An audacious electro-mechanical concept promises a mechanical watch that will always “remember” the right time, even after the power reserve runs down. Better yet, it will automatically adjust itself for accuracy while it’s running. Has Ressence reinvented the wristwatch…again?
By Alex Doak
The term ‘electro-mechanical’ has the ability to strike wariness in the heart of any horological purist. From Seiko’s unnecessarily high-end Spring Drive hybrid (joined briefly by Piaget’s now-dropped Coussin XL 700P) to Urwerk’s extraordinarily top-end EMC, it generally serves to sterilise the prospect rather than enhance.
While still at concept stage for now, visitors to the Ressence stand at next week’s SIHH event in Geneva may well come away with a renewed acceptance of digital’s encroachment on the inherently analogue, thanks to a brave new bid for electro-mechanical relevance: the e-Crown.
There’s a lot to take in (which the refreshingly detailed component imagery does much to clarify), but it boils down to a digital ‘interface’ linking a mechanical movement with the display, all wrapped up (for now) in Ressence’s flying-saucer-for-the-wrist Type 2 – a ludicrously futuristic design of planetary hour, minute and second subdials.
Crown-less in the conventional sense, once you’ve set the time using a flip-out lever on the caseback, an electro-motive module forms a new layer between the base ETA automatic movement and the proprietary Ressence Orbital Convex System (ROCS) to keep things properly ‘accurate’, the electronics merely ‘remember’ the time and correct the display rather than get involved in the timekeeping of the movement. So when the watch inevitably skips ahead or falls behind by a few seconds, the e-Crown can kick in and reset the correct time.
It adjusts back or forward to the precise time once a day or by tapping on the dial you can also force a ‘set-up’, say after the watch has been lying dormant in your sock drawer for a few weeks. This illustrates the other main benefit of Ressence’s e-Crown system. Because the e-Crown has its own lithium battery (powered by a rotor-style dynamo encircling the movement) it can instantly reset the correct time as soon as the mainspring of the automatic movement has been rewound by a few flicks of the wrist.
In true ‘smartwatch’ fashion, there’s even an app for your phone, which allows you to instantly flick between time-zones via Bluetooth. And should things get really sedentary, there’s a secondary power source for the e-Crown, courtesy some photovoltaic cells encircling the dial’s mode-selector indicator. When things need a boost, 10 vane-style shutters open downwards, exposing the cells to outside light.
It’s incredibly ambitious stuff – especially when you consider everything has been engineered chez Ressence (all apart from the actual electronics, out-sourced to a German tech firm). But there has been one particularly high-profile collaboration, in realising the e-Crown…
“We had help from our ‘tech coach’ Tony Fadell,” says Ressence’s brand director, Gaëtan Gaye of the legendary Silicon Valley pioneer, Nest founder and early Apple visionary. “Basically because we needed to know whether this idea would actually be possible and whether we could do it internally.”
This particular partnership came about thanks to Fadell’s video appearance on a certain US watch website, talking about his collection. One of his pride and joys happened to be a Type 3, which he likened to his greatest-ever invention, the first-generation iPod, since both products use oil in their displays.
“He now owns about 4 or 5 Ressences,” Gaye says, “and he and Benoît [Mintiens, Ressence founder] enjoy a keen mutual respect. So Tony was the ideal person to turn to; he knows Ressence, fine watchmaking and obviously modern technology so well.”
The pre-SIHH literature is keen to stress that the e-Crown module doesn’t interfere with the geartrain to adjust timetelling, instead rather gnomically likening it to a car’s automatic gearbox. On the phone from Antwerp, Benoît Mintiens clarifies a little further:
“It’s not a clutch system at all,” he says, “the e-Crown cluster is actually integral to the ROCS module. You could compare it to a differential, in that it’s always fully engaged with both base and dial module. Its motor doesn’t start to influence the displayed time until ‘set-up’ mode is initiated.”
The price of the Ressence e-Crown is yet to be set as it’s still at concept stage, but keep an eye on Ressence’s new microsite, e-crown.com, as shipping is projected for summer 2018. And, of course, keep an eye on all of QP’s channels when we finally get hands-on in Geneva next week…