Formula 1 Grand Prix: High-beat watches that feed your need for speed
In mechanical watchmaking, speed equals accuracy. And by speed, we're referring to the rate of the movement's regulating device: Its balance wheel and hairspring. In other words, it's a question of how many times per second does the balance wheel oscillate.
A standard Swiss made mechanical movement such as the ETA Calibre 2892-A2 has a 4-hertz frequency. This means that its balance wheel and hairspring oscillates at a rate of 28,800 vibrations per hour – not slow by any standards, but still far from being fastest in the market.
As a matter of fact, anything between 3 and 4 hertz is considered the industry norm. Just for the sake of comparison, though, a typical quartz movement such as the Seiko 9F for instance vibrates exactly 32,768 times per second.
This is why people will always tell you that the cheapest quartz watch is always going to be more chronometrically accurate than the best mechanical watch.
But that doesn't mean we start getting used to bad timekeeping with luxury timepieces. Not at all, because chronometry is a perpetual obsession among the best watchmaking houses, and brands are always looking for ways to level up their timekeeping game.
The most direct method of improving chronometry is to increase the frequency of the balance wheel, so brands have risen the bar from 3 or 4 hertz to 5, 8 and even 10 hertz. One especially intrepid watchmaker has even gone up to the breakneck speed of 50 hertz – that's 360,000 vibrations per hour. Find out who in our list below.
ZENITH DEFY EL PRIMERO 21
If you guessed Zenith, give yourself a huge pat on the back because you're absolutely right. Within the newly rejuvenated Defy line, Zenith has made a chronograph movement Calibre El Primero 9004 utilising two escapements, one for time telling and the other for time keeping. The former oscillates at 5 hertz and the latter, 50 hertz.
GRAND SEIKO HI-BEAT 36000
As one of the few companies able to rival Zenith in producing high frequency self-winding chronographs, Grand Seiko consistently produces new variations of the Hi-Beat 36000 year after year. But whether it shows up with a modern sporty design or an elegant vintage look, this watch stresses so intently on chronometric precision as only Grand Seiko knows how.
BLANCPAIN FIFTY FATHOMS BATHYSCAPHE CHRONOGRAPH FLYBACK
A 2014 novelty, the Bathyscaphe is easily the hottest watch in Blancpain's Fifty Fathoms line, and this flyback chronograph is a definitely catch if you can get your hands on one. Cased in ceramic with a ceramic bezel, it has a 5-hertz movement Calibre F385 with silicon hairspring – not many diving watches are equipped with technical features as outstanding as these.
AUDEMARS PIGUET JULES AUDEMARS CHRONOMETER WITH AP ESCAPEMENT
Nicknamed the ChronAP, this watch is the first commercially available model by the manufacture featuring Audemars Piguet's proprietary escapement, which runs at an unusual frequency of 6 hertz or 43,200 vibrations per hour. Based in theory on the single-impulse Robin escapement, it requires less oiling and is therefore more robust.
CHOPARD L.U.C 8HF POWER CONTROL
As indicated in its name, this ultra-sporty Chopard timepiece marches at an 8-hertz frequency – that translates to a mind-numbing 57,600 vibrations per hour – which is twice as fast as regular mechanical movements. Calibre 01.09-L is also COSC-certified and made in a 250-piece limited edition run.
BREGUET CLASSIQUE CHRONOMETRIE 7727
Trust Breguet to shatter watchmaking conventions with a movement oscillating at a frequency that's not just high but crazy-high. The Classique Chronometrie 7727 has a fast-beat 10-hertz escapement – that's a jaw-dropping 72,000 vibrations per hour – utilising a magnetic balance and a double hairspring, lever and escape wheel in silicon. This gives it an average daily rate fluctuation of just -1/+3 seconds. To everybody else: good luck trying to keep up!
ZENITH DEFY LAB
And now we've arrived full circle back to Zenith because the manufacture's insane new oscillator launched in 2017 was by far the most revolutionary re-invention of a centuries-old solution to timekeeping. The Defy Lab replaces the balance wheel, hairspring and escapement with a silicon wafer-thin disc that flexes at a very high frequency, 15 hertz, which translates to 108,000 vibrations per hour. It is also remarkably constant and requires absolutely no lubrication and probably the craziest thing about it is that it can purportedly go even faster than 15-hertz. Zenith is still perfecting this amazing innovation.