Many years ago, when I was yet green with youth and correspondingly filled with overweening self-confidence, an independent watchmaker –a respected one; a student of the work of such luminaries as Janvier and Breguet –named Francois Paul Journe, came out with a most intriguing watch.
Resonance pendulum clocks and watches are extremely rare –only 3 resonance watches were made by Breguet, and he and Janvier between them made only six resonance clocks (three each, with one by Breguet now lost) and the inventory of modern makers is quite short: Beat Haldimann, Buchanan, Gagneux, Frische and Schaeurte (while students at the watchmaking school in Bienne) and Walter. David Walter’s most recent double pendulum clock is a remarkable work greatly influenced by that of Breguet, with two separate trains showing solar and sidereal time, it’s described here. Resonance wristwatches are made by almost no one –other than Journe, the only modern maker I’m aware of is Beat Haldimann, who makes the H2 Resonance Flying Tourbillon.
In 2012, Christie’s auctioned a previously unknown Breguet resonance pocket watch –only the third known to exist; for many decades it was thought only two had been made by Breguet –and this watch is described by Aurel Bacs in this video:
The second objection was that, given the construction of the Chronomètre à Résonance, in which the balances are set very close together, the two balances if they influenced each other at all did so by aerodynamic effects rather than mechanical resonance through the plate. Such an aerodynamic coupling would be affected, one presumes, by changes in barometric pressure and temperature and not produce a satisfactory mutual compensation of the two balances for any error in either.
This second objection led to the observation that a sure way to test the Chronomètre à Résonance would be to put it in a vacuum chamber and see if a resonance effect could be observed, and over the years, on various internet discussion forums someone would occasionally say they remembered hearing from someone who had heard from someone that someone had tried to put a Chronomètre à Résonance in a vacuum chamber and it hadn’t worked. Or it had. But nobody, it seemed, could ever remember exactly who it was who’d tried it.
A few weeks ago, in pursuit of information on something else, I happened to open a book I’ve looked in on countless occasions: The Art Of Breguet, by Dr. George Daniels, published by Sotheby’s. Like so many of the horological reference books in my library, I use it as a reference book –which is to say, I’ve never read it through entirely but merely gone a-hunting in it for information on specific subjects.
As luck would have it, this time the book happened to fall open onto pages 76 and 77. And, further, as luck would have it I happened to read this sentence:
“I thought that the air would have a very great influence on their facility to work together . . . I was very surprised to find that it influenced the mechanism far less than the effort accord each other by the impulsion of their mutual movements.”
I was thunderstruck, and read the rest of the section closely –and then, the related section on Breguet’s experiments with resonance pendulum clocks.
As it turns out –and I find it hard to believe that someone else hasn’t noticed this; surely someone has and I just missed it being mentioned on some discussion forum or other –the person who first tested a dual-train resonance watch with a double balance system in a vacuum was none other than Breguet. In the same (undated) document on his experiments with resonance, he notes, “The first of these double watches (no. 2788) was three months in the hands of M. M. Bouvard and Arago without the seconds hands having parted by the smallest part of a second; it was put twice in a vacuum and maintained in ‘absolute void’ for 24 hours, as well as worn, laid flat, and hanging from a chain without ceasing to keep to the second.” Breguet apparently fitted no. 2788 with a thin steel barrier between the balances to rule out the effects of turbulence on the balances as well, but as the text by Daniels notes, ” . . . as he was now satisfied with his conclusion he did not include it in no. 2794″ (his next resonance watch.)
So if it’s not air friction coupling the balances, what is it? Daniels remarks (p. 76) that “His experiments with clocks led him to conclude that the whole of the matter composing the frame was in continuous microscopic motion with the vibration of the pendulum. He realized that the same phenomena must occur in a balance wheel system where the motion would be transmitted to the plate of the watch by the couple of the balance and the spring at the limit of the arc of vibration.” Later Daniels also notes that, ” . . . excepting in some of his later tourbillon watches it is rare for Breguet to use a spiral spring without a regulator, but in this case it was essential if the effect of the vibration was to be fully transmitted to the cock.” This is apparently a key point –a conventional regulator, with its two pins, reduces the mechanical coupling of the balance spring to the cock and mainplate at the limits of its “breathing,” to such an extent that a resonance effect cannot be achieved.
The technical notes on the F.P. Journe website are as is always the case for Mr. Journe extremely technically detailed (I wish other brands offered the same comprehensive data) and there one can read that the frequency of the balances is 21,600 vph (3 hertz.) I don’t know how long Mr. Journe experimented with these systems or how many variations were tried but I suspect there is probably a sweet spot of some sort involving balance inertia, frequency, and construction of the cocks and plate that gives optimum results; Mr. Journe did mention, in an interview from 2003, that the balances needed to be regulated to run within 5 sec/day for a resonance effect to occur (Breguet’s pendulum clocks, depending on the stiffness of the suspension, might be able to be as far as 20 sec/day apart in rate but still begin to resonate) and in the same interview he also alludes to some of his early experiments with a pocket watch prototype.
The whole saga is instructive on a number of points but perhaps mostly on these two: the value of reading one’s books, and of keeping an open mind. I am as sure as I have ever been of anything that Mr. Journe knew of Breguet’s notes perfectly well but every instance I know of of persons asking him how the Chronomètre à Résonance actually works has been met with, essentially, a rather Gallic shrug and occasionally a remark along the lines of “well, it works.” Given his known tendency to not suffer fools gladly I can only assume what he meant to convey was “if you can’t be bothered to do a little research I’m not bloody going to tell you.” In any case, though it’s been 14 years now since the Chronomètre à Résonance first saw the light of day and the arguments over whether or not it could work (and how it could work) began, it’s as enormously intellectually satisfying to understand the principles behind the watch –finally –as it is humbling to realize the answers to my questions were hiding in plain sight in one of the most often consulted books in my library. So, Mr. Journe, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, for all those years of unwarranted criticism. Er, sorry about that.
Source: revo-online.com by JACK FORSTER