The hairspring will be the most overlooked of all watch components; like the human heart, it continues, unbidden and unseen, its essential role. Not just do its oscillations need to be precisely normal, they’ve to be so within the most hostile of environments; the human hand and wrist are the parts with the body which undergo probably the most variation in position and temperature (consider it, what other component of your body goes within the freezer?). But the theory behind the hairspring has not changed in about 500 years, the very best style is more than 200 years old and also the metallurgy involved within the contemporary hairspring goes back more than 80 years to when Charles Edouard Guillaume invented Elinvar and walked away using the Nobel Prize. The challenges facing a hairspring and also the watch it powers have usually been temperature, impact & magnetism; Elinvar was able to overcome probably the most common challenge, temperature and later the hairspring’s susceptibility to magnetism was offset by the introduction of anti magnetic shielding for the entire movement.
Elinvar was a breakthrough in temperature compensation for watches, but this breakthrough came at a cost; that of increased sensitivity to impact shocks. This problem arose through the special properties of Elinvar, it is processed in a special way so that the magnetic poles of all the particles within the alloy are parallel. However, when subject to strong impact, the polarity with the particles becomes random & so does their reaction to temperature. This susceptibility to shock was usually one with the main problems of Elinvar, but prior to the introduction of shock protection for the balance staffs (Kif Flector, Incabloc etc) no one expected a watch to be resistant to impact and so great care was taken within the handling of watches by their owners.
There are almost no uses for the metal Niobium itself and in most steel alloys it is present in almost minute quantities, perhaps one fiftieth of one percent, whilst Rolex use it within the ratio of 85% Niobium to 15% Zirconium; meaning that Rolex are now one with the world’s major users with the metal.The two metals are fused together in a high vacuum at a temperature of 2400°C, the metals pass through the furnace slowly at 20cm an hour under the intense voltage of 5,000 volts. It passes through the furnace three times before the two metals can be considered to be completely bonded. When the rod is removed from the furnace it reacts using the oxygen within the air and bonds with trace amounts of this atmospheric oxygen and turns blue. Ironically, it turns the same shade of blue as the classic blued steel hairsprings used in Marine Chronometers and other high grade watches with the last century (See the Zenith chronometer balance shown below, almost a hundred years old).
The finished rod is about 30 cm (about a foot) long and weighs only 380g (less than a pound); from this rod it is possible to produce 10,000 hairsprings. However; currently, fake audemars piguet millenary watches they are experiencing failure rates of between 20 to 30%, so the final result is rather less. The rods are then put through a die press which in subsequent passes turns the initial rod into one 15m long and 2mm diameter and then into one 2 km long (well more than a mile) and a diameter of one tenth of a millimetre. The final die forces the metal into a strip 150 microns wide & 45 microns high, which is then cut into strips 22 cm long. There is no form of ‘finishing’ fake watches for sale to the hairspring; its final profile is totally dependent on the absolutely perfect profile with the press dies. These are constantly checked between operations with a battery of Leica microscopes to ensure that there has been no change to their profile. The precision with the dies is such that the finished springs vary by no more than one tenth of a micron from the norm; just consider that fake montblanc villeret watches , without any machining or other finishing they can produce an item accurate to one ten thousandths of a millimetre. If that is a difficult image to conjure, believe of it this way cheap rolex watches , the average human hair is about 100 microns in diameter, the Rolex Parachrom Blu hairspring is finished to an accuracy of one thousandth the diameter of a human hair.
What was interesting to see was that once the springs had been cut to length, the high technology side disappeared and also the crucial steps from now on are undertaken by the dextrous hands of skilled operatives working with nothing more advanced than a microscope. Firstly the springs, in a packet of 100 or so, arrive at the bench with the person responsible for turning them into hairsprings, they are next individually attached to the spindle of a tiny machine, three springs are attached to the spindle at 120º apart; and then the operative winds a handle, smaller than that on a fishing reel and also the three springs are coiled inside a frame which defines their outer circumference. Six winds are needed for the springs used within the Rolex GMT Master II and also the Milgauss Watches and seven for those used within the Daytona and YMII. The springs are then ejected from the framebreitling, coiled tightly one inside the other.
Then, using a microscope & the world’s smallest pair of tweezers they are separated and also the operative then starts the task all more than again. Currently each operative can now produce about 300 hairsprings a day. If I thought that this procedure was painstaking, it fades into nothing when compared to the next step, where the Breguet terminal curve is applied to the centre with the hairspring. Each spiral was placed on a tiny spindle under the eagle eye of a video camera attached to a microscope, and then looking at the flat screen monitor suspended above her, she delicately picks one end with the coil & replica panerai luminor gmt watches bends it to the outline of a template already on the screen. We did not see the attachment with the collets or studs, as this was not being done during the visit; but I understand that this is done by laser welding.
The Parachrom Blu hairspring is essential to the construction with the new Milgauss model, the Faraday cage provides anti magnetic protection up to about 800 gauss, but the final (and essential) level is provided by the new hairspring and also by the unique escape wheel which is made from the extremely esoteric material, amorphous nickel phosphor.
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