Forget, for a moment, the clumsy mouthful of a name. It is, after all, a moniker conceived in a country that continues to use “novelties” as the term for new models. And while it might seem best-suited to a part from an Erector set of the 1950s, “Mikrogirder” succinctly describes TAG-Heuer’s latest radical move designed both to split the second into even finer divisions using a mechanical means, while re-thinking the very heart of the watch as we know it.
As TAG Heuer reminds us, the regulation of a typical, conventional mechanical watch is accomplished through a train powered by a balance wheel and a spiral-shaped torsion hairspring. This technology was devised by Christiaan Huygens in 1675, and it remains the basis of most watches despite having been refined and redeveloped almost beyond recognition. It continues to challenge the ingenuity of every manufacture and master watchmaker, the latest flurry of creativity, for example, involving the use of silicon-based parts. But regardless of the modernity of the material, the system remains pretty much what Huygens created.
While it has served the planet well for nearly three-and-a-half centuries, TAG Heuer feels that, “The Huygens system, although very reliable and aesthetic, has its limits: accuracy, sensitivity to gravity and thermal expansion, and the virtual impossibility of ever reaching a frequency higher than 500Hz.” The company has chosen to join so many others – think De Bethune, Patek Philippe, Ulysse Nardin, the late George Daniels – in developing “a better mousetrap.” In TAG Heuer’s case, the company hopes to eliminate the hairspring and the balance wheel.
Heady stuff, eh? This is, in no uncertain terms, starting with a clean sheet. Again, using TAG Heuer’s own words, the company wants to, “entirely reinvent mechanical watch regulation.” The reason why no one is laughing is due to the completion of most TAG Heuer efforts: the Mikrogirder is a concept in precisely the manner of previous blue-sky projects like the Monaco V4 with its minuscule drive belts, the 2010 Grand Carrera Pendulum Concept, which replaces a conventional hairspring with magnets, or last year’s Mikrtotimer Flying 1000.. While the Pendulum remains conceptual, the Monaco V4 and the. Mikrotimer Flying 1000 have been successfully serialized.
The new concept was heralded with a cheeky announcement declaring that this prototype is “a 5/10,000th of a second chronograph beating at 1,000 Hz or 7,200,000 beats per hour!” That, of course, sounds more dramatic than 1/2000th of a second, but allow them the poetic license: it’s a staggering achievement for any mechanical timekeeper. Because it completely re-thinks the regulator, TAG Heuer feels that this is the boldest concept it has proposed to date.
While TAG Heuer recognizes the prestige and sheer authority of certification by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) for watch functionality, i.e. timekeeping accuracy, the company also cites that the tests do not cover chronograph functionality. Along with so many other brands such as Parmigiani Fleurier, Chopard and Patek Philippe, which are devising their own tougher standards, alone or in groups, TAG Heuer is devising a rigorous set of tests “to ensure ultimate chronograph quality and precision.”
To achieve this, a reference standard is needed, a device against which chronograph performance must be measured. According to TAG Heuer, they need a chronograph “at least ten times more precise than any chronograph currently sold to consumers.” The Mikrogirder is the latest in a series of designs that has seen TAG Heuer’s R&D team push the frequency from from 4Hz to 1kHZ in only seven years.
As with its other concepts, the Mikrogirder was conceived, developed, and manufactured entirely in-house in the company’s laboratories in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. They believe it to be the fastest mechanical regulator ever crafted and tested. Its completely new regulator system consists of a coupling beam (or “girder’” hence the name) and an excitatory beam/girder system working with a linear oscillator, rather than the familiar spiral-shaped hairspring. The latter vibrates isochronously at a very small angle, unlike a conventional mechanical watch, which vibrates at an angle of up to 320 degrees.
TAG Heuer points out numerous advantages, including the removal of the effect of gravity due to mass. With the Mikrogirder, “the problem no longer even exists.” They claim that there is no loss of amplitude and the movement’s frequency can be modulated over a large range without taxing the power supply. Early results are said to show “a significant increase in precision (division of time) and performance (frequency accuracy and stability).”
Numbers bear this out, if one accepts that ultra-high-frequency behavior translates into greater accuracy. It even sounds like specifications more closely associated with. audio, for the statistics are vivid: 1,000Hz (or 1kHz) equals 1/2000th (or as TAG puts it, 5/10,000th) of a second. That in turn equals an unbelievable 7,200,000 beats per hour. To put that into context, a typical watch beats at 4hz, or only 28,800 beats per hour. Which means that the Mikrogirder is 250 times faster.
Complexity rather than simplicity is the order of the day. The Mikrogirder uses a dual frequency system to ensures precision and chronometry through two independent trains. Because the “normal speed” and “high speed” operation are completely immune to each other, there is greater accuracy. TAG Heuer also claims that the power reserve is improved, while wear and tear are reduced dramatically because “the ‘high speed’ is ‘on demand’ instead of being always engaged.”
Though it looks at first like a conventional chronograph, save for the “girders’ visible at the 8 o’clock position, it’s anything but when it comes to reading time sliced into such small increments. The dual frequency system provides a dial for the smallest fraction of time — 1/100th, 1/1,000th and 1/2,000th (5/10,000) of a second — with a central hand that does a complete revolution around the dial “a mind-boggling 20 times per second.”
TAG Heuer has a genuine and remarkable achievement on its hands, the subject of. ten patents. Almost secondary to the technology is the newly-styled case, an asymmetric form with the crown at 12 o’clock, a position inspired by the 1/100th of a second Heuer stopwatches of the 1920s. It needn’t wallow in hyperbole, nor resort to the tacky commercial misdirection of calling 1/2,000th of a second “5/10,000th”; its typical client is not that innumerate, so it’s nice to see that the former fraction appears on the watch’s dial rather than the latter. But will you ever be able to actually buy a Mikrogirder?
A clue can be found in TAG Heuer’s press kit: “A new Concept masterpiece from TAG Heuer, it could very well become a commercial piece like most of its Concept predecessors of the last 10 years, including the Monaco V4, the Calibre 360, the Monaco 24, the Mikrograph 100, and, since the end of 2011, the Mikrotimer Flying 1000.” As the company has issued limited runs of its concept models in the past, a lucky few just might be timing events in the not-too-distant-future to 1/2,000th, er, 5/10,000th of a second.