In Timepieces

Alberto Schileo: A European career diplomat, Alberto has been actively collecting timepieces for many years, specializing in Daniel Roth and Breguet timepieces.

Melvyn Teillol-Foo: A physician and consultant in pharmaceutical development who has been a peripatetic expatriate in Asia since
before the turn of the century. Watch collecting and appreciation is both a hobby and driving passion for him.

Peter Conrad: A government judicial administrator and official, Conrad’s interests run the gamut from vintage and historical aspects of watches and the watch industry to technical minutiae. He has a particular affinity for Girard-Perregaux.

Alex Ghotbi: A legal professional for a large European multinational company, Ghotbi has been bitten by the watch bug big time. His
annual Basel and Geneva watch fair summaries (together with fellow watch nut Alberto Schileo) are eagerly awaited by layman and industry professionals alike.

Jack Forster: A teacher and philosopher, Forster’s fascination with timekeeping devices transcends the merely practical. His appreciation of the aesthetics, concepts and the original foundation of timepieces, precision and timekeeping help keep any discussion of new designs on track yet open-minded.

Can and will it work accurately, and with what kind of durability and lifetime?

Alberto Schileo: Change the belts every 50,000 hours!

That is my biggest worry here. This watch is breaking absolutely mint ground, and there is nothing to go on in terms of the long-term reliability/longevity of the materials used for the belts in this particular application. As I remember of my discussions with Philippe Dufour in this respect, it took them a while to come up with a material that would work for this application and that could be cut with sufficient precision, so only time will tell what will happen here.

Melvyn Teillol-Foo: If TAG Heuer solves the energy and torque issues, then accuracy should not be any different from current mechanical watches because it has the usual escapement.

Jack Forster: My single biggest concern over this watch is the efficiency and durability of the winding system. The use of a linearly reciprocating weight driving four barrels via a complex system of belts, from a purely practical standpoint, seems to violate every principle of good engineering.

(Moderator’s note: The idea of a linear reciprocating weight has been tried before, including the Pierce from the mid-twentieth century. All failed, ostensibly because of poor winding efficiency.) Are the polymer bands a good idea?

Alberto: Basically, see previous comments. However, I was just thinking that as a marketing gimmick, it might be an interesting option for TAG to deliver the watch with a second complete set of belts, packaged somehow “suspended” in a vacuum box (to avoid/minimize degradation over time). Perhaps immersing them into an appropriate gel might also be cool.

In any case, I believe that these will be the weak point of this whole watch. Though from the design it appears that they have put belt-tensioning wheels everywhere, I believe that inevitably these will stretch beyond the point of what can be compensated for, and the watch will stop working.

If this is the case then perhaps TAG might have an opportunity of coupling the belt tensioning mechanisms with some sort of indicator that would slowly move down into a “red zone” during which the user should have the belt in question replaced while the watch is still working properly. Sort of like your car’s gas gauge. Now, would this issue stop me from buying this watch? If I were able to have sufficient reassurance from TAG that these belts would still be available twenty years from now (and especially if I could get one or two advance sets properly packaged so they last), I would still buy the watch.

Melvyn: Blame not the material. It’s not the material but the design we have to worry about. We don’t have to worry about the material because we know they will fail, with time. No use worrying about the inevitable. … Hope is not a strategy.

Do you see any problems with the oscillating mass?

Alberto: Don’t see a real problem here. The oscillating mass is simply moving linearly instead of radially (sic), but this has been done before (albeit rarely) in the industry, and ultimately this is not a hard thing to make work in a reliable fashion.

Perhaps, the issue here could be how effectively a linear movement can wind the watch compared with a rotational one. The slightest change in position would make a rotating mass move a bit, whereas it might take more “significant” movements to get a linear mass to move. In fact, there would inevitably be a whole set of motions that will not make it move at all, due to simple physics. However, I do not believe that this should be an issue for a relatively active person.

On the other hand, the design may face some of the problems that the old JLC Futurematics had: At either end of the “travel” of the oscillating mass, you need to have dampening mechanisms that absorb the energy the mass has accumulated while traveling from one end of its tracks to the other. Depending on their design (and I admit I did not think of checking this while I had it in my hands) these may or may not eventually break, or become less effective. When buying a Futurematic today, for example, this is the thing to look out for, as most dampeners out there are busted, and no replacements remain.

Melvyn: Hammer time: A couple of the irritating but also masochistically endearing things about oscillating masses are the clunk-clunk sound and feel as the entire momentum is reversed at each end-of-travel; the watch stopping if wrist movements are inadequate or in the wrong direction to wind it. V-4 seems on course for the same hammer time.

Peter: I can’t resist; please, forgive the tech description errors. I do hope you get my point, though. The lateral hammer isn’t that new. What is new is the transmission. As far as I can see, there is a toothed slide on the side of the hammer, with a wheel located on one side to interact with the slide. Now I’d say the weight does play out fully when the hammer is fully lifted, as it does benefit from the lever between the slide and the wheel. But the hammer does have a relatively short working way, because of the size necessary to achieve the necessary weight. Therefore I’d imagine it’s not the most efficient way to do it and a conventional unidirectional rotor may be more effective.

The weight is pretty heavy, thus leading to quite some force when reaching the end position. I’d agree in that the dampers may be a weak point, but also the slide since it may have to move more often to reach the same state of winding.

Alberto: Any reasonably skilled watchmaker should be able to make the watch tick again, provided he/she has access to the relevant spare parts. OK, so they may perhaps “snap” a belt or two before they get the hang of it, but from a layman perspective (I am not a watchmaker) if you are able to comfortably handle a balance wheel axle without busting the pivots, then you should be able to work your way through these gears and pinions without too much trouble.

The issue here is once again the availability of parts, as nothing (save for the Simplicity balance wheel and escapement of the prototype) is likely to be interchangeable with any other watch existing on the market, and the techniques/tools necessary to remake some of these parts may not necessarily be the same ones that a traditional watchmaker has.

Basically, TAG should do some serious stocking of spare parts for this watch if they wish to be serious about it, and once again I believe that they should offer the possibility to current owners of buying a “spare parts” kit to keep with the watch. Remember once when high-end pocket watches were sold with a spare crystal, hairspring, etc.?

Melvyn: Another reason to stay away. This will not be the watch to take everywhere and expect the village watchmaker to cope.

What, if any, impact will the specific techniques used have on the overall watch industry?

Alberto: Now this is the one million dollar question. Personally, I think this watch will not change anything in the industry, save for TAG’s bottom line if it’s lucky.

My take on this is that the Swiss watch industry is highly traditional, and brands that believe themselves to be the pillars of the Swiss horological industry [PP, VC, Breguet, etc.] will never embrace such esoteric techniques. This even more so after the whole industry got burned by the quartz years. New techniques came along, everyone got on the bandwagon scrapping old methods, new techniques became banalized, everyone had to scramble back to the old traditional ways and climb uphill to get back to where they were.

I think this watch will make history, but I believe it will remain anecdotal, and the few that will be made will slowly work their way into the display cases of the various watch museums as the years go by.

Melvyn: Almost none whatsoever… except to rewrite the annals of “Horological Follies That We Have Known.” It is definitely worth keeping one in storage for historical reasons, as people will be saying, Remember the quirky V-4 with the same bemusement they now reserve for the Betamax videotape and 8-track audio cartridge.

Alex: I don’t think it will have much impact. It’s more a presentation piece showing the creativity of the brand rather than a true advance in the technical aspects.

Peter: Ditto that, for another reason. I agree with Alex, but from a different perspective. It does have a certain “gadget factor” and just because of this it will find some fans. But there are probably more fans who appreciate things to be “done like 200 years ago,” classic workmanship like a Dufour.

I’m not sure it does have so many technical breakthroughs. The belt drives are interesting but a belt is probably easier to do than cams and levers and micro-ball bearings as well as linear winding weights are not completely new ideas.

In the end, I’m not so sure that many people care about improvements. Yes, it does look different. And yes, it’s a great marketing idea. But no, it does not push the frontiers of watchmaking further.

And finally: If there are that many tech-oriented watch nuts to really care about high tech, there would be more high frequency quartz pieces or atomic wrist watches.

Alberto: I don’t think it will, for one reason, really. Though I do not know at what price TAG will attempt to sell the watch, I believe that it will not be cheap! Will TAG be able to sell enough to warrant large-scale production, let alone mass production? Probably not.

Melvyn: Modern manufacturing processes can easily make thousands of these exquisite and sculptural paperweights.

Thoughts and Summary

Alberto: It’s a great idea, a great watch … It took Basel by surprise, and it was especially a great marketing coup by TAG.
In fact, I really wonder what TAG’s motivations were for embarking upon this project. Was it trying to change the watchmaking world, or did it see this as a particularly unusual and potentially highly effective marketing and brand building exercise?

The cynic in me wants to believe the latter, though perhaps there was some motivation of the former in at least some of the parties involved. However, as I already said, I believe that this watch will ultimately remain “anecdotal” and become a piece that each watch museum will add to its collection for the anecdote it represents. But I do not believe that we are facing the next quartz revolution here.

Melvyn: When I saw the announcement, my first thought was, hey that’s different, gotta have one. Then, I realized that the timing organ was still the same balance and escapement. The “new” mechanisms added nothing to the improvement of horology. If anything, it seemed the most complicated and inefficient way to wind a watch, introduce energy loss and make more bits to break. Having an oscillating mass try to convert reciprocal linear movement into rotating energy storage is just inefficient. Having belts and cams just to stabilize the torque does not follow the engineering maxim: Keep it simple.

Alex: I find it to be a very interesting timepiece, somewhat like a concept car. I’m not sure I would actually like to own one, but I found the idea and implementation quite surprising.

Jack: This watch absolutely fascinates me for the very divergent priorities it represents. It evoked two totally diametrically opposed responses from me. On the one hand, the completely standard escapement, elaborate and potentially problematic power train and winding system, all provoke a sigh of cynical disappointment. On the other hand, my first reaction on seeing images of it was Wow! And the wow factor remains as strong as ever.
It is one of the most interesting looking and interestingly conceived watches I’ve seen in quite some time. In a sense, it seems to be not so much a watch as a sort of sculptural commentary on a watch, embodying conflicting priorities so ironically opposed as to make me wonder if it weren’t midwifed by Duchamp instead of Dufour. As a practical watch it seems singularly unsuccessful (though serial production may make me eat my words), but as a kind of kinetic sculpture that references both watches and automotive design, it is incredibly successful and well integrated; a fascinating elaboration of kinetic chains for their own sake.

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