Here, at MONOCHROME, we’re not huge fans of the smart-watches, to say the least. We cherish and celebrate watches in their purest (probably old-school) form: ME-CHA-NI-CAL! We love gears, pinions, hand-decoration, complications but also all the devoted people that work behind the scenes. Smart-watch, as tech objects, never ticked the boxes. However, we have to keep up with the times and admit that in some cases, technology can be brilliant (we are, after all, a web medium). Today, Ressence launches the Type 2 e-Crown Concept and they might have found the recipe to reconcile us with electronics…
The crown, a mechanism to wind and to adjust watches, was invented by Adrien Philippe in 1842… and has been an unchallenged standard since!
The crown certainly is one of the most important parts of a watch for the simple reason that it is the one with which we have most interactions. We use it, without thinking about it, to wind the movement or to adjust the time. It has become so natural that no one even thought that it would be challenged one day. It is like the key of your car. It has been invented in 1842 by Adrien Philippe, a French horologist mainly known for being the co-founder of Patek Philippe. Prior to this invention, a key was used to wind and set the time. The crown, a small but crucial innovation, allowed for more safety and reliability.
However, since then, no one barely challenged this invention. Of course, we’ve seen watches with selectors (one of APRP’s specialities) or with case-backs used to wind and adjust watches (so does Ressence, but also Ulysse Nardin with the Freak). Yet, the basic idea is still the same… Until today and the Ressence Type 2 e-Crown Concept. It has no crown, it features chips and connectivity but it also relies on a mechanical movement… A hybrid? An electro-mechanical watch?
The Technology behind the e-Crown Concept
The main idea of Ressence with the e-Crown Concept is to revolutionize the way we interact with the watch, by actually removing the main part with interact with: the crown. How? By avoiding the need to adjust the watch. The e-Crown Concept makes sure your watch is always on time, at the right time. It features smart-technologies and connectivity, yet here, not to makes your watch interact with your phone to display emails, phone calls or a map. The Ressence Type 2 is still mechanical, still features a balance and an escapement, still features a mechanical display of the time, yet it adds a layer to the signature Ressence concept – a mechanical movement with a display module on top named ROCS.
The e-Crown “acts as an electro-mechanical assistance the same way an automated gearbox does in a car”
What is the e-Crown? In short, a technology, developed by Ressence, that replaces the crown’s function by an automated setup system. It automatically sets and adjusts your mechanical watch to the right time – thus avoiding the very need for a crown. How does it work? The e-Crown Concept is an electro-mechanical embedded system that is placed between the mechanical base movement and the in-house ROCS module. It replaces the traditional crown’s setup functions of a mechanical watch (adjusting the time automatically but not winding the watch – this operation is still necessary and made by operating the rotating caseback).
For Ressence, the e-Crown “acts as an electro-mechanical assistance the same way an automated gearbox does in a car“. First of all, in order to reassure those who are allergic to smart-watches, the e-Crown can be switched off or on without affecting the watch. The latter still and always runs fully mechanically powered by a mechanical base movement. Yet, compared to a Ressence Type 1, it adds one more layer, as a demonstration of symbiosis between old-school watchmaking and cutting-edge technology.
Placed in-between the mechanical movement (low level) and the ROCS display module (top level) is the e-Crown, an electro-mechanical cluster composed of 87 components. The module is a four-layered 0,25mm thick flexible custom-built PCB that carries and connects all the components together. Challenges were on tow different sides: being extremely small and being very low power consuming. Energy is provided to the module by two means: kinetic first and, if necessary, photovoltaic. The kinetic generator transforms wrist movements into energy. When required, triple-junction photovoltaic cells, hidden behind 10 micro-shutters on the dial, will use the outside light as an energy source. The module is, therefore, self- sufficient.
What is this e-Crown doing? First, it registers the time set manually via the case back lever. It becomes the reference time for future monitoring, automatic setting and adjusting. The e-Crown monitors at least once a day the time indicated by the graphical hands on the dial. The disc’s positions will then be adjusted automatically (if needed) as long as the movement of the watch is running. When the watch is not worn and the movement stops, it will put itself in sleep mode and wake up as soon as the watch is back on the wrist. It will then automatically set the mechanical watch to the right time (based on the registered time). It is activated and controlled by tapping the glass of your watch.
The magic doesn’t stop there, as the e-Crown concept also embarks connectivity. Ressence developed the e-Crown® app to reach an unseen level of convenience and modernity. Using Bluetooth to connect to the module, the app displays a scroll down list of cities to choose from but most importantly enables multiple time-zones settings, accurate to the second.
The Watch, the Ressence Type 2
The E-Crown concept is not only a beautiful idea on a sheet of paper, as it is also integrated into a new watch: the Ressence Type 2. Basically, Type 2 is a visual and mechanical update of the existing concept created by Ressence with the Type 1. It is still totally Ressence in all the way around, in terms of look and feel but also in terms of display and mechanics. The addition of the e-Crown is fully transparent and doesn’t interfere with Ressence’s signature design.
The dial still shows the same “exploded” display of the time, with a modern regulator-type indication of the time. A series of wandering discs, each rotating on their own axle and on the main axle too, provide hours, minutes, seconds and an indication of the selected mode. The display is based on a module named ROCS (Ressence Orbital Convex System), which is a series of gears and wheels to display the time. The mechanical movement underneath is a classical ETA-base, yet modify to only have the minute axle. From there, the ROCS module transforms the minute indication (the main “hand” or disc) into hours or seconds, with gears to accelerate or slow the rotation.
In terms of design, the Ressence Type 2 e-Crown Concept modernizes slightly the original concept with an extremely pure design. Based entirely on grade 5 titanium parts (both the case and the discs to display the time), it is cleaner, thinner and lighter than ever before. A few mechanical evolutions are to be noted, as for instance the fact that all discs are mounted on jewel micro-ball bearings for a slimmer architecture and the gaps between the discs are reduced to 35 microns for a seamless design.
The caseback is equal to the previous watches made by the brand, with the capacity to adjust and wind the watch. Yet, it’s used will be more or less limited to “starting the engine” as the rest will be controlled by the app and the e-Crown module. Yet, a mechanical mode (no e-Crown + Manual setting) exists, and the watch is running without any assistance, like in the “good” old days of traditional watchmaking.
The Ressence Type 2 e-Crown Concept will be presented as a prototype during the SIHH 2018 – and we’re very curious to test it – and it will be available in stores as of June 2018.
Is the e-Crown concept able to revolutionize the entire industry? Will it have the same impact as the invention of the crown in 1842 by Adrien Philippe? Unfortunately, it is a bit early to say so. In the current state of its development, the e-Crown is mainly relevant because of the ROCS system developed by Ressence. The e-Crown concept works here and only here because of the unique construction Ressence has created with the Type 1, knowing a module that requires only one information from the mechanical movement – in the present case, only the axle for the minutes is used. The rest of the indications are driven by the ROCS, which sits over the e-Crown.
Without minimizing Ressence’s innovation, adapting it on a standard 3-hand watch seems rather complex.
Thus, the Ressence e-Crown only has one indication to actuate and the rest results from a series of mechanical gears that accelerate or slow the motion of the discs. We don’t want to minimize Ressence’s innovation (it seems, on paper, brilliant) but it remains, as it is developed now, a proprietary technology. Adapting it on a standard watch with at least 2 indications to drive (and possibly some complications) is indeed quite complex to imagine. It would require the e-Crown module to act only on the axle of the minutes, which would drive the hours and possibly the date… but this would consume a lot of energy in order to reach the correct date for instance. Knowing how a mechanical watch is constructed, acting only on the minute axle without interfering on the hour axle seems complex without a profound modification of the gear train used for the display.
However, we should not hide our enthusiasm. The e-Crown just came to life and will certainly evolve. It is promising and is a case study on how electronics can help an old-school industry to become more in line with the world that surrounds it. More details on e-crown.com.