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Monday, 10 September 2018 21:50

Rolex's Cheap Alternative to a Chronograph

In late November, 2016, Rolex was granted a patent for a complication that would serve a similar purpose to a chronograph, but with fewer parts, thereby making it more reliable, smaller, and lighter than traditional mechanical chronograph movements.

The basic premise is to have a your normal hour, minute, and second hands (shown as a small seconds in the patent drawings), and then "stored" hours, minutes, and seconds hands. Both sets move in sync until you freeze the "stored" time hands. Then, instead of having a readout of how much time has elapsed as with a typical chronograph, you simply have a display of when you stopped the clock.

Two heart cams then serve to resynchronize the seconds with seconds, and hours and minutes with the actual time. Heart cams are routinely used to zero out chronographs, so they have a long history in watchmaking. 

I feel that it's unlikely this makes it into a Rolex watch. (The discussion of why you patent something if you're never going to sell it is for another day.) It's not clear where it would fit in their line, and it seems like most people would correctly view it as a cheaper, less convenient version of a chronograph. It's easy to read elapsed time. It's harder to do watch-math -- It's 8:37 now and I stopped the watch at 7:18. . . It's an hour and nineteen minutes, but it took you longer to get there than looking at a chronograph.

One thing that's notable about this patent is that it relates to a new complication, rather than improvements in materials or reliability to existing components. It's a little out of the ordinary for Rolex.

Published in Patents
Monday, 20 August 2018 19:31

Rolex's Ceramic Lume

We don't plan to cover much of Rolex's materials patent portfolio here. It's not because it's not interesting; it really is. It's just that ceramic chemistry and metallurgy aren't as easily understood by the typical watch nerd as a bunch of gears and some simple drawings. And, if I'm being honest, aren't as easily understood by me either. When we do cover them, it's more likely going to be a "what does this mean," rather than getting too far into the "how."

This recently issued Rolex patent is a decent example. 

The abstract reads: 

Watch component made of a persistent phosphorescent ceramic composite material which is a sintered dense body comprising two or more phases, a first phase consisting of at least one metal oxide and a second phase consisting of a metal oxide containing at least one activating element in a reduced oxidation state, the watch component having a surface which comprises an area which shows phosphorescent emission and an area which does not show phosphorescent emission or which shows phosphorescent emission with an intensity which is lower than that of the emission of the other area.

The patent covers a ceramic element of a watch that is either partially phosphorescent, or has elements that have different phosphorescent properties. Like hour indices that look like one piece in day light, but only the tips glow. Or a solid ceramic bezel where indices on the bezel are luminescent. It's potentially pretty cool.

These patents are dense. Like fruitcake dense. Flourless chocolate cake dense. While most mechanical watch patents are pretty brief, and explain the relevant gearing and positions in relation to other gears in the train, these patents go into great detail (see the image) above regarding how the ceramic was manufactured, and which temperatures and concentrations of metals provided what results. It's good technique for getting a broad patent, but it's not easy for me to post a picture of ceramic crystals and have the implications of that be apparent for watch fans. 

All of which isn't to say we will never cover them, but my feeling is that these will be of less general interest to readers than a day-night complication where the moon also displays the moon phase. 

Published in Patents