The maths is actually quite simple: taking 60 km per hour as an average speed, the car will reach 60,000 kilometres after 1,000 hours and will normally have been to the garage for three maintenance services. At this stage, it may be considered as a used vehicle. Meanwhile, the watch will reach 1,000 hours of operation after just 42 days! Naturally, from a subjective standpoint, it is in fact still new. Potential maintenance services are recommended at least every three years, meaning after 26,280 hours. Talk about reliability!
Like any mechanism, a watch movement requires regular maintenance in order to guarantee impeccable operation. But let’s face it, we all know that our customers often “forget” to entrust their timepiece to a watchmaker every 1,095 days… That means it’s up to us to ensure that it continues serving them faithfully despite this lack of care, by continuing to perfect and fine-tune our movements. With this in mind, let’s take a look of two examples that illustrate the fact that modern mechanical movements are not mere replicas of what our forefathers used to make, as some might still believe.
The part shown here with a pencil tip is a ball bearing mechanism, in this instance that of the oscillating weight fitted on the self-winding Girard-Perregaux 3300 calibre. Apart from its tiny size, it also features 9 ceramic ball bearings. Why this new material? Because, contrary to the steel ball bearings previously used, it requires no cleaning, no periodic lubrication and is hardwearing to the point of being virtually indestructible. So this mechanism is clearly heading exactly in the direction of the goal being pursued: long-term reliability.
Now let’s consider lubrication, a field that has seen substantial recent progress. Right from the start, watchmakers lubricated movements, but the quality of the various plant- or animal-based oils progressed very little over the years. There was even a period of complete stagnation in the 1970s and 1980s, since quartz movements required little or no lubricants. With the renewed enthusiasm for mechanical watches, we were obliged to admit to being in the stone age compared with other fields such as the automotive industry. Studies were thus undertaken and led to the production of synthetic lubricants that were far more durable and more efficient than anything previously used. But all that is fairly recent, since they only really came into use in 2003.
These are just two examples, but there are many more we might mention, since we are continually seeking improvements wherever possible. So long as a beautiful watch in a beautiful showcase continues to appeal to our future clients, we are still in the domain of dreams. However, as soon as he or she has purchased it, everything becomes very pragmatic and poor reliability could easily spoil the dream.
Willy Schweizer is Curator of the Girard-Perregaux Heritage.