Head of movement development at Parmigiani, Takahiro Hamaguchi could be seen at the recent Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) sporting a rather unusual watch that almost paled in comparison with stablemates Tonda, Toric or Kalpa, also on show in Geneva. Appearances, however, can be deceptive, considering the wealth of treasures contained within. Indeed, great expectations are riding on the movement inside this prototype, and Parmigiani knows how to whet appetites: “Imagine a timepiece that needed winding a few times a year, rather than several times a week; whose autonomy was calculated in months rather than hours. And finally, imagine a revolution that shattered watchmaking taboos and permanently changed an order of magnitude that seemed inviolable. You should now have a hint of Parmigiani Fleurier’s latest project, launched on the eve of its 20-year anniversary”.
The manufacture had already revealed the outlines of the project at a seminar hosted by the Société Suisse de Chronométrie. Renamed “Senfine” – eternally in Esperanto – it has since gained in substance and could be summed up by a single figure: 45, for the 45-day power reserve delivered by a calibre that is less of a horological oddity than one might have expected. For years, watchmakers have been engaged in a race to increase power reserve, by any means possible. Cartier’s fundamental research resulted in its second concept watch, ID Two, backed by ten patents. Its 4 Hz movement stores 30% more power yet cuts energy consumption by half while ensuring a 32-day power reserve. Over at Hublot, research & development manager Mattias Buttet opted for multiple energy sources to achieve the 50-day power reserve of the LaFerrari with its 11 series-mounted barrels. Nothing short of an “engine” under the hood!
The new face of mechanical watchmaking
As Takahiro Hamaguchi confirms, Parmigiani is already preparing to up the ante: “This 45-day power reserve is just the beginning. We know exactly where we are heading in terms of autonomy. The questions we are focusing on with this 16 Hz (115,200 vph) calibre mainly concern the system’s compatibility with tests imposed by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) and shock-resistance.” This suggests Parmigiani has already dealt with the question of how to accommodate such an ingenious but also voluminous movement inside a wristwatch. Indeed, the prototype on Takahiro Hamaguchi’s wrist was no thicker than an extra-thin Tonda 1950, its movement adapted to the Senfine system with the addition of three wheels to make it function at this frequency.
So what’s the secret? “The movement takes its energy from a conventional source. It’s the regulating organ that enables this unprecedented power reserve,” says Parmigiani. Put simply, the Senfine does away with all the energy-hungry parts of a classic regulator and replaces them with almost frictionless flexible blades. The man behind this invention, which Parmigiani has been working on since 2008, is Pierre Genequand, a Swiss aerospace engineer formerly at the CSEM (Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology). Without going into detail, Senfine is equipped with a silicon structure that provides the functions of balance, balance spring and pallet fork in one single piece, thereby doing away with the pivots and rotating arbours of a conventional regulator. The Senfine regulator is suspended, oscillating on its virtual axis under the movement of the pallet fork without any friction points and a negligible friction coefficient. While the finer details of this structure are best left to movement-builders, the objective is clear to all. Once it has ironed out the final kinks, “Parmigiani will define the Senfine’s power reserve and its potential. This will be calculated in months and will for ever transform the face of mechanical watchmaking.”