Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages… no, wait, let me start over.
Visible light flies across the vacuum of space being twisted and warped by cosmic radiation, gravity, and things that are unseen yet powerful nonetheless. Light is a mistress that seems certain and exact on the surface but when romanced becomes a temptress and a deceiver. She twists your perceptions and can alter the reality you think you see. Light can make you doubt everything you know. There, I like that better.
Light, or visible electromagnetic radiation, is a very weird thing indeed. Once thought to be magic, and then thought to be a byproduct of a fire lit within your very eye, visible light has astounded and confused people for millennia. Basically because you can’t touch it or feel it, you can’t grab it or make it from nothing, light seemed to be a mystery. As far back as 300 BC the famous Greek mathematician Euclid was studying light as a geometric problem based on the laws of reflection. Still earlier though, the ancient Greeks and even the ancient Indians developed a system later called Atomism where everything was made up of one of two substances, Atoms or Void. Being discussed in this context, many concepts of light arose that hold relatively (see what I did there) true today such as this statement made in 55 BC by the Roman philosopher Lucretius – “The light & heat of the sun; these are composed of minute atoms which, when they are shoved off, lose no time in shooting right across the interspace of air in the direction imparted by the shove.” Pretty advanced if you ask me.
Moving forward to modern day, we know a LOT more about the characteristics of light, why it does strange things, and how to manipulate light to do some very useful tasks. Take, for example, fiber optic cables. They work on the principle of the refraction index of light transmitting substances, or to put it more nerd-ily: The refractive index or index of refraction (n) of a substance (optical medium) is a dimensionless number that describes how light, or any other radiation, propagates through that medium. So what does that mean exactly? Well light, or any radiation (which is what light is, a part of the whole electromagnetic radiation spectrum) moves at a very exact speed. This is known, obviously, as the speed of light. The only problem with that is light only travels that speed in a complete vacuum, if it travels through any other medium, be it air, water, or raspberry jam, it will travel slower, and at a very precise speed based on the, ahem, refractive index of that material! Ta-daa! When light moves from one medium to another, its speed will change, thus altering its direction (unless the transfer is perfectly perpendicular to the medium barrier). Taking advantage of this fact, fiber optic cables make light “bounce” within a thin cable because it will reflect off of the medium barrier instead of traveling across it. Look at this example of air and water for the breakdown of how that would work.
Who cares about all this!!?? I can hear you starting to fidget and wanting me to get to the point so here it is. This very specific property of light and materials is one of the star features of this week’s topic – the Ressence Type 3. I have been holding off talking about the Type 3 for a while but since on Friday it won the Horological Revelation Prize at the 2013 Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Geneve, I figured it was time to act!
Now let’s bring it all together and get this show on the road! This watch has a very atypical dial. In fact, the only other place most people may have seen something similar is in compasses. Wait, what? I am referring to the small globe shaped compasses that sit in a ball of liquid that many people may have had on their dashboards in the 70’s and 80’s, or on their boats to help with navigation. The dial of the Type 3 is immersed in naphtha-type liquid that completely fills the space between the dial surface and the bubble shaped sapphire crystal. This is where all those opening paragraphs come into play. The eye perceives depth on objects by the way light reflects and refracts off and by any shadows that are created. The Type 3 had a goal to make the dial look like it was printed on the sapphire which meant they needed to employ the help of that temptress called light. They needed to play with the refraction index of the materials between your eye and the dial.
When light passes through glass or sapphire and then into an air filled chamber, reflects off a surface, and then passes back through the air filled chamber and the glass/sapphire, it can change direction and speed up to 5 times. These small changes are observed by the eye and create a sense of depth, spacing, and dimension. The watch industry has known this for years and with the advent of AR (anti-reflective) coatings on the sapphire crystals, the amount of refraction was dramatically reduced. To the normal person that means it doesn’t reflect the sun in your eyes. To an optics nerd, it means that the refractive index is changed so that the light is either kept closer to its original trajectory (without bouncing most of it back into your eye via reflection) or scattered to the point that it won’t reflect in any ONE direction. This reduces glare.
But if you take a closer look, and really examine what you are seeing you might notice that, on crystals with very good AR coatings, the crystal seems to disappear and you actually have a tough time seeing it. On a couple of my own watches I have quickly glanced down and had the sudden illogical thought that the sapphire is actually missing because it looks like I am looking straight at the dial with nothing covering it! That is due to the AR coated crystal having a refractive index closer to the air around it than the sapphire material so it will tend to not bend the light, which is the action that leads to reflections (see chart above).
The Type 3 is ingeniously designed to maximize this effect for all it’s worth. The fluid filling the chamber was selected because its refractive index is very close to that of the sapphire crystal. The effect this has on light is basically robbing the light’s ability to bounce and refract and show dimension on the surface of the dial. The eye cannot perceive any gap or distance between the surface of the sapphire and the surface of the dial, so it looks as if they are nearly one and the same. It’s really difficult to tell that there is any thickness to the sapphire or distance between it and the dial. Oh you deceptive temptress, fooling our eyes with your photons!
The funny thing is I haven’t even talked about the movement, how it works, and why it’s so incredibly awesome! I’m not going to either, at least not today. I wanted to first focus on the physics behind the amazing dial before touching on the mechanics. The movement is decently unique with only one other system resembling it but add in the display style, the fact that the dial is curved, AND there is no crown with which to adjust the watch, this piece goes from cool to uber-watch geek level! Even more strangely, the major component in how this movement works also comes from electromagnetism, just not the radiation kind. Since the top case is completely sealed with the liquid inside, tiny super magnets are used to sync and rotate the dials which are all planetary systems in themselves. Oh man, here I go, I said I wouldn’t talk about it!
Just quickly I’ll run through some specs and then after I get a full rundown and see a disassembled piece I will write the second part to thoroughly breakdown how the movement works. Just saying magnets isn’t enough for me. I want to be able to draw exactly how it works otherwise I’m no different than those reading the press release. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Ok, the super cool specs so you come back for the second part someday…
The dial has three gear systems consisting of 28 gears and 57 jewels to allow for 3 sub-dials to rotate clockwise while the entire dial rotates clockwise as well. These sub-dial gear systems are angled at 3° for the hours and 4.75° for the 6 minute seconds sub-dial. I imagine that the day of the week sub-dial gears are also angled at 4.75°. There is an outer ring for the date that moves counterclockwise since the indicator is simply a stationary arrow in place of the 30 minute marker. All of this is not directly connected to the movement in any way, major geek points right there. On the rear of the watch you have another bubble sapphire crystal that acts as the winding and setting mechanism. Twisting clockwise or counterclockwise you can set the time, date, day, and wind the watch. There is also an awesome feature (necessitated by the style of adjustment) where the time can only adjusted with the watch face up due to a gravity release mechanism that disconnects the adjustment of the time when the rear of the case is flipped up. All of these things are components I am ITCHING to get a look at and hopefully I will be able to get that chance (in the next year maybe) so I can complete this geek-out on this amazing modern horology piece.
Here is a sneak peak of the dial carriage assembly to keep you excited...
Oh and a run down of how the display and setting works, it's just so cool!
So after all of that I am holding off on my breakdown until I can speak to the other components (which I love) so that I can rank the watch as a whole. Based on the super cool technology and physics at work with the dial, I’m sure it will rank very well once I get to that point!! So at that I say the most annoying words in writing –
To Be Continued!
As usual, I do not own any of the images and all are found freely on the interwebs. Come back next week for more and keep an eye out for part 2 of the Ressence experience. Have a great day and DFTBA!
Cheers & Happy Watching,