Magnetic news from Omega

The Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra >15000 Gauss marks a watchmaking revolution

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15 October 2013

"The Seamaster Aqua Terra >15000 Gauss is a watch that swims through magnetism like Michael Phelps in water." It is the definitive solution to an ever-present problem for mechanical watches: resistance to magnetic fields. A problem that is more serious today than ever before, as a result of the powerful magnets used just about everywhere.

Omega has always worked on innovation. The first challenge for mechanical watches, after shock, was water, and in 1932, the Omega Marine, the first ever diver's watch and marine chronometer was introduced; in the 1950s, the Speedmaster Professional chonograph became a fundamental model for the brand, and later, it was the first watch to go to the moon. The co-axial movement was launched in 1999, and still today, it is an Omega hallmark.

But the great step forward is even more recent. Jean-Claude Monachon, Vice President, Product Development at Omega, said, at a presentation in July 2013, "At Baselworld 2011, Nick Hayek (CEO, Omega) and Stephen Urquhart (President, Omega) challenged us to develop a new function that could be useful for everyday use. I suggested a watch that is totally anti-magnetic, far beyond existing standards. I got a green light. Why? Magnets are increasingly present in everyday life, on handbags, loudspeakers, furniture, and magnetism can radically affect the performance of a watch. Watches that arrive for after-sales service nearly always have to be demagnetized. Most watches are rated to withstand a magnetic field of 60 to 80 Gauss, but this is not enough any more."

Michel Willemin, CEO of Asulab, the Swatch Group's Research & Development structure, explained exactly what it is that magnetism does to a conventional watch. "Consider that even a magnetic object attached to a fridge door produces a field of 1,000 Gauss, and likewise the magnets on Macbook power cable and on iPads. When a mechanical watch comes close to a magnet, its functioning is affected by the field – it stops in a field of just 80 Gauss. When removed from the field, it starts running again, but it has becomes permanently magnetized. This causes a massive loss of precision: it loses or gains more than 4 minutes a day."

The goal was simple, but the solution was not obvious. Jean-Claude Monachon said, "We were asked to use the Swatch Group's internal resources, and to apply the anti-magnetic function to the co-axial escapement. At first, the technicians said that it was impossible. 'You are totally crazy, Monachon.' But, as Nelson Mandela said, 'It always seems impossible until it is done.'"

So, what is the answer? Willemin continued, "The classic solution is to place the watch movement into a magnetically shielded case, a sort of Faraday cage. But this sort of case shields only up to 1,000 Gauss. Another disadvantage is that the case also hides the movement, so you can't have a date window or a sapphire caseback. The definitive solution is a non-magnetic movement. Omega was in a good position for this objective, with its silicon balance springs, introduced to increase shock resistance. The next steps were the use of nickel-phosphorous escapement wheels, and the new material Nivagauss, made from amorphous metal, used for other vital components of the escapement." 

This revolutionary work was performed by Asulab, integrating all the non-magnetic components of the watch. The result is the Seamaster Aqua Terra >15,000 Gauss. Its new calibre Omega Co-Axial 8508, continues running in the massively intense magnetic field of 15,000 Gauss, and it suffers no permanent magnetization. Its accuracy of 2.5 seconds per day remains exactly the same, whatever fields it encounters up to and beyond 15,000 Gauss. Its anti-magnetic performance, withstanding fields in excess of 15,000 Gauss, and its date display and sapphire caseback, impossible on watches with the conventional Faraday cage, are the direct results of this Omega research, for which several patents will be obtained.

The Seamaster Aqua Terra >15,000 Gauss will be launched on the market very soon, in October 2013. But it won't be limited to just one calibre: it will eventually be extended to all Omega's co-axial movements. By 2017, almost 90% of the brands' new movements will be rated at 15,000 Gauss.

The Seamaster Aqua Terra >15,000 Gauss is a beautiful watch in itself, with a 41.5-millimetre diameter stainless steel case, a dial with the vertical lines that hallmark all Seamaster watches, and the distinctive yellow detailing. Without doubt, it marks a revolution in haute horlogerie.

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