Why the obsession with high beat rate and its supposed superiority?
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  1. #1
    Member pinkybrain's Avatar
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    Why the obsession with high beat rate and its supposed superiority?

    I constantly come across threads where someone is arguing that this or that movement is inferior because of its lower beat rate. I held the same belief my first few months as an aspiring ‘WIS.’ However, as I learn more about mechanical movements, there appears to be little substance behind this perception. I would now actually prefer – all else being equal – a 21,600 bph or even 19,800 bph watch over a 28,000 bph watch.

    1) Many high-end watches stick with 21,600, and ETA appears to be going back to the slower rate with their possible replacement to the venerable 28XX series. (See http://professionalwatches.com/2013/02/tissot_powermatic_80_hands-on.html)

    2) In theory, a lower-beat movement has more positional variation, but who really thinks an adjusted 21,600 bph movement with a free-sprung balance can’t be nearly as accurate as a comparable 28,000 bph movement? Even a typical 2846 with a $30 regulation will usually outperform a comparable, base grade 2824. But the 2846 will have all the inherent advantages of a low-beat movement.

    3) A low-beat movement is inherently more durable, requires less frequent servicing and is less sensitive to servicing neglect. The mainspring requires less tension, translating into less force on the gear train. The balance and escapement are able to move at a slower speed, also reducing wear and tear.

    4) Greater inherent power reserve (all else being equal). (I haven’t worked out the math, but it looks like the power reserve difference between the 6r15 and 2824 is entirely due to the difference in beat rate)

    5) Did 28,000 bph just become the standard because the Swiss were chasing quartz accuracy during the quartz revolution? An unnecessary arms and marketing race (like the depth rating on dive watches) with little thought (at least by consumers) about the negative consequences?

    I would rather have greater power reserve and durability with less servicing than a movement that is theoretically 2 seconds more accurate. Mabe not 18,000, but 21,600 seems like a good engineering compromise. Am I wrong?
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  2. #2
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    Re: Why the obsession with high beat rate and its supposed superiority?

    For me it is mostly down to the sweep of the second hand or chrono hand. Higher the beat the smoother it is. Nothing gives me more pleasure in a mech watch than a very very smooth second or chrono hand. Of course the higher beat is more accurate ( minimal I know). Take a look at Zenith, 36,000 bph, and they seem to be a workhorse and reliable. Is it necessary? No, but then again is a moonphase, power reserve and many other complications necessary? I don't think so. It's just a show of engineering prowess and the art for of watch making I guess.

  3. #3
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    Re: Why the obsession with high beat rate and its supposed superiority?

    18 and 21.6 are tops.
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  5. #4
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    Re: Why the obsession with high beat rate and its supposed superiority?

    All else being equal, higher beat rate increases accuracy, at the expense of power reserve and durability. If reasonable durability and better power reserve can be achieved through better materials and manufacturing, why not go with a higher beat rate? That's exactly what Grand Seiko does with their Spron mainspring and exceptional attention to detail. It has higher power reserve than a 2824 and I doubt that it's any less durable.
    Last edited by dilal; March 26th, 2013 at 18:26.

  6. #5
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    Re: Why the obsession with high beat rate and its supposed superiority?

    Is there really an obsession with it? I haven't seen much of a drive towards higher beat rates or more than an occasional post about it on here. Like everything, there are pluses and minuses - My perhaps simplified understanding is that it is easier to get better accuracy but more wear/tear and power reserve issues.
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  7. #6
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    Re: Why the obsession with high beat rate and its supposed superiority?

    It depends on your requirements. I don't really see evidence that power reserve is a critical distinction, despite the theory. My El Primero has a power reserve of 50 hours--better than a Valjoux 7750 which runs at 28,800, and better than any of the vintage hand-wind chronos that run at 21,600 or 18,000.

    The idea is that a sudden movement of the watch-wearing arm upsets the motion of the balance for the current beat, and since our arms are moving all the time, there are a lot of those upsets. But the motion is a constant (or, at least constant when comparing watches), so the number of upset beats stays the same though the total number of beats changes. If those upsets affect 2000 beats a day, that's about half a percent of the beats per day for an 18,000-bph watch, but only a quarter percent for a 36,000-bph watch. As a result, those motions have a smaller effect on the overall accuracy. When considering that a second per day is an error of 0.0012%, those numbers don't seem quite so small.

    Yes, it takes more energy to reverse the direction of the balance twice as often. But it's not twice as much energy by any means, simply because for a balance wheel to have the shorter frequency, it has to have a lower polar moment of inertia, which directly affects the force required to achieve a given acceleration. That means it's smaller or lighter at the rim, or both. The greater power required, as I said in practice, is not much of an issue. A large, heavy balance wheel might be easier to poise to achieve very low positional variation, but it still might require a lot of power to move it back and forth.

    The faster motion of the balance and escapement puts more demands on the lubrication of the balance staff, at least in theory. Modern synthetic lubricants largely solve these issues, for vintage watches with a high-beat escapement like my Zodiac. But the high-end, high-beat watches look for even better ways to address the lubrication issue. Zenith, for example, has devised a dry lubrication that is far longer lasting and that avoids being flung from the fast-moving balance staff.

    There are aesthetic reasons to enjoy a high-beat escapement. The chronograph seconds hand on my Zenith moves with extremely smooth fluidity, compared to the sweep seconds hand on, say, my 18000-bph Favre-Leuba cal. 253. And Zenith really takes advantage of it in their Striking 10th model, where the chronograph seconds hand makes a complete rotation every ten seconds instead of every minute. Those are particularly fun to watch.

    And finally there is the notion of achieving high horological craft, which is demonstrated by a high-beat movement. The benefits of, say, a tourbillon are largely theoretical, too, but many still want one.

    Rick "who just likes the idea of it" Denney
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  8. #7
    Member cedargrove's Avatar
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    Re: Why the obsession with high beat rate and its supposed superiority?

    Quote Originally Posted by pinkybrain View Post
    Maybe not 18,000, but 21,600 seems like a good engineering compromise. Am I wrong?
    Be careful. Soon you'll have the 18,000 people calling you a 21,600 snob. And maybe 28,800 is already a good compromise down from 36,000?

  9. #8
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    Re: Why the obsession with high beat rate and its supposed superiority?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rdenney View Post
    And finally there is the notion of achieving high horological craft, which is demonstrated by a high-beat movement. The benefits of, say, a tourbillon are largely theoretical, too, but many still want one.

    Rick "who just likes the idea of it" Denney
    Very informative post. I especially like your last point, along with the quotes in your name. Sometimes what matters most to me is the idea of something, and the joy it brings knowing it's on my wrist.

  10. #9
    Member dilal's Avatar
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    Re: Why the obsession with high beat rate and its supposed superiority?

    You all are spoiled with ridiculously high beat rate watches. Here's what we all should be wearing, at two beats per second:

    Last edited by dilal; March 26th, 2013 at 22:36.

  11. #10
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    Re: Why the obsession with high beat rate and its supposed superiority?

    Rdenney
    Great post. Thanks for your take on this.

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