Silicon is one of the important new materials used in watchmaking.
Ulysse Nardin was first to produce a silicon balance spring (“DIAMonSIL”) in a limited-production 2001 Freak, developed with Sigatec. Shortly after this, Rolex (“Syloxi”), Patek Philippe (“Spiromax”), and Swatch Group partnered with Centre Suisse d'Electronique et de Microtechnique (CSEM) to develop silicon hairspring technology. The resulting patent will expire in 2021. Richemont was not part of this group, so it was not until 2017 that they introduced a production “Twinspir” silicon balance spring in the Baume & Mercier Clifton Manual 1830.
Escapements made of silicon are characterized by low weight combined with high stability. Such escapements may include the escapement wheel and possibly also the lever. The benefits of silicon escapement wheels have less friction, leading to reduced energy loss and wear, even without lubricant. This fact in turn frees from the disadvantages of lubricating oils, such as aging, volatilization, and drying out or contamination of the movement by undesirable leakage points. Through the use of light silicon components the escapement wheel gets less inertia, thereby improving the power reserve of the movement.
Notable watches with a silicon escapement
At Baselworld in 2017, Zenith showed an integrated silicon regulator without a separate balance wheel or hairspring. Instead, it uses an integrated silicon component that Zenith claims oscillates with 100% amplitude when fully wound and when unwound. This first appeared in 10 limited Zenith Defy Lab watches but was released for commercial sale in 2019 in the Zenith Defy Inventor. The Inventor has an escape wheel with flexible silicon teeth and oscillates at the extremely-high rate of 18 Hz or 129,600 A/h.