September 11, 2011

Are You Smarter than a Gemstone?

Did you know that the naturally occurring Ruby Gemstone has played an integral role to the evolution and engineering accomplishments of timepiece mechanics?  

The amazing abilities and inherently possessed intelligence of natural gemstones…

Jewel bearings were introduced in 1702 by Nicolas Fatio (or Facio) de Duillier  to reduce the friction in watches. The two-part mechanism breakthrough in timepiece engineering includes a bearing, in which a metal spindle turns in a jewel lined pivot hole. The advantages of jewel bearings include high accuracy, small size and weight,low static friction and highly consistent dynamic friction.

When the use of jewel bearings was first patented in 1702, only the most elite quality watchmakers used sapphire, ruby, or diamond jewel pivots. The majority of watchmakers would use  garnet, quartz, or even glass jewels to create their jewel bearings, due to the high cost of natural ruby and sapphire gemstones.
Jewel bearings for watches were ground from tiny pieces of natural gemstones from their introduction in 1702 until the early 20th Century. In the early 1900′s, a process to create synthetic rubies was discovered by Parisian Professor, Abraham-Louis Breguet . This process was invented in order to eliminate the high cost of natural gemstones by creating synthetic sapphires to be utilized in watch crystals. Nearly all modern-day watches use this synthetic ruby (or sapphire) in their watch jewel bearings.

There is one constant element that you will find in each and every mechanical timepiece, from the earliest models to today’s modern designs. A complex integration of finely balanced moving parts are the fundamental foreground for all mechanical watches. This complex composition of mechanics involves the vital presence of a plain bearing. A watch bearing is a relationship, if you will, between pivot pieces and the torus shaped holes in which they are turned into.
Pivot pieces turn into torus shaped holes, which are drilled into two brass plates that are separated by pillars. The lower situated brass plate of the two was once drilled with small holes in order to allow the opposite end of the pivot to turn. Small amounts of oil were used to lubricate the pivots within the torus shaped holes. Through the progression of time, an accumulation of debris and dust from daily use would slowly form within the small holes.
A mixture of oils and debris would form into an abrasive material, acting asa sandpaper of sorts, slowly wearing away the soft brass of the plates, and eventually even the hard steel pivots. The once torus shaped pivot holes would morph into oval shapes as a result of this material accruing, directly causing erratic watch function and eventual failure.
Frustrated with this difficult and seemingly unavoidable eventuality, Watchmakers began to search for a material that was harder than brass, and which could withstand the constant movement of the pivots. The winning material was found in the natural Ruby gemstone, the second hardest natural material on record in the world. Fatio de Duillier made his mark on the historical evolution of timepieces when he developed and patented a method of perforating jewels for use in clocks in the early 1700′s.
With the goal in mind to optimize the capture of solar energy, Fatio suggested using a tracking mechanism which was capable of pivoting around the Sun. A well-known Swiss mathematician,  Nicolas Fatio de Duillier was the first to discover the ruby’s potential as a jewel bearing. Fatio was previously known for his close friendship and collaborations with Isaac Newton, his extraordinary work on the zodiacal light problem, and for originating the “push” or “shadow” theory of gravitation.
In collaboration with Pierre and Jacob Debaufre, Fatio de Duillier patented the use of  jewels as wheel bearings in mechanical clocks in 1702. This would mark the beginning of many advancements in the development of timepiece precision that would utilize the knowledge of planetary alignment and universal positioning as a guide to advanced timepiece engineering.
In 1902, Parisian Professor Auguste Victor Louis Verneuil created the first synthetic gemstone. A synthetic ruby. Verneuil perfected a flame-fusion method of producing crystals of ruby and other corundums within a short time period. This method became more industrialized over time; the basic components of rubies, alumina, undergoes purification, heating, fusion and crystallization, which results in a pear-shaped piece of artificial ruby.
This pear-shaped ruby is then sliced into small pieces and these pieces are shipped off to watchmakers. The watchmakers then destroy 90% of the synthetic ruby to turn into a usable part for a watch.  The high cost of certain modern-day mechanical watches are not due to the high price of natural rubies, as the wristwatches of the 18th and 19th Century. However, the labor intensive process of putting the synthetic rubies into the watch bearings is costly due to the time and labor invested to their proper placement in the jewel bearing.
The use of jewels in timepieces remains strong and steadfast in the world of watches, as they serve two valuable purposes. The first is the reduced friction within the bearings. This directly increases the accuracy and precision of the timepiece. Jewel surfaces within watch bearings reduces variations in movement, increasing the life and maintained integrity of the bearings.

There you have it... 
Are you smarter than a Gemstone? 

Alex Press


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