The Globemaster by Omega, the first Master Chronometer in the world, with every watch subjected to eight tests by independent certification authority METAS The Globemaster by Omega, the first Master Chronometer in the world, with every watch subjected to eight tests by independent certification authority METAS

The 5 best watches featuring electrifying design innovation

Traditional techniques still dominate the area of high watchmaking, but a few brands are making watches that look like something out of this world.

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29 April 2016

In fashion, long-hallowed divisions – such as between men's and women's wear – are gradually being eroded as society becomes more modern and more unisex. The same trend can be seen in watches, in which size is gradually moving to somewhere around 39 mm, wearable by both men and women. Even more significant in the field of high-end watches is the relationship between watches, electricity, magnetism and quartz. After the quartz crisis and the subsequent recovery of the traditional watch industry, luxury watches were mechanical, unless they were for women, in which case quartz was OK. Magnetism was always the enemy of mechanical movements, and in watches that ran the risk of exposure to intense magnetic fields, the only way of protecting the movement from magnetism was to house it in an inner case made of soft iron. Today, technology has moved on, and new anti-magnetic materials enable the movement to remain unaffected by magnetic fields. And a number of manufacturers have developed unusual methods of combining electromagnetic and quartz technology into mechanical watches. Here is a selection of five electromagnetic innovations.

Omega Globemaster

LUXOS OMEGA Globemaster CO Globemaster fuite 130.33.39.21.03.001

In the past, watches made for environments in which magnetism could become a problem were shielded by soft iron inner cases that provided a degree of protection, but this is insufficient now that powerful magnets are found everywhere. Omega began tackling the problem in 2011, and unveiled the result in 2013, “a watch that swims through magnetism like Michael Phelps in water.” Today, this technology is part of their Globemaster, which is unaffected by fields as intense as 15,000 gauss. www.omegawatches.com

Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight Nuit Lumineuse

vancleefMidnight Nuit Lumineuse, in which the diamonds of the constellation are illuminated by a piezoelectric-powered system

If magnetism is the enemy, electricity is the Darth Vader of mechanical watches. The arrival of cheap quartz watches caused two-thirds of Switzerland’s watch brands to disappear in the 1970s and ‘80s, and so it is understandable that quartz and electric current don’t have a glowing reputation in the luxury watch industry. When the poetic engineers at Van Cleef & Arpels decided that it would be nice to pick out a constellation in diamonds on the dial, and to actually get them to light up, they couldn’t really use bulbs and a battery. The solution they devised for the Midnight Nuit Lumineuse was piezoelectric, based on a type of ceramic, which, when caused to vibrate by the movement, generates enough energy to power six electroluminescent diodes for about four seconds. www.vancleefarpels.com

Urwerk EMC TimeHunter

EMC TimeHunter LifeStyleEMC Time Hunter by Urwerk, in which the handle on the side of the watch drives a miniature dynamo

Urwerk has gone even further with their EMC Time Hunter. This watch has a totally mechanical movement, with a tiny electronic computer that calculates the frequency of the balance wheel and tells you whether the watch is running fast or slow. How do you fire up the computer? Simple: just pull out the handle that lies along the side of the watch, wind it a bit to generate some electricity, and the precision is displayed on the meters to the left of the time indications. www.urwerk.com

Piaget Emperador Coussin XL 700P

The Piaget Emperador Coussin XL 700P has a white gold case, bezel with black ADLC coating, and black alligator leather strap

The Piaget Emperador Coussin XL 700P has a white gold case, bezel with black ADLC coating, and black alligator leather strap

A conventional quartz watch is powered by a battery that has to be replaced every few years. The Piaget Emperador Coussin XL 700P on the other hand will continue functioning indefinitely. Instead of the oscillating weight winding up a mainspring to provide energy for a mechanical movement, in this piece the weight delivers kinetic energy to some sort of generator, called an “electrodynamic energy” generator. The result is electrical energy that is then used in a conventional quartz movement. The watch therefore provides a combination of the superlative precision of quartz with the potentially infinite power supply provided by the oscillating weight. There is a power reserve indicator on the caseback, and the power reserve is about 42 hours. The exact details of how the watch works have not been published, because it includes a number of inventions with about ten patents still pending. www.piaget.com

HYT’s H4 Metropolis

HYT-H4Metropolis-ByNight-300dpiMovement of H4 Metropolis by HYT, in which a tiny hand-wound generator provides power to illuminates the timepiece 

HYT’s H4 Metropolis is remarkable not only for its way of displaying the time, with hours indicated by a green fluid in a capillary tube, but also for the method that the company has invented to give it night-time visibility, two LEDs under the flange at 6 o’clock. LEDs? Batteries? No! The watch has a miniature generator that you operate by rotating the crown on the caseband. Then you push it, and the two LEDs bathe the dial in soft blue light. www.hytwatches.com