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Watches in Slow Motion: Through the eyes of a high-speed camera (Video heavy!)

Life of the watches in 1000 frames per second
by Sharon Tan on June 14, 2018

Ever wished you had super-speed abilities like Quicksilver, the fictional superhero from X-Men? Surely, if you are an ardent fan, one would recall the “Kitchen” scene from X-Men: Days of Future Past, where Quicksilver could see, touch and function in extreme slow-motion. Wouldn’t it be really cool if we could see the extremely slow-moving motions just like how he did? Today, we look at some watches in slow motion under a super high speed camera. We examine the Armin Strom Mirrored Forced Resonance, the Omega Speedmaster, the Zenith Defy Lab and the Citizen Chronomaster to see what happens to these watches in slow motion.

Well, a normal human eye can only process about 50 frames per second (fps), or one frame (or, image) every 0.02 seconds. The slo-mo function on most smartphones can film at typically 240fps which captures almost 5 times more movement than your unaided eye would. Even then, if you tried filming some of the high-speed functions of your wristwatch, you could still wind up with a blurry video.

For today’s experiment, we used an over-the-top high-speed camera to take a closer (and slower) look at the fast-moving parts of some of our favourite functions. This lean mean machine is capable of going up to 80,000fps, but in our opinion would result in a video so slow, it might as well be a still image. For the ideal dramatic effect, we present to you videos of some of our favourite functions and movements, filmed an ideal 1,000 fps in high resolution.



Although the videos were shot at 1,000fps, the playback speed of the videos is at 30fps. To change all these onto time scales, for every 1 second of video playback, we are looking at 0.03 second in real time. Reciprocally, every second of real-time requires 33 seconds of playback time.

Most watch oscillators oscillate at 4Hz, one exception is Zenith’s new invention of the insanely high frequency 15Hz silicon oscillator in the Defy Lab. We were fortunate to have one of our Deployant readers and friend let us shoot his Defy Lab in slow motion and we will take a look at the machine.


Armin Strom Mirrored Forced Resonance



Let’s start with the most complicated one, the Armin Strom Mirrored Forced Resonance. We’ve recently gone into the technical details of exactly how the forced resonance is done on this watch (which you can read all about it here). We’ve also learnt from the review that it requires some time for the forced resonance to settle down and bring the two balance wheels to a perfect mirror image. The main concept was that the faster oscillator would help nudge the slower one along via the bridge, and this nudge gets weaker as the two oscillators start to resonate and ultimately reach an equilibrium. But we never truly know when does it reach equilibrium as both oscillators are too fast for the human eye to keep up. What appears to be perfect mirror images, when slowed down to 33x, isn’t quite so. We see from the video that the top oscillator is just leading the bottom oscillator by no more than a split second. Without the resonance clutch spring, the two wheels would have been free-wheeling at their own pace (no pun intended), resulting in a loss of accuracy.

Editor’s note: The Armin Strom Mirrored Forced Resonance we used in this video is a prototype and a factory loaner which have been passed from reviewer to reviewer and might have abnormalities in the synchronization of the balances. Another moment where de-synchronisation can be observed in real life is after the movement’s power reserve is depleted. A new start of the movement will require some accommodation time until both balances reach the resonance point. The same behaviour is observed if the balances are restarted by pushing the pusher at 2 o’clock.


Omega “Tintin” Speedmaster



Next we go to one of the biggest question we’ve had. How does the central chronograph hand fly back to 0 upon reset? This is arguable the fastest-acting function in our tiny horological machines. On the second chronograph wheel, there is a heart-shaped cam, which is used for the resetting the second hand. During the reset, a spring is released and the cam flies back to its neutral position. When it springs back, because of the high inertia on the hands, it’s almost impossible to snap at exactly 0. The Omega 1861 movement lies in the “Tintin” Omega Speedmaster we see in this video, which is incidentally one of the most popular movements from Omega. In this video, we see the hand returning counter clockwise, reaching as far as 53 minutes and then rebounding to 2 minutes before it wobbles slightly at 0. Even at 1000 fps, we can see that the hands are still a blur. With some geeky calculations, we can estimate the rotation speed of the hands to be more than 1150rpm. That almost compares to the wheels of a car going at 120 km/h!


Zenith Defy Lab



We also managed to film the revolutionary Zenith Defy Lab. We reviewed the watch in great detail here. Looking at the oscillator reminds me of hummingbirds. Coincidentally, Giant Hummingbirds flap at about 12Hz, which is pretty close to the 15Hz of the Defy Lab! Take a nice close look at the video. We can see the escape wheel and the integrated anchors working together, with the oscillators moving just 6 deg. Small nugget of material science: Most materials, when undergoing repeated bending, would eventually give way. Such failure under repeated loads is called fatigue. However, there is a threshold where if the load or movement is minute enough, it would never fatigue even if the number of repetitions goes sky high. With such small movements, the monocrystalline silicon oscillator is kept well below the material’s fatigue threshold and pays off in the long run by maintaining its original stiffness and frequency.


Citizen’s The Chronomaster



Another impressive watch that we reviewed recently (here) is Citizen’s The Chronomaster. We all know that our mechanical watches, and even quartz, hardly every flips the date at exactly midnight. Some flip in an instant, but not at exactly 12 midnight. Others start rotating at 12 midnight, but the change takes several minutes or even an hour. On The Chronomaster, it starts the switch at 0:00:00, and completes the switch before 0:00:01. That is some impressive precision, even when scrutinized at more than 30 times slower than real time.

We hope you liked our little experiments that we did here today with our high-speed camera. Although we may not be able to grant our readers superpowers to perceive the world in slow motion, we hope these videos gave you a nice glimpse into what Quicksilver would observe. If he were as much a watch fanatic as we are.


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