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Time: Splitting Hairs

James D. Malcolmson

The escape wheel is not the only critical regulating component in a watch, nor is it the most problematic for watch manufacturers. The hairspring—the spiral that suspends the balance wheel and controls the accuracy of its oscillations—has become the focus of intense development across the industry.

A Swatch Group–owned company, Nivarox, has held a virtual monopoly on hairspring production, but it is rumored that a variety of firms, seeking to end dependence on the Swatch Group, are developing their own hairsprings, which are made of highly refined alloys devised to retain elastic properties in heat and cold.

To date, only two companies have announced positive results in hairspring development. Roger Dubuis claims to produce 100 percent of its hairsprings, while Parmigiani Fleurier, owner of the Vaucher Manufacture, unveiled its first in-house hairspring earlier this year. “We undertook this project to be truly independent,” says Jean-Marc Jacot, advisor to the Sandoz family, Parmigiani and Vaucher’s financial backer. “We were lucky enough to find the right engineers to help us with this project, which took several years.” Collectors who value independence and originality from their watchmakers should take note. Even the industry’s most vaunted manufactures have had to buy this key component from an outside supplier. Soon, competition for bragging rights may demand that they make their own.

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