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83 Jewels Too Many? Part 1 [9/25/02]
On November 4, 2002
With the constant barrage of high-pressure advertising forced on us as we try to go about our everyday lives, we occasionally wistfully think of days gone by, when times were more relaxed and simpler. Nowadays, we poor consumers need to be protected by ever more complex laws to shield us from
Maybe it seems this is something relatively new, a phenomenon born of the 1980′s and 90′s, but the reality is that the
While there are a number of ways they continue to do this, here we will focus on an area which has probably been, certainly until the advent of the cheap quartz watch at least, the single most important factor in indicating the quality of a timepiece – the number of jewels a watch has.
Before we proceed further, let’s recap on what jewels in watches are, and what purpose they serve. Long ago in the early days of watch and clock making, it was realized that friction in the moving parts of a clock or watch, in particular the escapement, had a major effect on timekeeping accuracy. It was found that the harder the material was that the bearings were made of, the lesser was the friction of the bearing, enabling better control of timekeeping and as a bonus, the life of the bearing was considerably extended. The hardest known materials at the time which could be cut were sapphires and rubies. The stones used were
Suitable stones for watch jewels had to be obtained by mining natural mineral deposits. Watches generally only had jewels used where it did the most good, usually in the escapement where friction has a major effect. In a lever watch, a
In 1902, a method was developed for artificially creating synthetic rubies and sapphires (click
So, here we have any marketing department’s dream come true! A highly valued commodity, suddenly being able to be manufactured for only a fraction of the price it used to be. Shall we pass the savings on to the customer? Of course not! And thus the myth of watch jewels was – well not exactly born – but “nurtured” to the benefit of the watch companies.
The ISO standard is written to clearly establish what can be termed a functional or non-functional jewel. It defines a functional jewel as a “jewel which serves to stabilize friction and to reduce the wear rate of contacting surfaces of the components of a timekeeping instrument”. It defines a non functional jewel as a “jewel used for purposes other than as defined in 3.2″ (ie a Functional Jewel). In addition, the standard contains detailed drawings which clearly define the functionality of various combinations of jewels and pivots. I would like to propose a third category – which I will call “Useless Jewels”. That is, jewels which are technically functional according to the ISO standard, but which are used in places which serve no effective purpose other than to increase the jewel count of a watch. We will look at some examples of these later.
At first glance, it appears that indeed the 83 extra jewels are serving a useful function. But, they do not significantly add anything at all to the functionality of the watch, either in its timekeeping ability, or the efficiency of the automatic winding mechanism, or for that matter, the life expectancy of the movement. In fact, the ISO 1112 standard specifically states that stones added to automatic winding weights, in the manner as the example above, cannot be termed functional jewels. Though I can’t say for sure, I suspect that it is this very movement and its 75 jewel cousin which prompted such a specific exclusion in the official standard.
Text copyright © 2002 by Rob Berkavicius (Rob B)
June 25th 2002, Perth, Western Australia.