Watches and the temperature

  • 02 Jul 2019

Temperature changes affect the operation of clocks, but this phenomenon was not observed in the early history of development due to clock imperfections in the design and caused much greater variations than disturbances due to temperature fluctuations. In 1675, the Dutch Christian Huygens had the idea of ​​fixing a flat spiral for balance on the clock in order to regulate its operation. This important innovation marked the beginning of modern watchmaking.

The use of the Huygens spiral resulted in a tenfold gain in precision over the other clocks, which in physics corresponds to a very considerable improvement. To give an example, the first to be equipped with a balance spring showed errors of 4 to 5 minutes per day, while those did not vary from 40 to 50 minutes per day.

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The secretary of the Royal Society of London, a man named Oldenburg who was also a friend of Huygens wrote to the Dutchman: "Here at the Royal Society, we do not doubt that temperature has a significant effect on the balance, but we feel that it must have had such effect in consideration. "Writing about his experiments, Huygens replied on May 1, 1675:" I have not found that heating the balance spring in a flame produces vibrations more slowly than when it is cold. "

But, Huygens was wrong. Improvements in the design of the watch soon became clear that temperature plays a role in the elasticity of the spiral, resulting in variations over time. It was not until 1714, however, that an approximate solution to this problem was found.

Temperature variations produce a series of effects on watches. The main one is the loss of elasticity in the spiral in which steel is made, for which the loss of about 11 seconds for each degree Celsius per day (6.1 s / day) is observed as the temperature increases. The expansion of the balance and the extension of the spiral also produce a small loss that is compensated by increasing the thickness and height of the spiral. The non-linear variation of the viscosity of lubricating oils as a function of temperature exerts a non-quantifiable influence which is generally very weak within the normal limits of clock use.

Thermal compensation is any process that is used to compensate or eliminate the effects of temperature on the operation of clockwork mechanisms.

A better solution for the problem of temperature variations was found by Charles Edouard Guillaume (1861-1938) of Fleurier, Switzerland. Guillaume was the Director of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sèvres, France and was studying the properties of the steel and nickel alloys with the aim of making a standard temperature measurement sensitive to the length of the meter. In 1897 a material was created whose coefficient of expansion was practically zero over a wide range of normal temperatures. Guillaume called this INVAR a new iron-nickel alloy. It worked quite well for the standard measurement of the Mesa meter and, in addition, it finds applications in watchmaking, where the pendulum rod to maintain the same length, regardless of temperature. Prior to this invention, the clocks used for "high" precision must be equipped with some other type of compensating expansion device, since an increase in length due to the heating of steel bars produces a loss of 0 , 5 seconds for each degree centigrade per day (0.28 s / day). Encouraged by the successful use of INVAR in watches, watchmakers decided to use it to replace traditional normal steel balances.

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