted the realisation of calibres at high frequencies thanks to the utilisation of the ‘Clinergic 21’ escapement.
The classical Swiss anchor escapement made use of a wheel comprising 15 teeth for movements at 2.5Hz and 3Hz (18,000 and 21,600VpH, respectively). By passing to 21 teeth, this innovative escapement allowed brands (Bühren, Zenith, Girard Perregaux,.. from what I can recall, there may have been others too) to produce watches at 4 or 5Hz. At the time, FAR and Nivarox were not affiliated to any brands and worked in the field of R&D for the benefit of all their clients.
If we must designate a ‘leader’, we must therefore assign this title to FAR (Simon-Vermot, subsequently Dubois).