THE REVOLUTION OF SWISS AUTOMATIC MOVEMENT
Before we proceed to the revolution of Swiss automatic movement, let’s see first how a self-winding or automatic mechanism works: An automatic or self-winding watch is a mechanical watch in which the mainspring is wound automatically as a result of the natural motion of the wearer’s arm to provide energy to run the watch. There are many designs of self-winding mechanisms. In many cases, automatic watches can also be wound manually by turning the crown, so the watch can be kept running when not worn.
The history of the first automatic watches started in the 1770s, with the design created by ABRAHAM-LOUIS PERRELET, a famous Swiss horologist. This self-winding mechanism was first created for pocket watches and was designed to wind as the wearer walked with the use of oscillating weight inside the pocket watch that moved up and down.
Perrelet was widely acknowledged because of his invention. In fact, in 1777 the Geneva Society reported that Perrelet’s self-winding mechanism for pocket watches only needs fifteen minutes of walking and it can wind the watch sufficiently for eight days. This basic movement is known today as “automatic”.
Aside from Perrelet, another watchmaker named HUBERT SARTON created a much more publicized design of automatic watch in 1777. He became sensational by claiming that watches made by Perrelet were inspired by his creations. However, in 1800, Sarton stopped selling his watches after public realized that his creations were not reliable.
Many say that the true revolution of automatic movement came after World War I when British watch repairer named JOHN HARDWOOD developed a self-winding wristwatch. The first automatic wristwatch made by Hardwood in 1923 became popular, it is known today as “Bumper” wristwatch. After he claimed patent from Swiss for his automated wristwatch on October 16, 1923, Hardwood started producing watches in his own factory in Switzerland.
The watches that were first produced and went on sale using Hardwood system was in 1928, with the help of Swiss manufacturer, Fortis. The Hardwood system used a pivoting weight which swung when the wearer moved, winding the mainspring. The ratchet mechanism wound the mainspring only when moving in one direction. This type of mechanism does not rotate 360 degrees. It is only limited to swing 180 degrees to encourage a back and forth motion. Hardwood’s creation can run for 12 hours when fully wound. It is said that 30,000 watches in total were made before Hardwood Self-Winding Watch Company collapsed in 1931. The “Bumper” watches were the first successful automatic watches that were commercially available in the 1930s – 1940s.
Because of the success of Hardwood system, other watch manufacturers like Rolex Watch Company embraced Jonh Hardwood’s design. In 1930, the Rolex Watch Company used it as a basis for its Rolex Oyster Perpetual. Rolex made some improvements and adjustments on Hardwood’s design, they added a new system of weights that can move freely can rotate full 360 degrees. Rolex’s version also increased the amount of energy stored in the mainspring, allowing it to run for up to 35 hours.
The next development for the automatic movement came in 1948, improvements and adjustments were made by Eterna Watch. Eterna is a luxury watch company founded in Grenchen by JOSEF GIRARD and URS SCHILD. Eterna later set up a subsidiary company, the ETA SA, to make movements for itself and other Swiss watch companies in 1932.
Eterna produced many innovations throughout its history. One of its best contributions to the watchmaking industry is the development of ball bearings that is still in use today. The Eterna ball bearings provide robust support for a heavy object to rotate smoothly and reliably even under abnormal stress. This reduced the wear and tear on internal parts and increased the watch’s accuracy and useful life.
By the year 1960s, automatic winding had become standard in quality mechanical watches. In fact, some of the famous watch manufacturers like Patek Philippe continue to design and create a manually wound watches which are much thinner.
In 2007 Carl F. Bucherer implemented a new approach without a rotor, aA peripherally mounted power source, where a geared ring made of tungsten encircles the entire mechanism, rotating on carbon rollers whenever the watch moves. A system of clutch wheels captures power. No rotor means thinner watches and an ultradense weight swinging around a greater radius means a better chance of achieving a greater power reserve with the same amount of arm movement